Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Minnesota: More Than Snow, Ice and Hockey

Day Eight, Friday, July 25th: A Rare Off Day:

Good Morning Minnesota
I was awakened from a deep sleep by the smell of bacon, sausage, eggs and coffee. I opened my eyes, shook my head, and tried to remember where I was. After being on the road for over a week I had lost track of time and place and it took me a moment to get acclimated. I took a deep breath, inhaling the  soothing aromas that had drifted downstairs, into the basement, and were pulling at me to get out of bed and follow them to the kitchen. It was no use, I couldn't resist, so I gave in and headed upstairs towards the source.

 As I walked, sleepily, into the kitchen, I noticed the table was overflowing with more than just eggs, bacon and sausage. There were pancakes, cereal and French toast as well. While we were all sleeping (I was the first one up, by the way), Maria had been busy preparing a feast for everyone and I was going to be the first beneficiary of all of it.
I spent the next 30 minutes picking over a small amount of food (I'm not really a breakfast eater), and a gallon of coffee, while talking to Maria about her past in New York, how they came to live in Minnesota and the still-strong ties she has with her past home. We discussed how she grew up rooting for the Yankees (she still does) and how she was going to be sad to see Derek Jeter retire in the next month. Realizing we had both followed his career since Day One and now he was walking away made us feel more than a little old and melancholy. Thankfully we were saved from ourselves by Ryan, who had also followed his nose, from the basement to the kitchen.

"Do I smell bacon?" I heard my eldest say, excitedly.
"That you do," I laughed. "Come and get some breakfast, Maria cooked a feast."
"You had me at bacon, but I'll stay for a feast," we were informed.

Slowly but surely, one by one, the others awoke and made their way towards the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen. I decided it was time to go down to the computer and do some homework on what we were going to do today. We knew we were taking a tour of Target Field and eating dinner at a traditional German restaurant, but after that we had a of lot ideas and I was about to piece the puzzle together.

I had a myriad of things to choose from, such as a Mississippi riverboat ride, visiting the University of Minnesota campus, trying the two restaurants that served the "Juicy Lucy" cheeseburgers (a Minneapolis must), and an English pub that had an outdoor, roof-top bar and offered lawn bowling. I called Rob down and after about twenty minutes we put together what we thought would be the perfect two days.

"Okay guys, finish up," I called to the group, as I came upstairs. "We have a plan."
"So, what's on tap for today?" Tony wanted to know.
"Today," I told him, "will be a Target Field tour, lawn-bowling at the British Pub, A visit to The U of M, a visit to Minnehaha Falls and then dinner at Gasthoff zur Gemutlichkeit."
"God bless you," Ryan said. "But next time cover your mouth when you sneeze, please."
"Go get showered and dressed," I told the three of them, knowing it would give us about an hour before we were out the door.

About an hour later the six of us, plus Joe, were out the door and heading into the city. It was going to be fun to have Joe join us; he would be able to provide an "insider's" thoughts on everything we were about to see and add a Minnesota flavor to the day.

Target Field:

Welcome To Target Field
Opening in 2010, Target Field became the new home for the Twins, who had spent the last 28 years in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (also known as the Homer Dome). It is located in downtown Minneapolis, at 1 Twins Way, and is the first ballpark built specifically for the Twins, who previously shared space with the Vikings and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, since they moved to Minneapolis in 1961.

We quickly parked the car and headed up to the box office to purchase our tour tickets and hit the team store, so we wouldn't have to the next night. Ryan just wanted a program and a new batting helmet for Brendan, while Nick and Shawn were looking for some Twins' hats for themselves.

Rob, Ryan and I were in and out in no time flat, but the other boys couldn't decide on which hat they liked best, so we agreed to split up and meet back at the Gate 29 entrance, five minutes before the tour started. The three of us quickly headed out of the team store and started our self-guided tour, around the outside of the stadium, starting at the courtyard (known as Target Plaza) outside of Gate 29, which is in the right field area of the stadium.

We decided to hang a hard right, heading around the stadium in a clock-wise motion, leaving the courtyard as the final place to peruse before heading inside for our official ballpark tour.

Kent Hrbek Statue
Hometown Heroes Plaque
Our first stop was Gate 14, named in honor of former first baseman Kent Hrbek, and housing a statue of the player, arms raised in celebration, after the Twins won their first World Series Championship in 1987. Hrbek was a native of Minnesota (Bloomington), who played his entire career for the Twins, winning two World Series, being named an All Star in 1982 and had his number retired by the organization, after his retirement, so it seemed only fitting that his statue be placed in a location of "honor." Directly behind the statute was a plaque commemorating the "Hometown Heroes," who have played for the team over the course of its history. Also around Gate 14 are the banners that commemorate the Twins two World Series Championships, 1987 and 1991.

As we continued past Gate 14, down the third base side of the ballpark, we noticed there were statues of the famous cartoon strip "Peanuts" going down the walkway, each one of them with a baseball theme and wearing a different uniform style that had been worn by the team over the years. These statues were commissioned for the 2014 All Star Game as an homage to creator Charles Schultz (who incorporated baseball into many of his cartoon strips), himself a Minnesota native, and a long time Twins fan.

Ry and Snoopy
Hangin' With Charlie Brown
In all there were ten statues of the famous characters, playing the positions they had become "famous" for; Snoopy (playing shortstop with his dinner bowl in his mouth and a ball glove on his left hand, with Woodstock perched on top of his Twins cap), Charlie Brown (in his classic pitching motion), Linus (the second baseman, wearing his Twins pinstriped uniform, holding his blanket and sucking his thumb), Lucy ( the centerfielder, wearing her powder blue uniform and yelling at Charlie Brown), Peppermint Patty (at bat as the opposing team's manager and best player), Schroeder (as the catcher), Pig Pen (at third base, covered in his usual grime), as well as Franklin, Marcy and a female beagle (possibly Snoopy's girlfriend), who was leaning against a baseball that had all 30 MLB teams printed on it.

Ryan and I thought this was great and Rob agreed; we love the Peanuts characters (though not as much as we love Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes), and Snoopy was easily our favorite of all the statues. You couldn't look at it and not smile and laugh, which is exactly why these characters have been universally adored throughout Schultz's lifespan and beyond.

"Check out the baseball card banners," Ryan said pointing behind the Peanuts' statues.
"I hadn't even noticed those before," I laughed.

Joe Mauer Card

Along the fence, running the length of the walkway, behind the statues, the Twins had positioned replica Topps's Twins baseball cards of all the greats that had passed through the Twin Cities over the existence of the franchise. We saw Rod Carew (the perennial All Star), Billy Martin (the fiery manager), Jim "Kitty" Kaat (the pitcher who took the team to the precipice of the 1965 World Championship), Harmon Killebrew (the big slugger), Jack Morris (the hero of 1987's Game 7), fan favorite Kirby Puckett and local boy Joe Mauer. There were a few others, but these, it seemed to us, were the crux of who the Twins were over the years.
Tony Oliva Statue

We turned the corner and headed into the plaza by Gate 6, numbered for Twins' great outfielder Tony Oliva. Oliva played 14 seasons for the team, was an eight-time All Star, the 1964 Rookie of The Year, a three-time batting champion (1964, 1965 and 1971) and had his number retired in 1991. His bronze sculpture, defining his batting swing, overlooks the plaza and greets fans as they come to enter the ballpark.

Ryan, Rob and Bullsey

Also in this plaza is the Target Field destination for the light rail, which can take fans to and from the ballpark from various points in the city. The thing Ryan thought most interesting about this station is that there are heating coils built into the cement, which melt the snow in the winter and allows for the area to never have to be shoveled. There is also a statue of Bullseye, the Target mascot, wearing a Twins jersey, just outside the light rail station, which, of course, meant Ryan and Uncle Z needed a picture.

Killebrew Statue

Walking a little farther we came across the centerfield gate, Gate 3, which is numbered for legendary first baseman/third baseman/left fielder Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew played for the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins from 1954-1974 and was a 13-time All Star, an AL MVP (1969), six-time home run leader, three-time AL RBI leader, and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. He also had his number retired by the Twins in 1975. The statue of "Killer," positioned by the gate, shows the slugger in his classic right-handed follow-through swing, as if frozen during one of his famous tape-measure home runs.

"Whoa, look at that," Ryan exclaimed, walking around the corner.

The Gold Glove Is Huge
It seems we had "stumbled" across a giant statute of a baseball glove, a "Gold Glove" if you will, right outside of Target Plaza. This is a nod to all Twins players who have ever won the prestigious award and there is a plaque, in chronological order, of all Twins to have received it, starting with Earl Batty (catcher), who was the first Twins player to win the award, in 1961. Of course we needed multiple pictures sitting inside the glove (yes, it's that big), one of Ryan and I, one of Ryan with his Uncle Z and one with all three of us.

Kirby Puckett
Our next stop was at Gate 34 (right field), which is dedicated to fan favorite center-fielder Kirby Puckett. Puckett played his entire career for the Twins (1984-1995), was a ten-time All Star, a two-time World Series Champion (1987 and 1991), a six-time Gold Glove Award winner, an AL Batting Champion, an AL RBI Champion and an All Star Game MVP (1993). He is the player most closely associated with the 1987 World Championship for his heroic catch in the third inning of Game 6 and his subsequent game-winning homer, in the 11th, which sent the series on to a Game 7. He was forced to retire, prematurely, in 1996 due to glaucoma. He tragically passed away in 2006, after suffering a fatal stroke at the age of 45. His number was retired in 1997, and the statue of him at the Gate 34 entrance recreates his running the bases, arms over his head in celebration, after hitting the Game 6 walk-off-home-run, in the 1987 World Series. I vividly remember watching that World Series, with my dad, so, of course, Ryan and I needed a picture with Kirby.

Rod Carew
The last gate we came to was number 29, which is where we started out. This gate is numbered for Rod Carew, the famous second baseman who played for the organization from 1967-1978 and may be considered the best pure hitter between Ted Williams and Wade Boggs. While in Minnesota, Carew was an All Star every year, won the 1967 Rookie of The Year, was an MVP (1977) and was a seven-time batting champion. He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 and had his number retired by the Twins in 1987. The statue shows Carew in his classic left-handed batting stance.

With TC Bear
Finally we were back at Target Plaza, in front of the team store and with a few more moments to wander around and take in the sights of what was an already impressive ballpark...from the outside, anyway.

Target Plaza is the open-air concourse by the right field gate (#34), where people meet before games and hang out after them. It is an area that houses a statue for owner Carl Pohlad, and his wife, Eloise, as well as one of the team mascots, T.C. Bear (T.C. stands for Twin Cities), sitting on a bench, wearing a Twins jersey and holding a bat in one hand, while giving the thumbs up sign with the other. Ryan and I had to get a pic with T.C. so we ran over, while Rob rolled his eyes and snapped off a shot. I loved the paradox that Ryan was; on the one hand he wanted so much to be an adult, but also had no qualms whatsoever about being a little kid. It was the perfect mixture.

1987 World Champions
Rod Carew, Twins Hall of Fame
There was one last thing in the plaza we needed to explore, before heading back to meet with Tony, Nick, Shawn and Joe: the pedestrian bridge of Twins history. This foot bridge connects the plaza with 6th Street and the Target Center Building and has weather-proof pennants, with rosters, for every year in Twins history, as well as plaques for all the players, coaches, owners and front office people who have been enshrined in the Twins' Hall of Fame. I quickly snapped some pictures of the famous teams (1965, 1987 and 1991) as well as the pennants for the Hall of Fame players, such as; Carew; Killebrew, Puckett and Kaat, before letting an anxious Ryan drag me off to meet the others and start the official ballpark tour (which he was getting worried we would miss the beginning of).

