Regional appeal of the Twins goes back to Griffith
MINNEAPOLIS -- Calvin Griffith moved his Washington Senators to the Twin Cities in 1961 knowing the team needed to build a loyal fan base well beyond Minneapolis and St. Paul.
He quickly abandoned an idea to call the Major League Baseball team the Minneapolis Twins, opting instead for Minnesota Twins. It was a distinction with a major difference, that of appealing to millions more people.
"This was the first team in sports to take a regional name, not a city name," said Doug Grow, a former newspaper reporter now writing a Twins history book, and among the few with a "Minneapolis Twins" bobblehead doll.
"Calvin understood this region immediately," Grow said. "He always had seats in his pressbox for outstate and out-of-state newspapers."
When a Sioux Falls, S.D., journalist asked Griffith why he treated the smaller newspapers so well, the team owner took him to the parking lot of Metropolitan Stadium and ordered: "Look where all these license plates are from."
Typically, a third of Twins' fans came from outside a 100-mile radius of Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
That widespread fan base continues today, which Grow credits to Griffith's early efforts.
Twins' management emphasizes Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin fans in what the team's marketing pitch calls "Twins Territory."
"Night in and night out, there are millions that are hanging on every pitch, sweating out every victory, crushed with every loss," Twins President Dave St. Peter said. "Because of that, I think there is a responsibility that goes with these jobs to recognize that and to treat your role with the baseball team ... with a great deal of respect."
Since the beginning 49 years ago, the Twins have fielded one of the largest radio networks in baseball, covering much of a five-state area.
People at those stations, more than anyone, know the reach of Twins baseball. They say that despite so many other things Upper Midwest residents can do, they still love their Twins.
"We do a Twins Caravan each January, and attendance continues to grow," General Manager Doug Hanson of KDJS and KRVY in Willmar said of sports' largest annual traveling promotion.
Most broadcast sponsors have bought commercials since Hanson's stations began carrying the games.
"And with any business, if they don't have results, they will not continue being a sponsor," Hanson said. "So those are indicators of listenership and loyalty."
The same story came from Bill Dablow, KBMW general manager in Wahpeton, N.D.
"We sell out two bus trips to the Metrodome every summer to see the Twins," said Dablow, whose mother requested a Twins logo be printed on her funeral program.
"The Twins are basically the summer anchor of our programming, and have been since the 1960s," Dablow said.
Frank Quilici, a former Twins player, coach, manager and broadcaster, said after he left the team he traveled the state for a milk distributor and heard first-hand the importance of the Twins.
"They turn that radio on in spring training and don't turn it off until the season is done," Quilici said.
During years of legislative debates over whether to fund a new Twins ballpark, lawmakers from areas far from the Twin Cities often were strong supporters.
Then-Sen. Roger Moe of Erskine, for instance, liked to tell the story about how candidates learned to avoid campaigning in nursing homes during a Twins game, fearing bad feelings if senior citizens were interrupted.
"I know there are a lot of folks night in and night out ... waiting for the game to come on the radio," St. Peter said. "And when we play our last game of the season, there is a heavy level of depression that sets in."
Grow praises colorful broadcaster Halsey Hall -- the man some credit for introducing "holy cow" into the sports broadcast vocabulary -- for winning many over to the new team in the 1960s and beyond.
The team president said that those who listen on radio or watch on television, often well outside the Twin Cities, are just as important as any fan.
"Their passion runs as deep as anybody and we need to be mindful of that," St. Peter said.