The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
Over the next few weeks, we'll give each of the 30 teams a day in the spotlight, showcasing the icons and traditions that make each big-league hamlet special. Rounding out our first week is our pal Lindsay Guentzel, a huge Twins fan who's currently vying for a spot in the MLB Fan Cave. Please vote for her here and follow her quest at lindsayguentzel.com.
1. The 1991 World Series: This past summer, I almost got kicked out of an Atlanta Waffle House for talking about the 1991 World Series. Why, you ask? Because 1991 is the greatest World Series to ever be played and Braves fans are still bitter about the outcome.
Just kidding. Kind of.
But honestly, bring up the 1991 World Series to any Twins fan and they will talk to you about it like it happened yesterday. Kent Hrbek's tag on Ron Gant, a play that will undoubtedly go down as one of the most argued calls in baseball history. Kirby's walk-off in the bottom of the 11th to send the series to seven games, followed by the legendary calls of John Gordon and Jack Buck. Getting to see Jack Morris, quite possibly one of the best acquisitions Minnesota has ever made, throw a shutout in Game 7. Gene Larkin, with just three at-bats during the series, hitting the game-winner for the Twins and giving Minnesota their second World Championship in five years. There wasn't a hero, a star. It was a team effort, a World Series simply defined by great baseball games with a storybook ending for Twins fans. And it will be nearly impossible to trump.
2. The Twins signal spring: Here in Minnesota, we have four seasons. Hot, sticky summers followed by beautifully cool falls. Brutally, cold winters that give a hint of a break in February only to battle back in full force in March. And then comes my favorite season of all: Spring. Sometimes she pops up early, at the very end of March, with green buds on the trees and bright, sunny days. Other times, it takes until the middle of April before she's finally able to slam the door on winter after three more inches of snow.
But regardless of what Mother Nature has in store for us, the Twins are always here to remind us it is spring again. Every year, like clockwork, fans start getting ready for their arrival. We attend TwinsFest or make stops on the Winter Caravan. We read up on the latest minor-league news and start paying more attention to our bored beat writers who are finally dusting off their recorders. Schedules are printed, tickets are purchased and we wait impatiently for the gates to open, the anthem to be sung and the umpire to yell "Let's play ball." Because let's be honest, there's nothing better than spring in Minnesota.
Even if there's a foot of snow covering the ground.
Jim Thome honors Harmon Killebrew after the Hall of Famer's death last May. (AP)3. Harmon Killebrew and Jim Thome: It might seem wrong to lump these two into the same category. After all, one was the face of the Twins' organization for decades. The other was with the organization for only a year and a half.
But both players, regardless of their time in a Twins jersey, left behind their own legacy with players, owners and fans.
I met Harmon before he was sick. Or before the public knew he had cancer. He was soft-spoken but funny, charismatic and kind. I grew up on stories of The Killer, how there would never be another player like him. (My grandfather had taken my dad to the Met to see Harmon play, my own father a small-town baseball player with dreams of the big leagues.)
Harmon was a good baseball player but he was an even better human being. In a world of scandalous athletes and bad press, he was a breath of fresh air. And he had great handwriting. There are baseballs across the country to prove it.
If there is a player poised to take over Harmon's legacy in baseball, it's Jim Thome. I still remember covering my eyes in 2008 as he came to bat for the Chicago White Sox during the "other" Game 163. Don't do it, I prayed. But of course he did. The Twins' playoff dreams were crushed with one swift swing of the bat.
Two years later, Jim left the Chicago White Sox to join the Twins. It was a short-lived relationship, but it was one for the record books. Literally. We christened Target Field with the help of his bat, then sat back and watched as he knocked homer after homer out of the park on his hunt for 600. He helped us say goodbye to Harmon and he left an immeasurable mark in the clubhouse that will be hard to replace. I'll never forget the watching Jim celebrate his 600th home run with his father by his side, a true representation of what a baseball player should be.
4. Ron Gardenhire: It's the bottom of the sixth. The Twins are down by two with one out and a runner at second and Danny Valencia's at the plate. On the 3-2 count, he drills one down the third base line. The infielder stops it, fumbles at the bag then drills it across the diamond as Danny races for first. Easiest baseball rule: Tie goes to the runner. We all know that. Only the umpire calls him out. Danny throws down his helmet, the replay confirming he beat the throw. The crowd starting booing and as if it was his cue, Gardenhire takes one step out of the dugout. He hesitates for a moment, deciding whether or not it's worth it before giving a quick nod and stalking over towards the waiting first base umpire. We all know what happens next. Gardy's face gets bright red, his nose inches from the umpire. There is yelling, finger pointing. His hat comes off, he kicks the dirt and in one swift movement, he gets tossed.
It's the Mirror Has Two Faces: Baseball Edition. One minute, Gardenhire is our jovial, jokester of a manager who regularly picks on the beat writers and has Bruno Mars as his ringtone. The next, he's an angry Santa Claus, wreaking havoc on any umpire who might try to put a stop to his master plan. In his 10 years with the Twins, he's only notched two losing seasons and has finished six of those seasons leading the American League Central. He's a little too honest, a little too friendly and a little too over the top in a non-Ozzie Guillen kind of way. But regardless of how you feel about Gardy's role within the Twins' organization, he always goes to bat for his guys. And you love that about him, even if you won't admit it publicly. Because even the biggest cynics get a kick out of seeing Gardy take a trip to the clubhouse during the middle of the game.
