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AUSTIN EDITION - Trip to Milwaukee well worth it for baseball fans

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It's baseball as it was meant to be

Once upon a time, a baseball fan could watch the Minnesota Twins play outdoors, but now they have to travel out-of-state to make that happen.

One of the closest pilgrimages a fan can now take to see the Twins play on real grass is a few hundred miles east to Milwaukee, Wis. The favorite stop for Twins fans during interleague play is Miller Park in downtown Milwaukee.

Walking onto the premises of Miller Park last weekend for the start of the three-game set with the Milwaukee Brewers was like taking a trip back into the past.

The tailgating before the game and the ambiance of the outdoor setting brought back memories of the way it used to be for the Twins. For a young baseball fanatic in the 1960s and 70s, the place to be was old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

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Those were the days when the Twins played baseball like it was meant to be played: Under the open sky and on real grass. I still proudly wave the championship pennants from the Twins World Series wins in 1987 and 1991, but my feelings toward the Metrodome in Minneapolis have never been positive.

Maybe this reporter was just spoiled in his younger days by getting to watch the Twins play outdoors. Seeing the contemporary version of the game played under a plastic roof, while sitting on plastic seats, and watching the baseball skip around on plastic grass isn't my idea of the national pastime.

On the road

Although the Twins were the road team last weekend, you sure wouldn't have known it hanging around the city of Milwaukee. On the streets downtown before the game, Twins paraphernalia was abundant on passers-by.

The Minnesota fans made up about half of the crowd of 25,000 people at Friday night's series opener. The events on the field bore witness to that testimony as loud cheers could be heard when the Twins made a nice play. This usually doesn't happen for road teams, but Miller Park has become a home away from home for those Twins fans who want to see a game under the real sky.

Going to a game at Miller Park is an event on its own. There isn't really a bad seat in the house and the bratwursts are also pretty good.

Local chapter

The best thing about attending a game at Miller Park is the chance to sit out in the parking lot before the game and converse with old friends. People were throwing the ball around, kids were running freely through the parking lots, and the food being cooked around various sites added a delightful aroma to the whole scene.

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There were more than a few people at the game who hailed from Austin. It was my privilege to see a couple of former Austinites at the game, Willy and Alex Ferreira. We talked about the Twins and Vikings, we talked about Austin sports, but mostly we sat around and marveled at the scene surrounding this beautiful new ballpark.

The Ferreira boys now live in the Twin Cities metro area and they attend games at the Metrodome on a regular basis, but it isn't the same as outdoor baseball for them either. The one common theme agreed upon by those present from the local chapter of fans was that this state needs a stadium akin to Miller Park.

Roof show

At the end of a perfect night for baseball, the fans got one last treat as they closed the monstrous retractable roof that sits over the park. It takes about 20 minutes to convert Miller Park into a dome.

Alas, nothing is perfect and the new ballpark in Milwaukee does have its problems. The roof apparently leaks and the closed-in area overhead of the fans gives the park a closed-in feeling even when the roof is open.

Still, the chance to watch a game in a natural setting was too good to pass up and going on the road to Wisconsin has become a yearly event for many Twins devotees. You can't see outdoor baseball at home, so you might as well go on the road.

Scott Kolb is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. His column appears each Tuesday. He can be reached at skolb@postbulletin.com

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