Barbarians at the Metrodome Gates
At 7:20 p.m. on the night they played game two of the American League Championship Series, Seth Hawkins scurried upstairs to a bedroom in St. Paul's Julian H. Sleeper House, a period architecture museum that happens to be his home. He fetched the remote control for the TV in the corner--one of few anachronisms in a house otherwise intricately detailed in 1880s Gilded Age accoutrements--and turned on the Twins-Angels game.
Dressed in a herringbone jacket and silk baseball tie, Hawkins reclined on a king-sized bed in one of the many fastidiously furnished rooms in the museum (which, if you keep track of such things, recently added a new basement exhibit devoted exclusively to Slovenia). He was about a dozen miles and a hundred years away from the Metrodome, where Homer Hankies were waving in full-on frenzy for the TV cameras.
Hawkins watched the scene for a moment, shaking his head disdainfully, then promptly hit the mute button. "I hope the inventor of the mute button is a very rich person," he said. "He deserves to be."
The question is why Hawkins was not at the Metrodome himself. A "professional" baseball fan of some national repute, he made his name by being present for an expansive array of baseball milestones: the 3,000th career hit of each of the 17 players who've reached the mark since 1959; the first World Series in Canada; Henry Aaron's 715th career home run. He's also been to games in all 66 ballparks used for major league play since 1950.
He has held season tickets to the Twins since retiring to St. Paul in 1993 from New Haven, where he served on the faculty at Southern Connecticut State University. Despite his excellent Dome seat--he was upgraded this season to the second row, just past the edge of the backstop screen--"Dr. Fan" decided to decline the playoff tickets he was eligible to buy.
"I can't stand all the Homer Hankies and all the screaming," the former speech professor and debate coach explained, painstaking in his enunciation of each word. "I belong in one of those science-fiction force fields. I need to be insulated from all the distraction and hoopla. The noise breaks my concentration."
So yes, he passed up the damn tickets. But then he has never professed to be a Twins fan. That kind of tribalism and rank emotionalism leaves Hawkins cold, far removed as it is from the true heart of baseball appreciation--which involves the quiet, ordered contemplation of the game in all its facets, absent the mind-fogging influence of caring for one team or another. Hawkins understands that not all baseball fans share his rigor; he, in turn, is disgusted by their ever-growing ignorance.
That goes double for Twins fans in particular. "Baseball fans here are significantly less knowledgeable and less mature," he pronounces. "They go to games, and they don't even look at the standings or who's pitching. They don't know what to look for."
The sentimentalism visited on this year's team was more unbearable than usual, he stresses: The threat of contraction last winter left in its wake a ceaseless parade of saccharine allusions to this "magical season." It's dirty business setting straight all the deluded souls he meets, but Hawkins counts it no less than his duty. "I try to be a tempering voice of reason," he maintains. "A voice of reality. They had one of the easiest situations in the history of divisional play. If the fans were honest they'd say, 'Gee, we got a few breaks along the way.'"
By way of illustration, Hawkins recounted being at the game last month when the Twins broke Oakland's 20-game winning streak. Afterward some man turned to Hawkins and struck up a conversation.
"Isn't it wonderful?" he cooed.
"No," Hawkins replied. "The weaker team won."
"You're spoiling the moment!" the man responded, outraged.
"The moment is already spoiled," Hawkins said, honing his debate-coach rhetoric. "In terms of the relative strength of the two teams, the streak should have reached 21."
Hawkins lingered a moment with the memory, reliving the indignity of the ignoramus's glare. "He acted like I'd spit on the pope."
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