There are three generations of Minnesota sports fans, when asked to identify their all-time, what-might-have-been moment in sports, that are likely to respond: “Gary Anderson missing the field goal against Atlanta, which cost us a trip to the 1999 Super Bowl, where our Vikings were certain to finally win the Ultimate Game.’’
My might’a-been moment is somewhat more cryptic, and it ultimately needed more appreciation for the vision of short-term Twins executive Chris Clouser. If that had been present in the summer of 2000, and minus this dastardly pandemic, the anniversary-loving Twins would have had a special occasion to celebrate this weekend:
They would be nearing the end of a 162-game schedule with a three-game series vs. Detroit at Target Field, and also marking exactly 20 years when Porta Potty Park could have risen gloriously in a pasture east of the Mall of America.
All parties, from the baseball Commissioner’s Office to the lowly local media, were required to share the Clouser dream to experience this glory, just as Gary would have had to make that field goal to guarantee the Vikings legions experiencing the beatdown of Denver in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Clouser had spent a decade as a senior vice president at Northwest Airlines. He was a friend of Twins owner Carl Pohlad. He had been on the Twins board of directors since 1994.
The Twins were two months into their eighth straight losing season in 2000. The attempts to gain a new ballpark had been brick-walled and attendance was in free fall inside the Metrodome.
On May 24, Pohlad put Clouser in charge as CEO, a new title for the Twins.
Clouser’s main mission was to get the Twins out of the Dome. He formed a committee of 118 (mostly business people) titled “Minnesotans for Major League Baseball.’’ In early July, he upped the previous Twins offer to sign pitcher Brad Radke, a looming free agent, to a four-year, $36 million extension.
These were warmups in his public outreach. On July 15 came the first reports that Clouser was planning for the Twins to build a temporary ballpark to host an outdoor series in September.
Minnesotans had been staying away from the Dome in impressive numbers. It had become a cliché for former Twins attendees to say, “It’s not just the losing. We don’t get enough nice summer days to waste them by going inside the Dome.’’
Clouser decided passion could be rekindled by giving the fans a chance to see the Twins play outdoors.
Ellerbe Becket was recruited to design a ballpark with bleachers holding 25,000. The grass at Bloomington’s Kelley Farm site would be manicured. Temporary restroom facilities and concession areas would be constructed … this only a handful of Killebrew home runs from where the fans last saw an outdoor home game for the Twins at Met Stadium in 1981.
The odds of drawing 20,000-plus for a Monday through Wednesday series vs. Texas in mid-September for a Twins team headed for a 69-93 record seemed rather remote, but Clouser was not deterred.
He claimed to have sponsors to help with the estimated $1 million cost of the temporary ballpark. He expressed confidence the novelty of the occasion would bring sizable crowds.
Then, the Commissioner’s Office declared on Aug. 18 the series could not be played outside of the Metrodome. In doing so, baseball officials noted time restraints and the fact a regular-season game had not been played in a temporary stadium in modern history.
Clouser vowed to try again in 2001, with a longer window for approval, but he would resign on Dec. 12, 2000. Legend has it, he wanted to get rid of manager Tom Kelly and probably General Manager Terry Ryan, but Pohlad brought back Kelly on a one-year deal and Ryan was with the organization for 16 more years.
Seven months with the Twins were followed with several high-profile executive positions for Clouser, including being president of the Association of Tennis Professionals.
There’s also mention of a real estate outfit in Cabo San Lucas in Clouser’s bio, so good for him.
Plus, a decade after a wisenheimer Star Tribune sports columnist was dubbing Clouser’s vision as Porta Potty Park, the Twins were back outdoors in Target Field, and in recent years, regular-season MLB games have been played in temporary stadiums on military bases and elsewhere — and even near an Iowa cornfield in 2020, if not for the pandemic.
Which means, that Turkey Banquet invite sent to Clouser in honor of Porta Potty Park on Thanksgiving 2000 … it has been rescinded.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and including his name in the subject line.