The Minnesota Twins’ home opener on Tuesday night, July 28, 2020, was like many others in the major leagues. The delay in starting the 2020 season because of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID), meant an empty ballpark since no fans were allowed. Face masks were prevalent; procedures for distancing from one another were in place. The Twins took out a row of seats and erected a tent behind each dugout, a place for players to sit to allow more room for distancing in the dugout.
The Twins still had some of the usual trappings for Opening Day, including a military flyover and virtual ceremonial first pitches from front-line health-care workers.1
The theme of Opening Days everywhere was racial justice in the wake of the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer, Derek Chauvin, nearly two months before. This was more pronounced because Floyd’s death had taken place less than four miles to the southeast of Target Field. The death site had turned into a makeshift “George Floyd Square.” The Twins placed signs on the right-field fence for “Black Lives Matter: United for Change” and “Justice for George Floyd.” The Twins put their logo on an “Epicenter for Change” T-shirt, indicating that Minneapolis was the focal point of the change as a result of Floyd’s death on May 25.
After the team introductions, players remained on the foul lines for the national anthem. Twins who knelt during the anthem were manager Rocco Baldelli, coach Tommy Watkins, and players Trevor May, LaMonte Wade, Tyler Duffey, Byron Buxton, Sergio Romo, and Aaron Whitefield.
Less than a month before, the Twins had removed a statue of former owner Calvin Griffith from outside Target Field. On Juneteenth,2 the Twins announced that they were finally coming to terms with racist comments Griffith had made in 1978 in a speech in Waseca, Minnesota. “While we acknowledge the prominent role Calvin Griffith played in our history, we cannot remain silent and continue ignoring the racist comments he made in Waseca in 1978,” the Twins said in a press release. “Our decision to memorialize Calvin Griffith with a statue reflects an ignorance on our part of systemic racism present in 1978, 2010 [when the statue was erected upon the opening of Target Field], and today.”3
The Twins also wore an “RC” patch in memory of one of their minor-league players, Ryan Costello, who had died the previous September.4
In the game, two Twins made their 2020 debuts, one his Minnesota debut. Right-hander Homer Bailey, signed as a free agent in late 2019, pitched his first game for the Twins. Byron Buxton, who had injured his leg diving for a catch in an intrasquad game earlier in July, got the start in center field.
Bailey allowed St. Louis runners in each of the first four innings but only one got as far as second base. By then, his hitters had built him a healthy lead.
Carlos Martinez, back in the rotation after spending a season as the Cardinals’ primary reliever, got in trouble in the bottom of the first. With one out, Josh Donaldson hit a soft grounder to the right side. Martinez came off the mound and reached for the chopper but the ball caromed off his glove. From a home office eight miles away, the official scorer called it a hit.5
Jorge Polanco lined a soft single to center, and Martinez created further problems when, with Nelson Cruz up, he made an errant pickoff throw to second, allowing both runners to advance. Martinez got Cruz to pop out and, after intentionally walking Eddie Rosario, he got Mitch Garver to ground to third on a 3-and-1 pitch with the bases loaded.
Martinez fared more poorly in the second. Luis Arraez singled and went to third when Miguel Sano grounded a double down the left-field line. Buxton rolled to shortstop Paul DeJong, who threw home to try to get Arraez, breaking for the plate. The throw was not in a good position for catcher Yadier Molina, and Arraez slid in safely. Max Kepler singled to score Sano and send Buxton to third, and Buxton scored on a sacrifice fly by Donaldson. Polanco then homered to right-center, and the Twins were ahead 5-0.
Minnesota padded its lead on a homer to right by Donaldson with two out in the fourth, which finished Martinez. Four St. Louis relievers — Austin Gomber, Giovanny Gallegos, Tyler Webb, and John Gant — did not allow another runner, but the Twins had more than they needed by then.
