Detroit Tigers vs. Minnesota Twins at Target Field, Minneapolis, MN – August 24

Actually, the best part of my next 24 hours happened even before I even left Chicago and even boarded the flight to Minneapolis.

I took the Orange Line from the Loop to Chicago’s Midway airport and fortunately, the Annoying Lawyer Lady who I encountered the evening before was nowhere to be seen. If she had showed, I was prepared for her with my own barrage of inappropriate questions which I was poised to fire-off at her like an Uzi… But thankfully, it was a calm ride to the airport.

After printing my boarding pass and checking my bag at the Southwest counter, I went thru the TSA Pre-check line and through the Security screening. Many travelers don’t give a second thought to the TSA screeners or even tend to give them a hard time; which I have never understood. Sure, as with anything, you can occasionally encounter disgruntled workers, but I appreciate the post-9/11 realities and what these folks are doing in the face of a world which has the ever-present threat of terrorism for air travelers. As a result, Marie and I often will say: “Thanks for keeping us safe” to under-appreciated TSA screeners to express our gratitude whenever we interact with them.

As I got through the expedited TSA-preferred screening, and was gathering my carry-on gear from the conveyor belt, I heard a voice which called out: “Hello, Joe”. Now, Joe is not an uncommon name; and while I do know some friends and former colleagues from Chicago, I was not expecting to see any of them at the airport. I figured it must be someone greeting “another Joe”, and my quick glance across the area did not immediately surface anyone who I’d recognized. Then my eyes caught the glance of a gentleman in a wheelchair who called out again: “Hello, Joe Forish”. As I approached the man, he said – Hey Joe- great to see you again; it’s Ronnie Dean”.

Ronnie Dean (L) and me at the Chicago Midway airport. It was great to reunite with an ex-colleague in such a serendipitous way...!

Ronnie Dean (L) and me at the Chicago Midway airport. It was great to reunite with an ex-Haemonetics colleague in such a serendipitous way…!

I then put the name with the face and recognized Ronnie, whom I had not seen in several years. We had worked together at Haemonetics in Boston. Ronnie had lost some weight, and was temporarily in a wheelchair, as I learned, due to some recent heart trouble which required surgery and the implantation of a stent. Ronnie was one of the Directors in our R&D group and I recalled he moved from Minneapolis to take the job in Boston. Ronnie introduced me to his lovely wife, Wanda and said to her: “Joe and I were almost “roomies” back in Braintree”. The back-story is worth a brief detour from my baseball journal and since – as you’ll see – I don’t have a lot of noteworthy baseball stories for my visit to the Twins stadium – I will spend the space to fill you in. If you’re only interested in my baseball account, just skip it, and pick up below where the Twins headline appears…

I spent 7+ years working for Haemonetics in Braintree, MA – on the south shore outside of Boston. These were some of the best times of my career. I was enticed to join them by Brad Nutter, the CEO at the time – who was a great boss and a wonderful guy. I’m actually scheduled to go to a ball game with Brad and his wife — life long Cubs fan, Loren, at Coors Field in Denver on Labor day. I am grateful to Brad that he invited me to join him at Haemonetics. We built a special culture there and it continued for a time under his successor, Brian Concannon. I’m also hoping to catch a game at Fenway with Brian — a life-long Red Sox in mid-September when I am in Boston for a consulting “gig”.

Marie and I decided not to make a move to Boston and after a year it became apparent that I could manage a commute – being in Massachusetts during the week in an apartment – and flying back and forth to Philly (or during the summers into Atlantic City). It was tough, but Marie and I managed it. I don’t recommend a commuting marriage for couples who have a shaky relationship or those with younger kids at home because it’s hard in any circumstances — but it can be fatal if either of these circumstances exist. As I’ve seen on this trip and long before – others manage difficult commuting relationships and frankly, Marie and I could do this better as empty-nesters. We would never have entertained it earlier, while our kids were younger.

For the first 3 years of my stay, I rented an apartment, for which I bought new furnishings to fit-out, and since it was only a mile from my office, it could not have been more convenient. After 3+ years, I recognized I didn’t really need a 1 bedroom + den apartment. When the management company of the complex notified me that my renewal rate would represent a steep increase, I starter to consider alternatives. Also, a few months prior to my lease renewal, my son Joe and his wife Rali, firmed-up their plans to relocate to Boston as Joe accepted a new job with an Engineering firm in Watertown, MA.

I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason, and this was one of those moments. By that time, between my business travel – which had me on the road, often traveling domestically or internationally for 5-10 days a month, and the commuting and normal working of about a week a month remotely, I was not getting full use of the apartment and the economics of renewal made no sense.

I gave up my lease, and arranged for movers to take virtually all of my furnishings to Joe and Rali’s newly-rented apartment in Watertown; and I decided to investigate alternative Boston-area accommodations.  (All of this is background to explain how Ronnie and I were almost “roomies”.)

For the first month, post-move, I paid for a hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express, just down the road from the Haemonetics offices in Braintree, and kept all of my clothes and other essentials in my car or in my office between check-out’s and check-in’s. It gave me new appreciation for the life of the migrant worker or homeless folks, but I learned to have less “stuff” than I’d otherwise been prone to accumulate.

In the first month, my 10 nights in the hotel caused me to reevaluate what might be a more sustainable living situation. I researched other apartment rentals and a colleague suggested I consider room rentals and recommended that I probe Craigslist — while having a “buyer beware” perspective. I investigated several listings and made site visits to a handful of these.

One was a house owned by a self-proclaimed “Doctor of Natural Medicines and Herbal Cures”. The good “Doctor” rented rooms to folks in his very large home as a way to supplement his other income, which was likely derived from both legal and illegal activity. I was convinced he grew weed based on scent of the rooms in the place and after he told me that both the yard and the basement were “strictly off-limits”. He also had a propensity to respond to every question I asked with the preface and/or the punctuation of: “Far out” “Groovy” or “Rad, man”…all of which made me think living there would be simply a very bad idea… I passed.

Another place investigated was nearly perfect – a woman in a town about 4 miles from my office had a ground-floor studio available with a separate outside entrance and off-street parking, but the asking price was pretty high and she did not want tenants to use any type of coffee-maker, microwave or a small refrigerator. So that was a “no-go” as well.

My third prospect was a winner… I met Bryan Nguyen – an investment banker – about the same age as my son, Joe, who was working in Boston. He owned a 2BR/ 2BA condo in a building just 3 miles from my office. Bryan had recently gotten married and his wife also owned a condo. The real estate market in greater Boston at that time was not ripe for them to sell his condo, and since hers was closer to their respective jobs in downtown Boston, they chose to live there and rent his place, if possible. I hit it off with Bryan instantly, and signed a lease for a year as a renter of 1 of his BRs and baths, with full kitchen privileges and assigned off-street parking and at a price he and I were both happy about. Jackpot… Bryan seemed relieved to have a stable professional staying at his place, who was not likely to tear it up or have wild parties, and I was happy not to have to go back to reconsider the pot-farming Doctor’s place.

I rented from Bryan for about two years; and we had the perfect landlord/ tenant relationship. I paid my monthly rent like clock-work and he rarely showed up at the condo, so I had it all to myself most of the time. At one point, for about 3 months I had a “roomie” who rented the other BR.  Wallace, like Bryan was  a Vietnamese 30-something guy. He came from California and needed to rent a place while he was in Boston to take a specialized course on medical technology. He had been a successful zone manager supervising 3 or 4 Walgreen’s stores in southern California, but was motivated to leave the world of retail and sought to make a career change. Wallace paid thousands of dollars out of pocket to attend a certification program in Boston to prepare him to be a radiology tech able to administer MRI’s and other imaging tests.

Unfortunately, his stay was cut short as he was summoned (under threat of imprisonment) to appear as a co-defendant in a civil trial back in LA. Apparently, a former employee sued Walgreen’s and Wallace for failure to make “reasonable accommodation” to enable her to work in the store given an allergy to cosmetics of any type. Now, you would think working at a store where cosmetics are sold when you’re allergic to them would be a “non-starter” and that courts would dismiss a suit of this type based on the ODF principle (Own Damn Fault). But, evidently in California she could, and did, pursue this action and she had insisted that all of the other Walgreens workers refrain from wearing lipstick, perfume, eye liner or any other cosmetics since they contained allergens which she found offensive. Wallace had to move back premature of completing his course, and he lost his tuition in the process. Sad — but true. Wallace was philosophical in accepting this set-back as a by product of living in the “land of fruits and nuts” which he affectionately had nicknamed California. I wonder if the Annoying Lawyer Lady could have helped him…?