"Welcome to Target Field," we heard the tour guide, named Jack, exclaim, as we got to the group.
"I told you we wouldn't miss anything," I said to Ryan, laughing.
"Not funny," he retorted, flashing me a dirty look.
"Come on into the ballpark, we're going to start the tour at the front office area, so please follow me."

World Champions Photo Inside The Park
We all followed Jack through the stadium, past the front office and to a private corridor behind it. As we looked around we noticed pictures from the 1991 World Series Championship, which a lot of Twins fans consider to be the better of the two because of the drama associated with that seven-game series.

"Before we get started," Jack began, "We have some gifts for the kids here."
"I LOVE gifts," Ryan laughingly whispered.
"There's the understatement of the year," I told him, which elicited a stuck-out tongue.
"As a thank you for joining us today, please accept these yearbooks from the organization," Jack said.
"Wow," I nudged Rob. "That's a pretty cool free gift."
"No doubt," he said, as we both watched Ryan thumb through his new yearbook.
"Okay folks," Jack began. "Let me give you some background on Target Field."

For the first twenty minutes we were regaled with the history of the latest home of the Twins. I was interested, but it would have been better had it been done outside, in the stands, as the one we enjoyed on Tuesday, at Wrigley. Nonetheless, I did learn a lot.

Target Field is the third home of the Twins; they had previously played at Metropolitan Stadium (1961-1981) and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (1982-2009), since moving from Washington D.C. to Minneapolis, after the 1960 season. It is also the first Twins-only facility the team has had in its history, as the franchise has shared buildings with the N.F.L. Vikings and the University of Minnesota's Golden Gophers.

The team had begun planning to move out of the Metrodome since the mid-1990s; in fact a new site had been picked out (just north of the Metrodome on the Mississippi River) but between almost being relocated to North Carolina, almost being contracted and the funding for the new park being used as a political football, the project didn't get green-lit until June of 2007.

The new ballpark was designed by the architectural firm of Populous, which had also been the firm that had done Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Nationals Park, and who wished to create a cross between the retro-feel in Baltimore and the urban look of Washington. Since the stadium would not have a retractable roof, and Minneapolis can be quite cold in the early part of the season and the playoffs, it was decided that the fa├žade would be constructed from locally mined limestone and the playing field and viewing areas would be heated. Originally a retractable roof was in the design, for the above-mentioned reasons, but when the cost came to an additional $100 million it was quickly shelved.

The size of the land that the ballpark would sit on was about the size of the one in Boston (Fenway Park), and it would hold about the same number of seats. The official address is 1 Twins W and the location chosen was in between 5th Street North (Left Field), 3rd Avenue (Right Field), 6th Avenue North (Third Base) and 7th Street North (First Base) and right off of I 394.

Construction was started on August 30, 2007 and local companies, such as Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors, Danny's Construction Company, CECO Concrete, Gephart Electric, Ambassador Steel and a myriad of others, worked day and night for the better part of two years to bring the ballpark to life. During the two-plus years of work the Target Corporation announced they had purchased naming rights to the new ballpark for an undisclosed amount and that the field would be officially named Target Field, when opened.

The facility was completed, and the park deemed "open" in December of 2009, at a cost of $545 million dollars. The Twins immediately moved into their offices and preparations began, in earnest, for Opening Day, which would be in mid-April of 2010, in conjunction with the team's 50th anniversary in Minnesota, but the Twins would play two preseason games, against the Cardinals ten days before that.

Left Field View
Right Field View
On April 12, 2010, Target Field opened to a crowd of 39,504. This would be the capacity for the first two years of the park's existence, but would be dropped to 39,021 in 2013 and would remain at that number. The playing surface is a Kentucky Bluegrass  and the dimensions are 339 feet to Left Field, 377 to Left-Center, 411 to the Center Field left corner, 403 to the Center Field right corner, 365 to Right-Center Field and 328 to Right Field. The idea was to have the park favor neither pitchers nor hitters, but once games started being played and the winds started blowing it became obvious to all that this would be a pitcher's park, as the ball would not carry well. In the park's first year the batter's eye consisted of 14 young Minnesota Spruce trees, but when both the Twins and the opposing players complained about the shadows the trees cast they were removed and auctioned off to season ticket holders, with the remainder going to the Minnesota State Parks Department.
View To Center Field

The opening game itself was won by the Twins, 5-2, with Carl Pavano posting the first win, Orlando Hudson getting the hometown team's first hit, and Jason Kubel, of the Twins, hitting the first home run. The game was a shade under three hours and the temperature was 65 degrees, which was considered balmy for April in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers baseball team has also used the ballpark for games but Target Field has also been the host to non-sporting events, over the years, as well. Musicians such as Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Grace Potter, Soul Asylum, Matthew Sweet and Paul McCartney have all graced a stage in the outfield and, starting in 2013, the Skyline Music Festival has called Target Field home.

After getting this not-so-brief overview we were ready to move on. It was very informative, and I was glad we got the back-story, but I could see the kids, as well as other visitors, were getting a bit antsy. Like I said earlier, it was my opinion that this portion of the tour would have been much better suited to having the guests seated, preferably with a view of the field.

We took the elevator upstairs to our first stop, the club level, where we would get an up-close view of one of the fine dining establishments in Target Field, the Metropolitan Club. However, before getting to the club, itself, we had to walk through a large hallway where two things caught our eyes.

Little League Opening Of Target Field Painting
The first was a stunning painting, by a local artist, depicting the opening of Target Field. The scenery was a little league field, overlooking downtown Minneapolis, and a group of children standing around a flagpole, with the stars and stripes being raised. Each child was wearing the uniform of an MLB team and, respectfully, had his hat off, while watching the two boys in Twins jerseys raising the flag. I don't know why it gave me chills, but the picture just spoke to me. The simplicity of the idea, how it just represented baseball at an innocent, youthful level, made me smile and nod my head.

Can You Name Them All?
As we headed towards the club itself we were led down a large hallway, which, along the wall, housed what looked to be a lot of individual paintings. As it turned out, these paintings were the Twins' way of paying homage to every MLB team in the game today. Each painting represented a signature feature from every ballpark; for example there was a representation of the signature frieze of Yankee Stadium, another of the Green Monster, at Fenway, and the riverboat smokestacks of Great American Ballpark. It was fun to take a few minutes and try to name all of them, which, of course, we were able to.

Metropolitan Club
Full Service Club Bar
Finally we came to the Metropolitan Club, at the end of the hallway. This establishment is exclusive to season ticket holders and reservations are highly encouraged. The organization depicts it as "a premium taste of Twins' territory" and has a menu that is designed on a game-by-game basis. The club employs both a culinary degree-holding chef and pastry chef and the menus are rich and varied, which will satisfy even the pickiest eaters. There is also a full-service, top-of-the-line bar, where a patron can order any cocktail imagined, to go with their meal or appetizer.

Memorabilia In Metropolitan Club
More Memorabilia
It wasn't the bar, or the full-service fine dining experience, that  grabbed my attention, however. It was the room overflowing with Minnesota baseball memorabilia that grabbed my attention. There are murals showing the original ballparks in Minnesota history- Lexington Park (1897-1956) and Nicolet Park (1896-1955), as well as the original home plate from Metropolitan Stadium- and an enormous supply of jerseys, trophies, awards, bats, signed baseballs and autographed pictures throughout the dining area.

As if that couldn't possibly be enough, the Metropolitan Club has an outdoor deck, with seating/standing area, that offers an amazing view of the ballpark. All five of us agreed this would be a great place to sit and watch a game, though the food wasn't really what we had in mind when visiting a ballpark for the first time.
View From The Metropolitan Club Deck

Our next stop, behind the scenes, was the Delta Sky 360 Legends Club. This "club" is actually three venues that wrap around Target Field, from dugout to dugout, named in honor of three of the legends who played for the Twins (Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew) and allows for huge parties and gatherings, as well as corporate events.

Puckett Memorabilia
Tony Oliva Memorabilia
All three sections have memorabilia for the player the section is named after, such as
jerseys, trophies, awards and autographed items. Along with these things, however, are items from the player's early days that would be either very hard to find, or not available to anyone but immediate family and friends. Things such as high school jerseys, minor league photos, scorecards and caps, first contracts and such that would keep a serious fan engaged for hours.

Puckett Parquet Mural
Carew Parquet Mural
However, the highlight of each room was special. In the Carew and Puckett Atriums there were parquet wood murals, which were hung on the wall, designed as a headshot of each of the two players. We had never seen anything quite like it and stood there for quite a few moments reflecting on the uniqueness.

Killebrew Mural
The 573 Club, which is named after Killebrew's career home run total, is a two-storied lounge area, which features a top-shelf bar and a huge wall-sized mural of the player, as well as some inspirational quotes from him. It is the smallest of the three sections, but does offer a cozy feel that I did enjoy, though I was getting a little tired of touring the private areas that no one would see, unless they could pony up the money to be considered "special."

Finally we were led back outside, to the upstairs portion of the stadium, where we could get a good view of the ballpark as it unfolded around us and the first thing that caught our eyes was the Twins logo-sign, over the centerfield portion of the stadium.

This light-up sign is a reproduction of the original Twins logo, which features two identical players  (twins
Minnie and Paul), wearing the uniforms of the original minor league teams (the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints) that played in the twin cities before the team arrived, reaching across the Mississippi River, shaking hands, to signify the good will between the two cities and standing within the boundary of the state of Minnesota. The sign uses lights to tell fans exactly what is happening in the game, but you have to understand the non-verbal cues.

When the team scores a run, except by home run, the state border lights up once for each runner that has crossed the plate. For each strikeout a Twins pitcher records the corners flash, which signifies the strike zone. When a Twins batter homers, the entire logo flashes, Minnie and Paul shake hands and the Mississippi River flows between them. Finally, when the Twins win, the "T" and the "S" blink, showing the message "Twins Win," in addition to all the graphics lit during a Twins home run.

"Win Twins" Sign In Centerfield
Ryan thought this was very cool and made sure I got a picture of the logo, which was a no-brainer, before we headed to the last section of the tour...another private club. This time it would be the Champions Club, behind the home plate area. I wasn't going to say so out loud, but I was getting a little tired of looking at dining options in the ballpark. This was not what I was hoping for and I could see from Ryan's eye roll, when he heard the next stop, that he was thinking the same thing.

Regardless we hopped in the elevators and in no time found ourselves standing inside the most luxurious of all the clubs we had seen today. This, again, was a member's-only club, where the patrons could experience fine dining, with all the trimmings, before, during, or after a game.

1987 World Series Trophy
1991 World Series Trophy
The first things that greets you, as you walk in, are replicas of the two World Series Championship trophies the franchise has won. There are also paintings, photos and assorted memorabilia that adorn the walls from those series as well. It was a very nice atmosphere, reminding me a lot of the Stadium Club at Yankee Stadium, but I had seen enough of the club areas today and was anxious to see the field, so when the talk turned to the bar and the menus I started walking around snapping photos.

After a few minutes we were all brought back together and told we would be going to the seats directly behind home plate, to see the magnificent views of the ballpark that only these club members had access to. Apparently the front row of seats in this section sits 50 feet behind home plate, which meant the patron was actually closer to the catcher, from his seat, than the pitcher is from the mound.

As we headed towards the field level seating we were given one last tidbit of information; to get there we would have to walk directly behind the Twins indoor batting cages. This apparently is another perk of being a member of the Champions Club, which is cool if you actually get to see players back there, which I was doubting.

Joe Mauer Getting Some Work In
"Guys, you're not going to believe this," a breathless Ryan said, running towards us. "Joe Mauer is in the cage."
"You're joking," I told him.
"Come see for yourself," was all he said.

Sure enough, Joe Mauer was working in the cage, as we walked by.

