The Power of Sports: ALDS Game 3, by Gabe Stoesz
This piece was written about a game Gabe attended in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally we feel rather nostalgic reading it today.
MINNEAPOLIS–Ra-Ding! Ra-ding! My friend and I scan our tickets to enter Target Field’s right field plaza, security watching closely, greeters in Father’s-Day-blue Minnesota Twins polos welcoming us in. One greeter, who looks to be in her sixties, smiles softly as she hands us a red ‘homer hanky’ that reads in large white font: “BOMBA SZN,” signifying the team’s marketing ploy of ‘Bombas,’ or home runs, of which the Twins set a new Major League Baseball record for with 307 in the 2019 regular season.
This is no longer the regular season, however. No, this is playoff baseball. This is Game 3 in a best-of-five, loser-go-home, winner-move-on American League Divisional Series. The Twins have already lost the first two games against the New York Yankees, making this one an elimination game. Contrarily, the regular season consists of 162 games, and while all of them count the same, most of these games are treated as leisurely events by fans in the midst of a summer marathon. There are ups and downs throughout the course of the season, and only the most consistent teams prevail to make postseason play. The Twins conquered the 2019 regular season, winning the American League Central Division handily, but this game tonight is do or die. This is what baseball fans live for.
Ahead of us lies green turf and sandy-tan limestone, covered by fans eagerly awaiting the game that is still over two hours away. Beyond that, a large yellow foul pole extends up into the faint blue sky. We walk along the concourse down the first base line where concession stands are busy preparing bratwursts, hot dogs, pizza, and the like. Down in the lower-level seating bowl, fans line across the first row to get an up-close look at the batting practice session of baseball’s most storied team: the New York Yankees. Many fans are wearing the Yankees’ iconic pinstriped jerseys; many more are donning their red and blue home team apparel.
I head out to the bleachers in left field, noticing the ALDS multi-colored logo frozen on the large video board on my way. Meanwhile, silence is the tune of the ballpark’s speakers. Now, as I stand in the heart of the bleachers in Section 130, shouts of “Giancarlo!” and “Ball here, please!” are heard from young boys standing beside their fathers. These children, living in care-free abandon, are trying to garner the attention of their baseball idols while they have the unabashed opportunity to do so. The only music one hears is the sort of intimate buzz of fans eager for the game ahead. The only disturbances are occasional yells and the clockwork that is the crack of the bat pumping out roughly every fifteen seconds. Sometimes, those familiar summer sounds are followed by booms of the baseball crashing into the outfield walls.
About fifteen minutes and a couple dozen concrete stairsteps later, these noises are drowned out by a new sound, taking the form of a busy airport lobby. I am back on the concourse outside the left field corner. To the right of me is Gate 6, named in honor of the number that Twins’ legend and community activist Tony Oliva wore. Here, a handful of fans stream in. To the left of me is the left field porch, decorated with marble stone and high-top seating, filled with the laughter of many. With ninety minutes to spare until Minnesota’s most important ballgame in nearly a decade, the scene playing out in this corner of the park looks more like happy hour at a local pub than that of a baseball game. For some, this is another social event. For most, it’s much more than that.
As I continue working my way through the human traffic jam, it’s impossible for food junkies like me to ignore the Bomba Brats and Boomsticks, twenty-four inches worth of bratwurst and hotdog, respectively, smothered in chili and served in a cardboard box, that are being sold down the third base line. With a line of roughly fifteen people waiting for this ballpark feast, one can only hope it’s $27 well spent. Others are drawn to the soft serve ice cream stand on the outer wall of the concourse, making this area highly popular. Still an hour from game time, the congestion may be at its peak as batting practice has come to an end. Throughout the concourse, I hear bellows from vendors wearing their signature highlight yellow polos. “Ice cold beer, here!” “Bud, Bud Light, McGolden Light!” Ah, I think, that’s one sound that remains constant all summer long at Target Field.
I continue walking around the concourse before heading up the jam-packed escalators to our seats that are located in the third deck behind home plate. Upon arrival, the entire baseball diamond is visible. The grounds crew, adorned in blue polos and hats and khaki shorts, is out polishing the final touches on one of baseball’s finest fields. The vivid green grass shines under the lights that line the upper tier of Target Field, stretching from one foul pole to the other. In this moment, the chalk of the foul lines and the batting box are as neat and distinct as ever, soon to be distorted during play. Fans, appearing as an even collection of red and white dots, continue to enter from the plaza that extends into the Minneapolis skyline. By now, video has begun playing via MLB TV on the big screen, showcasing a compilation of postseason highlights to rally the crowd. At 7:10, the Yankees’ roster is announced by the public address speaker. They emerge adorned in solid gray jerseys and pants with navy blue socks, their hats marked by the famous criss-crossed ‘NY’ logo. At the announcement of each player, coach, and staff member, resounding boos follow. Minutes later, the Twins, wearing their all-white jerseys with ‘Twins’ stitched in red letters across their chests, are announced as deafening cheers and pyrotechnics greet them. It is finally time to play ball.
