You wouldn’t call them “fans.” Spectators, maybe.
Even if you’re #baseballclueless like me, you can understand that witnessing a team slog through 92 losses wouldn’t inspire body-painting, fist-pumping zeal in many onlookers.
Only after I bought tickets to a game did I learn morale among Minnesota Twins “fans” was pretty low. In summer 2014, they hadn’t seen a winning season in four years. (They still haven’t.) In fact, they’d made loser history, coming dead-last in their league twice.
One sports-wise, city-dwelling journalist penned a piece about the 2014 season-opener. His bright side to a devastatingly predictable Twins’ performance? The home venue’s new food.
My Australian beau and I set our expectations low, as we joined the thirty thousand bodies trickling into Minneapolis’ Target Field on a late Friday afternoon in August. Happily, the only statistic on my mind was the cost-per-ounce of the recently unveiled self-serve beer machines.
We settled into seats so steep it seemed I might teeter out of my chair and crash-land on home plate. We watched the Americans around us with fascination. Our USA experiences thus far took place on the outdoor stage. The America of my youth, however, is not the America portrayed by Hollywood and reality T.V. Finally! Here they were! “Real” Americans!
After lustily watching athletic Australian men in tiny, tight shorts and tank tops play “footy” for a year, the baseball uniforms donned by American players seemed like a funny joke. Like kids dressing up in their older brother’s too-big clothing. To my surprise, the man singing the national anthem to the crowd that night – an occurrence in which one would suppose the man took a great deal of pride – wore ill-fitting khaki cargo shorts and an oversized polo shirt.
The line between observation and judgement is a thin one. I hope, as a makeup shunning, unshaven, t-shirt and jeans wearing woman, that I don’t come across as a hypocrite. After so much exposure to the more tidy and formal “normal” of so many other industrialized cultures, U.S. appearance standards both comfort and shock me.
Another shocker: Boyfriend had no use for my (very) basic baseball know-how. My decades of U.S. life experience include brief flirtations with America’s favorite pastime. I assumed I would help the foreigner understand his first-ever baseball game. Minutes into the first inning, my folly was revealed. Eyebrows furrowed, I wondered aloud and apologized for not knowing why the batter wasn’t “out,” despite having two strikes against him and clipping the third ball out-of-bounds. Boyfriend responded, in the same voice one might use to explain the meaning of traffic lights, “He can’t strike out on a foul.” Touche. Nationality does not predicate sports knowledge. Point taken.
How poor is my baseball repertoire? Out of ignorance, I just looked up an average game score. To understand the gravity of the answer, you need to know that each team has a minimum of 81 chances per game to work toward scoring a run/point. (9 innings x 3 outs preceded by 3 strikes each). Given 81 chances, a team usually scores… take a guess.
Did you guess 8.33? You’re right! And an average game takes three hours. So in the time it would take you to watch Lord of the Rings or The Wolf of Wall Street, only 8.33 times during the whole movie would your average crowd leap to their feet in ecstasy as a player from their team runs across home plate.
Fortunately for Minnesota’s state-wide gas station, “Super America,” the Twins’ average is even lower. The chain’s ongoing deal? 1¢ off per gallon for every run scored in the game to all ticket holders on the day following the game. Lucky for Super America, this usually means sacrificing a mere 4¢ a gallon. The Twins rarely worry their bottom line.
How many runs did we get to see the Twins score? How many ¢ per gallon did we save filling our mostly empty truck the next day? Was it four – the Twins’ average? Nope. How about 8.33 – the “industry” average? Nope.
Please tell me you guessed “twenty – the most in a major league game in 2014.”
DING. DING. DING!
How’d we end up in Minneapolis witnessing baseball history? Well, remember that journalist I mentioned? Who had to write about stadium food because there isn’t anything left to say about the Twins’ (normally) poor performances? I actually met him. In the woods of northern Minnesota. After our canoe trip.
And guess what he gave me? The keys to his house.
His condo, to be exact. In midtown Minneapolis.
Allow me a moment to fawn. We loved this guy from the get-go. He had wrangled himself a job helping a Boundary Waters canoeing outfitter for the summer. He was the man to greet us and set us up with boats. We were so enamored with his aura – observant, pondering, genuine, kind – that he became an item on that night’s campfire agenda. An avid fisherman, he lent our group his best and favorite lure. He made us feel awesome in spite of our novice canoeing status. We couldn’t wait to return to Rockwood Lodge to bask in his amazingness, hear more of his stories, and meet the mysterious girlfriend he’d mentioned.
More fawning: the girlfriend matched him stride for stride in the awesomeness department. Also incredibly genuine. Punky. Down-to-earth. Intense. A lover of vibrant colors and patterns that capture the vivacity of life. Artist. Teacher. Dreamer. Full of quiet but tenacious passion.
Can you imagine the thrill of spending an entire evening swapping dreams and stories with these two? Can you imagine the studiousness with which we absorbed every word of the tourist to-do list they suggested for our journey through Minneapolis? Can you imagine the gratitude with which we opened the door to a fourth-floor condo overlooking the city’s Midtown Greenway?
Our nights in their tidy, tasteful space were a balm for our travel-worn psyches. Over cups of tea in the best mugs I’ve ever seen, we admired the markers of the awesome personalities of the normal occupants, including this gem: “The universe is unfolding as it should.” Indeed.
Los Ocampo, their neighborhood Mexican restaurant, gets five stars for authenticity and six for deliciousness. We adored the people watching – from the bikes on the greenway to the patrons of the Midtown Global Market next door going about their shopping while dressed in traditional cultural garb from around the world. Said Market is infused with worldliness worthy of Disney knock-off. We couldn’t turn down the free beer at the bike co-op event just across the road or resist the crowdfunded, Korean-fusion restaurant recommended by our new friends. Maybe we went overboard with kimchee fried rice and pancakes. Maybe we drank too many Soju cocktails. Maybe we adored the Alice-in-Wonderland atmosphere. Probably.
We caught up on the life admin that simmers forever on the back burner when you’re traveling, visited the sculpture garden and the city center, and of course we took ourselves out to the ballgame. No peanuts and crackerjacks, though. Just good, old-fashioned, ball-park beer. Self-served. ♣