A measure of the interest that's building here for the baseball All-Star Game is that 46,024 fans paid $2 a head today to watch batting practice in the Metrodome.
When Tom Brunansky of the hometown Twins hit three home runs in his last at bat to lead the American League to a 17-16 victory in the first official home run hitting contest in All-Star history, the cheers were ridiculously loud.
At 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, when St. Paul-born Jack Morris of the Detroit Tigers and LaMarr Hoyt of the San Diego Padres take the mound for the American and National leagues, many fans will hope for a show as good as the one put on here as a good-time workout.
The five-man-per-team home run contest was closer and, to some tastes, perhaps more exciting than a few of the All-Star Games of the last 15 years when the National League was too good.
Brunansky was the last hitter and needed to hit three balls out of the Homerdome in five swings to pull out the contest. With the crowd screaming louder on each swing, he needed only four cuts.
The showstopper, however, was Eddie Murray of Baltimore, who hit three upper deck blasts to right field and had a fourth ball headed the same place before it hit a speaker and dropped to the field. All four of his balls might have outdistanced the best blow by anyone else.
"Ten guys were in the contest and half of them probably ruined their swings and put themselves into slumps," said honorary NL captain Sandy Koufax with a laugh, who gave his team an added thrill by pitching batting practice.
This afternoon might have been the NL's best chance to match the AL in power. The NL lineup for Tuesday's game cannot approach the AL's batting statistics and, presumably, will have to rely on its fancy pitching for success.
The NL's first four hitters -- Tony Gwynn, Tommy Herr (.334), Steve Garvey and Dale Murphy -- might approach the AL's opening bid of Rickey Henderson (.357), Lou Whitaker, George Brett (.357) and Murray, but the rest of the NL lineup is, by All-Star standards, an embarrassment.
Outfielder Darryl Strawberry, hitting .229 with 19 RBI, was a fan-balloting mistake, as was 41-year-old third baseman Graig Nettles, who will start ahead of Montreal's Tim Wallach, who's had a far better season. Terry Kennedy will start as catcher because Gary Carter is hurt.
The bottom of the AL order is eye-popping with Cal Ripken (60 RBI), Dave Winfield, Jim Rice and league home run leader Carlton Fisk. AL Manager Sparky Anderson insists that his team's real edge will come "when both sides start substituting . . . . That's where we look better."
If great pitching beats great hitting, then the NL can sleep well. Toronto's Dave Steib has pitched in as many All-Star Games (four) as the other seven AL pitchers combined. Anderson has a young staff full of half-year phenoms such as Jimmy Key (likely second pitcher), Donnie Moore and Jay Howell.
"In our starting lineup, I'm embarrassed but proud to say the San Diego Padres have five starting players," said Padres Manager Williams. "We'll get our men in and out of there."
That's probably wise, since not one of the five can claim to have the best statistics at his position this season.
Among those initially named to the team but unable to play are NL outfielder Pedro Guerrero (back spasms), replaced by Glenn Wilson; NL catcher Gary Carter (knee), replaced by Kennedy, and AL catcher Lance Parrish (back), replaced by Rich Gedman.
The man most conspicuous by his absence is 15-game winner Joaquin Andujar, who heard rumors that Williams would give Hoyt the starting job and went into a preemptive sulk, refusing to be on the NL team if he wasn't assured a starting job.
"I think the game will go on without him," Williams said then. Today, Williams was giving the temperamental Andujar more heat. "We beat him in St. Louis the other day for our only win against them," said Williams. "I'm happy he showed up for that game."
Ron Darling took Andujar's roster spot. AL pitcher Ron Guidry declined his spot since he was scheduled to start two days before the All-Star Game.
This game's other controversy is the Metrodome itself. Earlier this season, Yankees Manager Billy Martin called it "a Little League park" and protested a game on the grounds that the park was, essentially, not fit for major league habitation.
"Oh, it's going to be a treat for National League guys who haven't seen it before," smirked Anderson.
The Dome only has one small drawback, if you don't count the kangeroo hops off its artificial turf -- you can't always see the ball when it goes up in the air. Countless routine popups and flys have fallen untouched for extra-base hits.
"Left center field is like the Twilight Zone or a black hole," said the Yankees' Don Mattingly. "The ball goes up there and nobody ever sees it again until it lands. This place is strange."
Oh, yes, the Metrodome also has speakers hanging over the field, which are in play and have been hit by batted balls plenty of times. Dave Kingman even hit a popup here that went through a hole in the roof and never came down. It was ruled a ground-rule double.
In many ways, the All-Star Game isn't about what happens in the game. It's about what happened to batting champ Tony Gwynn this afternoon.
"My dad's not gonna believe this," said Gwynn. "Sandy Koufax came over to me and said. 'Do you have an extra glove I could use.'
"I felt like saying, 'Are you kidding. I'll run down the street to a sporting goods store and buy you one if you want.' "