If things were normal, this would be the season-opener for the Minnesota Twins. Fresh off their best season in nine years, Jose Berrios would have taken the mound in an attempt to mow down the A’s in Oakland.
But it’s not happening.
For baseball fans, opening day is the funnest time of year. Everyone is optimistic. It’s a time to check out how the team looks and what to expect.
For the Twins, it was to be exceptionally interesting because of the addition of players like third baseman Josh Donaldson and new starting pitchers Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Jhoulys Chacin.
Can they win 101 games again? Are the young White Sox and their pre-season hype for real? Is Cleveland still a team to contend with in the A.L. Central? Can Kansas City and Detroit be better this year (not that it would be hard for them to improve)?
Instead, we wait.
I get it. I think we should wait.
Though I’d love the diversion of baseball right now, there are more important things, like saving people’s lives.
With no games, however, it got the old guy whose picture is included in this column to reminisce about openers past. (Warning to younger readers: I’m about to break into a long-winded tale from long ago).
In 1983, I landed a dream gig for me at the time. Because a bunch of newsroom people were going to the Twins home-opener, including a good chunk of the sports department, I was going to cover the home-opener for the next day’s St. Cloud Daily Times.
The Twins played the Detroit Tigers in the Metrodome’s second season of existence. Yes, I know it wasn’t an ideal baseball park. Yes, I made a lot of fun of it over the years, calling the Dome “Tipped-over Tupperware.”
For me, covering the big leagues was a dream. I’m over it now. I’d much rather cover amateur athletics, including the high schools, small colleges and town ball. But in ‘83, for me, there was nothing better.
So, I made my way to the Dome to watch a very young Twins team that wasn’t expected to be very good. The ‘82 season was a house of horror. Minnesota went 60-102.
But there was hope in ‘83. There was no Kirby Puckett yet. But, Kent Hrbek and Tom Brunansky and Gary Gaetti and Tim Laudner were all in the lineup. All were key players on the ‘87 team that won the World Series.
Detroit, meanwhile, was a serious contender in the A.L. East. The Tigers would win their World Series in 1984. But all the key pieces were assembled in ‘83, led by Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish and Chet Lemon.
And the best part of opening with the Twins? Detroit started its ace, St. Paul’s own Jack Morris, that day.
I was stoked.
The game was not memorable.
Morris, the future Hall-of-Famer, pitched OK, not great. The Dome was a notorious hitter’s park. The artificial turf was hard and eventually replaced. Baseballs bounced off it like Super Balls (kids, ask your parents). There was no Plexiglas over the left- and center-field fences and no tarp in right. Ground-rule doubles were the norm. Balls were lost in the white, Teflon-coated roof. And, that first year, there was no air conditioning, either.
And the Twins? The Twins were awful. Minnesota starter Brad Havens didn’t make it out of the second inning. The Twins trailed 8-1.
Fans began booing. Loudly.
Minnesota ended up losing 11-3. Most of the 30,961 fans — the second-best crowd of the entire season — were long gone by game’s end.
A cub reporter from St. Cloud asked Gaetti about the crowd’s reaction. The third baseman, who was smoking a cigarette in the Twins’ locker room, uttered an expletive directed toward those fans.
“Quote that,” he said.
Later interactions with Gaetti were much more positive. For a sportswriter, he was a go-to guy because he always had something interesting to say. I liked him a lot. He had a long career and was one of the last major leaguers to wear a helmet with no ear flap (I looked it up. Tim Raines was the very last).
But on this day, the Twins’ home-opener in ‘83, I received a big dose of reality. This wasn’t all fun and games. This was work.
I hope we have a baseball season and spring sports. I need them right now.