"This is definitely better than looking at another eating area," I told Rob.
"Yeah, it is," he shot back.

We stayed for a moment to watch Mauer work on his swing, before heading out to the seating area.

Retired Numbers In Left Field
The seats were as gorgeous as advertised, and fairly priced for the location. Looking out from home plate we could see all the retired numbers, along the left field deck; the beautiful  city skyline, over the outfield wall; and the Twins logo, directly over the center field wall. We were also able to look into the dugout, but not go in, as well as get as close as possible to being on field, without being on it, both of which were a little disappointing, as we had been able to do that on tours of other ballparks.

Me and Ryan, Behind Home Plate
After a few minutes, during which we were allowed to take as many photos as we wanted, we were told the tour was over. Ryan and I rushed to get one more, directly behind home plate, and then headed for the exit. We all agreed it was a fun and informative tour, but we wished we were able to see more baseball-related things, as opposed to so many restaurants, though we all agreed that Target Field was a really nice ballpark and were looking forward to tomorrow night's game.

Downtown Minneapolis, Minnehaha Falls and "The U":

We had decided to head into the city for a bite of lunch, though it would be a very small bite as we were planning a traditional German dinner. We had decided to check out Brit's Pub, a British bar and grill Rob had found, which offered a roof-top bar and lawn bowling for the kids.

We found the place with no problems, parked the car and headed inside for what we hoped would be a few hours of outdoor fun. The pub itself certainly lived up to its billing as a premier British pub, as there was British "memorabilia" as far as the eye could see. It certainly did look like a fun place, so we headed to the roof to grab a pint and try our hand at lawn bowling, for which the kids were excited.

Unfortunately everyone in the city seemed to have the same idea as us, as well as a private party that had booked half the lawn bowling courts, so there were no tables available and it could be an hour, or more, before we were actually able to get on a court. We huddled up and quickly decided to find another place to grab a bite and a beer and just take a break, so we dejectedly headed back out to the street.

Rob quickly found us another "ethnic" eatery just up the road. The Local is a traditional Irish Pub, located at 931 Nicollet Mall, featuring an 80-foot long, hand-carved bar; side "rooms," which are tables in stained glass "caves;" a whisky lounge, private event rooms, a patio, and more than enough space that one could get lost just wandering to the restroom.

In "The Nook"
We were seated in our own little "cave," called The Nook, which the boys found especially interesting as the table had a tap in the middle of it. They were a little disappointed to find out the tap was turned off, which we discovered was because there was no way to regulate the amount of beer people would pour from it, but that was quickly forgotten when they looked at all the choices on the menu.

We quickly ordered some local brews- Joe had a Guinness, since we were in an Irish pub- and sat back discussing what to order. The menu was chock full of traditional Irish fare; Shepherd's Pie, fish and chips, corned beef and Bangers and Mash, although we had already decided to just grab some appetizers, knowing how much room would be needed for dinner.

We decided on Chicken Shots (ginger-beer basted chicken fingers), Wee Burgers (beef sliders), Stuffed Mushrooms and Pub Pretzels and then sat back and enjoyed the atmosphere of the place. I grabbed my beer, while Ryan grabbed his beverage and we decided to explore. We were amazed by every nook and cranny of the pub; the hand-carved bar was stunning in its beauty and 100-year history, the Whiskey Lounge is filled with etched crystal and the bar pays tribute to the smallest pub in Ireland, McBride's. The Cavern is an area for large parties and resembles a large European eating room in which a band might play, while The Boardroom is smaller in size, but cozy and comfortable as a meeting place, and The Kissing Room is a dimly lit area, with some tables and a couch, that provides an intimate area to steal away with your significant other.
We spent about 90 minutes here and had a blast; the food was very good, the service was excellent and the atmosphere was unbeatable. We all agreed this would most certainly be a place we would have liked for an evening out, but we already had one booked and it was time to hit the road to our next stop, which was going to bring us a little closer to nature.

We drove through the city and came to a place Joe thought we had to see, Minnehaha Park. This park is one of the many city parks in Minneapolis, which is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and houses the lower portion of Minnehaha Creek and Minnehaha Falls. The park preserves the historic sites that show American architecture, pioneering and transportation, including the Minnehaha Princess (a restored train depot from the 1870s), the John Stevens House (a horse stable) and the Longfellow House (a replica of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's house in Massachusetts). We, however, were here to see the central attraction, Minnehaha Falls.

As we pulled up to the parking lot we noticed Shawn had fallen asleep and rather than waking him Tony thought it best to lock the car and let him sleep, leaving a note explaining where we had gone.
It was a five-minute walk from the lot to the falls, which are about a half-mile into the park. The falls, themselves, were made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," published in 1855.
Side View

View From The Top
We could hear the falls before we could actually see them, which was a bit amazing since there were so many people in the park, and we decided that before we actually saw them from the front we would stand on the bridge, which looked down on them, from above. It is a 53-foot drop to the basin below, though you couldn't tell from the overhead view. Nevertheless, it is impressive to imagine what we would see, from the front, as the river rushed below us, over the limestone cliffs.

View From The Basin
There are trails on either side of the falls that take you down to the basin, and a frontal view. We chose the one on the left, as we were told it offered the best views of the falls on the way down. We weren't disappointed; the view was breathtaking and we stopped numerous times to snap some pictures and just take in the view.

When we got to the basin the view of the falls was even more stunning than I could have imagined. It was from here that we got a full understanding of nature's beauty and power, in a serene, picturesque, woodland area, surrounded by oak, elm, hackberry, cottonwood and basswood trees, as well as the wild flowers growing all around us. This was a picture Ryan decided he had to have of us, so we quickly took our place on the landing and had Tony snap a quick shot, before we did the same for him.

Ry and I at The Base of The Falls
We quickly made our way back to the van- we didn't want Shawn to be there by himself too long if he was awake- only to find him still sound asleep. We decided it was time to wake sleeping beauty on our way to the next stop, the University of Minnesota's Mariucci Arena.

Ryan and I are big hockey fans, college as well as international and NHL, and no trip to Minnesota would be complete without paying homage to "America's Coach" (Herb Brooks), at his alma mater, The U.

Gold Gopher Hockey
The University of Minnesota is a sprawling state university that straddles the Mississippi River, and has campuses on the east and west banks. It has about 51,000 students (both undergrad and graduate), provides numerous types of degrees and is a Division One athletic school, whose football, basketball and hockey teams are usually in the national spotlight. While the athletic programs are very competitive at The U, none are more so than the hockey team, which has won 5 NCAA National Championships, 13 WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) Championships, 14 WCHA Tournament Championships and has over 20 Frozen Four appearances to their credit. The program has sent more players to the NHL and the Olympics than any other program in collegiate history and the centerpiece of The U's Hockey tradition is it's former coach, Herb Brooks.

Coach Brooks attended college The U, went on to the U.S. National Team and played in the Olympics. He coached the Golden Gophers to three NCAA Titles (1974, 1976 and 1979), was the head coach for the 1980 Gold Medal U.S. Olympic Hockey Team (The Miracle on Ice), and the 2002 Silver Medal winning U.S. Hockey Team, as well as the NHL's New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins. He was posthumously enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006, after he, tragically, died in a car accident in August of 2003. This man had played an important part of my childhood watching hockey, and I had passed that on to Ryan as well, so it was only natural that we paid our respects at the University's arena.

Snow In July? Only In Minnesota

When we pulled into the complex I couldn't believe my eyes- There was snow on the ground. Well it wasn't actually snow; it was ice that was being dumped after the Zamboni cleared the rink, but that's not the point.

Snowball Fight!

"Hey Ry," I called out. "SNOW!"
"No way," he laughed, incredulously.
"Check it out," Joe told us. "Only in Minnesota can you get snow in July"
"I love this place," we both responded, simultaneously.

We spent a good ten minutes playing in the snow-bank the Zamboni had left for us. We tossed snowballs at
each other, and anyone that walked by. We made a small igloo, and posed for pictures, because no one was going to believe this happened.

After our little frolic in the snow, Ryan, Rob and I headed inside the arena to see one of college hockey's Meccas. Mariucci Arena, which opened in 1993, is named after John Mariucci, the former University coach, who is considered by many to be the "Godfather" of Minnesota hockey. He played for the University, spent several seasons in the NHL, would coach the 1956 Silver Medal US Hockey Team and coached The U from 1952-1966, compiling a 197-168-18 record. Mariucci believed in stocking the U with talent from Minnesota and was the driving force behind making Minnesota a hotbed of hockey talent throughout the world.

As we walked to the concourse we noticed the original three National Champions' banners (1974, 1976 and 1979) all won by Coach Brooks.

"Well, we're in the right place," Ryan joked.

As we got to the concourse level I couldn't believe my eyes. Spread out before me was one of the nicest facilities I had ever seen. Every seat in the place was maroon, except for a portion on each side of the ice that were gold (maroon and gold are the school's colors) and formed  the letter "M," while high above the ice surface flew every banner the program has ever won, starting with the five National Champions' ones.

Mariucci Arena

One Minnesota Hockey Mural
As we walked the hallway we came across murals of Minnesota hockey history, featuring the best players the state has ever produced, as well as a "Gophers' Hall of Fame" where there were pictures of the college players and all the hardware they had won, such as the Hobey Baker Award (best collegiate player) for Rob Stauber (1988), Brian Bonnin (1996) and Jordan Leopold (2002), as well as the Mayasich Trophy (best player in the state of Minnesota) and the too many recipients to name.

Finally we came to the Herb Brooks Memorial. The memorial is a wall-sized mural, painted from various scenes of Coach Brooks' career, with some of his most famous quotes and a display case housing a lot of memorabilia he had won through out his career. There was a section for his collegiate career, as well as one for his Olympic career, which housed pictures and a Gold Medal, on loan from Robbie McLanahan (as coaches don't receive medals at the Olympics).

Ryan and I, With Coach Brooks
I sat back and took it all in. I was a little tentative to go up; it was as if all my childhood memories came flooding back and started to overwhelm me. Ryan sensed my hesitation and gently brought me forward. He started asking questions that he already knew the answer to, but wanted to relive through my memories, as if he had never heard the stories before. Once again my 13-year-old son proved wise beyond his years. I didn't even grasp what he was doing until hours later, and I am extremely thankful he did it, as well as proud of the fact he instinctively knew how to get me to open up. After a few minutes Rob grabbed a picture of us in front of the display and we headed out, our mission completed.

Dining, Minnesota-Style and The Meter-Brat Challenge:

Dinner Time

"Okay, who's ready to stuff themselves," I asked, the moment we got back to the van."
"Ya," Rob replied.
"Ya?" Shawn asked.
"It's German, for yes," Ryan told him.
"Feed me," was all Tony contributed to the conversation.
"Hope you're all hungry," Rob told everyone. "There will be a ton of great food."

Fifteen minutes later we pulled into the parking lot for what I hoped would be a meal we would never forget.
Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit is a traditional Bavarian brew house and restaurant, located at 2300 University Avenue NE, in Minneapolis. Gasthof means guest house and gemutlichkeit translated as the warm feeling one gets when in a pleasant environment, or atmosphere. I couldn't pronounce it, but I knew I was going to end up with a warm feeling after dining here.

The Dining Room; Bavarian Style
As soon as we walked in I knew this was going to be our kind of place. It was warm, friendly, open and loud. There were two dining areas- I won't call them rooms because they were more like halls-which had some booths ringing the back walls, but were mostly long tables. We were led into the one on the right and given a circular booth, where we could watch the entire room. Beer, food, people-watching and a loud atmosphere, we were in heaven.