Now if he could just figure out a way to beat the Yankees in the postseason.
5. Tony O's Cuban Sandwich: If you have had it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, I'm sorry. Get to Target Field. You'll find it near Sections 111 and 309.
6. Twins Territory is pretty big: When Calvin Griffith first toyed around with the idea of bringing the Senators to Minnesota, there was one big hold up: the Minneapolis Lakers. The Lakers had been a near bust in the Twin Cities metro area, one of the reasons being that residents of St. Paul felt alienated by the team's Minneapolis name. Griffith wasn't about to let his baseball team suffer the same fate as the Lakers so he proposed the Twin Cities Twins. MLB quickly vetoed it. Thankfully though, they approved the Minnesota Twins and baseball in the Twin Cities was born.
Today, Twins Territory stretches far beyond the seven-county metro area. It has taken over North Dakota, South Dakota, parts of Iowa where people are smart enough to not cheer for the Cubs and western Wisconsin. It's even gone international, reaching over the border into Canada. On any given game day, Target Field is full of Twins fans from every nook and cranny of Twins Territory, some traveling hours on end to see their hometown nine play ball. We don't need celebrity endorsements like the Yankees or the Dodgers, because what we've got is better: Real, everyday baseball fans who love cheering for a solid organization.
7. Downtown Minneapolis: If you haven't made the trek to Target Field yet, let me offer you this one recommendation: Book it over a weekend smack dab in the middle of the summer. Downtown Minneapolis after a Twins game is pretty freaking awesome. The fans come flooding out of Target Field and into the streets and regardless of whether the Twins have won or not, it's a party.
The author at Game No. 163 in 2009. (Lindsay Guentzel photo)We've all had that moment, standing in Smalley's alleyway after a big win, the air still foggy from the postgame celebratory fireworks. Everyone is decked out in Twins gear, the beers are flowing and for just a second, you look around and think to yourself: This is what being a baseball fan is all about. The random high-fives with fans you'll never see again, the roar of the bar crowd as everyone watches the White Sox lose in extras on the TV. It's a crowd that goes quiet in October, only to reemerge in full force in April and that's what is so great about it — it's hard to recreate.
8. The White Sox, Tigers and of course, the Yankees: What would baseball be without good rivalries? Good question. Thankfully for Twins fans, we are never at a shortage when it comes to solid opponents. One year, we're trading games with the White Sox in the race for the pennant, the next we're battling the Tigers in tiebreaker for a spot in the playoffs. And don't even get me started on the Yankees, our Achilles heel. Do you know how many times my heart has been broken by those three teams? More times than I'd like to count or even admit. But I keep coming back. Why? Because I still remember the look on Jim Leyland's face when Brandon Inge wasn't awarded the base in Game 163 in 2009. I've exchanged waves with Ozzie from behind home plate, dressed head to toe in Twins gear at a White Sox-Royals game. I've even turn down dates with guys I've been interested in because they were Yankees fans. Baseball makes normal, everyday human beings NUTS. But that's what I love about it.
9. We like to travel: Head out on the road to see the Twins play and you're bound to be in good company. I've made the trek to Kansas City six times and every series, I'm amazed at how many Minnesota license plates I see in the tailgating lot. The same goes for Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee. Granted, until Target Field came around, we were getting out of town to get out of the Dome. But even with our beautiful ballpark, many fans make it a point to see the Twins play out on the road.
Fans start making plans the second the new schedule is released and one fan even took baseball road trips to the next level. Scott Povolny, owner of Twins Train, has been organizing baseball road trips for that past three seasons. He organizes everything, from the buses to the hotels to the tickets. And he's getting stellar reviews from Twins bloggers across the board. So far this year, he's organized trips to Milwaukee and Kansas City and will visit the Twins' minor-league affiliates on the Quad Cities/Beloit tour.
Want to go it alone? There are plenty of awesome road series to check out this season. There's the Tigers-Brewers-White Sox in May, for those of you who can afford to take some time off of work. Or the Royals-White Sox in July. Want to get out of the American League Central? How about a three-game series in Pittsburgh, followed by a three-game weekend series at the Reds? Awesome, right? But regardless of where you go to cheer on the Twins, I can promise you this: You'll be surrounded by the best fans baseball has to offer.
10. The Twins are Minnesota's team: We all have our own story about how we became Minnesota Twins fans. Some of our parents, grandparents, even some great-grandparents have cheered for the Twins since the day they played their first game at Met Stadium: April 21, 1961. They passed along their love of the game with stories of Tony O., The Killer and Carew. Many of us remember 1987 and 1991, memories of the Homer Hanky and Kirby Puckett, parades through the streets of Minneapolis. Stories we'll pass along to our children and grandchildren when we take them to their first game at Target Field. It's a sentimental reason, yes. But it is one we can all relate to. We all have a story, a reason why we love the Twins so much. Because after a season of 99 losses, injuries and setbacks, there has to be a reason to keep believing and to keep cheering. And it's simple.
The Twins are our team.
* * *
Big League Stew encourages you to join in the fun! Please share these lists with your fellow fans on Facebook, tweet us your suggestions with the #BLS10best hashtag or just use the comment section below to tell us your favorite things about being a fan of the Minnesota Twins