Tyler O’Neill cut the lead a bit with a two-run homer in the top of the fifth. After Rosario flied to left for the second out of the bottom of the sixth inning, the game was stopped for a moment of silence for George Floyd. The stadium clock read 8:46, the length of time in minutes and seconds that Chauvin had knelt on Floyd’s neck.6
Leading off the top of the eighth against Trevor May, Tommy Edman hit a fly to center. Buxton drifted back to the fence and timed his leap well, reaching over the fence and gloving the drive. He couldn’t hang on, though, the ball came out, and it bounced twice atop the fence before trickling over.
May struck out the next three batters, but Edman’s home run had reduced the Twins’ lead to three runs and created both a potential save situation and a decision for Baldelli. The Twins had won two of three games in their opening series against the White Sox in Chicago, none of them close. Right-hander Sergio Romo and southpaw Taylor Rogers were the only two relievers to not yet see action. Although Rogers had led the Twins in saves in 2019, Baldelli called on Romo for the bottom of the ninth, an indication that he might be planning a bullpen by committee. Romo got the first two batters before hitting O’Neill with a pitch. He then struck out Harrison Bader to end the game.
A near-empty ballpark enhanced some of the sounds of baseball, the chatter from the dugouts audible and the crack of the bats more resounding. However, these sounds still had to compete with game “production” within the stadium. The staff thus employed was still considered essential enough to be there to pipe in artificial crowd noise that sounded distinctly artificial and to display extraneous graphics on the video boards imploring nonexistent fans to make noise.7
Some fans found a perch atop a parking ramp beyond center field and got at least a partial view of the game.8 Like many other teams, the Twins had cutouts of the faces of former players behind home plate. The team displayed a bit of creativity with a photo mosaic covering an entire section in the top deck in left field. It had the interlocking TC (for Twin Cities) logo as part of the artwork displaying the likenesses of more than 3,000 fans.
In this, their 60th season in Minnesota, the Twins also began honoring franchise history dating back to the Washington, DC, club that was a charter member of the American League in 1901. Flags atop the stands in right field waved for each of the franchise’s six pennants and/or world championships, including those won in Washington.
Bailey was credited with the win but went on the injured list because of tendinitis in his pitching arm before his next start. He pitched only one more game for Minnesota, on September 22, and was designated for assignment three days later. Donaldson, the Twins’ biggest free-agent signee, played a few more games before coming out of a game July 31 because of tightness in his calf. He was out for over a month and played only 28 games in 2020. Donaldson left a September 25 game with cramping in his calf and was not on the active roster for the postseason.
The Cardinals fared even worse. They lost the second and final game of the series the next night and headed for Milwaukee for a weekend series. However, the day after the Twins series, the Cardinals learned that two players had tested positive for COVID from samples taken the day before. The entire team was given rapid tests on Friday, and the game that night was postponed and rescheduled for a doubleheader Sunday. However, as more positive tests emerged, the entire Milwaukee series was scrapped as were games that followed. St. Louis didn’t play again until August 15, the 18th day after concluding their games in Minnesota. The Cardinals had to play 53 of their 58 games over the next six weeks and clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the schedule, which meant that they didn’t have to go to Detroit the next day for a makeup doubleheader with the Tigers.9 St. Louis lost in the first round of the playoffs, to the San Diego Padres.
The Twins were more fortunate than the Cardinals and other teams in dodging postponements because of COVID. However, on August 27, they chose to join other professional sports teams in not playing after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by police.10 Minnesota played well enough to ensure a playoff spot well before the end of the season and finished first in the American League Central Division when the Chicago White Sox lost on the final day of the season.
Seeded third in the American League, the Twins were at home for a best-of-three wild-card series against the sixth-seeded Houston Astros. Minnesota scored only one run in each game as it was swept, 0-2, by the Astros. The losses extended the Twins’ postseason losing streak to 18 games.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Twins
1 According to the Twins Community Relations Department, “We had nine healthcare workers serve as our ‘starting lineup’ on opening day with each of them participating in the ceremonial first pitch. In terms of who was selected, we reached out to the medical facilities and asked them to nominate those frontline workers who are working with COVID patients. Many of the facilities sent us two or three nominations that allowed us to select a cross section of facilities and roles within healthcare. Three season ticket holders were also selected. … The ‘first pitches’ were pre-recorded about two weeks prior [at Target Field the evening of July 16] to the actual home opener. The magical video editing people pulled it all together to create what was aired.” (Email correspondence with Kristin Rortvedt, director of Twins community relations, August 6-7, 2020, and Matt Hodson, manager of communications, August 10, 2020.)