The Meter Brat Challenge
Our waitress came right up, introduced herself and took our drink order. Nick and Shawn had Cokes, but Ryan decided to try the homemade root beer, while the "adults" ordered traditional German beers. We decided to each start with a liter, which came in a giant stein, and settled on a Spaten Oktoberfest (mine), a Hacker Pschorr Oktoberfest (Tony), a Dunkel (Rob) and a Paulaner Oktoberfest (Joe) and started to eyeball the menu. I knew right away I was doing the Meter-Brat Challenge, which we had seen on Man vs. Food, and consisted of one person eating an entire meter of Bratwurst, potato croquets, potato dumplings, sauerkraut and red cabbage. If you can eat this entire meal, by yourself, you get a certificate from the restaurant and the understanding you're a pig. Of course I was going to do this; now we just had to figure out what the rest of the group was going to get.

One schlemmerplatte. We Had TWO
We settled on two schlemmerplattes, which consisted of wienerschnitzel (breaded veal cutlet),sauerbraten (marinated beef roast), kaseschnitzel (breaded pork schnitzel, with a Parmesan cheese sauce), huhnchen (chicken breast in peppercorn sauce), with two salads, spatzle (traditional German dumplings), red cabbage, vegetable, sauerkraut and two shots of schnapps, on each platter. The waitress just looked at us, wide-eyed, as if she couldn't believe what she had just heard.

"You're going to eat all of that AND the beers I am bringing out?"
"No," I told her. "We'll be having more beer."
"We'll see," she laughed.
"You have no idea how these guys can eat and drink," Joe said, only half-kidding.

We sat back and watched the other patrons until our beers arrived, which didn't take long.
Spaten Oktoberfest

"THAT'S A SMALL BEER?" Shawn said, mouth agape.
"It is here," the waitress told him.
"Life is good," I laughed and toasted the table.

Ryan wanted to try a sip of all the different beers, so of course we let him, but no more than a sip. Nick tried the lighter ones, but wasn't adventurous enough to try the darker brews, while Shawn tried just a bit of the Spaten. Of course Ryan gave us his complete rankings, with Spaten being the best, followed by the Hacker, then the Paulaner and, lastly, the Dunkel. He insisted on getting a picture toasting his Uncle Rob, so we took the shot before the floor entertainer showed up.

Table-side Music

We had heard accordion playing coming from the pother room, but didn't give it a second thought until the gentleman showed up at our table, complete in authentic German garb, squeezing the life out of the instrument. He asked us where we were from and what would we like to hear and then chose to play "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", in our honor, after hearing our story. He would continue to come back at various times over the course of the evening and laugh and joke with us, as well as serenade the table with an accordion version of "New York, New York".

When the food came even we couldn't believe how much of it there was, but, not matter, we pressed on undaunted. The waitress put the three serving trays of food on the table and said once again that she didn't think we could finish all of this. In response everyone except for Joe ordered another beer, he was the evening's designated driver. Everything was piled high and it looked like enough food to feed a battalion, but undaunted we dug in.

Everyone attacked their plates with a gusto that made me realize that we did the right thing by going light on the lunch fare. Not only were the portions huge, and the trays overflowing, but the food was rich and heavy, as well.

Ry Toasts Uncle Z, With My Beer
Over the next half hour there was a lot of laughing, drinking, sharing and chewing going on. The waitress came back to refill the beers and was astonished at the amount of food that kept being consumed. I was making very good progress on the Meter-Brat Challenge, I had devised a plan to not eat too much of any one thing at a time and get filled up. So I alternated between everything on the plate and before long was down to my last bite.

Everyone else was doing some damage on the schlemmerplattes, but I could see that Nick and Shawn had hit a wall. I had had a bite of all the different things on those as well and the general consensus was that the kaseschnitzel was the tastiest, most likely from the melted cheese on top, but the wienerschnitzel was a very close second. The cabbage and the sauerkraut were the best I had ever had, especially since I had never been a fan of either, and I couldn't get enough now.

Finally I came to the last bite. The waitress must have been watching from afar because before I could put the fork in the brat she rushed to the table, asked me to stop and made a major announcement to the entire restaurant.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she began. "This gentleman agreed to do our Meter-Brat Challenge this evening and is now on the last bite.

She gestured, emphatically, at me and asked me to stand up.

"He has eaten three feet of bratwurst, potato croquets, potato dumplings, red cabbage and sauerkraut, and is now on the verge of completing the challenge with his last bite. Let's all cheer him on and present him with a certificate of accomplishment."

Never one to be embarrassed, I decided to make a grand spectacle of the event. Slowly I reached down and stabbed the last bit of brat, held it aloft, over my head, so all could see and then, maximizing my being the center of attention, put it in my mouth. After chewing, and swallowing, I tossed the fork behind me, hitting Ryan in the process, and raised my arms in triumph at what I had just "accomplished."

The room erupted in cheers, which I milked for all its worth, as the waitress presented me with a signed certificate, depicting my "heroics". My son, and the rest of the table, either laughed or rolled their eyes.

"You're such a showoff," Ryan laughed.
"It ain't bragging if it's true," I told him.
"Can I interest you in some dessert?" the waitress asked.
"Sure, another beer, please," I told her.

Toasting A Great Meal
When she came back she had the four shots of schnapps (which we had forgotten about), another beer for Rob and me, and asked if we were through. All eyes landed on me, who by this time was starting to feel the effects of all the food, and I just shook my head, so she brought us the bill.

We all waddled back to the van and drove back to Joe's in silence, half-comatose from all the food we had just eaten. Everyone agreed it was a fabulous meal, but sleeping was going to be difficult until some of it was digested. Joe said he would build a fire-pit and we could all sit outside for a while, which we did, before bed.

By 10 p.m. all of us were exhausted and ready for bed, so we quickly called it a night. The next day was going to be a long one, because we were driving back to Chicago right after the game. We put out the fire, headed inside, and were fast asleep within 30 minutes.

Days Nine & Ten, Saturday/Sunday, July 26/27: Boats, Burgers, Baseball & Home: 

I, once again, woke to the smell of bacon and sausage. This time, however, there was no way I was eating. Still stuffed from the night before, I headed upstairs to at least be social and have a cup of coffee. I was, again, the first one up, though the others soon followed. After all, the smell of bacon will almost wake the dead.

I couldn't believe anyone was ready to put more food away; we were less than twelve hours removed from our feast, but they all chowed down as if they hadn't eaten in a month. I grabbed another cup of coffee and some bacon (who can resist bacon) and announced I was headed downstairs to pack, check our itinerary for the day and look up some information on the Twins. Ryan decided to follow me, so the two of us headed to the computer.

The first thing we did was check out the launch time for the boat ride we were going to take, on the Mississippi, later that morning. Then we looked up directions for the two restaurants we were hitting to try the Jucy Lucy Burger Comparison Test. Finally, our scheduling done, we sat back and did a little brush up on the history of the Minnesota Twins; after all, today was game day and we were going to be rooting for the home team, so we didn't want to sound unintelligent with the hometown fans.

Baseball History In Minnesota:

Baseball in Minnesota did not begin in 1961, with the Twins, but rather was almost 100 years old by the time the Twins moved from Washington D.C. to the Twin Cities. Both Minneapolis (the Millers) and Saint Paul (the Saints) had minor league clubs that played there from the late 1800's.

The Millers date back to 1884 and played in the Northwestern League (started by Ban Johnson, it was a forerunner of the American League), until after the 1900 season when Minneapolis was abandoned for larger, more nationally known cities for the A.L.'s inaugural season.

Millers' Jersey (Left)
In 1902 another incarnation of the Millers began, this time as a minor league team in the American Association, playing in Minneapolis until 1960. This team was the minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox (1936-1938 and 1958-1960) and the New York Giants (1946-1957) and was successful, winning titles in 1955, 1958 and 1959. In the years they were not affiliated with an MLB club the Millers played as an independent team and won championships in 1910-1912, 1915, 1932 and 1935. The club played their home games in Nicollet Park from 1902-1955, when the park was torn down, and they moved to Metropolitan Stadium for the duration of their tenure in Minnesota. Obviously the Millers had quite a few players over the years, but none more famous than Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski, each of whom went on to Hall of Fame careers. The team's chief rivals played across the river in Saint Paul and we re known as the Saints.

The original Saint Paul Saints, like the Millers, began their existence around the turn of the century. From 1894-1899 the team (formerly from Sioux City, moving to Saint Paul after the 1893 season)played in the Western League, but was transferred to the south side of Chicago and became the White Sox in the new American League.

In 1901 another incarnation of the Saints was born, playing their home games at Dale and Aurora Grounds (1901, 1902), a local ballpark whose name has been lost to history from 1903-1909, Lexington Park from 1910-1913, University Park from 1914-1956 and, finally, Midway Stadium for the final four years of their existence.

Saints' Jersey (Left)
The team was a minor league affiliate of the White Sox (1936-1942), the Brooklyn Dodgers (1944-1957) and finally the Los Angeles Dodgers (1958-1960) and won a championship in 1924. As was the case with the Millers, many future notable players came through Saint Paul, such as Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Lefty Gomez and Leo Durocher. The team also launched the coaching careers of Walter Alston and Charles Comiskey, both of whom landed in the Hall of Fame.

When the Senators moved to Minneapolis, in 1961, the Saints were relocated to Omaha and became the Dodgers, while the Millers moved to Seattle and became the Rainiers. Minor league baseball remained dormant in Minnesota until 1993, when another incarnation of the Saints came to be. This team has played at Midway Stadium since that time and is renowned for its over-the-top stunts and promotions. This was the team we had visited on our way into Minnesota, an evening detailed in the previous blog post, Iowa: Baseball Heaven, Rock & Roll Hell.

The Twins Come To Town:

In 1960 MLB granted Minnesota an expansion team, but Washington Senators owner Calvin Griffith asked for a dispensation to move his team to Minneapolis and give Washington the expansion franchise. Once approval was given the Senators moved to Minneapolis, became the Twins and began preparing for the 1961 season when they would play in Metropolitan Stadium. Originally the team was to be named the Twin Cities Twins (Griffith did not want to alienate half of his fan-base), but when MLB balked he changed the name to Minnesota Twins, which kept everyone happy. The Twins were, however, allowed to keep the original TC logo for their cap. In 1987 the uniforms were reconfigured and the cap was changed to a script "M," with the "TC" being moved to a patch on the sleeve, but in 2010 the "TC" was reintroduced as the insignia for the caps.

Jim Kaat
The Twins, upon arriving in Minneapolis, were already a young team, stocked with ready-made talent. They had brought with them a young nucleus of Jim Kaat (P), Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Camillo Pasquale, Zoilo Versalles and Lenny Green- which would become one of the best in the American League- but they struggled with the move and ended up going 70-90 in their inaugural season. They would, however, rebound in years two and three, posting records of 91-71 and 91-70, respectively, which would be good enough for second and third place in those years, but they would finish behind the Yankees in 1962, and the Yankees and White Sox in 1963.

Harmon Killebrew

1964 was a disappointment, as the team slid back to seventh place in the AL, going 79-83, but they would rebound in 1965, finishing first, with a record of 102-60. The offense was led by slugger Killebrew, who hit 25 home runs and drove in 75 runs, and Tony Oliva, who won the AL Batting Championship with a .321 average, while Jim "Mudcat" Grant won 21 games (best in the league) and Jim Kaat won 18. It would be the franchise's first trip to the World Series as the Twins, and the first since the Senators had gone there in 1933, where they would face the NL Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers, led by pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, had captured the National League flag with a record of 97-65. They had bounced back from a sixth-place finish the year before, but were just two years removed from having beaten the Yankees in the 1963 World Series. While the Twins had handled the American League with relative ease, the Dodgers found themselves in a late-season dogfight that was decided when they went on a 13-game winning streak, in the final two weeks of the season, to take the pennant over their rivals, the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers won on the strength of their pitching (Koufax was 26-8, with a 2.04 ERA, while Drysdale went 23-12, with a 2.77), as the offense was nonexistent, hitting a measly .245. They would need Koufax and Drysdale to keep working their magic if they were to have any chance of winning the Series.