Which – in a round-about way brings me back to Ronnie Dean.

Ronnie was a successful research leader at other companies, including Medtronic and Bell Labs and he was a very capable program leader with strong computer systems and medical device development skills. He was a good fit for Haemonetics, from both a competencies and cultural standpoint so he joined the company in 2011. The HR Business Partner who was involved in bringing Ronnie to the company told me he was looking for a temporary living set-up like mine, and asked if I would talk with Ronnie.

When you meet Ronnie for the first time, you are immediately struck by what a genuinely likeable guy he is. Some folks in Research are not the most sociable in the world. Ronnie is an exception. He was the complete package – strong intellect, solid organizational skills and great with people. I described the living situation and invited Ronnie to come by and check it out. I also put him in direct contact with landlord Bryan so the two of them could talk without me getting in the middle of a transaction and I gave Ronnie a strong “thumbs-up” endorsement with Bryan.

Ronnie and Bryan spoke and I believe he and Wanda visited the place, but it was not as perfect a set-up for them as it was for my circumstance. I think they wanted a place which was a bit bigger and since Wanda might be spending more time there as well, it did not fit their needs in quite the same way as it did mine. So that’s the story on how Ronnie and I were “almost roomies”.

I had not seen Ronnie since I left Haemonetics in 2013. Ronnie also left there in 2014 in one of many restructurings which the company has been through in the past few years. That’s their loss. Ronnie still keeps in touch with some of the ex-Haemo crew, as do I. It is profoundly sad for me and for guys like Ronnie who were attracted to the company as much for its culture as for the business prospects it held – to see how much it has changed.

The morale and the culture of the organization are very different today. It is much more political than in the days when its 2 former CEO’s with whom I had the privilege to work set such a high bar for company values and conduct vs. what exists today. It’s a company which has tragically lost its soul.

And while I still have friends who work there, I know many others who were treated despicably by the current leaders and HR folks who work there now. When you retire from a company, you have no control relative to what will happen once you leave. You just hope that the culture will survive and that those you put in place will carry the standard. This is an unfortunate case where the changes happened very quickly and are a great sadness for me and many others who had the chance to work there in better times. The Executive Admin. Assistants with whom I had the privilege to work at Haemo were far and away some of the very best women with whom I ever had the opportunity to work. I am grateful to count them as ongoing friends.

So that’s the detour about Ronnie. He’s in a better place now. He’s living back in the Twin Cities and engaged in consulting work (as am I).  His wife Wanda, with whom I had a chance to talk at length while Ronnie jumped on a conference call as we waited to board our flight, is a lovely woman. Like me, Ronnie clearly “married-up”. Wanda talked at length about their children and 5 grandchildren, all of whom, except for one, live in Illinois. One is in Alaska. I am sure they are wonderful parents and grandparents. Wanda and I agreed wholeheartedly that the grand-parenting role is so much more fun than the being a parent. Tue that…

As we parted in baggage claim in the Minneapolis airport, I was grateful that fate and a common Southwest airlines flight had brought us back together.

So now for the Twin Cities and Baseball…

I had few pre-trip expectations or “intel” about what to expect of Target Field in Minneapolis – although Scott Levy, the Phils fan whom I’d met a few days prior on the train from Milwaukee, told me he had been to a game there and he ranked it near the top of the parks he’d visited. I caught up on my research about Target Field in the “Ultimate Baseball Road Trip” Guide and it too, had positive reviews for the Park.

Target Field in Minneapolis - nice park but not a "top ten" fan expereince overall.

Target Field in Minneapolis – nice park but not a “top ten” fan experience overall.

