In the final days of the debate, before Minnesota seceded from the major leagues, the manager of the Twins shambled to a microphone on the steps of the state capitol and made a novel, nakedly self-interested appeal to taxpayers, who had thus far been reluctant to build a $411 million stadium for the team's owner, an 82-year-old billionaire bank executive named Carl Pohlad.
"I can't imagine having to get up and move again after 10 years of living in Maplewood, Minnesota," Tom Kelly told the motley crowd of 200 or so baseball fans assembled for one last Save the Twins rally on Oct. 28. "It makes me sick to think of it." Then Kelly urged the people to call their legislators, announced that he had a pressing appointment elsewhere and clattered down the capitol steps toward the parking lot, his nylon sweat suit swish-swishing all the way.
Kent Hrbek spoke too. The Minnesota native and former Twins first baseman recalled that the team's first World Series victory parade had ended at that very spot in 1987. "Ten years ago, almost to the day, we were on these steps," said Hrbek. He added glumly, "There were a few more people out there."
As he spoke, state legislators were serially rejecting proposals to fund a new ballpark with public money. This was in accordance with the wishes of the vast majority of Minnesotans, if you believed the public-opinion polls published in the previous nine months, during which time the Twins found innovative ways to engender ill will with the populace. The running joke among legislators was that Pohlad could offer to build the stadium himself and throw the doors open for free, and still the state would vote no.
The Twins had said they would probably move to North Carolina following the 1998 season rather than remain in the 15-year-old Metrodome, which was built to last 30 years. Never mind that voters in North Carolina had yet to decide if they wanted to build a ballpark with tax dollars, exasperated as they had become with the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, George Shinn, who desired a new arena to replace the Charlotte Coliseum—which is nine years old.
So Minnesota is a microcosm. The new-stadium debate is taking place or has just taken place in nearly every city of any size in America, giving proponents of new, publicly funded sports palaces a simple argument: Everybody else is doing it, so why can't we?
After the Twins' abject rally ended, a solitary new-stadium supporter remained on the capitol steps, his Twins cap literally bearing a scarlet letter. "Seattle is building two stadiums," said 25-year-old Mark Snyder, who earns $12 an hour at a Minneapolis nonprofit organization. "One of those stadiums is for [Seahawks owner] Paul Allen, who makes Carl Pohlad look poor. Why can't we do that here?"
Snyder had lived in Minnesota long enough to know the answer.
"Minnesotans look at this as an emotional issue," he said. "They think that sports have gone out of control. Minnesota is saying, 'We'll stand up and say we're not going to take this anymore.' " Two weeks later, after some last-gasp legislative maneuvering by pro-stadium folks, the state said precisely that.
Where have you gone, Pat O'Brien? In the 12 months from May 1991 to April '92, my home state was the sports capital of America, hosting the Stanley Cup finals, golf's U.S. Open, the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Final Four, the last three played out beneath the Teflon roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis.