Editor’s note: We were supposed to be sitting in the stands later today watching baseball. The Twins were to play six games over seven days at home. We won’t have that, but we still need baseball. We’ve asked Patrick Reusse to bring us baseball each morning. Six games over seven days, beginning with the 1979 home opener reimagined for us in April 2020. This is Patrick’s (Target) Field of Dreams.
The windup: It’s Thursday. The home opener. For the Angels, Nolan Ryan is on the mound. Dave Goltz is throwing for the Twins.
It’s both April 1979 and April 2020 here in downtown Minneapolis. The imagination thrives while quarantined.
Here comes Sid Hartman to throw the ceremonial first pitch.
“The Twins felt as though some attention to the fact Mr. Hartman recently had turned 100 and has continued working was overdue,” team President Dave St. Peter said.
The game: A strong West Coast road trip had the Twins in an optimistic mood as they arrived at Target Field to open the home season Thursday, yet from the size of the lines at the ticket windows and concession stands, no one in the organization was anticipating this.
Maybe it was the return of Rod Carew after his February trade to the Angels. Maybe it was winning seven of their first nine games. Maybe it was a chance to hoot derision at owner Calvin Griffith. More likely it was that college-age Minnesotans have a great fondness for drinking beer when spring announces its foothold with a bright sun and a temperature approaching 70.
The Twins might have been better prepared if they had consulted with Mary Huncha, an 18-year-old student from Delano High School. She beat out 1,500 other entrants in a Minneapolis newspaper contest with her optimistic forecast for Opening Day attendance.
What a scene it was, with a youthful audience cramming every cranny at the outdoor ballpark, and then good-naturedly jeering more than nastily booing as Ryan and the Angels cruised to a 6-0 victory.
To make the whole chaotic atmosphere complete: There was the presence of replacement umpires working what with 50 big-league umps involved in a labor despite. Three locals — George Sweeney, Bill Ivory and Mike Briscese — were in this foursome.
There was a standing ovation for Carew before the game. There were boos for Calvin as he was positioned near Gov. Al Quie for the pregame ceremonies (“This is going to cost Quie 30,000 votes in the next election,” a fan was overheard to say).
More than that, there were shirtless young men and halter-topped young women chanting loudly from the upper deck in left field: “Beer, beer! Send us beer!”
Calvin’s vendors trying to get to that faraway place had no chance, as their supply of the sweet nectar of Hamm’s, Schmidt’s and Grain Belt was gone the moment they stepped into sight.
The highlight of the afternoon for the rowdy audience was not Carew’s lone single in four at-bats, or Ryan’s four-hit, 10-strikeout pitching, but rather the debut of Willie Norwood as manager Gene Mauch’s nominee to be the Twins’ everyday center fielder.
Wondrous Willie had managed 14 errors while getting most of his time in left field the previous season, so the fans arrived with skepticism, which was rewarded. In the fifth, with the Twins already down 3-0, Rick Miller’s sinking single went through Norwood’s legs. Miller circled the bases, as the crowd offered a deafening mix of boos and laughs.
Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Willie singled off Ryan, only to get picked off first. Mauch screamed at first base umpire Briscese from the dugout and later said: “Blatant balk move.”
As for the fielding misadventure, Mauch said of Norwood: “He’s like a guy with a drinking problem. If you see him sitting at the bar, he’s maybe sipping his first beer, but he’s called a drunk.”
Now you know why visiting the Twins manager is a postgame must for local ball writers … the anticipation that an unexpected quip and/or observation is on the way.
In the end, Willie’s ability to turn a single into an inside-the-parker became part of Thursday’s fun. The lone disappointment was the fact the opener breezed past in 2 hours, 25 minutes, causing one shirtless youth to grumble as he was heading for the train outside Target Field:
“Baseball games go too fast. We wanted another beer and a couple more tokes over the line.”
(About this game This game was the home opener April 17, 1979. The combination of a 7-2 road start, Carew’s return and a blue-sky 67-degree afternoon produced a crowd of 37,529, the largest by nearly 13,000 that had attended a Met Stadium opener. Reusse covered the game for the St. Paul newspapers.)