Games 1 and 2 were to be played in Minnesota and the Dodgers were put at an early disadvantage when Koufax announced he would not pitch his scheduled Game 1 start, as it fell on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Drysdale took the mound instead, facing off against Mudcat Grant, and was pounded for seven runs in the first three innings, en route to an 8-2 loss. Koufax started Game 2, but the Dodgers fared no better, losing to Jim Kaat by a score of 5-1.

Twins fans were ecstatic as the team headed off to Los Angeles, needing only two more wins to win the World Championship, but the Dodgers hadn't won the National League pennant by backing down from adversity. Claude Osteen pitched a five-hit shutout in Game 3, while the Los Angeles bats "exploded" for four runs, in the win and Drysdale and Koufax each bounced back with superb performances, winning Game 4, 7-2, and Game 5, 7-0. The Twins, and their fans, were shocked to be coming home one game away from elimination, having scored only two runs in the last three games.

'65 Twins Just Fall Short
Game 6, back in Minnesota, saw Mudcat Grant even the series, with a 5-1 victory over Osteen and set up a winner-take-all-deciding Game 7, between Koufax and Kaat. This would be the third time these two pitchers had matched up against one another in the series, each having won a game. Both pitchers would be starting on two days' rest, but the Dodgers held the advantage as they could have Drysdale come out of the pen, should Koufax get into trouble, on his regular pitch day.

The game remained tied, at 0-0, going into the fourth, but the Dodgers scored two runs on three consecutive pitches (Lou Johnson's home run, followed by a Ron Fairly double and a Wes Parker single) and took a 2-0 lead. The Twins would fight valiantly, but they could not touch Koufax, who pitched a complete-game, three-hit-shutout for the win. This would be called the gutsiest performances in World Series history, as Koufax would be pitching on two days rest, and is still talked about today as one of the best-pitched World Series games of all time.

Though the team lost, this run cemented them in the hearts of the people of the state. Little did they know, their beloved team would not return to the Fall Classic for another 22 years.

The team would finish second in 1966, nine games back of the AL Champion Baltimore Orioles, despite Katt winning 25 games. 1967 would see them in one of the closest pennant races in years, one game up with two to play against Boston, but when the dust cleared the Twins had lost those two games and saw the Red Sox take the AL crown, while they slipped to third. 1968 would see them fall all the way to seventh and a managerial change was made heading into the last year of the decade; Billy Martin would be brought in to try and right the ship.

Martin did his job, and did it well. Behind a bevy of players, including superstar Rod Carew, Jim Kaat, Rick Dempsey, Harmon Killebrew, Charlie Manuel, Tony Oliva, Graig Nettles and Cesar Tovar, the twins would take the AL West flag in both 1969 and 1970. Unfortunately they would be swept out of the ALCS, both years, by the Baltimore Orioles, before falling into a funk that would last for the next 17 years.
Carew Anchored The Twins in The 1970s

The team was not bad, per se, for the decade of the 70s, but they didn't distinguish themselves either. After winning the 1970 AL West the Twins would go 714-730 for the rest of the decade. They would only finish lower than fourth once (fifth in 1971), but also never higher than third. Rod Carew and Tony Oliva would continue to provide the offensive firepower (Killebrew's last season in Minnesota was 1974, after which he went to Kansas City for one year),  but the rest of the team would come and go regularly. The problem was that the organization was a family-run business and while other owners made money from other ventures, the Griffiths were reliant on the Twins to be their source of income. Free agency hit them especially hard, as they couldn't keep up with the escalating salaries, and the club had to either let their homegrown players walk (Larry Hisle and Lyman Bostock), or trade them, as they did with Carew, to make sure they could make ends meet.

The 1980's: A New team, A New Attitude and a New Home:

The beginning of the 1980s started out poorly for the franchise. During the first half of the decade they would bounce between third and seventh place, post their first (and only), 100-loss season (1982, when they went 62-100) and post a record of 477-680. In 1984 the Griffith family sold the team to Carl Pohlad, a self-made financier who had moved to Minnesota in the 1940's and loved baseball. Before selling off the team, however, the Griffiths moved them into a new stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

The Homerdome:

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Since arriving in Minneapolis, in 1961, the Twins had always played at Metropolitan Stadium. Now, however, they would be moving into a domed state-of-the-art facility, located in downtown Minneapolis, near the Mississippi River.

The Metrodome was an all-purpose stadium, built for the Twins and the NFL's Vikings. Construction had begun in 1979 and it was decided that a roof was needed to keep the good folks of Minnesota comfortable while watching their teams during the long winters, which sometimes kept crowd sizes down at these sporting events. The stadium was named after former Minneapolis Mayor, U.S. Senator and U.S. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who had passed away in 1978. The roof was a fiberglass design and was kept raised by the air pressure inside the facility. It was modeled after the Silverdome in Michigan and was, reportedly, the inspiration for the Tokyodome, in Japan.

The stadium would open in 1982 and, over time, become the home of the Twins (1982-2009), the Vikings (1982-2013), The University of Minnesota's football (1982-2008) and baseball (1985-2013) teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves (1989-1990), the Minnesota Strikers (NASL, 1984) and the Minnesota United FC (NASL, 2012-2013). The playing surface was a turf substance over a concrete floor and the dimensions, for the Twins, were 343 feet to Left Field, 385 to Left-Center, 408 to Center, 367 to Right-Center and 327 to Right, as well as 187 feet up to the apex of the dome, over the playing field. Needless to say, it was not an aesthetically pleasing place to play, but when the crowd started screaming it produced an ear-splitting reverberation, which became a distinct home-field advantage for the Minnesota teams. In fact, during the 1987 and 1991 World Series the decibel level was recorded to be as high, and painful, as standing next to a jet plane with no ear protection. The seating capacity for baseball would fluctuate from 54,711 when it opened, to 56,783, in the 1990's, back down to 45,423 during it's final years as the team wasn't doing well in the standings.

The Right Field Wall and "Baggie"
One other interesting feature of the ballpark was situated above the right-field wall, known as "The Baggie." The actual wall was a seven-foot high fence, but above that was a 16-foot-tall plastic bag-like extension, which came to be called "The Baggie," because of its Hefty Bag-like appearance. It was considered part of the wall, like the Green Monster at Fenway Park, and left-handed power hitters loved to pull the ball in that direction.

Opening Day for the Metrodome was April 6, 1982 against the Seattle Mariners, which the Twins lost, 11-7, with Floyd Bannister getting the win and Pete Redfern being tagged with the loss. The first hit was a single by Jim Maler, and the first home run was hit by Dave Engle. There ended up being a total of five hit that day, which gave the park its nickname, The Homerdome.

Unfortunately for the Twins this game was a predictor of the coming season as they lost 100 games that year. 1983 was slightly better, as the team won ten more, but still finished in sixth place overall. Despite failing to reach the playoffs, the Twins were still playing to over a million fans a year, but more importantly they were stockpiling talent that would bring greatness to the Twin Cities in short order. Players such as Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and, Kirby Puckett were all coming to the big leagues around the same time, while shrewd trades for players Bert Blyleven and free agent signings of Roy Smalley and Al Newman would round out a formidable lineup.

Tom Kelly
The final puzzle piece seems to have been the hiring of Tom Kelly as the team's manager. Kelly himself had been an eighth round pick of the Seattle Pilots in the 1968 draft, but would be signed by the Twins in 1971, after being released by the Brewers. He would bounce around the minor leagues, being called up once in 1975 and hitting .181, with one home run and 11 RBIs for the Twins, before retiring in 1977. In 1978 he would begin a coaching/managing career, with the Twins, and would eventually find his way back to the majors, first as a coach and then, in 1986, as manager of the team.

Everything came together for the organization in 1987. The team only won 85 games that year, but it was a 14-win improvement over 1986 and no one in the AL West had more. They won the division by two games over the Royals and marched into the ALCS to play the Detroit Tigers, who had won 98. On paper it was a mismatch of epic proportions, but the Twins apparently didn't read the papers.

The Tigers had finished the regular season with baseball's best record, 98-64, while the Twins had the worst record of any team that had qualified for the playoffs. Led by a stable of star players such as Jack Morris, Frank Tanana, Willie Hernandez, Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Chet Lemon and Bill Madlock, the Tigers were expected to make short work of the Twins.

Kirby Puckett
Minnesota was led by a young player, just coming into his own, who would become the face of the franchise in the coming years: Kirby Puckett. Puckett, who was in his third year with the organization, was taken third overall in the 1982 draft. Working his way up the ladder he found himself in center field for the Twins on May 8, 1984 and quickly became a fan favorite. His enthusiasm, and love of the game and the city, was infectious and made him a natural focal point for the team. During the year he would hit .332, with 28 home runs and 99 RBIs, so the Twins would be looking for him to lead them into the playoffs. Unfortunately he started off slowly, but other members of the team would pick him up until he got his legs under him, later on in the playoffs.

The first two games of the series were set in Minnesota and the Twins shocked the Tigers, and everyone else, by taking them both. In Game 1 the Tigers held a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the 8th inning, only to see the Twins roar back and score four and hold on for the 8-4 victory. In Game 2, after falling behind 2-0 in the second, Minnesota rallied for five runs by the fourth inning and would go on to win 6-3.

Detroit, though, quickly rebounded back at home. They would come from behind, with a two-run rally of their own, in the eighth inning, to win 7-6 and cut the Twins' lead in half. The Tigers, and their fans, thought momentum had shifted and were ready to even the series in Game 4, but the Twins had other plans.

Though Detroit would score in the first, the Twins would put up a run in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth innings and hold on for the 5-3 win. This set them up to complete the improbable victory in Game 5, which they did, beating the Tigers 9-5 and punching a ticket to their first World Series since 1965, 22 years prior.

For all their hard work in beating the Tigers, the Twins were rewarded with a matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards had the second-best record in baseball that year, with 90 wins, and had beaten the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS four games to three.

The Cardinals were limping through the postseason as injuries had taken their toll on the team, most notably to their lone long-ball threat, Jack Clark, who had been out with a badly sprained ankle since mid-September. The loss of Clark would be felt, but the Cards were still fielding a formidable roster, with Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Terry Pendleton, Greg Matthews, John Tudor and Todd Worrell.

The Twins had home-field advantage (due to the switching every year from one league to the other), so the first two and last two games would be played in Minneapolis. This was the first time a World Series game had been played indoors and the crowd was loud, raucous and into each game from the first pitch on.

Minnesota blew open Game 1 with a seven-run fourth inning and walked all over St. Louis, 10-1. Frank Viola took the win and the Twins were off and running. Game 2 saw the Twins score six runs in the fourth inning, one shy of the night before, but the Cards would not go quietly this time and the hometown team had to hold off a late rally to take the game, 6-4. The fans were cautiously delirious with the 2-0 lead though; after all, the team had taken the same lead to Los Angeles in 1965, and had come back home down three games to two.

It was like Deja Vu, all over again, for the Twins in St. Louis. The team went in riding high, leading the series and looking to put a stranglehold on it, but the Cards weren't about to let that happen. They took Game 3, 3-1, behind the strong pitching of John Tudor; Game 4, 7-2, with an offensive outburst everyone had been waiting for; and Game 5, 4-2. The Twins and their fans were shell-shocked at what had just happened, but they limped back home vowing to at least extend the series to seven games.

They did just that by scoring 10 runs in the first six innings of Game 6 and holding the Cards to five. The Metrodome exploded with the final out and everyone expected the place to be twice as loud for Game 7. They would not be disappointed.

