MINNEAPOLIS – The baseball stadium, at its finest, represents its patrons. And so like they did in the Bronx with outsized spending and in San Francisco with a festival on the water, the Minnesota Twins reached out to their fan base in the most honest fashion possible: by dipping foodstuffs in bubbling grease and/or impaling them with wooden instruments.
Available at the brand-new, gleaming Target Field, for $7.25, was a pork chop on a stick. On the same menu, at the State Fair stand in center field, were fried cheese curds. Neither personified Minnesota quite like the coup de grace, an item even more Minnesotan than Joe Mauer(notes): walleye on a spike.
Not a stick. A spike. Like, medieval-type stuff. Stabbed through a piece of local fish, dipped in batter, dumped in fat, yanked out, lathered with tartar sauce, the best of all worlds, and all for the low, low price of $11.
And you wonder how the Twins signed Mauer to a $184 million contract last month. Here it is: The House That Contraction Built, a stunning $550 million palace that should last far longer than the Metrodome's 28 years hosting the Twins, make the franchise fistfuls of money via walleye and other revenue generators and engender significantly more good will.
At the end of the Twins' 5-2 victory Monday afternoon that officially opened the stadium, 39,715 fans filed out of an amazing thing: a new stadium in Minneapolis. This was a dream. The Twins were headed for North Carolina in the 1990s, as good as dead less than a decade ago, and here they were, in cream-colored throwback uniforms, surrounded by slabs of multi-colored local limestome stacked like a perfect Tetris puzzle, witnessing a birth and re-birth – the stadium's and the franchise's.
No longer are the Twins content to scrape along as what commissioner Bud Selig called the "model franchise," an allusion to their ability to do more with less. They are the smart, charming, fun teenager who just needed a new car to bring him out of his shell, and now that they're driving a Bentley, there's no limit to what they can achieve.
"It's tough to describe to my teammates, because I know people here have been waiting a long time for this," said Mauer, the reigning American League MVP and a St. Paul native. "It's definitely a special place, and I'm glad it's here."
The only people disappointed to see the Metrodome become a football-only facility were the building's landlords. The Twins long ago grew tired of the treacherous turf, the batting cages located down the right-field line, the one-man hot tub. As loud as the Metrodome got – no stadium in baseball matched it – something always felt hollow about it, a sentiment that never quite left the place.
"That's all behind us now," Mauer said.
And replaced with a stadium that honors the present while harkening to the past. Along an outdoor promenade, fans gawked at large replicas of old Topps baseball cards hung on a fence. There were dozens, every name familiar for the old-time Twins fan, from Becquer to Berenguer, Herbie to Kirby, Morneau to Mauer.
Baseball's stadium boom can count some hits and misses. New construction isn't a panacea, something Selig admitted Monday even as he continues to equate new stadiums with relevance in Oakland and Tampa Bay. Still, the Twins expect to generate tens of millions of extra dollars yearly, and the ancillary benefits aren't bad, either.
Kubel hit the first home run, a shot over the 25-foot wall in right field, and a representative from the Baseball Hall of Fame was promised his bat. The other prized souvenir was a ball from the first hit. It was marked with something unseen in nearly 30 years from a Twins home game: a grass stain.
The sweet smell of Kentucky Bluegrass perfumed the lower bowl of the stadium, only to give way to some homier aromas as fans approached the concourse. Center field sent out a clarion call – "Come one, come all, come cardiologists especially!" – and to answer it was more obligation than choice.
A kind concessionaire named Brandi looked at the menu behind her and summarized it thusly: "How much more Minnesota can you get? Everything on a stick!"
Such adventuring spirit hasn't quite infiltrated the home team, which, during the yearly Minnesota State Fair, tends to find itself in pennant races. Finding a walleye-on-a-spike veteran was harrowing.
Manager Ron Gardenhire? Nope.
"I've seen my buddy Walleye walk with a stick because he's so drunk," he said.
"I don't know if I could trust it," he said. "The stick scares me. If it's one a plate, sure. I might try it. I'm sure it's not bad."
"I ain't eating no fish on no damn stick," he said. "I eat bass, crappy, walleye. But not on no stick. That don't sound right."
Everything else was fine. "This is a great town," Hudson said, and it got even better when the threat of baseball contracting the Twins forced the city's people to save their team. They could've said no. They could've done a bootleg job. Instead, they've got this new jewel in the middle of their city, set up and finished with a spike.