Thursday, April 01, 2010

Twins Feast

I’m not going to lie – it’s been a dark couple of months. Back in late-January, while speaking with new Target Field Executive Chef Pastor Jiminez, he told me the awful truth about Target Field's new Murray’s Steak Sandwich. I recalled it in this blog post the next day....

Speaking of bad driving, we talked with the folks at the Target Field display about their food options. It started as a very pleasant conversation. I'm excited about the options there, and they were receptive to our lobbying for Surly to be included in the available beers. Of course, we also pointedly argued that they couldn't claim to have Minnesota food fare and not have anything with Spam.

OK, we likely didn't help our credibility much with that last point.

But the really disappointing part of that conversation was the revelation that the Murray's Steak Sandwiches that are going to be served at Target Field are not the same as the ones they currently serve in the bar at Murray's. They're coming up with something new, instead. In fact, they haven't even determined what it is going to be.

(These sandwiches, as you know, if you know me, are ambrosia. Char-grilled, oh-so-tender, pink-fibered ambrosia, cut into tiny chunks and covered with cheese and bacon. I would walk over hot coals for that thing. They only serve it at lunch and they only serve it in the bar. There. Now you have lunch plans today.)

Worse, once they create this new...this new... I'm going to go with "monstrosity"..., they're going to replace the sandwich they currently have with it. It's the worst possible situation.

And later in the post….

Please, gawd, don't let them shave the steak for those sandwiches. It HAS to be bite-sized chunks of beef. If they try to create a Philly Cheesesteak, which they will inevitably butcher, and ALSO screw up my steak sandwich, I'm going to be inconsolable.

And then…

If you want to sell something from Murray's, how about the garlic toast they have in the bar? Offer me a sleeve of those things for $5 and the popcorn guy will go out of business.

And I finished it with….

It's hopeless, isn't it? It's going to go the way of my lamb sirloin with that tasty dipping sauce they had at Palomino in the 90's. I hate change.

And thus began the self-pity spiral, and I’m not going to apologize for it. One of the top five foodstuffs in this world was going away, never to be heard from again, and I was powerless to stop it.

Well, somewhere, someone heard my plea. Actually, I can pretty much tell you who at least one of those someones was – Matt Hansen at the forward-thinking firm Beehive PR, who was kind enough to invite me and a few other bloggers to Twins Feast yesterday.

(No, “Twins Feast” wasn’t the official name. It was dubbed such by an exceedingly jealous and gratifyingly bitter Voice of Reason. Giggle.)

Tell me that THIS doesn’t sound like heaven: you get invited into Target Field, ushered around from booth to booth by an assortment of chefs, and handed free food while you interview and take photos. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Well, it IS nice. And I tweeted the whole thing. Since some of you folks might want to gnosh a little at the two exhibition games this weekend, I thought I’d give you a few impressions:

The afternoon started at Hrbek's, the bar on the first level pretty much directly behind home plate. And there we learned that I'm a pretty terrible photographer, because that food on the left is much, much better than it looks in thie picture. The onion ring is the size of a baseball, and the T-Rex burger is stuffed with cheese and carmelized onions and anything else that looks good in a burger. Plus, they had some ice cream sundae things that go on a cookie that were instantly nominated as "Food Most Likely to Put John Into a Diabetic Shock."

Which is a shame, because I'm almost sure I'm not going to spend much time in Hrbek's, despite liking it very much. We'll get to why later.

Oh, and I'll apologize in advance - I didn't have the Vincent Burger. Sorry. I have no excuse. It was just bad driving. I'll remedy that on Opening Day.

Kramarczuk's Sausages
It's nice to have Kramarczuk's in Target Field just so I can eventually master the spelling and pronunciation of their name. I still remember that warm glow I felt the first time I didn't need to look up "Pierzynski" and the chest bump after mastering "Mientkiewicz." I felt a little robbed last year when the Grundzielanek experiment ended a little early. It's nice to have a new mountain to climb.

And it looks like I'm going to need to learn it because I'm going to be talking about these sausages. Somewhere during my time at the Metrodome I switched from being a bratwurst guy to a hot dog guy. That's going to change. The bratwurst I had was outstanding, and the polish sausage that followed it was even better. Plus, I'm going to want to hang out around that stand just for the smells. I might consider moving my seats. It's that good.

