Take me out to the ball game

Post-game fireworks set to Prince’s “Gold” over Minneapolis. Target Field, June 14. Photo by Jim Walsh

Two days after Twins catcher Mitch Garver sent a 2-1 fastball into the Target Field bullpen just below me and my date, Mary Beth, in center field, Dick Bremer, the Twins’ ever-curious (about life, people, baseball) play-by-play announcer called the home run one of the most special moments in the stadium’s nine-year history.

He’s right, of course, and Bremer only witnessed as much from the press box. The Friday, June 14, game was but one of 80-plus games to be hosted at Target Field this year (mark your calendars: Oct. 22 is Game 1 of the World Series), but it was a case study in how, for sheer entertainment, the time-honored ritual of a day or night at the ballpark is hard to beat.

My afternoon started with me playing hooky from all work and other serious matters, a late afternoon lunch with a pal and a bike ride on the Greenway to Downtown Minneapolis. It was Prince night at Target Field, so I bought some cheap tickets and landed in line a little before 3 p.m., early enough to score one of the limited edition Twins Prince jerseys that I’ll probably wear all summer.

From there it was nine innings of lolling magic, as 10,000 purple-clad baseball fans (some with matching Twins/Prince hats) dotted the sold-out crowd of 40,000, and Prince music and photos lit up the sky throughout the partly cloudy night. Again, a good game at Target Field is always languidly magical, but Minneapolis was positively electric that night, with the Monsters of the North Loop (aka the Twins, aka Bomba Squad) in town, Rock For Pussy roaring along at First Avenue in tribute to David Bowie, Jason Isbell spilling his alt-country guts at the Armory and much-maligned Downtown Minneapolis feeling like the epicenter of fun, music and civic pride.

We felt lucky to land in section 329 up top, with a summer sunset to our right, the glittering Downtown Minneapolis horizon on our left, and the best team in major league baseball on the field in front of us.

With a homegrown meal of a Kramarczuk brat, a Lift Bridge beer and a bag of peanuts I shared with our row, we took in a Friday night lights ritual that was taking place on our prairie diamond with the professional teams representing Kansas City and Minnesota, but which was simultaneously happening on diamonds in cities, parks and towns all over the country. With a cool breeze and a cool beer, the national pastime has rarely felt so precious, or, as my date said, like spending a few hours looking out at a great lake.

It’s peaceful, in other words, and as I get older I newly understand the allure of religiously following the game, with that timeless sound of the Twins on the radio that my grandmother lived for. The game drips with history and memories, of games and who you saw ’em with (my bro and I returned June 17 for another sublime pitchers’ dual and a 2-0 loss to the Red Sox, and hell if we didn’t feel like kids again at Met Stadium), but a game is never as good as the one going on right now. To that end, baseball is definitive — about wins and losses, balls and strikes, at-bats and outs — and at a time of great change and complex upheaval in the world, baseball is straightforward, simple, super nuanced, and demands presence.

To wit: I’ve only been to a handful of games this season, but I’ve discovered that one of the joys of being there is witnessing the small rite that is around-the-horn. It happens after a strikeout (the catcher whipping the ball to the third baseman, who fires it to short, second, first and back to the pitcher), or after a double play (first to second, short, third and pitcher). Balletic and just for fun, it’s a seamless little tradition that’s executed so naturally and is so pretty to watch, it can feel like you’re in on a secret. Watch for it and grin.

Yep, I’ve got it bad for this Twins team and will fully cop to my lifelong fair weather (busy) fandom, but this Bomba Squad — and, yes, their winning ways — has me following most every pitch in a way I haven’t in quite a few years. But I’m no Twins sap. I’ve suffered their mediocrity and too many years of bad baseball, and this year my not-a-fan gripes are with Pizza Ranch, military night, the national anthem and FSN’s insipid “Town Ball” feature, but other than that, I am all in.

On Prince night, the people watching was great, especially the months-old baby who got passed around to almost every person in our section for nine innings with barely a whimper. Bobby Z, drummer for Prince’s band the Revolution, led the warm-weather crowd in a ridiculously giddy seventh-inning stretch singalong of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” One of the air-gunners in left field lifted a free Twins t-shirt to Mary Beth in the third deck (“Did that really happen?”), and a couple hours later, one of the Rock For Pussy kittens tossed her a rose on the main room floor of First Avenue. (If Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight calculated the odds of both these things happening to one person on the same night, they’d be at least 5,000-1.)

Topping it off, we bore witness to the rare experience of watching well-played baseball — a crisp 2-0 pitchers’ duel that clocked in at two hours and 22 minutes. Finally, when the post-game fireworks concluded to the strains of Prince’s shoulda-been 1995 hit “Gold,” it felt as if gold dust was sprinkling down on the city itself in a little slice of gold snow globe baseball heaven.

All in all, it’s got me checking the schedule, saving my money, looking for tickets. Red Sox this week? Road trip to Kansas City this weekend? Chicago next weekend? Baseball fever has arrived full-throttle, the kind that only happens with a winning team that oozes personality. So what are you waiting for? As Prince sang to thousands of Minnesota baseball fans night from the great beyond, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life. Let’s go crazy.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected]