There was no snow on the ground when the baseball season started in Minnesota this year. The air was bright and warm for a change, and, for another change, the advance ticket sale promised a large crowd for the Minnesota Twins' game against the Oakland A's. Calvin Griffith, the president of the Twins, always gets a bit nervous on Opening Day, so he arrived at Metropolitan Stadium early, a little before ten in the morning, and went straight to his baseball museum of an office, down a long corridor lined with photographs of U.S. Presidents throwing out the first balls of baseball seasons past. Most of the photos were taken at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., when his uncle and foster father, Clark Griffith, the originator of the first-ball tradition, was the owner of the Washington Senators. At the Richard Nixon end of the Presidents' gallery (Jimmy Carter never bothered, and Ronald Reagan was indisposed), was an almost-life-size painting of Walter Johnson, "the Big Train," whose legendary fast ball was the Senators' meal ticket from 1907 to 1927; Johnson won the seventh game of the World Series for the Senators in 1924, when Calvin Griffith was the team's bat boy. On an inside wall, a framed newspaper page proclaimed the Twins champions of the American League for 1965; that was just five seasons after Griffith had moved the Senators to the "upper Midwest," as they call it, when the people of Minnesota still loved their Twins and Griffith was Major League Executive of the Year—a long time ago, in other words.
This year's Opening Day was Calvin Griffith's twenty-first in Minnesota, his last in Metropolitan Stadium, and his first as the unlikeliest new member of baseball's big-spending fraternity. Next season, if construction continues apace, the Twins will move from the "Met," a tidy, comfortable park in the suburban sprawl just south of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport, to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, a bowl of poured concrete that is rising out of what used to be called Industry Square, in downtown Minneapolis. It isn't rising very high: only the top tier of seats is above street level, and the playing surface is some forty-seven feet below. Griffith, who still speaks fondly of the days when every game was played in sunlight, is not very enthusiastic about the prospect of watching baseball in a basement, but something had to be done to improve the Twins' pitiful attendance figures, and, after balking and stuttering and giving the developers fits, he finally agreed that the domed stadium might be it. In the summer of 1979, he committed his club to a thirty-year stay in the Metrodome, and then, over the winter of 1980-1981—to give Minnesota's apparently dwindling population of baseball fans something to see in the place—he signed Butch Wynegar, a strong young catcher, and Roy Smalley, a hard-hitting shortstop, to long-term contracts estimated to be worth a total of $4,650,000.