My only concern about these is how long the line will be. I expect it will be Chipotle-in-the-mid-90s kinda long.

Schwiegert Hot Dogs

Another reason that I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up eating so many Kramarczuks' sausages is because I have some concerns about the hot dog situation. Twice I've been at Target Field, and twice the only dogs I've found are the $5.25 "Big Dogs," which is the new equivalent of the Dome Dogs. I was never a dome dog guy - they're expensive, they're too big, and I don't want the chips. And I feel the same way about the Big Dogs, except that they also have a bun that's too bready.

According to the North Delaware representative, they are selling original dogs in the park all over the place. They would be the equivalent of the dollar dogs they had at the Metrodome, and they're supposed to be the same recipe they had at The Met. And they absolutely have both yellow and brown mustard. No sign of sauerkraut, which is obviously a concern, but I'm going to assume they have that covered.

Tony O's Cuban Sandwiches Stand

Yep, that's Tony Oliva, who together with top Twins and Deleware North brass introduced his Cuban Sandwich stand. There's going to be a lot of competition for the food dollar in Target Field, but I think these are going to stand out. It's comfort food. It looked like ham, pork, swiss cheese, thinly sliced pickle and mustard inside a flaky role. If you like grilled cheese or pot roast sandwiches, I think you're going to like this plenty.

Asian Noodles
I'm embarassed to say I don't know the name of the stand that served us Asian Noodles, but it was just to the left of Hrbek's yesterday. That's not generally considered ballpark food, but I found it to be a nice option. In particular, I was impressed that they weren't afraid to make it a little spicy. I won't be surprised if I find myself back there soon. Keep it in the back of your mind.

Ribs, Chili and State Fair Fare

I absolutely love ribs, so even though I was getting full I was pretty excited to go after a few of them from the State Fair booth out in left field. Unfortunately, they were simply, um, fair. Maybe they would have been better received if I had them earlier in the day. My impression of them, along with the chili and the walleye-on-a-stick, was that none of them were going to rise to the top of my list at the park.

Townball Tavern
One thing that WILL be at the top of my list is the bar on the second level down the third base line: the Townball Tavern. The featured item on the tour was the non-alchoholic feature on the left: a two-person root beer float made with Killebrew Root Beer, ice cream, whipped cream and a root beer cookie stick. It is enormous. Possibly the greatest shared dessert date item ever.

But the reason I'm likely going to spend my time here instead of Hrbek's is because of the balcony. Out the back of the tavern is a small shady balcony with a half a dozen tables on it that just beg for hours of lounging before or after a game. It's such a great feature that it makes me almost angry that it isn't everywhere, stretched across the entire south and east sides of the stadium. I can hardly wait to take advantage of it.

And what will I be drinking at the Tavern? For the most part, Target Field looks to be a Budweiser ballpark, or at least that's the domestic mass-produced beer that is most prevalent. Summit is also on tap, listed as a premium beer, which means it costs $7.50. I'm almost sure I saw Grain Belt Premium that last time I was there. I've heard Surly is available in cans somewhere, but I didn't find it. I'll do a more exhaustive survey on Opening Day.

The Murray's Steak Sandwich
And so finally, we get to the main event.

I'm relieved - very, very, VERY relieved - to say they mostly got it right. The key is the bite size steak chunks. This isn't a shaved steak sandwich, and the chunks were really tender, meaining it wasn't a chore to chew. It's covered with provolone cheese and served on ciabatta bread which holds up nicely. Unlike the old version, there isn't any bacon, but I was almost giddy to find that each one is served with an authentic piece of Murray's Garlic Toast, just like they have in the bar.

It runs $10.50, which is a lot for ballpark food but about the same price I've paid for it in the bar. If they can continue to make sure the steak bites are tender, it's going to become a staple. If not, I'll need to get the original one at Murray's before the game. Either way, it sounds like there are going to be plenty of options.

Ramos and $23 Million

The most hotly debated roster spot in Twins camp was resolved yesterday when we found out that catcher Wilson Ramos will be sent to AAA-Rochester to start the season, which awards Drew Butera the role of backup catcher. It was a hot topic because the better player will not be on the Twins roster.

Ramos is only 22 years old, relatively strong defensively, and hit the cover off the ball this spring, showing the power that makes him a top prospect. Butera, who is four years older, showed he was strong defensively but hit the way you would expect a career .214 batting average minor leaguer might hit. And to be honest, he wasn’t even that good.