1987 World Champions
Game 7 was to be the 500th World Series game ever played and forced the reschedule of that night's Vikings vs. Broncos game to the next evening. The entire state had come down with World Series Fever.

St. Louis jumped on the Twins early, scoring two in the second, but the hometown team came back with a
run of their own in the third to cut the lead in half. In the fifth the Twins tied it when Puckett doubled home Greg Gagne, and they took the lead the next inning when Gagne came up with a big two-out single that put the Twins up 3-2. An insurance run was added in the eighth and Jeff Reardon closed out the Cards with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, completing the Twins' improbable World Series victory.

Frank Viola would win the MVP, with a 3-2 record and a 3.72 ERA; Puckett would hit .357, with 10 hits, a double, a triple, a stolen base and 3 RBIs, while Kelly would become the youngest non-player-manager to win the World Series since John J. McGraw, in 1905. It would seem this young team was set up for immediate success, but that would not be the case.

In 1988 the Twins actually won six more games, finishing at 91-71, and had Frank Viola lead baseball with 24 wins, and Allen Anderson tied for AL ERA (.245)- but it wasn't enough to unseat Tony LaRussa's Oakland A's, who outdistanced everyone with 104 wins. The next two seasons saw the Twins slip further back, to fifth and seventh place, respectively, with records of 80-82 and 74-88.

By 1991 the World Series Championship of 1987 seemed a long way back, but the Twins surprised everyone with a rebound season of 95-67. An infusion of new players, including Chuck Knoblauch, Jack Morris, Shane Mack and Chili Davis, as well as Scott Erickson winning 20 games and Rick Aguilera closing the door in the ninth, helped the Twins take the AL West flag, over the White Sox, by eight games.

In the ALCS the Twins would take on the Toronto Blue Jays, who were just beginning their own run of dominance, but not yet ready to take the final step. The teams split the first two games in Minnesota, with the Twins taking Game 1 and the Jays winning Game 2, before moving to the next three in Toronto. The Twins had won Game 1 behind the pitching of Jack Morris, 5-4, by scoring all five in the first three innings and then holding off the Jays' charge. Game 2 saw Toronto score five, but hold the Twins to two.

Game 3 was a tight one that Minnesota won in a ten-inning thriller, 3-2, but the next two were blowouts in which the Jays couldn't keep up with Minnesota's firepower, 9-3 and 8-5. The Twins were off to the World Series for the second time in five years, which the people of Minnesota embraced in all their baseball-loving glory. This time their opponents would be the powerhouse Atlanta Braves.

The Braves were just starting to become the team that would power through the decade of the 1990s. Managed by future Hall of Famer Bobby Cox and sporting a roster that included pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Mark Wohlers and Mike Stanton, as well as an offense featuring Mike Heath, Raffael Belliard, Sid Bream, Terry Pendleton, David Justice and Deion Sanders, they would cruise through the National League winning 94 games and edging out the Pirates in a thrilling seven-game NLCS. The two teams matched up very well and a lot of folks were expecting a good series.

As in past World Series contests the Twins won the first two games at home, 5-2 and 3-2, before heading on the road, looking to put the series away early. Jack Morris and Kevin Tapani had been lights-out for the Minnesota crew and everyone had a good feeling heading into Atlanta.

Historically the Twins never did well in the World Series after winning the first two games, and 1991 was no exception. Down 4-1 in the seventh inning of Game 3, the Twins rallied to tie the score in the eighth inning, but the Braves won in the bottom of the twelfth when David Justice singled, stole second and came in on Mark Lemke's two-out game-winning single. The Braves also took Game 4, 3-2, tying the series at two games each, by breaking a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the ninth, on a close play at the plate where Lemke got in ahead of the tag.

Game 5 was yet another loss for the Twins, this time 14-5. The game, however, was closer than the score would let on, as the Braves scored nine in the seventh and eighth innings to pull away. Glavine got the win, Tapani was saddled with the loss, and the Twins were once again being sent home to Minnesota down three games to two, after taking the first two games of the Series. This was nothing new to the franchise, which had done it the two previous times they had reached the Fall Classic, but it was nerve-wracking for the fans.

Game 6 was a back-and forth affair, with lead changes, tense moments, dramatic plays, extra innings and a wild finish. The Twins scored two in the top of the first, taking the early lead, but the Braves would fight back, tying the score in the top of the fifth on a Terry Pendleton home run. The Twins answered right back in the bottom of the inning, taking the lead on a Kirby Puckett sac fly. The Braves would once again tie the score in the seventh, and it would stay that way until the eleventh.

"See You Tomorrow Night"
The Braves sent Charlie Leibrant to the mound for the bottom of the inning and Kirby Puckett told Chili Davis his plan to bunt for a base hit. "Bunt, my ass. Hit it out and let's go home," Davis apparently responded, so Puckett did. He hit a 2-1 pitch into the left-center-field seats and jogged around the bases as delirious Twins fans shrieked like Banshees and Jack Buck famously called the moment with "And we'll see you tomorrow night!" It would be Puckett's only walk-off home run of his career.

Game 7 has been described by some as the greatest game in World Series history; in fact, ESPN voted it #1 in their Top 100 World Series Moments countdown. As in Game 2 Jack Morris took the hill for the Twins, while John Smoltz toed the rubber for Atlanta. Neither team could grab an early lead; actually neither team came remotely close to scoring. As each inning passed the tension was ratcheted up a degree and the fans, whether at the game or at home, were on the edge of their seats.

The Braves should have scored in the top of the eighth, but a great defensive play kept it from happening. With Smith on first, Pendleton laced a double into the gap, but inexplicably Smith only went to third. When watching the replay it was seen that shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch faked starting a double play, which slowed Smith down and prevented him from running full speed around the bag. With one out the ever-dangerous David Justice was walked to load the bases and Morris got Sid Bream to hit into a 3-2-3 double play that ended the inning and kept the game tied at 0-0. The game stayed tied after nine innings and the two teams went to extras, knotted at 0-0, looking for the hit that would give them the World Championship.

Morris went back out for the tenth inning; he later said there was no way he was coming out, and he'd pitch all night if he had to, and retired the side in order. He had thrown 126 pitches over 10 innings and had not yet yielded a run.

Champions Again
In the bottom of the inning the Twins' leadoff hitter, Gladdon, dropped a broken bat single in front of Hunter,
in left field, and when it was misplayed he dashed to second, barely beating the throw. Chuck Knoblauch then dropped down a sacrifice bunt to put the Series-winning run on third, with one out, and Braves manager Bobby Cox called for an intentional walk of Puckett, bringing up Kent Hrbek. The Minnesota native was mired in an 0-16 slump, dating back to the third inning of Game 3, so Tom Kelly called on Gene Larkin to pinch hit. Larkin delivered the decisive hit, lashing a long single over the drawn in outfield and sending the fans into full-blown hysterics.

Pandemonium reigned on the field, as well as in the stands. The Twins were, once again, World Series Champions and the state celebrated all throughout the long cold Minnesota winter, warmed by the memory of such a great series win.

The Twins put together another winning season in 1992 (90-72), but once again fell short of the Oakland A's, who won the AL West by six games. They had lost ace Jack Morris to the Blue Jays in the offseason and that might have been just what they needed to get them past Oakland; it was a bitter pill for them to swallow.

Puckett Memorabilia
Puckett Memorabilia
1992 was the team's last winning season until the new century. The team would go 528-699 from 1993-2000 and see many of its stars retire or move on, but none hurt more than the loss of Kirby Puckett, who was forced to retire after the 1995 season with a degenerative eye condition, called central retinal vein occlusion, which left him blind in his right eye. In his 12 seasons with the Twins the star center fielder would hit .318, with 2,304 hits, 207 home runs and 1,085 RBIs. He would be a ten-time All Star, a two-time World Series Champion, with one World Series MVP, six Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers, a Batting Championship (1989), an RBI Championship (1994) and an All Star Game MVP (1993). His number would be retired by the team in 1997and in 2001 he would be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a rightful honor.

By 2002 the team was almost contracted by MLB, as it was felt their financial weakness was an impediment to on putting forth a competitive franchise. These plans, however, were put on hold as a federal court ordered them to play out their lease at the Metrodome. The organization declared the ballpark unable to sustain them long-term, and started looking into plans for relocation if a suitable deal could not be reached for a new stadium in Minnesota.

While these things were taking place behind the scenes, the team on the field started to come together and prove the critics wrong. In 2001 they had started a climb back to the top of the division, sporting a record of  85-77, but fell six games short of the eventual champion Indians.

Justin Morneau
From 2002-2006 the Twins would win the AL Central four times (2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006), only falling short in 2005, when they came in third, 16 games behind the White Sox. Led by new manager Ron Gardenhire, who had replaced Kelly for the 2002 season, and Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, Brad Radke, Joe Nathan, Jacques Jones, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and, hometown star Joe Mauer the Twins transformed themselves into an AL powerhouse.

The team would continually reach the playoffs but could never manage to get back to the World Series. They would find themselves on the wrong end of the box score against the Angels in the 2002 ALCS (4-1), the Yankees in the 2003 and 2004 ALDS (3-1 both times), and the Oakland A's in the 2006 ALDS(3-0).

The team's losses in the playoffs were tough, but a much bigger loss to the Twins' family occurred on March 6, 2006. That morning Kirby Puckett suffered a massive stroke while at his home in Phoenix. He immediately underwent surgery in an attempt to relieve the pressure on his brain, but unfortunately, the operation was not successful and he succumbed to his condition a day later, eight days before his 46th birthday.

Puckett was the second youngest Hall of Famer to die, behind Lou Gehrig, of any Hall of Famer inducted while living. There was a private memorial service, in Minnesota, on March 12, followed by a public one, at the Metrodome, where 15,000 fans showed up and listened to former teammates, coaches, and friends (such as Harmon Killebrew, Dave Winfield and Cal Ripken. Jr.) pay their respects.

In 2007 and 2008 the team jumped to 79 and 88 wins, good enough for third and second places respectively, but they always fell just a bit short. In 2008 they just missed out on the playoffs when they finished the season tied with the White Sox, but lost the one-game playoff and were sent home one game back.

2009 saw the Twins have a sudden change in ownership. In January Carl Pohlad passed away, leaving the team to his three sons, though it would be Jim who took over the day-to-day operations. On the field the team would once again find itself tied for the division lead, this time with the Tigers, and another one-game-playoff was necessary to determine who would move on to the ALDS.

Minnesota prevailed, this time, in a thrilling, 6-5, twelve-inning affair, on a single by Alexi Casilla. Their "prize" was a date with the New York Yankees, who promptly swept them out of the playoffs, en route to a World Series Championship. The Twins were getting tired of seeing the Bronx Bombers in the playoffs, as they had been bounced by them in 2003, 2004 and now 2009.

A New Home and New Ownership:

Target Field, Our Visit

2010 saw the Twins move into Target Field, which opened for business on January 4, and April 12 for baseball. The team immediately christened the new ballpark with 94 wins and a Divisional Championship over the White Sox, and rolled into the playoffs against- you guessed it, the Yankees. The Twins may have had a new home and new owners, but the playoff results were the same- another loss at the hands of New York, much to the unhappiness of everyone in Minnesota.

The next three years- 2011, 2012 and 2013- were not kind to the team. They once again fell to the lower portion of the divisional standings, fifth, fifth and fourth, and never had more than 66 wins in any of those seasons.

By the time we arrived at Target Field, it had been voted as one of the best places to see a ballgame, and had just hosted the 2014 MLB All Star Game. The team wasn't doing very well; they were once again in the lower portion of the Central Division standings, but we weren't going to let that stop us from enjoying our last ballpark of the trip. It was going to be a long day, we were driving back to Chicago right after the game and I was satisfied with what I had read, so it was time to head out and start the last full day of the trip.

