As media events go, there are few weirder than groundbreaking ceremonies for a stadium or an arena. It is one thing when a team announces the design for a new facility. The media and fans can look at the drawings and imagine the new paradise the team will play in.
But groundbreaking ceremonies are different. After you stick a shovel in the ground, all you can do is stare at the rest of the area and wonder how the hell the place is going to turn into a promised palace.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Twins finally welcomed folks to their new home with plenty of folderol. There was MLB commissioner Bud Selig saying kind things and tossing bouquets at owner Carl Pohlad. Manager Ron Gardenhire managed to forget about his team getting swept this week at Cleveland and was his usual affable self. Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew, the two best players who performed at the team’s old outdoor venue, were present and looked almost ready to return to action. Kent Hrbek, the guy who grew up in the shadows of Metropolitan Stadium and then helped the Twins win two World Series titles, talked to the small crowd on hand and was funny as usual. There was a smattering of fireworks from time to time. Since the sun was out, it had little effect.
Few people seemed to notice. Worse yet, outside of some television coverage, nobody around town seemed to care. The Vikings were playing their final preseason game at the Metrodome and it was also available on local television. Besides, didn’t the Twins do something like this a few months ago? What’s the big deal here anyway?
There could be several reasons for this. This ceremony came at the end of what has been a rough month for the Twins. It was originally scheduled for August 2 as the capper to a day that was supposed to begin with a game at the Metrodome against the Royals. But the collapse of the nearby I-35 W Bridge led to something MLB is trying ardently hard to avoid these days – a postponement. (Ironically, the Twins make up that game against the Royals Friday afternoon.)
The bridge collapse was depressing enough news. In short order, two wild rainstorms that caused considerable land damage in St. Paul and in southeastern Minnesota followed this tragedy.
Twins’ fans moods were worsened by the fact the defending Central Division champs, who once appeared to be gaining momentum, are nine games behind first place Cleveland and are 7½ back in the Wild Card race. Furthermore, the team won’t even be playing games at the new park until 2010 and the reality is several current Twins will be employed elsewhere by then.
Some folks resented the fact that Hennepin County had to go to court to force the owners to pony up the land. Others were mad at the landowners for asking for too much money and dragging things out.
As a result, the sporting folks around the Twin Cities suddenly seem tired of the whole stadium deal and have, for the most part, turned their attention to the upcoming football season.
Perhaps the Twins understood all this in advance and decided they needed to put this show on anyway. The likelihood is this event was probably done more for sponsors and the guys who will be buying tickets in the luxury suites than the folks who will be in the bleachers. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that.
It just seemed a bit odd that what was originally intended like a gala opening evolved into a quiet evening activity that was sparsely attended. Then again, the whole stadium issue in Minneapolis has been unusual from the start. Why should the beginning of the end be any different?