However, Ramos isn’t on the roster for two reasons. The more cynical reason is service time. When Ramos is on the 25-man roster he starts earning service time, and that tenure eventually raises his salary and leads to free agency. That’s hard to justify for a top player when he’s only playing a couple times per week. The second reason is playing time. As a top prospect, it would probably serve Ramos better to play full time in AA or AAA than only a couple of times per week in the majors.

On the other hand, you have the impact Ramos could have in the majors. He would probably get about six starts per month so long as Joe Mauer stays healthy. He would also give manager Ron Gardenhire a right-handed bench option with some power beyond Brendan Harris.
For me, at least, it’s an easy decision. Ramos has only 54 games at AA. He likely needs more time in the minors, no matter how well he hit this spring. The short-term pain is worth the long-term gain and he should be sent down.

(And just for clarity, it’s worth noting that this future star slugger currently has just 31 home runs in his entire four-year minor league career. His career OPS in the minors? 790. His career slugging percentage? .447. He’s been young for his competition, and he had a monster winter and monster spring, but let’s be a little careful about the expectations we heap on this kid just yet.)

All the Ramos hype and excitement took me someplace I didn’t want to go. But I’m helpless. I’m a Twins fan, I’m a geek, it’s kind of sad, really….

If the Twins have a catcher who is so close to being an impact player at the major league level (and who cost just $400,000 per year), should they have given such an expensive contract to Mauer? Because while it’s nice to talk about how the Twins aren’t a small market team or how this is such a good signing for baseball, the reality is that the Twins could have spent $23 million per year in a lot of ways.

Mauer’s contract doesn’t begin until next year, and we don’t know exactly how much free agents will cost then, but you can get a pretty good idea by looking at what was available this year.
You can start with the most highly sought (and paid) free agent on the market, Matt Holliday, who hit .313 with 24 HR and 109 RBI in 2009. He could replace Delmon Young in left field. Since Holliday only costs $17 million this year, the Twins could add a third baseman, like Placido Polanco ($6M). So you have Holliday, Polanco and Ramos in the lineup instead of Mauer, Delmon and Punto. Would you make that trade?

Or maybe you would like some insurance in case Ramos struggles. Well, you could bring in Ivan Rodriguez, who signed for $3 million per year, to mentor Ramos. Then you could bring in Jason Bay (.267, 36 HR, 119 RBI) for $15M to play left field, add Mark DeRosa to play third base ($6M). (That totals $24 million, but you can save a few million by getting rid of Young.) So Pudge, Bay, DeRosa and Ramos - or Mauer.

You want a closer instead? There weren’t any who signed for more than $7 million per year, so go ahead and sign three of them. Another starting pitcher? Other than John Lackey and Andy Pettitte, you could get any of them for $10 million apiece. Take two and grab Pudge to fill out the battery. Or mix and match. If you want to see all the salaries, check out ESPN’s free agent tracker.

Between this post, some of my KFAN appearances and my post a few weeks ago, I’m sure I’m going to be labeled as someone who hates Joe Mauer. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I remain convinced we’ll see him joust with the .400 barrier some August before this contract is over. I don’t even hate the contract. But I don’t love it, and I find the juxtaposition between the excitement about Ramos and the necessity to sign Mauer fascinating.

Remember back when supporting a new ballpark meant that you hated kids? Well, now you have your chance to love both. If you’re looking for some cool Target Field Collectibles and like supporting Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota, check out this commemorative baseball or this commemorative plaque. You can find more details about it here.

Speaking of Target Field, Dean Carlson provides a nice tribute to Shane Nackerud of Greet Machine. Back in the day, Shane was my go-to guy on all stadium news and we put together a fun board game in GameDay that illustrated the road the bill needed to take. He really was instrumental in publicly tracking legislators stands on the stadium.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Target Field Collectible and Make-a-Wish

Bob Ibach, a friend of mine who raises money for Make-a-Wish, forwarded this along to those of you that might be interested. I gotta say - the plaque sounds pretty cool. I've gone out an located the items on the site listed below. You can buy the ball here and the plaque here .

Oh, and check back later tonight for my first post following a week long vacation.