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Some are surprised that Minnesota does not have a domed stadium. Like other ball parks in cities which can be prone to harsh weather, it is not exactly warm in Minnesota in either April or September, but the good taxpayers of the North Star State were not inclined to shell out the premium to put a cap on their new ball park. Having opened in 2010, the designers had the chance to borrow good ideas and to avoid some of the pitfalls of the many other newer stadiums which had been built in the decade prior to theirs.

Target Field is truly a nice place for baseball. It is situated in a downtown location in what was mainly a warehouse district, and is a far better venue than either the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, MN or the more recent Metrodome which was home for many years to both Twins baseball and Vikings football. In those two venues, former Twins baseball greats like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, and pitchers Jim Kaat and Bert Blylevin were a force to be reckoned with in the American League. I don’t think today’s Twins line-up or pitching rotation creates the same trepidation for opposing teams.

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TYhe best thing about Target Field was .... Target Field

The best thing about Target Field was …. Target Field

As I walked into the park, I also remembered one of my favorite Twins players of all time – the inimitable Kirby Puckett, who played center field for the Twins in 12 seasons before his great career was cut short by the development of vision problems which caused him to retire from baseball at the age of 35. While my son, Joe and daughter, Risa — life-long baseball fans — rarely agreed on a lot, I think both of them treasured their respective Kirby Puckett baseball cards. He was like the Charles Barkley of baseball — just a loveable guy who played the game with gusto and intensity, yet with a great sense of humor and fun.

Puckett is the Twins’ all-time leader in career hits, runs, doubles and total bases. When he retired, his career batting average of .318 was the highest of any right handed batter in the AL since the great Joe DiMaggio. It was no surprise that he was elected to join the ranks of Hall of Famers in Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. Next time I visit the Hall, I will linger a bit longer in tribute to Kirby.

Since some of the glory days of the Twins noted above, Minnesota baseball fans have had less to cheer about. It is not a franchise which spends big bucks for free agents, and they maintain a payroll in the lower third of the pack when it comes to total dollars. They did post World Series championship victories in 1987 and 1991.

On the night of this particular game which I was attending, the program featured a look-back at Twins pitcher Jack Morris, whose pitching in the World Series 25 years ago made the big difference for the Twins on their way to the championship. Morris pitched 10 innings in the 7th game, winner-take-all showdown against the Atlanta Braves in a game against a powerful Braves lineup. He bested John Smoltz in a scoreless duel until the Twins mustered a single run in the bottom of the 10th for an exciting walk-off win.

The Twins of today field a lineup with some very good players like 1st baseman/DH Joe Mauer and second baseman Brian Dozier (who recently hit HR #30 of this year) – but other than these, you won’t find a lot of Twins listed among the league leaders in any category this year. Going into this game, the Twins had a record of 49-77 and were riding a 6-game losing streak. They faced-off against the Detroit Tigers with a record of 67- 59 who had won 3 in a row and are still contending for a wild-card ticket to the post-season.

Tyler Duffey with a record of 8-9 and a 5.93 ERA started for the Twins against the Tigers Matt Boyd, with a record of 4-2 and an ERA of 3.93. The Tigers got things started in the top of the 1st with a deep HR by their All -star slugger Miguel Cabrera. The scoreboard announced that no other active player has feasted on Twins pitching more than Cabrera. He ranks first among all visiting players in Hits, HR’s and RBIs against Minnesota – and may be the visiting player who most genuinely gets most excited about a trip to the Twin Cities.

The Twins tied it in the bottom of the 1st when lead-off hitter Brian Dozier singled, advanced to 2nd on a walk to the next batter, Robbie Grossman, hustled to 3rd on a sac fly by DH Miguel Sano and then scored on a single by 1st baseman Trevor Plouffe. That’s small-ball at its best. In the 3rd inning the Tigers exploded for 5 runs with the big blow coming on a 3 run HR off the bat of Justin Upton. In the home half of the 3rd, Minnesota’s Robbie Grossman tallied a run on a monstrous solo HR to the upper deck in left field.

The Twins added single runs in the 5th (on a Dozier solo HR) and the 8th , but the Tigers extended their lead with 4 singles and a wild pitch which resulted in 3 more runs in the top of the 8th and never were really threatened in the game.  Matt Boyd pitched 6 strong innings and a trio of Tigers relievers did the rest. Final score: Tigers 9 – Twins 4.

