Monday, January 26, 2009

Twins Weekend

Every year, in the dead of winter, the Minnesota Twins hold a massive festival in the Metrodome. When he was but a boy, The Common Man and his best friend, Bill, would go to this TwinsFest every year, braving the cold outside, and the crowds and the lines inside to snag some autographs, peruse through baseball cards (TwinsFest doubles as the largest card and memorabilia show in the Midwest), and generally get geared up for the coming season. It was a great way for The Common Man to sustain himself through the depths of winter when baseball seems so far away.

Needing a weekend away from the womenfolk and the babies, The Common Man and his friend decided to get all nostalgic and to return to the Twin Cities, nerding out to the highest degree possible with 31,000 other Twins fans. And nerd out they did, laying out a complex plan in advance for getting through the crowds at the Dome, seeking out the autographs they wanted and avoiding those that they already had or didn't want to bother with (really, what's the point of getting Ben Revere's name on a baseball, if you're only going to follow it up with Drew Butera and Toby Gardenhire?). In all it was a highly successful trip, and a highly successful TwinsFest. The Twins really put on a good show. Here are some random observations from this weekend:

1) The crowds are huge at TwinsFest, and even below-zero temperatures don't keep hearty Minnesotans from lining up outside the gates at six in the morning. The Common Man and Bill got the the Dome at 8:30 on Sunday, a full half-hour before the gate opened, and the line was almost out in the street. When Joe Mauer is signing at 11:00, it's important to be as close to the front of the line as possible.

2) Because this is such a big card show, sometimes non-Twins show up. This year, 91 year old Bob Feller sat in a small booth and autographed baseballs (at $25 a pop) for nine hours. The Common Man, of course, partook of the man's graciousness and stamina and got his baseball signed. Feller, though cantankerous in his public comments recently, was gracious and made a point of shaking The Common Man's hand firmly, looking him in the eye, and sizing him up. It was clear that Bob Feller had figured out that, if push came to shove, he could take The Common Man in a fight. Bob Feller is a man's man. Anyway, all the media bellyaching that followed Feller's comments seems unnecessary. At 91, The Common Man thinks Rapid Robert has earned the right to be a little silly and full of himself. You get a certain amount of leeway after turning 85.

3) The Common Man and Bill got there too late on Saturday for Justin Morneau's autograph, but were able to sidle on over to Bert Blyleven's line a half hour before the Dutchman was going to start signing, and get a good spot. The Hall of Fame debate surrounding Blyleven has been done to death around the interwebs, and The common Man won't add to it here, except to say that Bert Blyleven is clearly the best eligible pitcher not enshrined. His counting stats (287 wins, 3701 Ks, 242 CGs, 60 Shutouts, almost 5000 IP) are excellent, and his intangibles (one of the greatest curveballs of all time, a beloved and colorful player, played on mostly less-than-stellar teams) should help him. In the interest of full-disclosure, The Common Man has always liked Blyleven, and liked his case for enshrinement. Today, however, The Common Man loves the man even more.

As he waited in line, The Common Man called his 91-year old grandmother to tell her about Feller, and mentioned that he was going to get Bert's autograph. She told her grandson to "tell Mr. Blyleven that I've been a Twins fan since 1961 and followed him since 1970, and I love listening to him on the television. And tell him that I hope he gets into the Hall of Fame." Well, The Common Man thought about trying to remember all that, and decided it would be easier for her to tell Bert herself. So at the front of the line, once he saw that Bert was being chatty with his fans, The Common Man called his grandmother and asked Bert if he wouldn't mind speaking to his biggest fan over-90. With great humor and warmth, Blyleven talked to The Common Man's grandmother for a minute-and-a-half or so before passing the phone back, joking with her that The Common Man was standing before him with earings, spiked purple hair, and a tongue stud, and that she should have a talk with her grandson. "Now I know you're pulling my leg," she told him in her cutest grandma voice, before thanking him and wishing him well.

It was just another wacky moment in the life of Bert Blyleven, one he's probably forgetten by now. But The Common Man's grandmother has been going on about getting to talk to Bert Blyleven to anyone who will listen to her these last couple of days. She's told them about how funny he was and how giddy and flustered she felt at the opportunity. So, while The Common Man apologizes to all the people in line who had to wait for an extra minute and a half, he wants to publicly thank Bert for making his grandmother's week.

4) TwinsFest is a lot of fun, don't get The Common Man wrong. But all of its physical activities are devoted to kids. Batting cages, youth clinics, homerun derbies. The ones at TwinsFest are specifically designed for youngsters. The Common Man thinks that the event is missing a great opportunity. How many adults would love to spend some extra minutes in a batting cage, for instance? How much would they pay to get 20 cuts in? Since people were willingly shelling out $4 for a soda, he thinks they'd pay plenty.

5) Oh dear God, the lines were long. With more than 31,000 fans in attendence, that probably goes without saying. But The Common Man had to get in line at 9:00 to get Joe Mauer's autograph from 10:45-12:15. In all, The Common Man probably spent 6 hours just waiting in line in the ballpark's concourse, watching a highlight video of the 1982 Twins on a loop. If The Common Man has to hear "Believe it or not, I'm walkin' on air. I never thought I could feel so free-hee-hee," again, he's going to end it all. Still, it was very worth it. That Mauer ball is going next to Puckett in the display case.

6) When you're standing in line forever, you find other things to do with your time. This is how The Common Man figured out he could name all 58 Cy Young award winners from 1980-2008. He'd think that was impressive too, except that Bill could name all the MVP winners from the same period, and did so much faster.

And that was The Common Man's weekend. A lot of lines. A lot of autographs. There were also a couple of wonderful dinners (thanks, Bill's mom!), a stack of waffles, and three wonderful beers The Common Man can't wait to tell you about later this week.


lar said...


That's a fantastic story about Blyleven and your grandmother. Thanks for sharing.

The Brewers had a similar event this weekend, too, but a lot of things converged to keep me from going (a funeral, free tickets to the club bar at the Marquette game, little advance notice). If it were anything like the TwinsFest, I'd be making plans for next year's already. I'm not sure the Brewers have quite worked out that kind of party yet, though.

-- lar

Kelly said...

Totally 100% agreed about "Believe it or not." I skipped Mauer in favor of Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew and chasing sugar-highed 11-year-olds up and down the Metrodome stairs.

Always good.

The Common Man said...

@ lar

Honestly, TwinsFest is pretty fun. And where else can you get Frank Quilici autograph the same baseball as Boof Bonser?

@ Kelly

The Common Man totally understands your decision. Mauer's line was a good 500-600 people deep, and Carew and Killebrews never really topped 100. But that's entirely a function of Twins fans having almost 50 years to get Harmon's signature, and 45 to get Rod's. The Common Man has baseballs signed by each already, and they were both more expensive than the current players.