For Immediate Release
Contacts: Bob Ibach (847-922-6686 or 941-312-4588)
Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota: Jean Carlson (612-767-2764)

Only 5,000 Inaugural Season Baseballs to Be Produced
First Game at Twins New Ballpark
Signals New Era of Outdoor Baseball in Minnesota
Make-A-Wish Foundation® of Minnesota Will Also Benefit

Minneapolis – Finally a ballpark to call their very own.

When the Twins christen Target Field on Monday, April 12, against the visiting Boston Red Sox, it will mark the first time that the home team will be playing in a facility built ONLY for them. The Twins first home years ago, Metropolitan Stadium, was originally a minor league ballpark and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome the past 28 seasons also served as a football stadium.

This is the sixth ballpark in franchise history since its start as the Washington Senators and the 39,504 seat open-air ballpark in the Warehouse District north of downtown Minneapolis between 5th and 7th Streets promises to be one of the best parks in all of baseball. The park was built by the same group that constructed Oriole Park at Camden Yards, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and AT&T Park in San Francisco—all considered among the elite sites in major league baseball.

To celebrate this great moment in Minnesota sports history, and to also raise awareness and money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of Minnesota, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, Nikco Sports announced a program that will allow Twins fans to own a unique piece of history.

A limited edition baseball featuring a stunning color photo of the new Target Field on one of the panels, and important historic information printed on the other panels, along with the official Inaugural Season logo is being produced to commemorate the first game at the new ballpark on April 12. Only 5,000 baseballs will be made, priced at $39.95, and each comes with a handsome acrylic display case. From each sale, $4 will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota.

In addition, a limited edition framed photo plaque that features a picture of the new Target Field, along with a special inset photo of Twins All-Star catcher and fan favorite Joe Mauer and a piece of actual dirt from the ballpark’s new infield will also be made available to fans. Only 2,010 double matted photos will be produced, and each comes with an engraved nameplate. It is priced at $89.95. Fans can order either commemorative at 1-800-345-2868 or by visiting

In recent years, Nikco Sports has raised more than $1.7 million for children’s charities, including several projects in Minnesota.

One panel on the Inaugural Season Target Field baseball will feature a colorful panoramic shot of the new facility that captures the essence of the outdoor playing field. The official Inaugural Season stadium logo is positioned on another panel. A third panel lists the championship history of the franchise, including the three World Series titles won in 1991, 1987 and 1924 when the team was in Washington. It also lists the six American League pennants (1991, 1987, 1965, 1933, 1925 and 1924) along with Central Division/Western Division crowns.

A separate panel contains information on the new ballpark, including capacity, (39,504), the date of groundbreaking (2007), the April 12 first game date against Boston, and the field dimensions to left, center and right.

The framed and double matted photo plaque measures 15 x 17 inches and will feature a colorful stadium shot in the center. Along the bottom left of the presentation is an action shot of Joe Mauer and to the right is an engraved nameplate and a small capsule of dirt that is authenticated and taken from the Target Field infield under MLB supervision.

“Twins fans have eagerly waited for this historic ballpark opening for quite some time, and this is something every Twins fan will want to celebrate and remember,” noted Nikco Sports CEO and president Craig Bidner. We hope this will be a moment for Twins fans to remember for years to come, and also advance the funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation® of Minnesota as they continue to help youngsters who have life-threatening medical conditions.”

Many of Nikco Sports’ projects have honored amateur and professional teams (Super Bowl, World Series, NBA, NHL, NASCAR and NCAA) and have recognized some of the greatest athletes such as (baseball) Ozzie Smith, Kirby Puckett, Ryne Sandberg, Randy Johnson, Ichiro, Paul Molitor, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Thome, Adam Dunne, Nolan Ryan, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Edgar Martinez; (football) Peyton Manning, John Elway, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Emmitt Smith and Kurt Warner; (basketball) Magic Johnson, LeBron James, John Stockton, David Robinson, Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas; (motor sports) Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.; (hockey) Brett Hull; (golf) Tiger Woods.

About the Make-A-Wish Foundation
The Make-A-Wish Foundation® grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. First started in 1980 when a group of caring individuals helped a young boy fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer, the Foundation is now the largest wish-granting charity in the world, with 65 chapters in the U.S. and its territories. With the help of generous donors and nearly 25,000 volunteers, the Make-A-Wish Foundation grants more than 12,600 wishes a year and has granted more than 168,000 wishes in the U.S. since inception.