Rollin' On The River and The Cheeseburger Challenge:

We couldn't come all the way to Minnesota and not take a boat ride on the Mississippi River. After all, this was the state where the mighty river began and we had a history of taking riverboat rides in Pittsburgh and Chicago, so this was a necessity.

Ryan Poses With Our Boat
We had decided on Paradise Charter Cruises , which serviced the Mississippi River and Lake Minnetonka area, and would put us aboard a paddle-wheel steamer known as the Minneapolis Queen. The cruise would last about 90 minutes and would take us up and down the river, showing off the natural beauty of the state, as well as many man-made effects along the river as well. It was just what we were looking for and seemed to be the perfect place to start the day.

The seven of us (Joe's daughter Jessica would be joining us for the day) piled into the van and headed out for the docks. Everyone was excited, but also a little sad, to be starting our last day of the trip, but the laughs quickly overpowered the quiet and we all looked forward to what was ahead.

Once we got to the docks we grabbed our tickets and boarded the ship. It was a classic paddle-wheeler- something that would have been seen in a Huck Finn movie, which added more allure to our adventure- and was decked out in white with red trim on the outside and dark, oak, paneling on the inside.

The Kids At A Table
Tony, Joe, Jessica, Rob and I
Once inside we grabbed some beverages and snacks and sat down to watch the river roll by, right outside our window. It was a beautiful day, but no one was ready to go outside just yet, the cruise was 30 minutes from departing, so we just sat around laughing and discussing the rest of the day. The tables weren't big enough to accommodate all of us at once so we split off into two groups; Ryan, Nick and Shawn grabbed a small table with the rest of us across from them at another.

Ryan and I On The River
As soon as the boat started moving we all rushed to the bow, so as not to miss any of the sights we would be seeing. Everyone stood on the starboard side of the bow, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the river. We all stood together, enjoying the scenery and watching the landscape pass by. Jessica took some pictures for us, while we were just happy to soak up the last images of Minnesota we'd get outside the ballpark.

The first thing we saw was a gorgeous view of the skyline of Minneapolis. When you think of the Mississippi River the first thing that comes to mind is wilderness, nature and water, lazily moving on downstream, so I wasn't prepared for the urban sprawl that was laid out before me. It was quite different than I had imagined, but beautiful just the same.

A little farther up we came to the Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam, which were built in 1950s to help extend river traffic upstream. As the boat entered the lock the boys looked a little perplexed; they had heard about these contraptions, but had never seen one at work, let alone sailed into one.

Into The Lock
"So we ride into this, it fills with water, which lifts the boat, and allows us to sail on?" Nick asked. 
"Yup," Tony told them. "It'll be the reverse when we come back this way, later."
"This is how you navigate the rivers that have different water levels," I chimed in.
"Why doesn't the boat just naturally rise with the water?" Ryan wanted to know.
"Um...Er...Uh...," I stammered. "Ask Mr. D, he's the engineer."

Out The Other Side
As the ship went in to the lock Tony explained what was going on, as it happened. I kept my mouth shut,
because I wanted to learn the technical answers as well and this was his area of expertise. As I listened I took pictures of the water rising, until it covered the entire lock, and then we were free to sail upstream.

"That was cool," Ryan said, to no one in particular.

All of us agreed.

Stone Arch Bridge
As we sailed further up the river we came upon the beautiful Stone Arch Bridge. Built in 1883 as a railroad bridge, this edifice is the only arched stone bridge on the entire Mississippi and was constructed to connect the rail system to Union Depot. In 1971 it was listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places and the last train to cross it was in 1978. In 1992 it was converted into a walking/biking path and is still in use today.

U of M's Washington Ave. Bridge
A little farther up the river we saw where the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis Campus was split in two by the river. There is a campus on the eastern shore and another on the western, with the two being connected by the Washington Avenue Bridge, which spans the river. This bridge is double-decked, with the upper span used by pedestrians and bicyclists, and the lower portion is for motor vehicles and light rail trains. The structure is painted in the school's colors and has the splay-legged "M" directly in the center of it. The boys thought it would be cool to live on one half of the river and have to walk across it each day for classes, until I reminded them how cold it could get in the winter and pointed out the upper level is not enclosed.

Minnesota, or Mississippi?
We eventually turned around and headed back down stream, once again through the lock, and went a little farther south of the boat dock. Down here we saw the Mississippi as I had always expected it to be, free flowing with nothing but unspoiled shoreline and natural vegetation growing along it's banks. It was peaceful and relaxing, just as you would expect a steamboat ride on this majestic waterway to be, but it ended much too soon for my liking.

"Okay, time for some burgers," Rob told the group.
"MMMMM, Jucy Lucys," Ryan said aloud.
"That sounds like a porn star's name," Nick laughed, while Shawn giggled.
"Let's go, knuckleheads," I said, shooing them towards the van.

We were off to take the Jucy Lucy Challenge, which is a must, if you like cheeseburgers, when visiting Minneapolis. This culinary delight is claimed to have been created by two establishments (Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club), on the same street, in Minneapolis  and is designed when a raw patty of meat gets shaped with a pocket on the bottom, gets filled with cheese and sealed into the pocket by adding another raw patty on top. The burgers are sealed together and grilled, then served piping hot, so the cheese flows out like lava from a volcano.

Matt's: Home of The Jucy Lucy
Out first stop was Matt's, which is a simple bar and grill, located at 3500 Cedar Ave S, in South
Minneapolis. From the outside it looks like nothing special, a red and white brick building that looks like any other neighborhood bar, but the line was already out the door and a block down the street. I couldn't believe my eyes; I knew people came from all over to have the burgers, but I was astonished to see such a line. We were worried that we might not have time to try both places, but Rob assured me this would not be the case, so we got in line and waited.

The wait wasn't long, maybe 45 minutes, but it was well worth it. When we got inside we were immediately seated at a booth in the back and the waitress immediately took our order, which was easy since we were all having the burgers and some fries. We had decided to pair off and split the burgers with another person, so we could have room for the ones we would be getting at the 5-8 Club, in a little bit.

Matt's Jucy Lucy

I looked around the place as we waited for our order. It was nothing fancy, but then again it didn't have to be. People were coming here for the relaxed atmosphere and the famous food; they weren't looking for ambiance. There were lots of pictures on the walls, a testimonial to those who had eaten there, as well as things that showed this place was Minnesota through and through. I saw the waitress heading to our table with a large tray of food, so I made a quick beeline back. I didn't want Ryan to start without me, or there'd be nothing left for me to try.

Ryan Chows Down
One bite into the burger and I knew the 5-8 Club better have something really special in store, in order toinside-  it certainly didn't taste like one. With the first bite the cheese oozed out and mixed with the meat, which had a garlicky taste, and the fried onions the burger is served with. I can say I chomped down a bit too quickly, as the cheese was still hot, and slightly burned the roof of my mouth, but even that couldn't put a damper on this perfectly concocted cheeseburger. I did, however, get an understanding of their phrase "Fear The Cheese," and would remember that the next time.
beat this burger. While it looked like a normal hamburger- remember, the cheese is on the

We ate quickly, but not so fast we couldn't savor the meal, then paid our bill and headed back out to the van. All agreed we had just tasted something very special, but we would keep an open mind about the next burger, which was coming in less than 20 minutes.

Five minutes after getting into the van, we pulled up to the 5-8 Club, at 5800 Cedar Avenue South. At first I was a little taken aback, as this place was everything Matt's wasn't. It was a lot bigger; it was a regular restaurant, as opposed to a corner bar; and it was a franchise, with multiple locations. It did, however, have a history.

The 5-8 Club
The 5-8 Club opened in 1928 as a speakeasy and was originally called the 58th Street Club. It was a haven for illegal booze during prohibition and eventually became known for its Juicy Lucy (spelled differently than Matt's Jucy Lucy) as well as other pub-type fare. Today, there are four locations: Minneapolis, Maplewood, West St. Paul and Champlin, which to me already put it a notch lower than Matts, as they had commercialized themselves.

"This place feels like a Friday's," Ryan whispered, as we stepped inside.
"I feel the same way," I told him.
"What's special about it if there are four others, just like this?" he wanted to know.
5-8's Juicy Lucy

We were seated by a charming waitress, but I already wasn't feeling "the vibe," and while it may not have been fair it was understandable. There was just something "missing." The place felt...antiseptic, clean, "chain-like" and we weren't buying it. We ordered our burgers and they came out, looking very good, but very non-descript. It didn't have that "messiness" and uniqueness that we felt at Matt's, but one bite proved it was very good, but still very different. The cheese was gooey, hot, and oozed out of the patties, but there was no garlicky, oniony flavor. It tasted like two cooked burgers, which was fine, just not what we were hoping for. Slightly disappointed, we finished, paid our bill and headed outside.

Ry Bites Into Burger #2
"That wasn't much of a challenge," Joe said.
"How could people even consider that better than Matt's," Ryan wanted to know.
"Some folks don't want the garlic, the onions, or anything else," I told him. "Just a plain burger."
"Well that's what they'll get here," he retorted.
"Matt's wins," Nicky told us.
"No doubt," was Rob's interjection.
"We're still going to eat at the ballpark, right?" Ryan asked, with a look of worry.
"He's kidding, right?" Jessica wanted to know.
"Not in the least," I laughed.

She shook her head and climbed into the van, alongside the rest of the group. Twenty minutes later we were at Target Field and ready for our last game.

Starting Lineup and Concessions:

Back Row: Tony, Me, Rob, Rose, Russ
Front Row: Nick, Ryan, Shawn
Missing: Joe and Jessica

Jim Kulhawy
Ryan Kulhawy
Robert Zoch
Tony D'Angelo
Nick D'Angelo
Shawn Ballingall
Joe Siclari
Jessica Siclari
Rose Schwartzseid
Russ Schwartzseid

Once inside the ballpark we decided to split up. Nick still hadn't found the Twins hat he wanted, but Ryan didn't want to hit any more team stores or souvenir stands; he wanted to walk around and mix with the Twins fans and get a real feel for the place. Since we had already seen the ballpark during the previous day's tour, we didn't need to walk around exploring and taking pictures, so we all agreed to meet at the seats. Rob, Ryan and I went one way, while Nick, Tony, Shawn, Joe and Jessica went towards the team shop.

We walked around, people-watching and having a great time, laughing with one another and just soaking up the atmosphere in the last "new" park we would visit until the next summer. It was a bittersweet feeling; we had been having so much fun and no one wanted it to end, but in about four hours we'd be in for an overnight adventure back to Chicago and the morning flight home.

"Okay, time to eat," Ryan announced, quickly bringing us out of our revelry.

"You're lucky you have great metabolism," Rob told him. "You should weigh 500 pounds."
"Have you met my dad?" he wanted to know. "I got his metabolism and you've seen him eat."
Off we went in search of the perfect Minnesota ballpark food, but there really wasn't much searching to be done. He knew exactly what he wanted and where it was located...

Target Field has plenty of good eats, Mill City Grill serves burgers, dogs, sausages and chicken sandwiches; Frankie V's (named after fan favorite Frank Viola) offers plenty of good Italian fare; Halsey's Sausage Haus will serve traditional German sausages, bratwurst and other dishes; Senor Smoke's (in honor of former pitcher Juan Berenguer) has Tex-Mex treats; and North Shore Creamery will serve some of the best ice cream you've ever eaten- but none of these were what Ryan had in mind. We were headed to State Fair Classics, for something you wouldn't even believe until you saw it.

