Dave St. Peter normally blocks off his calendar when the Twins are playing so he doesn’t have meetings interfere with his viewing. But it dawned on the Twins president Tuesday that he had video and telephone conferences scheduled for Thursday.
Thursday was supposed to be the Twins’ home opener against Oakland.
“I’m going to work,” St. Peter said.
Target Field, its green grass already in midseason shape, will sit empty instead of welcoming back the 2019 American League Central Division champions. The coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the shutdown of nearly every sports league on the planet, has closed Opening Day.
The Twins never got the chance to announce that their opener was sold out.
“It’s odd times,” St. Peter said. “It’s hard to put into words how strange it is.”
Opening Day is an event, the most glorious day of the season. In these parts, it’s special in different ways. After being beaten down by pulling out the snowblower, reaching for the remote starter and layering up for nearly six months, the start of the season means it’s OK for fans to come out of hibernation. Regardless if the temperature is in the 60s or the 30s, the start of the season means it’s about time to get outside and do something — even if some of you still want a roof on the stadium.
“I love the second guessing. I love the experts,” Twins senior director of communications Dustin Morse said, “but baseball is the sign that the seasons are changing. It means more to Minnesotans.”
And in this particular year, the Twins offered more than a reason to ditch work or school. They chugged into the season with a legitimate top 10 team in MLB, and the argument could be made they were in the top five, with many of the stars responsible for 101 wins in 2019 returning.
“I keep saying we are going to enjoy our next Opening Day in some very intimate, meaningful ways. It’s going to be a very emotional day for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.”
And the club seized on the momentum with a splashy free-agent acquisition in third baseman Josh Donaldson, whose thunder in his bat and fire in his belly has fans dreaming of a longer postseason run. Opening Day is a singular event, but this show had the potential to be a 162-episode thriller.
“We were really looking forward to being able to show our team off,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Let our guys go out there and perform, show everyone what we can do. We love our group. They are really a fun group to watch, even when you are their staff.”
There still might be a season, albeit a shortened version. But the hope is there will be baseball once the coronavirus pandemic is contained and the world can return to normalcy. Meanwhile, the Twins are crafting contingency plans for whenever the season can resume.
Thursday was to begin at 6 a.m. with breakfast on the Target Field plaza. Gates were to open at 1 p.m. A flyover was, once again, scheduled as part of the pageantry. No, there wasn’t a scheduled appearance by the bald eagle, Challenger. In 2018, Challenger ad-libbed his path to home plate, heading to right field instead and landing on the shoulder of Mariners starter James Paxton.
Poor Challenger hasn’t been seen at a stadium since.
The Twins were going to use Thursday as an opportunity to celebrate the return of the team that hit a MLB-record 307 home runs last year, as well as it being the 60th season for the franchise in Minnesota.
Now the Twins are ripping up those plans. Once there is baseball, the home opener will be used to recognize all those who have taken on challenging roles during the pandemic, from those in the medical field to grocery store employees.
“We’re going to pivot,” St. Peter said. “Based largely on the crisis we are dealing with and lot of the people who have stepped up on the front lines of that.”
When will that plan be used? No one knows for certain. Major League Baseball initially hoped to start things up sometime in April, then May. Now there are rumblings the season might not start until late June or early July, with the growing possibility of games being played in fan-free stadiums for a while. Florida and Arizona recently have extended shelter-in-place edicts. Florida has such an order in place for four southeast Florida counties through mid-May. Arizona’s runs through April 30.
Any further extensions would make it hard for teams to return to those states to train, which might lead teams to train in their home cities — as soon as they are allowed.
Anticipation stretches out
No one knew what was about to happen to the sports world Feb. 21, when the Twins began their annual series of exhibition games before the real ones by playing host to the Gophers at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. The game-time temperature was 59 degrees, which is chilly for southwest Florida.
Reporters reached for windbreakers and sweatshirts in the press box, and 16-miles-per-hour winds didn’t help matters.
Shortly after the first pitch was thrown, St. Peter entered the press box and announced: “I bet you’ll take 59 degrees on Target Field on April 2.”
Right now, no one would care if the Twins had to play in snow.
“We know all of these different special days are passing, and we are not getting to enjoy them the way we anticipated,” Baldelli said. “I keep saying we are going to enjoy our next Opening Day in some very intimate, meaningful ways. It’s going to be a very emotional day for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.”