Target Field is not likely ot be a post-season venue anytime soon... but it is a very nice ball park

Target Field is not likely to be a post-season venue anytime soon… but it is a very nice ball park.

I got the park plenty early and took my normal pre-game walk-around while getting my MLB Pass-Port stamped and checking-in on the MLB Ballpark app. I also checked out the menu selections and decided this was a night to forego ballpark food entirely, and opted instead a late-night visit to whatever venue the folks at the hotel might recommend within walking distance of the hotel. There are some “local specialties” on the menu at Target Field but somehow I found the choices of “Pork on a Stick” or “Walleye on a Stick” and even snacks like the ever popular corn-dogs not particularly appealing.

Lots of menu choices -- but none that made me yearn for a night of this cusine. Anything that is served "on a stick" probably should be limited to State Fairs...

Lots of menu choices — but none that made me yearn for a night of this cuisine. Anything that is served “on a stick” probably should be limited to State Fairs…

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Sorry, Jim, you can eliminate Minneapolis from your list of ballparks with enticing food selections…

While the park was really nice, I found the fan experience – for me — at least on that particular night – totally underwhelming. The ushers in my section and nearby were probably college kids in their twenties who looked as bored with the game as many of the spectators. And when I had asked one of them about suggestions on what I should see or do, given that this was my first visit to their glorious Park, they simply shrugged and had no great insights to share, no inside tips on what not to miss, and no genuine enthusiasm for baseball. They were nice enough but not particularly helpful or engaging.

In fact, the ushers were a lot like the fans in my section. I had gotten a seat on Stub Hub a few weeks earlier which was heavily discounted vs. face value (no wonder…!!!). It was in the first row of section 212 right behind home plate in the second level which provided an excellent vantage point for the game. All of these seats probably belonged to season ticket holders who were already looking ahead to Vikings football rather than enduring more painful Twins baseball in an already woeful season. There were 3 fans immediately next to me on my left and nobody at all in the 4 seats to my right – or in any of the seats in the 2 rows behind me. While I tried to talk to the guy sitting next to me, he mostly grunted as he downed his beers in rapid succession and gave curt responses, (after prolonged pauses) during which he appeared to ruminate about my “not-so-deep” queries. I even tried some wide-open questions like:

” What do you like most about this ball park?” (Rasing his cup he proclaimed definitively: “Beer”), and

“Is there anything you’d recommend that a first-timer visiting Target Field make sure they see?” (Shaking his head he belched: “Nope”).

Before I left, I regretted that I couldn’t arrange for him to meet the Annoying Lawyer Lady from Chicago… I would have paid money, or even sold tickets to see that face-off. She would have eaten his lunch… and sent him belching all the way back to Bloomington.

I left the game at the top of the ninth feeling disappointed that this beautiful ballpark fell short of what I had hoped and was not nearly as good a fan experience as many others I’ve visited. I hope most of the 0ther 24,308 in attendance enjoyed it more than I did. I’m sure many of them are really nice Minnesota people, (like Ronnie and Wanda Dean). I just didn’t get to meet any of those good folks at the ball game that night.

Certainly the visiting Tigers fans seemed to enjoy it – they were the only ones cheering after the 3rd inning. A fair number of the Twins faithful may have been napping… and “beer-man” who had been sitting next to me was probably still belching.

I retreated to the hotel, a short 3 block walk from the ball park, and got a resounding recommendation from the front desk clerk to try the pizza at a sports bar called The Loop, just two blocks away. I was able to catch the MLB Network highlights of the Phillies victory over the Chicago White Sox as they rebounded from the embarrassing loss to the south siders the night before. YEAH!!! I was happy that some of my fellow Phillies fans who had made the trek to Chicago – particularly Scott and his 2 sons, Jack and Luke – saw a solid Phils victory over the White Sox to avenge the embarrassment of the prior night.

The pizza at The Loop was as good as advertised, and I retired to my hotel to write a bit to catch-up on my posts. Then I packed and prepared for the following city on my schedule — the land of the Red Birds…

Next stop: St Louis