Twins fans look for a savior
Will it be Birmingham's Watkins?
By TAYLOR BRIGHTIt wouldn't be so
bad to be a Minnesota Twins fan if it weren't for the bruised
feelings, the years of buying expensive tickets from a man who's
already a millionaire, sitting in a stadium that blocks out the cool
Minnesota night with a gray ceiling and watching a team that won the
World Series twice turn into a team that hasn't won their division
in more than 10 years.
Fans of the Twins are hoping Alabama native Donald Watkins, a
wealthy lawyer-turned-businessman, will change their fortunes. They
hope Watkins, who has become the odds-on favorite to buy the team,
can restore optimism to the Twins, a club that seems to be forsaken
by everyone but the fans. They want Watkins to let them forget the
current owner they have come to hate.
The fans have watched as the Twins' owner, Carl Pohlad, who saved
the team 15 years ago, tried to sell it back to Major League
Baseball and send a team with 41 years of history to its grave.
Baseball has announced that it plans to do away with the Twins and
the Montreal Expos in a cost-cutting move. A question exists whether
the two teams will even play this season.
And for Twins fans, that possibility is painful.
"They've given me so much," said John Boyle, 24. "I've been
buying their stuff my whole life. It's kind of hurtful."
Boyle has run the Web site, http://www.savetheminnesotatwins.com/
for almost four years now, starting it when the future of the Twins
started to shake.
"The owners don't seem to care about the fans," Boyle said.
How could Pohlad simply make the Twins disappear after he learned
to love baseball through the team that won the World Series in 1987
and 1991, Boyle asked. But just as the Twins fans were about to
torch the raft and send their team to sea, Birmingham businessman
Donald Watkins entered the scene.
"One reason I'm really excited about him is the outpouring of
support from fans," Boyle said. "Fans really matter to him. That
meant a lot to me."
Boyle's voice dips when talking about Pohlad, but rises when
talking about Watkins, although he admits he was a little bit
skeptical of Watkins at first. Here was a man who was not only going
to buy the team, but he was going to build a stadium, which Major
League Baseball had publicly insisted on as a requirement to have a
team. Watkins has since won him over.
Other skeptics have had similar reactions, said Darren Wolfson,
producer at KFAN-AM, a Minneapolis sports talk radio station. Twins
fans are in a state of shock that someone could buy the team and
give Major League Baseball all it wants without asking from any
money from the public, he said.
"This is as good as it gets," Wolfson said.
When Major League Baseball recently cleared the way for Watkins
to start negotiating with Pohlad, messages started popping up on the
Internet message boards for Twins fans.
ToriiHunterRules48 wrote, maybe a little prematurely, a message
titled "The Twins are Saved!!!!!!!!!!"
It read: "I knew it, we all knew it. And WE STILL KNOW IT. Donald
Watkins is going to buy the team. Praise the Lord HALLELUJAH."
Boyle doesn't want to see the Twins become yet another Minnesota
team to vanish. He has seen the Minnesota North Stars leave
Minneapolis over a disagreement about public money only to have them
win a championship in Dallas and have an NHL expansion team, the
Minnesota Wild, come after taxpayer's money was used to build a new
"I'm a Twins fan. I really don't want another team," Boyle said.
There is no lack of company for Boyle in the camp that is
extremely mad at Pohlad for seemingly letting his team go into
oblivion. A Web-site setup similar to Boyle's called, http://www.savethetwins.info/
said, "If the Twins are eliminated, Carl Pohlad will certainly
become the most hated man in Minnesota sports history."
But, there are still questions in the minds of the fans. The
Twins have had suitors before who have gotten hopes up only to dash
Three years ago, self-described Massachusetts tycoon Socrates
Babacas had interest in buying the team, promising to build a new
privately funded stadium complete with two-dollar hot dogs. But
Babacas backed out.
Fans don't know for sure if they can trust Watkins — he hasn't
answered questions publicly whether he has the money to buy the team
or not and has neither confirmed nor denied published reports that
he has $1.5 billion.
"I think the people are going to start to come around," Wolfson
said. "At first the fans were a little leery because it seemed too
good to be true."
Watkins has used his charm to woo over the fans. Wolfson called
Watkins "very articulate" and "energetic" and said he has given fans
a new optimism. Watkins visited the Mall of America in Minnesota
last month and was greeted by a healthy crowd of fans even though it
was on short notice.
Fans were angered again at Pohlad after Watkins' trip. Minnesota
newspapers reported that Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League
Baseball, owed a Pohlad-controlled company money, leading to what
some thought was a conflict of interest, since under the contraction
rules Major League Baseball would be giving Pohlad money to fold the
team. One Internet message reflected the hate for Selig, who fans
think colluded with Pohlad to fold the team.
"I think that Selig and Pohlad's antics are going to result in
Selig gone and Watkins as the new owner of the Twins. Both results
are a good thing for MLB."
But, Wolfson said, Watkins' charm might not matter to the fans as
much as his money and saving the team.
"I don't think people care if it's Donald Watkins or whoever.
They just care if in three or four years they are sitting in a new
stadium on the river outside. Fans want to watch baseball with the
stars above," Wolfson said.
There are fans who believe Watkins may have single-handedly saved
the small but proud franchise. Boyle thinks at the very least, even
if Watkins doesn't buy the team, or Pohlad doesn't want to sell it,
Watkins gave the fans one more season to play.
If the sale does go through, would he be considered a savior?
"He would be everybody's," Wolfson said.
Boyle said if the sale to Watkins goes through, he'll still keep
his Web site up, though his cause will have been won.
"I look forward to the day that I don't have a cause."