Thursday was supposed to be the Twins 60th home opener in franchise history, but with the indefinite suspension of Major League Baseball, that celebration will have to wait. Instead here is a look back at some of the most important and interesting home openers the Twins have played since coming to Minnesota in 1961.
Some of them were important in the moment when they took place: the first games at Met Stadium, the Metrodome and Target Field, for example. Others started seasons that became interesting because of what eventually happened. When the Twins rallied late to beat oakland in the 1987 home opener, for example, who knew that season would lead to the team’s first World Series title. And did anyone expect that last April’s Opening Day shutout would be the first of 101 victories?
Here’s our list and why they mattered.
Friday, April 21, 1961 at Metropolitan Stadium
Washington Senators 5, Twins 3
The Twins first season in franchise history saw them open against another brand new franchise in the Washington Senators, who replaced the previous Washington Senators who had become the Minnesota Twins. The new Senators club, who beat the Twins 5-3 in the first Major League Baseball game in the Twin Cities, would become the Texas Rangers in 1972. Twins center fielder Lenny Green hit a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game 3-3 but Ray Moore allowed two runs in the top of the ninth and the Twins left the bases loaded in the bottom half of the inning.
Why it mattered: The first Major League Baseball game in state history changed the trajectory of pro sports in Minnesota.
How we covered it: Twins president Calvin Griffith told the Star Tribune, “I was disappointed in the crowd, but the game was all right—good pitching, stout defense and the home run too.” American League president Joe Cronin took a different angle on the attendance: “I’m not disappointed in missing a sellout by 6,000 fans,” he said. “When you advertise a sell-out, only 2,000 bleacher seats left, muddy parking conditions until blacktopping is done, take the bus—all of that invites fans to stay home. Don’t forget, the game was on television, too—not to mention radio.”
Tuesday, April 7, 1987 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Twins 5, Oakland 4, 10 innings
After rallying to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth inning on a Kent Hrbek groundout that scored Kirby Puckett, the Twins loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th and Hrbek drove in Steve Lombardozzi with a single to start the ’87 season 1-0. Puckett finished 3-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored. Bert Blyleven allowed four runs on four hits over eight innings.
Why it mattered: After finishing 71-91 in 1986, a walkoff win on opening day set the tone for the season. The Twins would win 16 of their 85 games on walkoff hits, the fourth most in MLB history, en route to their first World Series title.
How we covered it: Former Star Tribune columnist Dan Barreiro wrote about Kirby Puckett’s decision to finish shaving his head in the clubhouse before the game:
“‘I did a little bit at home and then I came to the ballpark and Al Newman finished it up for me,’ said Puckett, running his fingers over his smooth head. ‘Why? Well, it’s the kind of thing the other guys get a kick out of. And then I figured it was a good way to get them to where they weren’t thinking too much about the opener. It was a way to kind of take the pressure off.’”
Monday, April 9, 2001 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Twins 11, Detroit 5
Cristian Guzman hit leadoff and went 2-for-4 with a home run, three RBI and three runs scored and Doug Mientkiewicz finished 2-for-4 with a solo homer as the Twins moved to 4-2 on the season. Brad Radke struck out five over 7 1/3 innings for his second win on the season.
Why it mattered: After four straight seasons with at least 90-losses, the franchise was on the verge of contraction. Attendance had dropped from over 2 million in 1993 to just over 1 million in 2000. This squad, which finished 85-77, would setup a decade of excellence, increase attendance by 782,000, and change the history of baseball in Minnesota.
How we covered it: La Velle E. Neal III focused on Radke’s ability to settle down after a rough start:
“As smoke from pregame pyrotechnics wafted through the Dome, and the festivities for the home opener simmered down, Damion Easley smacked Radke’s first pitch through the smoke to the center field fence. Denny Hocking scrambled back, put his glove up over the fence and came down with the ball.
Six pitches laster Radke gave up a homer to Rob Fick. Then Radke settled down and the Twins enjoyed an 11-5 victory over the Tigers in front of 46,101 — the biggest crowd for a home opener since 1993.”
Monday, April 12, 1965 at Metropolitan Stadium
Twins 5, New York Yankees 4, 11 inn.
