The first pitch of the year was still two hours away, but Melissa Madigan was already in midseason form.
Hoisting a 34-ounce beer stein with both hands at Gluek’s bar, she proclaimed her love of the Twins.
“I’ve been watching them since Kirby Puckett was stealing everyone’s heart,” said Madigan, of Inver Grove Heights. “I was born in 1987, the year they won the World Series.”
Every baseball lover, it seems, has their touchstones, the moments and memories that drew them to the game and keep them coming back.
Puckett in 1987. Puckett again in 1991. Jack Morris in Game 7. A George Mitterwald catcher’s mitt.
And on Thursday, as the sun shone again after a long winter, hopeful fans from across the state filled Target Field to capacity, with nearly 40,000 turning out for a festive day in downtown Minneapolis.
For Tom Hougnon of St. Louis Park, it was the 51st opener he’s attended in 52 years. His dad brought him to an opener when he was a baby, and except for a year abroad in college, he’s made every one since.
“It’s tradition,” Hougnon said. “There’s always optimism in the spring.”
Hougnon has always liked catchers, and as a youngster he owned a Mitterwald mitt, honoring the journeyman catcher who played for the Twins in the early ’70s.
“George Mitterwald,” he said, “is, like, the greatest baseball name ever.”
Caleb and Tricia Bruynes were starting their own tradition with baby Coen, 10 months old.
“By the time he graduates, we want him to see all the ballparks,” Tricia Bruynes said. “Those will be our family trips.
“Maybe someday he’ll play with Joe Mauer’s son.”
The appeal of baseball, she added, goes beyond the action on the field.
“I just love how baseball is an entire show,” she said. “You go, you watch, you talk. It’s more of an event than other sports. It’s low-key, but sometimes there are intense moments.”
The Johnsrud family of Chatfield, Minn., was on hand to see the team open up against the Cleveland Indians a few weeks after a spring training trip to Florida, where they met several players. The family is also a regular at TwinsFest, the team’s offseason fan experience.
As sister Addison and brother Jackson posed at the Kirby Puckett statue outside the stadium, 12-year-old Aiden explained the appeal of the opener.
“You get to see all the new players and see what they did in the offseason,” he said, smacking a fist into his mitt. “It’s really fun and entertaining to watch.”
Elin Meugebauer of Minnetonka brought some special juju to her first-ever Opening Day. Daughter Ada, 3, was wearing her mom’s commemorative ‘87 World Series T-shirt.
“We’ll bring some good luck to this year,” Meugebauer said.
It must have worked. The Twins rewarded their fans with a brisk, entertaining 2-0 win, a performance no doubt appreciated by members of the Cornerstone Clams, a softball team from Wyoming, Minn., that turns out in force for every opener.
“The game brings us closer to softball,” explained first baseman Misty Servaty of Forest Lake, clad in a Clams jersey and eye glitter.
“And we like day drinking.”