I relived a treasured part of my boyhood last week by riding the Hiawatha light rail to the new ballpark in Minneapolis. The trip was fast and comfortable, if a bit crowded with other fans, the sun shone brightly on the open-air field and the Twins thumped the Red Sox 8-0. It recalled the 1950s, when my dad and I would take a packed train to Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, usually to watch the hapless Phillies lose.
In fact, the connection between our national pastime and rail travel goes back more than half a century earlier, when city dwellers began flocking to ball games on streetcars that were often operated by team owners. In the late 1800s, transit companies in 78 cities had a financial stake in professional baseball, with mutual benefits for both businesses.
Unlike those days of rough-and-tumble entrepreneurship, now both the train and the ballpark are subsidized by taxpayers. We probably wouldn’t have either without public support. Although I’m still an avid ball fan, I’d rather have kissed the Twins good-bye than see scarce tax dollars build their place of business (the same goes for the Vikings). At the same time, I wouldn’t want to try to get to a game without good transit.
Today, my wife and I drove from our home in south Minneapolis to the Hiawatha Lake Street station, where the park-and-ride lot was full but nearby curb spots were available. We squeezed onto the first northbound train, arriving right outside the ballpark in about 10 minutes, easily in time to watch the first pitch. The round-trip fare for the two of us was $8, less than North Loop event parking that runs $10 and up.
The ride home was more of a hassle. Trekking to the end of the light-rail patron line at the southwest corner of the ballpark and slowly proceeding to the platform took nearly an hour. But that’s comparable to the gridlock delay for cars in parking ramps after 30,000-plus stream out of a sporting event.
The Hiawatha line was once derided by conservative critics as the Train to Nowhere. That whopper holds water only if your think downtown Minneapolis, two big-league sports stadiums, the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America add up to Nowheresville. My guess is that all the Twins fans crammed onto the train aren’t buying it.