Cesar Tovar drove in Bob Allison with two outs in the bottom of the 11th as the Twins gutted out the win after the Yankees had rallied to tie the game off Jim Kaat in the bottom of the ninth. Kaat allowed four runs, three earned, over nine innings and Allison finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
Why it mattered: The Yankees had won the American League pennant five straight years, including two World Series wins in 1961 and ’62. The Twins had finished in second place in ’62 and third place in ’63 but couldn’t get past the Yankees. That changed in ’65 as they would go 13-5 against the Bronx Bombers and reach the World Series for the first time since moving to Minnesota.
How we covered it: Society columnist Barbara Flanagan explained the low turnout, on the front page:
“The Minnesota Twins—bless ‘em—barreled into a new season of baseball Monday against the towering New York Yankees and suddenly the sun came out.
To make it perfect, the Twins won 5 to 4, in 11 harrowing innings.
A crowd of 15,388 loyalists hopped mud puddles to huddle in Metropolitan Stadium, where the wind was snapping at flags and biting at anybody not bright enough to wear thermal underwear.”
Friday, April 12, 1991 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Twins 6, California Angels 0
Kevin Tapani threw the best home opener in club history, striking out nine in a complete game shutout. Chili Davis drove in Chuck Knoblauch with a single in the first and the Twins offense didn’t let-up in a convincing rout. Kirby Puckett finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
Why it mattered: After finishing in last place in the AL West in 1990, the Twins moved to 2-2 on the season, but would lose seven straight after this, dropping to 2-9. They eventually turned things around, going 23-3 from May 28 to June 25. That catapulted them to a 95-67 finish and a World Series title, completing one of the greatest comeback seasons in baseball history.
How we covered it: Staff writer Dennis Brackin highlighted the difficult return of Gary Gaetti, who had joined the Angels in 1991 after 10 seasons in Minnesota.
“He wondered aloud before the game about his reception from the fans. He correctly predicted a mixed reaction, the boos clearly audible among the loud cheers that accompanied his first at-bat. The boos grew increasing louder with each at-bat, drowning out the cheers in his final at-bat. ‘I didn’t expect much more,’ Gaetti said. ‘It doesn’t matter.’”
Monday, April 12, 2010 at Target Field
Twins 5, Boston 2
Joe Mauer went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI, Jason Kubel hit a solo homer and finished 3-for-4 and the Twins chased Boston ace Jon Lester after five innings. Carl Pavano struck out four over six innings and allowed just one run on four hits to move to 2-0 on the season.
Why it mattered: The first home opener at Target Field was easily one of the most highly anticipated games in Twins history. The team finished 94-68, matching the sixth most wins since moving to Minnesota, and reached the playoffs for the sixth time in nine seasons. They wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 2017. Mauer, who had just signed his eight-year, $184 million contract, hit .327 and was elected an All-star alongside teammate Justin Morneau. Unfortunately Morneau was injured sliding into second base in Toronto on July 7, forcing him to miss the All-Star game and the rest of the season.
How we covered it: A commemorative 10-page section greeted the opening of Target Field and Curt Brown’s front page story touched on how important the moment was for fans across the state:
“From her perch high above third base in Section 219, Sheila Heath inhaled the fresh air swirling around Target Field, smiled at her younger brother and uttered nine simple words that summed up Monday afternoon on the western edge of downtown Minneapolis:
‘This is how baseball is supposed to be played.’
Then Heath looked down toward the freshly cut grass, glanced at the spruce trees growing in center field, savored the aroma of charred sausages and shrugged.
For many of the 39,715 fans at the Twins’ historic home-opening victory over Boston, the first taste of the team’s outdoor future triggered a flood of memories.
‘It makes me miss my Dad,’ Heath said. ‘He would have loved this place.’”
Friday, April 18, 1969 at Metropolitan Stadium
Twins 6, California 0
Harmon Killebrew finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored and Tom Hall struck out six and allowed just two hits and four walks over nine shutout innings as the Twins moved to 4-4 after losing their first four games of the season.
Why it mattered: Killebrew was about to unleash one of the greatest seasons in baseball history as the Twins posted a 97-65 record and finished in first place in the American League West before being swept by the Orioles in the ALCS. Killebrew would finish the regular season hitting .276 with 49 home runs, 20 doubles, 140 RBI, 106 runs scored and 145 walks en route to winning his lone MVP trophy. How many other players in baseball history posted 140 RBI and 145 walks in a season? Mark McGwire in 1998, Ted Williams in 1949 and Babe Ruth in 1921.
How we covered it: Staff writer Dave Mona praised Hall and gave him an excellent nickname:
“It was a sight to hearten the skinny and serve notice to the overweight.
