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Kevin Schnepf, Published April 01 2013

Schnepf: Twins opener was cold, but it wasn't the coldest

Minneapolis - The late, great Johnny Carson – king of late-night comedy – was not adverse to joking about cold weather.

“How cold is it?” his sidekick Ed McMahan would ask.

“It’s so cold, the politicians had their hands in their own pockets.”

“How cold is it?”

“The penguins are putting mink jackets on layaway.”

“How cold is it?”

“My cup of coffee turned into a hot slushy.”

It was so cold at Target Field Monday, the cups of Miller Lite turned into beercicles. It was so cold, Minnesota Twins fans were wearing more bomber hats than baseball caps.

Welcome to the opening day of Major League Baseball – when an announced sellout crowd of 38,282 braved 35-degree temperatures and 17 mile-per-hour winds to watch their Twins lose 4-2 to the Detroit Tigers. (My guess is at least 5,000 stayed home to keep warm).

It was the second coldest home opener in the 24 years of outdoor baseball for the Minnesota Twins. Even in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, Monday’s weather was not the norm for Twins’ home openers.

During the 21 years the Twins played outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium (where people now shop indoors at the Mall of America), the average temperature for a home opener was 56 degrees. And in the three previous Target Field openers, the temps surpassed 60 degrees.

But you knew, sooner or later, after the Twins left the indoor warmth of the Metrodome, that cold weather would catch up to them. Especially when Major League Baseball decided to schedule a season opener at Target Field – only the sixth time the Twins opened the season at home outdoors.

“Today, it’s nice … there’s no snow,” said former Twins All-Star Tony Oliva, who played in his share of cold-weather games at the Met – like the 1965 season opener when the Twins beat the New York Yankees 5-4 in 40-degree weather.

“They took a torch to the infield to dry it out,” recalled Oliva, who played in right field on the frozen, brown grass. “They didn’t care about the outfield.”

Unlike Target Field, where 41 miles of buried one-inch PVC pipe filled with anti-freeze liquid warmed the bright, green grass to 65 degrees. It was at least 30 degrees cooler than that when the shade covered Twins’ fan Jim Joki in his seat along the first-base line.

“We were here last year when it dipped to 42 degrees, it’s just 10 degrees less, that’s all,” said Joki, who drove to the game from Duluth with his friend Clint Roberts – who was confident his Twins were going to beat Detroit’s $180 million pitcher Justin Verlander.

“I don’t think Verlander has ever pitched in 32 degrees before. He is going to get rocked,” Roberts boasted.

Not quite. In five innings of work, Verlander shut out the Twins, striking out seven batters who were trying to avoid the cold sting of the bat.

But Verlander’s heat and the Minnesota cold didn’t keep fans like Joki, Roberts and Brian Rypkema from continuing their tradition of attending a Twins opener.

“Four straight openers at Target Field now,” said Rypkema, a Sioux Falls, S.D., resident who was sitting in the leftfield seats, directly beneath one of the hundreds of radiant heaters hanging along the concourse. “That helps a lot. They are pretty warm.”

Back on April 14, 1962, there were no heaters to warm up the 8,363 fans who braved 33-degree temps at Met Stadium. The game was snowed out the day before when it dipped below zero.

Those fans watched the Los Angeles Angels beat their team 12-5 in what is still the coldest home opener in Twins history.

“If you can play today, you can play any place, any time,” Angel manager Bill Rigney was quoted as saying after the 1962 opener.

Those conditions were far worse than Monday – especially with a 25 mile-per-hour wind howling in what was once the open prairie near Bloomington where Met Stadium sat.

How cold was it?

It was so cold Twins pitcher Dick Stigman, a native of nearby Nimrod, Minn., said he couldn’t feel the seams on the baseball. It was so cold, Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew said he couldn’t feel the bat in his hands.

So how cold was it, Johnny Carson?

“It was so cold the Cubs will win the World Series this year. Hell did just freeze over, right?”

And even if it seemed like hell froze over Monday for Twins fans, they still shouldn’t get their hopes up for winning a World Series.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or atkschnepf@forumcomm.com