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When Twins baseball first came home

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The first “last ups”, if you will

April 21, 1961: Twins play their first game at Met Stadium, losing to the expansion Washington Senators of all people. Only 24,606 fans showed up, prompting Griffith to express that he was “disappointed in the crowd.’’ Photo by /Star Tribune via Getty Images

After the newly-christened 1961 Minnesota Twins won their first contest in improbable fashion over the New York Yankees, the hot start continued during that season-opening road trip. Sitting at a lofty 5-1 after the East Coast swing, the Twins officially crossed the threshold of their new home—Metropolitan Stadium—in Bloomington on April 21. It proved, in three distinct ways, to be a rather odd beginning for the concept of Twins Territory.

Oddity #1: The team in Met Stadium’s visitors dugout was the Washington Senators—the exact team which Calvin Griffith had extracted to create the new Twins in the first place! In a rather head-scratching scenario, the nation’s capitol didn’t even go a year without baseball, being awarded an expansion franchise immediately. Imagine, say, the North Stars leaving MN and the Wild skating in the very next winter, and you get the picture.

Oddity #2: Despite boasting 30,000+ seats for paying customers, Met Stadium turnstiles only counted 24,606 for that inaugural home opener. Perhaps the novelty of Major League Baseball had yet to sink in for Minnesotans, but the non-sellout crowd is still puzzling (especially on a day that wasn’t overly cold and no precipitation was recorded). Even the ‘82 Twins basically sold out the roller-rink/heat furnace/giant marshmallow known as the Metrodome in “that place’s” first-ever baseball game.

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins
Met Stadium bleacher views
Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

Oddity #3: Star slugger Harmon Killebrew was not in the starting nine. That season, the Killer would slug 46 homers, knock in 122 runs, and post a 1.012 OPS. But his presence was not included in any of the Twins/Senators tilts that home opening weekend, so perhaps a nagging injury lost to the sands of time was the culprit.

The game itself featured Twins starter Camilo Pascual facing off against Washington’s Joe McClain. The visitors jumped on Pascual with two early runs from the bats of Gene Woodling and Dale Long. They’d tag the curveball specialist again in the fourth, with Pete Daley singling in Billy Klaus to run the lead to 3-0.

The Twins began a comeback in their half of the fourth, with Lenny Green being hit by a McClain offering and trotting home when Don Mincher launched a deep drive over the CF fence.

The Washington Post
Mincher as a member of the OG Senators in 1960
Photo by Dick Darcey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

After both starters settled down, the score remained 3-2 into the bottom of the 8th, when Green got some revenge upon his earlier plunking by depositing a ball into the right field stands. Tie game!

With Camilo having been pinch-hit for in the previous half inning, Ray Moore came out of the pen for Minnesota. Unfortunately, he didn’t live up to his relief moniker, allowing two runs (including a squeeze bunt from pitcher McClain) to allow the visitors to reclaim a 5-3 lead.

Not to be deterred in their homecoming, however, the Twins loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth. But Senator fireman Dave Sisler coaxed a harmless fly ball off the bat of Hal Naragon and got Pete Whisenant to cut at air for the final out.

Despite falling just shy of victory in their first Minnesota contest, the Twins would win the next two games against the Nats (as the Washingtonians were commonly known at the time) and take the series. The ‘61 squad would finish 36-44 at the Met, but also draw 1.2 million fans, good for 3rd in the American League coffers. Minnesota baseball was here to stay.