2 Juneteenth is June 19, symbolizing African-American freedom in that it was the date in 1865 that enslaved people of Texas were finally told they were free.
3 Press release from the Minnesota Twins, June 19, 2020; Report by Eric Chaloux of KSTP Television, June 19, 2020, kstp.com/minnesota-sports/former-minnesota-twins-owner-calvin-griffith-statue-removed-target-field/5764868/?cat=7.
4 The Twins had worn the “RC” patch in their opening series of the season, setting off some confusion among viewers and social media posts wondering if Rod Carew had died. The Twins continued to wear the patch through their opening homestand.
5 Phil Miller, “Scorekeeping Going Off-Site,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis), July 19, 2020: C5, startribune.com/hit-or-error-twins-games-will-be-officially-scored-off-site/571821741. Because of COVID and the need to keep people spaced out in the press box, official scorers worked from home and made their decisions off video feeds in 2020. The author of this article was the official scorer for this game.
6 “8:46” remained as the symbol of Floyd’s death even after reports emerged that the time had originally been miscalculated and that Chauvin had Floyd on the ground and his knee on his neck for 7 minutes, 46 seconds (Amy Forliti, Associated Press, “Prosecutors: Officer Had Knee on Floyd for 7:46, Not 8:46, Star Tribune, June 17, 2020, startribune.com/prosecutors-officer-had-knee-on-floyd-for-7-46-not-8-46/571331762/). Video of the incident provided by Darnella Frazier (which she posted on her Facebook page at facebook.com/darnellareallprettymarie/videos/1425398217661280/), begins showing Chauvin already with his knee on Floyd’s neck. His knee remains on the neck for the first 7 minutes, 53 seconds of the video.
7 LaVelle E. Neal III, “A Little Extra Noise Is Welcomed,” Star Tribune, August 18, 2020: C5. Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said he wouldn’t mind the artificial noise being louder as a means of making it more difficult for teams to hear what the other team was saying. Baldelli said this after an August 16, Kansas City at Minnesota game in which both teams engaged in sniping after the game.
8 Paul Walsh, “Fans Rise to Occasion, Watch Twins from Aerial Lift,” Star Tribune, August 20, 2020: B1. It appears that the fans on top of the parking ramp for the home opener were allowed to remain as long as they wanted. A few weeks later, during a Milwaukee at Minnesota game, two Brewers fans tried the same thing, with an enhancement, bringing a portable aerial lift to the top of the ramp. However, the duo was ordered out of the ramp by Minneapolis police after a few innings.
9 Although the Cardinals played 11 doubleheaders in 2020, with a 30-28 record, they were the only team to not play all 60 scheduled games. By winning on September 27, St. Louis was assured of a playoff spot. Even by playing and winning the makeup games at Detroit, the Cardinals would not have moved into the top group of National League playoff teams which earned home-field advantage in the first round. Thus, the makeup games in Detroit were deemed unnecessary.
10 The Twins issued this press release on August 27: “The Minnesota Twins remain committed to using our platforms to push for racial justice and equality. Therefore, we fully respect our players for their decision to not play tonight’s game versus the Detroit Tigers. The recent shooting of Jacob Blake, a mere three months after the killing of George Floyd, shows again that real change is necessary and far overdue in our country, and it is our responsibility to continue playing a role in efforts to affect meaningful reform. We stand in solidarity with the Black community and, as full partners with others in the Twin Cities and beyond, we are committed to creating the change we want to see in the world — where everyone is protected, safe and welcome. There is no place for racism, inequality or injustice in our society.”