Column: Dome sweet dome

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 14, 2006

John Focke, Behind the mic

After a long, steroid inflated winter, baseball is back. Is there a more hopeful day in sports than baseball’s opening day? It gives hope to fans of all teams, something no other sport does on its opening day.

In football certain teams are always going to be bad (the Cardinals, Lions, Texans) in the NBA you know most of the players and know who will make the playoffs and who won’t right out of the gate (Won’t &045; Hawks, Raptors, Warriors.) But at the start of the baseball season every team is optimistic. I mean the Marlins have won two World Series titles and after both the Sox teams broke curses the past two years, why can’t Tampa Bay win it this year?

For the Twins, it was a 1-5 start on the road that dashed many casual fans’ hopes right out of the gate. Though that didn’t deter 48,000 fans from packing the Dome Tuesday for Opening Night and yet another emotional tribute to Kirby Puckett.

I attended Opening Night in the six-dollar seats as I do every year. (I think all media members should sit there at least twice a year. It is too easy to get soft sitting in the padded press box with free dome dogs, while placing bets on who will be the first to crack open the cooler full of free ice cream treats.)

After my Sherpa and I battled nosebleeds, while humping dome dogs to our seats, it was time for the Puckett Tribute. In this day and age there are few people who can really craft a sentence, but Dick Bremer just joined the short list with Jim Nance and Al Michaels.

Just before 7:30 p.m. it was time to &8220;Play Ball!&8221; At this time I tried to bet my Sherpa that Brad Radke would give up a first inning homer. My Sherpa (obviously a student of the game) refused saying it was way too likely. (Radke made it through the first but gave up two in the second.)

To the third inning with the Twins trailing by four, Joe Mauer took over with a two-run single.

Mauer reminds me of watching LeBron James in his first NBA game. The kid just looks like he was meant for this game. Regardless of age, experience, they both exude an aura of intelligence beyond their years. (Only Mauer still looks 12 and Lebron looks like he is 30 years old.)

After spending the first three innings savaging Tony Batista to my Sherpa, he and his .118 batting average lumber to the plate. Batista walks as though his legs had been whittled by Gepetto, and thanks to the video screen I learned that if he wasn’t a ball player Tony would have been a teacher. Wish someone had taught him how to stand in the batter’s box. Just as I was about to expound upon that theory, I got a nudge by my Sherpa as Batista rocked a laser three-run shot giving the Twins a 6-4 lead.

After that Radke settled down and pitched a gem, although no one in the upper-deck noticed when he left. With one out in the seventh inning, the wave started. We in section 204 helped to pass it along and while watching it make its way to section 237 a huge brawl broke out.

This one had a Pacers-Pistons feel to it. About four guys just hauling off on each other, and eventually falling three rows of seats down, while still doing battle. In the time it took security and the police to get there Tony Batista could have hit an inside the park homer, and by the time it was finished so was Radke.

Oakland would make things interesting with a two-run homer off Jesse Crain, but Joe &8216;Nasty’ Nathan came in and used the power of the soul patch to put the game away and the Twins were ready to 81-0 at home this season.

Final thoughts on this game &045; I think Justin Morneau actually used the T-shirt cannon when he hit a blast to the upper-deck in right. (I was digging for a jalapeno for my nachos and didn’t see it leave the bat) That thing was still rising when a fan caught it.

I am still not sold on Tony Batista, but if he can get a three-run homer and deep double every other game, I’ll be first in line for a number 77 jersey.

And finally, I’m glad that’s over, now its back to the padded press box, free snacks and wondering which &8216;famous’ journalist will crack that cooler first.