Ballpark pitch: Kaufman calls for Twins stadium

Categories: Legislature

Since the fearless leaders at the Capitol have adjourned for the summer, there hasn't been much to report on the stadium front. That could all change, of course, if the governor and legislative honchos decide to haul everyone back to St. Paul in the fall for a special legislative session just to address the stadium issue.

The silence has been golden, but a plea for a new Twins ballpark came from an unexpected place recently: In the virtual pages of Salon.com, the internet daily magazine that's based in San Francisco.

Sports columnist King Kaufman, who is palatable simply because he's refreshingly not afraid to not know something about a sport--and is usually dead on when he does--recently dressed down the idea that baseball attendance is swooning in "the Heartland."

Using the Chicago White Sox as his example, Kaufman impressively lays to rest the myth that the Sox can't draw anyone to the games this year. The Sox are notoriously fast starters and early faders, and haven't made the playoffs for four years. Now that they're winning, everyone has pointed out that they still can't outdraw the middling Cubs. That's partly true, but if you take away the first month of the season, the Sox are actually drawing quite well.

Winning is one thing that draws people to the park, according to Kaufman, and he's right. The other thing is either a new ballpark (like Petco in San Diego) or a charming old one (like Wrigley). Not surprisingly, Kaufman dumps all over the Metrodome, calling it, well ... a dump. He then goes on to note that the Twins are 13th in the majors in winning, but only 20th in attendance.

"Win, and they will come. It's that simple, unless you're the Twins," Kaufman concludes. "There's nothing wrong with Heartland attendance that some smart management, winning baseball and a new stadium in the Twin Cities can't fix."

It's nice to be thought of, but Kaufman is really only on steady ground on his first point: Winning is pretty much everything to ensuring casual fans go to the game. He's perhaps not entirely wrong on the second point, but let's think about the proposed Twins stadium for a moment.

Over a prolonged period of time, there's no guarantee that stadiums keep people coming. (See, for instance, the pitiful attendance for the patehtic Colorado Rockies in the much-heralded Coors Field.) Or in the sad case of the Metrodome, there's no guarantee that a stadium will prop up a losing team at all--as the few hundred other people who sat with me through the 1982-1985 seasons will attest.

And then there are other variables, like ticket-price inflation, bad weather and, whoops, a sudden downturn on the field.

Besides, Kaufman ignores the fact the the Twins are on pace to have the teams' highest attendance since 1993, certain to draw over 2 million people to that lousy old Dome. This is after alienating the entire five-state area by losing for pretty much the rest of the 1990s. And there's 1,000 people more ateending each game this year compared to last.

The reason, it would seem, is that the Twins have won three straight division titles. Certainly not, as Kaufman would likely agree, because of any authentic ballpark experience.


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