BLAINE – TwinsFest 2011 kicked off on Friday and the party continued into the weekend at Blaine’s National Sports Complex. The crowds came out in droves, mainly to see this generation’s answer to Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew: Joe Mauer. When I arrived at around ten in the morning the line for Mauer’s autograph table extended out of the Schwan’s Building and down towards the entrance of the main complex.
Baby Jesus Joe wasn’t scheduled to arrive and start signing for another hour.
Inside the main complex, the mood was that of a convention not unlike a Comic-Con. The gym was packed with Twins fans, memorabilia collectors, players and legends alike. As you entered and got your ticket scanned you were met with large and long tables covered with baseball cards, signed photos and bats as well as plaques ranging from Brett Favre to Alec Guinness.
The famed spin wheels were here too; for two bucks you spin a wheel with 32 numbers on it and based on the number you spin you win a prize according to that number. 1 is the number you wanted as the best prizes were here (I walked away with a Harmon Killebrew plaque). Other prizes were mostly some sort of trading card pack. There was also a silent auction table in this area.
As you continued on past these tables you reached arguably the main attraction of TwinsFest, the autograph tables. I went with one other person and between the two of us we managed to get 11 autographs in a 3 hour period. The prospects were the easiest and quickest to get; they were at ‘Corner 6’ which was located against the side wall furthest from the main entrance. ‘Corner 5’ had the best attractions; Paul Molitor followed by Rod Carew followed by Dan Gladden and Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant. These ranged from $20-$65 in price for autographs. Carew cost $25 while Gladden and Grant cost $20. Molitor charged more for certain items such as bats and memorabilia. The other autograph options during my visit included Denard Span, Jack Morris and Jason Kubel.
More towards the entrance of the complex was a series of poster walls dedicated to the Twins first season in Target Field. Large photos documented historic events of the first season starting with the opening series and concluding with photos of the Twins celebrating their Division Championship and everything in between. This display was against the side wall opposite the ‘Corner 6’ table and right in front of the main entrance.
Just past the Target Field display was a special autograph table benefiting Juvenile Diabetes. For $20, all of which went to the Diabetes fund, you could meet and receive an autograph from baseball greats Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Phil Niekro and Fergie Jenkins. In between this table and the Target Field display was a section dedicated to season tickets and the benefits of being a season ticket holder.
Along the back wall was the kids section. This included inflatable jumping cage for the kids to have a blast in. Next to this, it was back to the adult fun with the ESPN 1500AM radio stage. Throughout the day various guests would join regular hosts to discuss all things Twins. Joe Mauer made a stop before his autograph session and drew quite the crowd as he joined the one and only Patrick Ruesse and Joe Soucheray. The ESPN 1500 stage even had it’s own set of stadium style bleachers. Next to this section was the ‘Table 5’ autograph table.
In the corner next to ‘Table 5’ was the photo booth where players made stops to shoot photos with fans. Mauer was the biggest draw for this as well. The center of the complex played host to various concession stands and another autograph table which had the likes of Denard Span, Matt Tolbert, Danny Valencia and Jason Kubel. There was an upstairs section but it was immensely smaller compared to downstairs and consisted of tables for a range of Target Field related promotions. The Schwan’s building was the only area I never got into as the lines were still long even at 2pm. Michael Cuddyer was the most likely reason for the lines as well as the Glen Perkins Q&A.
TwinsFest ’11 was a bit different given the elephant in the room of the event – it wasn’t in the dome. Despite the fact the venue was a tad on the cramped side, the trip was well worth it. The chance to interact with Twins legends like Gladden and Carew was worth the price of admission alone. The event was a nice tide-over until April and the Twins 2011 season fires up.