Tom Hall, a 6-footer who fools nobody when he says he weighs 149 pounds, pitched a two-hit shutout Friday as the Minnesota Twins defeated California 6-0 to even their season mark at 4-4.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Twins and marked the first time this year that they have scored first and held on to the lead throughout the game.
A crowd of 22,857, third best turnout for a home opener in the Twins’ 10 years in Minnesota, witnessed ‘Minnesota Thins’ strike out six in posting his first victory of 1969 and first shutout of his brief major league career.”
Tuesday, April 6, 1982 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Seattle 11, Twins 7
Twins stater Pete Redfern allowed five runs over five innings and relievers Bobby Castillo and Fernando Arroyo combined to allow six runs over four innings as the Mariners dominated offensively. Gary Gaetti finished 4-for-4 with two homers, a triple and four RBI.
Why it mattered: The first Twins game at the Metrodome culminated a nearly decade long battle to get the stadium built in downtown Minneapolis. The club would christen the stadium by losing 102 games, at the time that was the most losses in a season since the team moved to Minnesota.
How we covered it: Staff writers Dennis Cassano and Paul Klauda had a front page story about one of the biggest concerns with the new stadium: traffic in downtown:
“Traffic movement to and from the Metrodome Tuesday night for the Twins’ opener ‘went smoother than I thought it would,’ city traffic engineer David Koski said last night.
Things weren’t so smooth for the Twins inside the new stadium, however, where the visiting Seattle Mariners dumped the home team 11-7.
The only major traffic problem occurred after the game on Washington Av., where there are three bottlenecks, he said. The first is the railroad viaduct at Park av. where two lanes of traffic narrow to one lane; the second is between 9th and 11th Avs., where pedestrians crossed the avenue to get to cars and buses parked in two large parking lots; and the third is the entrance for the freeway system near Seven Corners.”
Thursday, March 28, 2019 at Target Field
Twins 2, Cleveland 0
Jose Berrios was dominant, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits over 7 2/3 shutout innings and Taylor Rogers recorded the final four outs with three strikeouts as the Twins served notice to the Indians, who had won the AL Central the past three seasons. Newly signed free agent Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run double in the seventh, driving in newly signed free agents Nelson Cruz and C.J. Cron, to break a scoreless tie.
Why it mattered: After a decade of mostly losing seasons, the Twins had completely revamped their front office by hiring Derek Falvey as chief baseball officer and Thad Lavine as general manager before the 2017 season. Those two now had their hand-picked manager in Rocco Baldelli, in his first season with the club. Berrios fast start would lead him to his second All-Star game and after the Twins grabbed the AL Central lead on April 27 they never trailed the rest of the season.
How we covered it: Phil Miller noted the youth movement happening on the field and in the dugout for the Twins:
“The youngest member of the Twins delivered the youngest manager in baseball the first victory of his career Thursday, and his reward was a heartfelt handshake on the mound.
‘I probably could have given him a little hug out there,’ Rocco Baldelli said.
"Kids these days, huh?”
Monday, April 1, 1996 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Twins 8, Detroit 6
Brad Radke started his first home opener as a Twin and struck out eight while allowing one run on five hits over six innings. The Twins bullpen allowed five runs over three innings but held on for the win. Scott Stahoviak went 2-for-3 with a solo homer and two runs scored.
Why it mattered: Perhaps more important than the boxscore was what was missing: Kirby Puckett. During spring training, Puckett was diagnosed with glaucoma after losing vision in his right eye. He would never play baseball again.
How we covered it: Then staff writer Jim Souhan focused on Puckett’s positivity as he dealt with difficult uncertainty:
“Early Monday, Kirby Puckett’s agent admitted that Puckett’s eye problems could keep him out of baseball indefinitely. ‘This could be a long-term thing,” said Ron Shapiro. ‘We’ll take it in two-week modules and see where it goes.’
So Monday afternoon, with the balance of his Hall of Fame career in doubt, Puckett flew from Baltimore to Minnesota and hustled (does he move any other way?) from the airport to the Metronome.
He dressed in the uniform he has made famous, jogged down those familiar steps to the dugout for his 12th Opening Day and began cheering teammates he could see with only one eye.
‘When I got there we had given up one run, and the guys saw me and all of a sudden we were winning 3-1,’ Puckett said. ‘I guess I did something good.
‘Hey, we won the ballgame. Nothing else matters.’”