Friday, February 04, 2005

Into the Swing of Things: Part Two

I’m glad so many people were able to read Part One of this post earlier this week, as it seems like it was well received. I’ve always found that both athletes and management are much more open at events when they know there won’t be any media members present. Next year I’ll be sure to take even better notes.

Like I said the other day, I rounded out my Twins-tastic Saturday with a trip up to Twins Fest in the afternoon. It wasn’t nearly as eventful as the morning’s informative Q and A session, but it was still worthwhile.

Saturday afternoon: 2 p.m.

I always feel a little strange when I say “back in the day” or some other phrase with equally “reminiscent” connotations (especially given the fact that I’m not old myself), but when I speak about the history of Twins Fest I am probably justified in using such words. Twins Fest has always been one of my favorite events of the year. I have attended nearly year since 1996 or 1997, which is a long time ago for me.

Believe me, I am absolutely giddy that we have a championship-caliber ballclub here in Minnesota again. Twins baseball during the Dark Years was pretty painful to watch, and it is difficult to complain about three (soon to be four) consecutive division championships. Yet, winning does have its downsides, and one of those downsides happens to be Twins Fest.

You didn’t always have to struggle through the crowds in order to accomplish anything at the winter’s premier baseball event. I fondly remember the days when John and I could simply walk up to Twins “stars” like Joe Mays, Ron Coomer, and even Jacque Jones and engage them in conversation or ask for an autograph. One year, John and I were simply standing and watching a Q and A session at the Channel 9 booth when we noticed that everyone on stage was looking straight at us. I turned my head and Coomer had snuck up behind us and was raising his hand, “itching” to ask the player on stage a question.

Another time, I saw Brad Radke simply standing in the middle of the field, talking to someone. Here was the team’s best player, who had won 20 games just a year earlier, standing among his team’s most diehard fans, and no one recognized him! Obviously I did, and quickly procured an autograph for my collection, but still, it just goes to show you how far the Twins’ fan base has come in just a few short years. Nowadays, each player is shuffled by a cadre of security personnel from appearance to appearance. Free autographs from marquee players are difficult to come by, and I don’t even try anymore.

But enough about the old days. Even though I wasn’t able to expand upon my impressive collection of Twins signatures this year, I enjoyed my time at Twins Fest this weekend. It’s tough to actually get close to the players anymore, but it’s still neat to see them up close. I listened to Johan talk on the radio about an assortment of topics, including his newfound celebrity in Venezuela. As you saw in the pictures I posted up the other day, I also visited some of the various attractions on display, such as Paul Molitor’s Hall of Fame plaque and the stadium model.

As the event has grown in prestige, one thing that has most definitely improved by leaps and bounds is the baseball card and memorabilia show. I am no longer a hardcore collector (as I was when I was younger) but I pay a little attention to the hobby, mainly focusing my energies (and limited expendable income) on acquiring Twins prospect rookie cards and autographs. This year I decided to focus on the 2004 draft: prospects Trevor Plouffe, Kyle Waldrop, Jay Rainville, and Anthony Swarzak (Glen Perkins doesn’t have any cards out yet for some odd reason). I was able to find autographed rookie cards of Plouffe, Waldrop, and Swarzak at reasonable prices, and also picked up one of 2003 draftee Matt Moses. Minnesota doesn’t host too many sports cards shows every year, let alone one that focuses on Twins baseball. Even eBay can’t compete with the selection that was available on the Metrodome floor last weekend.

Well, I stretched it out over a week, but I’ve finally wrapped up my description of my season-opening experiences last Saturday. Hopefully I haven’t bored you too much! Have a good weekend and I’ll be back early next week sometime.

-Ryan M.