The Red Sox go to Minnesota to play the Twins this weekend. That brings David Ortiz back to the city where his major league career began. This being the summer of his farewell tour, he spoke to Bob Nightengale of USA Today about his time in Minnesota. Of particular note is his take on how fans in the Twin Cities welcomed their local nine:
“What was funny is that when I played in Minnesota, they didn’t even know they had a major-league baseball team. I used to walk around the street and people didn’t know who the hell we were. Nobody used to come to the Metrodome to watch games. Going to the Metrodome to watch a game was like sacrificing one of your kids.”
In Ortiz’s last year in Minnesota the Twins won 94 games and drew 1.9 million fans. Not totally overwhelming — it was 9th in the AL and 20th in all of baseball — but arguably respectable for a team that played in a dispiriting dome. It was an improvement of a couple hundred thousand from the year before, when the club won 85 games, and they would bump their attendance up a tad the year after as well. They outdrew Philly, Detroit and Toronto. Which, no, wasn’t hard at the time, but which is not nothing.
Maybe people just didn’t know who Ortiz was. 2002 was his high water mark in Minnesota and he still wasn’t exactly one of the big stars of the club. Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Johan Santana and even dudes like Rick Reed were arguably higher profile Twins of the time. In the five years before that Ortiz only played 100 games once. In 2016 David Ortiz can’t walk on a sidewalk within 100 miles of Boston without being mobbed, but it’s not hard at all to imagine him walking down the main drag in Minneapolis in 2000 without anyone turning their head.
Boston is definitely a place that loves its pro athletes and Ortiz is the most famous pro athlete in that city. Has been for years. I feel like that — or maybe simply the passage of time — may be skewing his take on how a place like Minnesota is supposed to treat ballplayers of a given caliber at a given time. They’re OK fans. They have a dumb fixation on Joe Mauer for whatever reason — and the columnists there have a habit of whining like children — but it’s not too different than most other big league cities.