Coming Home for the First Time

It’s like Christmas Eve for Twins fans — a Christmas Eve where you get to open presents early.  Today, the Twins beat the White Sox in come-from-behind fashion again to ensure two series victories to start the year.  AndMonday’s the figurative Yuletide Morn, when fans get to watch the first game ever (that counts) in the new Target Field.

That doesn’t mean Minneapolis is without its Grinches.

Granted: from a public policy perspective, it’s really easy to poke holes in Minnesota’s new taxpayer-funded ballpark.  It’s a $522 million LEED-certified, bona-fide gem of a stadium… paid for by $392 million in county tax money levied on Hennepin County voters — without a vote.  The skyline view of downtown Minneapolis is picturesque, but the financing isn’t as pretty. In fact, it’s kinda shady, and it kinda sucks.

Critics of the process by which the park was built have built the case (I think fairly persuasively) that the argument “Oh, well, new stadiums are a boon for the local economy” doesn’t hold much water — Jason Lewis did so in a Star Tribune column last weekend.  He quite fairly called out the local media for “cheerleading” the opening of the stadium by highlighting how far superior the fan experience would be compared to the Metrodome.

But then Lewis crossed the line:

“The bottom line is that public subsidies for professional sports are not effective investments in jobs, income or economic growth. At best, they’re investments in civic pride; at worst, in bragging rights for a generation of sports fans who resemble everything wrong with the game. [emphasis mine] Sports in America used to be healthy, an entertaining way to teach life’s lessons. For whatever reason, the game has become an end in itself — a diversion so great that grownups not only live vicariously through the achievements of others but are willing to tax their neighbors to do it.”

Wow.  I can’t argue with the basic principle that the idea of public financing of stadia is repugnant.  The Pohlads are the richest owners in professional sports, and I’m not a huge fan of governments across the country giving sports teams mini-bailouts every time they want new digs.  While I’ve come accept the fact that public financing is the reality in stadium building today, but I also understand why people would criticize building a new stadium on the taxpayer dime for the Twins or any other team, on principle.

But to trivialize sports fans’ love of the game as nothing more than living out childish fantasies through the teams they follow is reductive and insulting.  Critics have had their time to gripe, and the vitriol isn’t going to make for better public policy in the future.

What I’m more focused on — and excited about — is coming home to my new ballpark for the first time, and watching my team introduced on an outdoor field — as the home team, not as the visitor at Kauffman, Busch, Comiskey, Miller, or Wrigley (where the “generation of [Minnesota] sports fans who resemble everything wrong with the game” flocked in droves last year, filling half of the seats in the Friendly Confines).

Money be damned.  Target Field is about more than public financing or economic impact — it’s about crystallizing the Twin Cities as solid baseball towns; the Twins, as a franchise that can be competitive year-in and year-out. And it’s about finally giving the fans the outdoor yard they’ve proved since 2001 they truly deserve.

When my grandpa and I — who’ll be attending the home opener with me on Monday — leafed through a special section of the newspaper with pictures of Twins ballparks through the years, his eyes fell on Metropolitan Stadium. The place was no baseball mecca. It was built on a parking lot in the Twin Cities’ suburbs. The left field stands were moved to convert the field into a football stadium for the Vikings, and were falling apart by the end of the stadium’s lifespan in the late 1970s. Still, he looked at the picture of the old Met, an earnest look in his eyes, and sighed.

“Now — there was a ballpark,” he said.

How does that resemble everything wrong with the game?

I can’t wait to take him to the Twins’ first outdoor home since the ’80s — and I can’t wait to go home for the first time.

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