Pork Chop On A Stick
State Fair Classics pays homage to Minnesota's wildly popular, huge, state fair, by serving dishes you would find  at the fairgrounds. There are fried pickles, corn dogs, funnel cakes, fried dough and exactly what Ryan was looking for- food on a stick. Now, anyone who has ever been to a fair knows that one doesn't want to stand still, or sit down, long enough to eat, so food needs to be mobile and edible on the go. It is in that vein that the Minnesota State Fair put two items on a stick that one would never expect- one is fish and the other is a pork chop.

Ryan, of course, went right for the pork chop, and I could see why. It was HUGE, covered in grill marks, and slathered up just right with barbecue sauce...all on a stick. It was served with a cup of more BBQ sauce for dipping, but I couldn't believe anyone would need any more than was already on it. Ryan was beaming as he held his trophy aloft for a picture.

"Just remember, I'm getting a bite of that," I told him.
"Me too," Rob added.
"There's more than enough for all," Ryan laughed and handed over his skewered prize.

It was AMAZING. Cooked to perfection, juicy, flavorful and with a hint of mesquite, which was just as much from the grill as it was from the sauce. I thought about getting my own, right up until I splashed sauce on my shirt and then quickly reconsidered. I'd live vicariously through the carnivorous wolf cub, who now had a face full of sauce, but a huge grin that overshadowed it. I could see he had chosen wisely.

After our pork chop on a stick adventure we wandered upstairs to the second deck. I wanted to see if I could get some good game day shots of the ballpark from there, but I wasn't happy with the views so we headed up to the third level, where we would be seated. We walked around there for a bit, stopping off to grab one last beer before the long drive home, and some sodas for all three of the boys. Ryan also hit me up for ice cream, in a souvenir batting helmet, so I grabbed two extras for Nick and Shawn as well.

We all met back at the seats. Unfortunately Nick hadn't found the exact cap he was looking for, but he had gotten a nice looking one and was ready to root for the Twins, as if he were a native Minnesotan.

Five minutes before the game started we were joined by the last of our party, our friends Rose Schwartzseid and her husband Russ. Now, as is the case with a lot of people we know over the years, we had never formerly met Rose and Russ before; we had "met" on the internet and bonded over our love of music and baseball. They live in Iowa and even though they were not able to join us during our short time there they decided to drive to Minneapolis, to spend the weekend in the city and join up for the game with us. We quickly decided they were a great addition to the group and we were glad to have them here. Rose is a very outgoing lady, whose love of life and thorough enjoyment of being in the moment shines through at all times, while Russ's outgoing nature, easy-going personality and love of baseball made for the perfect game-watching companion. Just as we had finished making introductions it was time to play ball.

The Game:

First Pitch
Until we had gotten to Minnesota we had been working on a string of perfection; every MLB game we had seen, so far, had been won by the home team, while every minor league game had been won by the away team. However, that string was broken in Saint Paul when the Saints had lost and we were hoping the Twins could give us a split in the 10,000 Lakes State. It would not be easy for them, as Chris Sale, Chicago's ace, would be toeing the rubber for the White Sox, against Logan Darnell for the Twins.

Things looked good for the hometown boys in the first, as Darnell sent the Pale Hosers down 1-2-3, but the Twins didn't fare any better, also going down in order. The Sox jumped on the board first, scoring a run in the second, on a two-out double by Conor Gillespie and then a single from Tyler Flowers.

"I don't have a good feeling about this," I told Ryan. "One run could be all Sale needs."
"You worry too much, it's early yet," he responded, handing me his soda so I could take a sip.

The Twins couldn't score in the second, even though they put men on first and second with one out. Sale bore down and struck out the next two batters, ending the threat, and when the Sox added another run in the third, on two singles and a sac fly off the bat of Jose Abreu, Ryan looked at me and shook his head, as if to say "don't even say it."

Neither team scored in the fourth, but the White Sox broke things open in the fifth and sixth by plating five runs. In the fourth, Gordon Beckham doubled and Alexi Ramirez homered and then in the fifth, Paul Konerko singled, Conor Gillespie doubled and Tyler Flowers singled Konerko in. After the pitching coach made a trip to the mound the next batter, Alejandro De Aza, singled in Flowers and it was 6-0.

A call to the bullpen was made and Ryan Pressly replaced Logan. He was immediately greeted with a Gordon Beckham sacrifice fly and the Twins were now down 7-0. What had been a frustratingly close game had now turned into a rout, and with Sale on the mound the Twins chances were one of two: slim and none and slim was already on a train out of town.

"Don't even say it," Ryan sighed, slumping back down in his seat. "It's over, Johnny."
"Nothing is over...NOTHING," I quoted from one of our favorite movies, "First Blood".
"Give it up," he laughed. "They're done."

The seventh and eighth innings went by in a blur. The score didn't change; then again, Minnesota never even posed a threat, and before we knew it Joe and Jessica were saying goodbye. We knew they had to leave early to catch one of the last trains back home, but we were at least hoping they would be able to stay for the entire game. Unfortunately it was not to be, so we thanked them for two fantastic days of hospitality, promised them we'd hang out the next time they came to New York and just like that they were gone.

By the ninth inning we were all a bit melancholy that this was actually the end and when the Twins went down without a struggle in the bottom of the inning it was all over.

Final Score From Target Field

Post Game Wrap Up:

Jack Morris, Doing Post Game Reporting 

Rose and Russ offered to walk out with us, as they were staying in the city for one more night, and we all quietly filed out of the ballpark. We did, however, get one more "baseball experience" before leaving the park. As we walked out we noticed the Twins broadcasting crew, including 1991 World Series hero Jack Morris was broadcasting live, so we stopped for a look and some pictures.

We came to the gate from which Russ and Rose had to depart, and quickly said our goodbyes. They told us they had a great time and asked to keep them in mind during next year's jaunt, as they would love to join us again, and then they were gone into the crowd, leaving us alone to trudge back to the van and make the overnight trek back to Chicago. I offered to take the first leg of the journey behind the wheel, as I am a much better driver than I am a passenger, and drive until I felt I shouldn't anymore, though I was going to need coffee somewhere along the way.

Our trip was going to take us from Minnesota, through Wisconsin, down to Illinois, where we would arrive at Midway Airport for our 10 a.m. flight. I felt comfortable that I'd be fine for most of it, but we'd need to stop in Wisconsin for a caffeine jolt. Therein was a problem none of us saw coming.

Now, I am not a coffee snob, in any way shape or form. I am very easy to please, but I want coffee, not some half-mocha-half-latte-double-shot-of-espresso-half-caff-frothed-coffee-tasting-drink. I want coffee, milk, no sugar, which shouldn't be very hard to find, unless you're in Wisconsin.

We made our first stop somewhere around Madison, so I could stretch my legs and get some coffee, and that's where the nonsense began. We picked a brightly lit exit knowing there would be plenty of restaurants and/or convenience stores around; sadly there were no Dunkin Donuts, which is my go-to place for coffee. I walked into the first store, poured an extra large cup and started looking around for the milk, but all I could find was cream.

"Um, ma'am?" I said to the lady behind the counter.
"Something I can help you with, sweetheart?" she replied.
"Yes, may I please have some milk for my coffee?"
"Milk?" she asked, startled. "We have cream."
"Yes, ma'am, I can see that, but I don't drink cream."
"Well you can buy quart of milk to go with your coffee, if you'd like"
"Um, can we just open a small carton of milk and I could use that?"
"Why, we have cream?"
"Yes, but I don't like cream," I responded, knowing I was getting nowhere.
"But that's what we have," she told me, getting agitated.
"Okay, I'll take my business elsewhere," I informed her.
"You're going to pay for that coffee you poured, right?" She wanted to know.
"No, ma'am. I'm not paying for something that I can't get made the way I'd like it."
"Fine," she said, annoyed, as I walked out.
I got back to the car shaking my head, laughing. I relayed the story to the rest of the crew, who found it amusing as well, then we headed across the street to another store. It didn't get any better, as I ran into the same issue, but there were about five more places where I knew I could get a cup of coffee the way I wanted it. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Every place we went, whether it was the first exit, the one down the highway, or one a little farther down the road the story was always the same- plenty of cream, no milk. I was having trouble keeping my patience at this point; all I wanted was a cup of coffee with some milk, not cream, not non-dairy powder, not half and half...MILK. Finally, I lost it.

"May I please have some milk for my coffee," I asked, in about the tenth (I kid you not) stop.
"We don't have milk, sir, we have cream."
"I can see the milk in the fridge," I said, losing my temper.
"Well that's to see to
 customers, not for coffee," she replied.
"But I am a customer," I said, exasperated.
"But the milk is not for coffee," she repeated, shaking her head, as if I were a petulant kindergartener.
"I don't understand, you have milk, but you won't allow the milk to be used for coffee, even though you have more than enough. Did I get that right?" I asked
"You know Wisconsin is the Dairy State?' she informed me, condescendingly.
"You know milk is a DAIRY product?' I shot back, without blinking an eye.

She didn't know quite how to respond to that, stammering something incoherent about coffee and milk and cream, as I walked out the door. Getting back to the van, I could see the chuckleheads inside were laughing at the fact I again had come back with no coffee and they were finding my frustration hysterical.

"I HATE THIS FUCKING STATE," I screamed into the night sky, arms raised to the heavens.

This only sent the others into hysterical fits of laughter, which further enraged me.

No Milk In Wisconsin
"I don't know what you two dopes are laughing at," I pointed to Rob and Tony. "This only means you'll be driving sooner than you wanted to."

At least they stopped laughing as I climbed back into the driver's seat and headed off, coffee-less, into the dark Wisconsin night.

After another two hours I gave way to sheer exhaustion and turned the driving duties over to Rob. The miles passed as we continued our (what seemed to be) never-ending journey across a blackened landscape, the only sound being the snoring of Tony and the kids mixing with the soft music coming from the radio, keeping Rob and I from dozing. Somewhere about an hour from the airport Rob pulled the car into a darkened rest area and the two of us closed our eyes, joining the other four, in a semi-conscious state.

After 90 minutes, which seemed to be about five in our sleep-deprived state, I awoke to the sound of birds starting to chirp. Annoyed, I yelled out the window for them to shut up, waking the others in the process.

"You're taking us the rest of the way," Rob told Tony.
"Um, Okay, sounds good," he sleepily responded.
"Get up, cupcake," I told him. "You got to sleep all night and I need coffee...STAT."
"I thought you hated Wisconsin," Nick laughed at me.
"We left Wisconsin two hours ago," I told him. "I haven't decided if I'll hate Illinois yet."

We headed off into the Illinois sunrise determined to get me some coffee, and some breakfast for the others. Before long we found a Dunkin Donuts where we were able to refuel ourselves, before refueling the van and proceeding on to the airport.

Two hours later we were all seated in the plane, ready to go home. Everyone agreed this was a fantastic trip, filled with great friends, both old and new, fantastic food, exciting sights and history and, of course, BASEBALL. I even announced that because Illinois "allowed" milk to be served with coffee I would refrain from hating the state.

"Where do you think we'll be going next year?" Ryan wanted to know.
"I think the Mid-west would be a good choice. Colorado, Kansas City, St. Louis, maybe even Toronto," I told him, looking to Rob and Tony for approval.
"We could add some other places too, like Memphis and Nashville," Rob added.
"When do the schedules come out?" Nick wanted to know.
"In about a month," I told him. "We'll start looking at them."
"You gotta love the next trip being planned before the one you're on is over," Tony laughed.
"What do you guys think about those options," I asked the boys.

I got no reply, the three of them already had their eyes closed. I couldn't tell if they were thinking of new adventures for next year, or simply asleep. I wasn't going to push the issue, as I was tired myself. Closing my eyes I began to think of what I would want to see next summer and I smiled, contentedly, as I stretched out my legs and waited for takeoff. Home was a short two hours away.