Day three: You stay classy Minnesota Twins

Spring training games in the Florida heat are not complete without a $5 sno-cone. (Photo by Geoff Mott)

I’ve always respected the Minnesota Twins organization.

That’s hard to say after they ruined my childhood in 1987, knocking off the Detroit Tigers in the 1987 American League Championship Series. I had tickets to game one at Tiger Stadium if Kirby Puckett and friends didn’t spoil it.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau come across as classy players, and manager Ron Gardenhire can turn a pack of circus midgets into ballplayers.

If the Tigers aren’t in the hunt for the AL Central title, I root for the Twins over the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. The Twins play the game the way it’s meant to be played.

Just a seashell toss from Fort Myers Beach is Hammond Stadium, the Twins Grapefruit League home since 1991. Designed to look like Churchill Downs, the big fountain at the entrance enticed this big ginger-haired the most.

While Minneapolis enjoyed a 72-degree day on Sunday, the Twins offense was even hotter in Fort Myers, blasting the Pittsburgh Pirates 10-0 in front of a packed crowd of mostly Twins fans. Francisco Liriano was sharp from the start and didn’t allow a hit in his five innings of work. He made a pair of pressure throws after bunts and looks healthy.

Three fans left on stretchers due to heat exhaustion. While the temperature was a modest 81 degrees, this Florida sun seems to get bigger by the day. The best seats at Hammond Stadium are the last 15 rows, planted in the shade of the overhang.

While I was disappointed that a lot of fans didn’t have that thick Fargo accent, I enjoyed the barbs exchanged between a 50-something woman and a beer vendor from New York.

Beer vendor: “This section doesn’t look like it’s much fun. You guys need to drink more beer.”

Lady: “Come up to Minnesota some time and find out what real drinking is all about.

Beer vendor: “Sorry lady, Minnesota is too close to Canada.

Lady: “That doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t know what to do with yellow snow.”

After that reply drew a roar from the crowd, the beer vendor quietly walked the steps, turned and yelled “Sheriff! Sheriff! You need to rope this section off. These people are too drunk.”

I spent more time listening to fans than watching the game at that point. There was one older woman who tapped her friend on the shoulder and said: “Look, those are the guys we gave those free bloody marys to. I’d like to give them a couple more if you know what I mean.”

Later, her friend proclaims: “They say seventh-inning stretch, and I stretch myself all the way to the car.”

Good, funny people from Minnesota, I tell ya.

Idle Thoughts

  • I’m a schmuck when it comes to buying these spring-break tickets. While I ordered my St. Patrick’s Day Detroit Tigers tickets well in advance (and it was still nearly sold out of seats in early February), I didn’t order any other tickets. Sunday’s Twins game was $10 for standing room only … followed by $9 in fees. Boston plays just up the road, but Monday’s game is sold out.
  • I ran into a scalper on the way to Sunday’s game and he had a ticket for the Monday game at the Red Sox JetBlue Park. The cost was $50, which included a $10 parking pass — about $10 more total than face value. He warns about a crackdown on scalpers at JetBlue Park, so I buy it.
  • Then I have a Twins fan take my picture out front, and he’s touring around Grapefruit League, as well. He said from now on to get scalped tickets around game time. I should be able to get them at face value or even cheaper. Lesson learned from the guy who gets duped while getting an oil change.
  • I like the tributes to older players at these parks. Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland is located on the corner of Kaline and Horton. On Sunday, I parked in the row on Mauch Manor. There’s Killebrew Lane and more street signs for Tom Kelly, Kent Hrbek and Bert Byleven.
  • Saw a Daryl Strawberry Mets throwback jersey. It kind of caught me off guard.
  • The wives of Twins players past and present have a cookbook out and were selling them at the main entrance. The book includes inside stories and recipes from the wives. I bet Dan Gladden’s wife cooked a pretty mean quiche.
  • Saw the famous Pirates “pillbox hat” today. Why Pittsburgh isn’t bringing that look back I’ll never know.
  • Speaking of hats, some of my favorite hats from middle school are still around today. Thanks to the older generation that keeps hats for 20 years, I saw the first Minnesota Timberwolves cap, a faded-black cap from Ken Burns Baseball documentary and an orange Tampa Bay Buccaneers cap.
  • Major kudos to Hammond Stadium for offering sauerkraut with the hot dogs. But $5 for a sno-cone is a bit much for crushed ice and colored corn syrup.
  • Harmon Killebrew. No one will ever have a better name in this world than the man they called “Killer.”
  • Scouts from other teams always have the best seats. And they all carry messenger bags.
  • Morneau drew the biggest applause when he took his first at-bat. The Twins first baseman has played just 150 games over the past two seasons and has a big group of fans pulling for him to overcome a rough history of concussions. (He was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat, much the chagrin of his faithful fans). If Morneau and Mauer are healthy, and the Twins pitchers perform better than expected, Minnesota could be the AL Central’s second-place team.
  • Ran into a former softball coach from Coleman High School in Michigan. His name his Joe Albaugh, and I covered a few of his events as a sportswriter at The Saginaw News. It’s funny because Joe was always elusive with the media. Now that he’s retired, he’s easy to find.
  • Saw a girl in her late 20s keeping score. At an exhibition game. I think I’m in love.

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