Baseball tours and detours, 2009

Posted on June 30th, 2009 – 1:12 PM
By Joe Christensen

Twins_Cards_June_26_2009.jpgAs the Great Midwestern Road Trip nears an end for the Twins, I thought it’d be fun to open a thread for fans to share their impressions from the road, from the parking lots, or from the ballparks themselves.

Earlier this month, we put together a package previewing Twins trips to Wrigley Field, Miller Park, Busch Stadium and Kauffman Stadium. The idea was to give fans a user’s guide for each stop.

We received a lot of feedback and encouraged people to e-mail us with pictures. (Photo insert is Dave Wenthold, of Bloomington, who made each stop with his wife, including this one at Busch Stadium.)

La Velle and I get to split these trips for the Star Tribune. And what’s a ballwriter to do when he’s not covering a game? Go to other ballparks, of course. I expanded my own Midwestern Road Trip with a stop at the College World Series in Omaha, and took in a Madison Mallards (Northwoods League) game on Saturday. Some quick thoughts:

Rosenblatt Stadium
On Father’s Day Weekend, my dad and I made the easy drive to Omaha — six hours from my house, 4 1/2 from his place in Mankato — for the Friday night showdown between Arizona State and Texas. I’ve been a huge fan of the CWS since my Little League days and have been back many times. It really bums me out that next year will be the final year in Rosenblatt Stadium, with the 2011 event scheduled for a new facility in downtown Omaha.

Sitting in the grandstand on the third-base side this time, we were treated to a very memorable game. A tight pitcher’s duel, it was tied 2-2 heading into ninth, when ASU scored the go-ahead run. But Texas hit two home runs in the bottom of the ninth to win it, advancing to the championship series.

If you love baseball and can get past the ping of the aluminum bats, you owe it to yourself to make a Rosenblatt pilgrimage next year. I get tired of the sensory overload in most big league ballparks these days (screaming announcers, blaring music, meaningless mascots, bush-league promotions), but the Omaha folks get it. They know this is a big stage, and they let the game sell itself. Between innings at a big league game, someone is usually screaming at you to BUY THIS! Or WATCH THAT! Between innings in Omaha, they play organ music — sweet organ music — as the players go through their warm-ups. On nights like that, I find joy in the subtleties. Following the players’ mannerisms, for example, as the ball is thrown around the horn. (Does the shortstop give a nonchalant flip to the second baseman? Or is he all-business, with a snappy throw and a “We’ll-show-you” point of his glove?)

Warner Park (a.k.a. “The Duck Pond”)
OK, I’m not always a purist. Baseball makes for a good social event, too. We threw my cousin, Brian, a bachelor party on Saturday in Madison, Wis., and took in a Mallards game from one of the Duck Blinds. We had two picnic tables directly behind the right-field wall, almost touching the foul pole. It’s all-you-can-eat — brats, burgers, pulled-pork. And all-you-can-drink — beer, beer, beer, beer and (rumor had it) soda.

I must confess I had little interest in the baseball subtleties on this night. Instead of watching warm-ups, I watched the Mallards mascot prepare to zip-line from right field with the game ball. I missed an inning to buy a goofy yellow, 10-gallon hat that we forced onto the groom’s head for pictures. As for the actual game, I wasn’t even sure who won until checking the box score later on the computer. (Madison 19, Brainerd 8.)

But the Northwoods League is no joke. Alumni include Pat Neshek (Wisconsin 2000), Curtis Granderson (Mankato 2001), Juan Pierre (Manitowoc 1996), George Sherrill (Kenosha 1997-98), Ryan Spilborghs (Madison 2001) and Andre Ethier (Rochester 2002). The league is growing to rival the Cape Cod League, as another stop for collegiate players to swing wood bats in the summer, tuning up for pro careers. Madison announced an average attendance of more than 6,000 per game last season, with St. Cloud at 1,794, Duluth 1,378, Rochester 1,358, Mankato 1,205 and Alexandria 1,119.

Indeed, you don’t have to wait for Target Field to see baseball thrive outside the Metrodome. Whether it’s another big league park, the Midwest League, the Northern League, the Northwoods League or local amateur ball (I could go on and on about the delightful little park in Osceola, Wis., where my wife and I used to watch our nephew play) the Great Midwestern Road Trip continues.

Got a favorite story from the road? Share it below.

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