MINNEAPOLIS — Where are the people?
That's the first thing you ask walking around downtown Minneapolis a couple of hours before a Minnesota Twins game, which is usually a festive time filled with energy and noise and scalpers hawking tickets and impatient drivers honking their horns at oblivious fans wandering across city streets.
You know the answer. They aren't here. Few are working downtown in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. None are coming for entertainment.
And no fans, of course, are allowed inside Target Field to watch the Twins. On this evening in a normal year, with the team playing its American League Central rival Cleveland Indians, a sellout crowd of 39,500 would be buzzing with anticipation of Jose Berrios pitching and the Bomba Squad hitting.
The weather was perfect for a summer afternoon in a city and state that cherish perfect summer afternoons.
The only thing missing was the most important thing.
It's unnerving. A large city's downtown almost void of humanity.
The federal government's botched response to the pandemic has robbed downtown Minneapolis of people. They can't work in their offices. They can't go to ballgames. Then can't go to the bars and restaurants.
We should be through this by now. Instead, the plaza outside Target Field beyond the right-field fence, the cozy space where fans gather before games, was empty a couple of hours before first pitch.
The statues of Twins heroes Kirby Puckett, Harmon Killebrew and Tom Kelly stood by themselves, lonely on a day when fans should've been posing for photos and swapping stories.
Instead, a barrier has been erected in front of the popular Gate 34 that funnels fans from the plaza into the stadium.
The bars a block or so down 6th Street from the park, usually stuffed with fans wearing team gear and guzzling beers to await the game mixed with those celebrating happy hour at the end of a work day, are shuttered. Hubert's, Kieran's and Gluek's are all closed.
Gluek's front window has been replaced with wood, on which has been painted a message poignant to this city: "Rest in power George Floyd. Change is coming." Floyd was the Black man killed when a Minneapolis cop kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds in another part of town.
The only bar with any activity seems to be the Loon Cafe on 1st Ave., where three people sat around a table on the sidewalk. Brothers Bar & Grill across the street had four signs posted on its window saying that it was open — "All Clean. All Safe. All Good," said one — but the place was empty.
There were cars driving on the streets, but no traffic.
Inside Target Field an hour before the game, usually a time when fans are streaming into the stadium and walking the concourse looking for a beer to go with their Kramarczuk's bratwurst or Murray's Steak Sandwich at the Townball Tavern, the Twins took batting practice in front of nobody except a few dozen media members and the stadium grounds crew.
There's usually energy in a ballpark before a game, with loud music and the P.A. announcer barking promotions or notices. There's usually people. On this day, as will be the case for all the games at Target Field this season, there was nothing of the sort. Subdued music came from the loudspeakers, interrupted occasionally by the crack of bat hitting ball.
It's weird. It's eerie. It's tragic, when you think of the impact of all those missing people.
This is a Twins team that won 101 games last season by clubbing opponents into submission and might be more powerful this year. It added Josh Donaldson to a lineup that already included Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. The Twins would've filled Target Field and owned the summer.
Instead, the Twins and Indians stood along the baselines of an empty stadium while a recorded video of schoolchildren singing the national anthem played on the huge video board above the upper deck in left field. When the song ended, applause was piped over the stadium's sound system.
When Cleveland leadoff hitter Cesar Hernandez stepped into the batter's box to face Berrios' first pitch, the cavernous stadium was dead silent. When Berrios threw a first-pitch strike, there was more fake crowd noise.
With no fans to cheer, it's the best that can be done.
Twins baseball is back in downtown Minneapolis, but it's not the same. It's not in any way normal. It won't be, can't be, until the people return.