Seated to the left of my buddy and I are two ladies, probably each around sixty, prepared for the evening cool with Twins-designed blankets and coats. The lady closest to me turns to ask me where I got my scorecard. I let her know they were free for the taking at various stands around the park. In front of us sits a child, likely around eight years old, with his father. Hundreds more fans surround us, young and old alike, each holding on to their red homer hanky. The scene has been set. The sky is clear and ever-darkening, but the stadium lights shine brightly underneath the Minneapolis skyscrapers. The Minnie and Paul statue looks on from its permanent seat above center field, and now is the time for playoff baseball, the first postseason game at Target Field since the stadium’s inaugural 2010 season. It is Bomba SZN, and this place is rocking.
Despite the ruckus caused by all of the hype, everyone understands this is only a game. Bigger things are out there, as we are all reminded of when the Star Spangled Banner is played and a 98-year-old WWII veteran raises the flag. Another ‘Old Glory’ is spread across center field, and everyone stands to honor America. However, the fact that this is only a game is vital to baseball’s significance and continued well-being. Because for the next few hours, for every fan among the 41,000 at the stadium and for many more watching at home, almost nothing else matters. This game cuts through the ugly political divisions we place between us. Baseball unites people from all backgrounds of life across the globe. From the child in the Domincan Republic with only baseball to cling to, to the farm boys and girls in the Midwest playing pick-up games, to the wealthy men and women who have been blessed with watching the game for years, and even to the die-hard New York fan who has cheered on the Yankees to dozens of championships, baseball brings us together as one. And, specifically for the Twins’ organization, it is about making Minnesota proud of overcoming what has become known as the ‘Bronx Bomber Curse,’ named for the Twins’ twelve straight postseason losses to the Yankees. This game, as baseball does in every corner of the earth, represents an escape from reality, something long-suffering Minnesota sports fans especially crave.
Finally, the game is set to begin. “Baseball fans, your Minnesota Twins!” belts the public address announcer as the nine Twins starters take their respective positions all across the baseball diamond. Throughout the stadium a sea of red homer hankies methodically wave back and forth. Early on in the game, every pitch draws a reaction of either cheers or boos. The return of postseason baseball has everyone pumped up. A strikeout to end the Yankees first inning draws people to their feet, and the waves of red intensify.
Moving on to the second inning, the Twins have bases loaded, no one out. Everyone in the stadium is on his or her feet, and Target Field is ready to explode in joy. But then, one out. Two outs. The sea calms. Three outs. And a big fat zero remains on the scoreboard. In mere minutes, a vacuum has come in and has sucked the life out of the stadium. At this point, no murmurs are needed from the fans. Everyone knows a golden opportunity has been missed. The game moves on and fans try to get amped up several more times, but the story remains the same. The Twins keep missing out on scoring chances and the Yankees keep making plays. Despite strong pitching from the Twins, the energy—though still palpable— never again reaches the heights of the second inning.
In the seventh inning, the Twins are down 3-0. There is still time left, but Minnesota sports fans know not to get our hopes up too much. The eighth inning comes, and some fans start to trickle out of their respective sections as they exit the stadium. Spirits are temporarily lifted, however, when fan-favorite Eddie Rosario hits the first Twins bomba. The ball barely clears the center-field wall, landing softly on the strip of grass between the padded outfield wall and the batter’s eye, but it counts nonetheless. Chants of “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” briefly fill the stadium.
In the ninth inning, though, reality begins to set in. The Yankees have tacked on another two runs, and the score is now 5-1. At this point, empty seats become more visible as a significant portion of fans have headed for the exits. Staring out onto the field, my buddy turns to me. “Wanna go?” he asks. Yes, I do. We end up down on the main-level concourse along the right field line to watch the bottom of the ninth. With two runners now on base, a faint hope remains and fans are about a half-dozen deep trying to catch the end of the Twins amazing season before leaving the stadium for good. After another great defensive play by the Yankees and a strikeout, the season is over. Nearly four hours after the game began, it ends in disappointment.
It doesn’t seem fair. New York has all the money they could ever want, they get all of the national headlines, and they always exert their dominance over Minnesota in baseball. On the other hand, the Twins and all of their loyal fans are once again left behind. The buzz around this season seemed different, but it ended up all the same. There is still hope for the seasons to come, but that is all Minnesota sports fans have known for a long time. Maybe someday the Minnesota sports narrative will turn. Who knows? It could very well be next season. That gasp of hope, if it returns, will bring 41,000-plus fans to the park again next October, just as it should. Hopefully, it will make the reward, when it eventually comes, that much sweeter. Bomba SZN, marketed on social media platforms, TV stations, and radio waves for over a week, lasted merely seven hours at Target Field, producing one Bomba.
Baseball is just a game, but it signifies something we could all use more of. The stories created by these games are so insignificant, but somehow still of great importance. It is the power of a fan base coming together as one from all different backgrounds looking to feel something, anything, from a game that in actuality has little bearing on world events.
My buddy and I exit the parking ramp and navigate our way to I-69 South back to our hectic college lives. Halfway through the drive home, he says to me with a blank stare, “I’m still glad we went.” I am too, bud. I am too.