- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

MINNEAPOLIS For months, Minnesota Twins fans settled for small gestures to show how much they despised commissioner Bud Selig, the man who tried to get rid of their team.

There were seat cushions with his picture, banners that read "Contract This, Bud," obscene T-shirts, and even neckties mocking his decision to end the All-Star Game in a tie.

Now that the Twins are in one of the most surprising American League Championship Series, fans are positively euphoric and LOUD, creating a deafening roar inside the Metrodome and turning the stands into a sea of white Homer Hankies.

The small-market, low-budget Twins have shown the world they deserve to stick around while ending years of frustration and poor play.

"What would be wonderful to see is if the Twins win the World Series and have Bud hand the trophy over," said Richard Brandt, decked out in Twins gear at Minnesota's 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Angels to open the series Tuesday night.

"That would be just perfect."

Relocation, contraction, sale and a possible strike: Twins fans have endured all the ugly possibilities the past 11 months, and they suffered through 10 years without a trip to the playoffs before that.

"The Minnesota Twins fan has just been kicked around by the sport of baseball for the past 10 to 12 years," said Jeff Dubay, co-host of a sports talk radio show on KFAN. "It's a lot of frustration that's being released right now."

Interest in the Twins was so-so this summer, when they were running away with their division. But now, with the pennant in sight and the usually dominant Vikings off to an 0-4 start, baseball is on everyone's mind.

Fans started lining up outside the Metrodome for ALCS tickets before the Twins had closed out Sunday's victory over Oakland in the division series, some spending the night in sleeping bags and tents.

Banners adorn Minneapolis City Hall, local sports bars and restaurants. Cars flutter with Twins flags, and jerseys, jackets and caps can be seen on most street corners.

A "Homer Hanky Hospital" was set up by the Metrodome for fans who need repairs for their hankies, relics of the 1987 and 1991 championship seasons that were brought back for this year's pennant drive.

"There's a euphoria here now," says Paul Ridgeway, who gathered nearly 208,000 signatures in the offseason to keep the Twins in Minnesota. "We've really been a Lazarus team, coming back from the dead on so many occasions from so many situations."

After a decade of futility, caused in part by the owner's unwillingness to keep up with baseball's big spenders, the Twins played well last year before faltering toward the end of the season. Then they almost folded.

Selig and baseball owners wanted to eliminate two teams, and Twins owner Carl Pohlad volunteered his club after years of trying in vain to get a new taxpayer-subsidized stadium. Minnesota courts blocked the plan by holding the Twins to their stadium lease.

Pohlad put the team up for sale, raising the prospect of losing the Twins to an out-of-state buyer. Under pressure to act, the legislature finally passed a bill to provide funding for a new stadium but a deal never came together.

In August, the Twins' run to the playoffs was threatened by a potential players' strike. Negotiators reached an agreement that blocks contraction until at least 2007.

"I think Twins fans were slow to come around because of all that has happened in the past," Dubay said. "It took an awful lot to restoke or reinvent that love for the team."

Once the playoffs started, fans responded by breaking team attendance records in their two home games against Oakland in the division series, with more than 111,000 fans attending the two games. In contrast, Oakland drew just under 99,000 fans in three games, with large stretches of empty seats at the Coliseum.

"For the last 11 months we've been coming out of the wilderness with the Egyptian pharaoh Bud Selig chasing us," Ridgeway said. "The love affair has been rekindled."

Inside the Metrodome on Tuesday night, banners said: "How do you spell contraction? ALCS," and a sign behind home plate read "Contract-u-lations Twins for a superb season/All the way for Bud's sake."

"If I was their Knute Rockne, then they owe me something for that," said Selig, who watched the opening game of the series from a luxury box at the Metrodome with Pohlad. "I know I'm the lightning rod when I have to deliver unpopular messages on behalf of a lot of people."

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