So I’m writing this from my boyhood home in the north suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota (where my parents still live, I might add; I haven’t broken in and surprised a young family or anything).  I came back so The Boy could visit with his grandparents and his great-grandmothers, both of whom are still spry at 93.  The house is the same building, the same basic shape.  It’s a brown rambler with a big back yard and a circle driveway.  But inside it’s much different.  It’s colder and more modern.  Rooms that used to exist are just gone, and new rooms have risen to take their place.  This is not necessarily a new development.  It’s been 15 years since I left, getting as far away from Minnesota as possible, since I was sure I’d be right back after college was done. The best laid plans…

Every time I have come back home since that day, something has changed.  The kitchen and dining room were gutted to make an open living space.  Walls were painted.  The old family photos were switched out.  A guestroom became a den and a den became a guest room.  The entire basement, where my bedroom was, and where I used to spend almost all my time, is basically used only for storage.  I notice how different things are, and how I no longer belong here.  I’m a guest.  I’m just not comfortable in this house anymore.  It makes me wonder, can we really ever go home again?

Target Field is like my bedroom.

By the time I graduated from High School, I had my bedroom exactly the way I wanted it.  The Frank Viola poster was still on the wall.  The books were alphabatized on the shelf above my desk.  My baseball cards were all in their boxes, organized by set and in numerical order, in my cupboard.  My Strat-o-Matic board was out on my counter, just where I’d left it for when the next game of the 1990 season got started.  I was out of college for two months when they started to ask me what stuff I wanted to take with me.  At first, I took only what I needed, since I was paying a family to live in their drafty pool house in their back yard in Maine, like a broke-ass Will Smith in the last couple seasons of Fresh Prince.  All the movies made the trip.  So did a bunch of the books.  I made sure to bring my 19 inch TV.  I didn’t have room for the baseball cards.  I left behind 6 years worth of Baseball Digests and half my wardrobe.  I tossed my Mac desktop and bought a Gateway laptop.  And I drove away.

The room stayed the same for a while, but every time I came home, I was “encouraged” to leave with more and more of my stuff.  It slowly stopped being my room and turned into a big shell with empty drawers.  Eventually, enough of my stuff was gone that my folks felt comfortable remodeling.  The blue wallpaper became beige paint.  The ceiling was replastered.  My furniture was taken out, and the room was filled with all manner of wicker items, a full bed with a pastel comforter, and a rocking chair.  Not knowing ahead of time about the change, I was fairly shocked at the makeover.  It went from my room to a hotel room that I’d been comped for the night.  I couldn’t sleep in a new bed that was on the opposite wall from where mine used to be.  I was given one last chance to take what I wanted with me from what was left in the drawers and shelves, and the rest went to Goodwill.

I feel the same way about the Twins gorgeous new ballpark.  It’s pristine and pretty.  It has great sight lines and excellent ballpark food.  It has depth and atmosphere.  And it’s outside.  In virtually every way, it’s better than the Metrodome.  My adult self prefers it immensely. And yet, every time I go in it I’m struck by how different everything is.  That I’m a visitor in my home ballpark.  I don’t know where the good food is, or when I can expect the beer guy to come by.  I forget which scoreboard tells me what information.  It’s not a difficult problem to have, ultimately, and it’s one that’s overcome by the glittery newness of the stadium, but it’s still somewhat jarring.

Joe Nathan is like my parents.

Within this house, even though I feel like an interloper and a stranger, my parents are still everywhere.  My father’s practicality and my mother’s sense of style (no thanks, mom, I don’t want to sit in the zebra-striped chair).  Their voices still echo through it, mostly because they call to each other and me from across the house (no one in my family ever goes looking for each other, we just yell).  And they are constantly asking if they can get me something to make my stay any easier (some quiet time to write an article would be good).  But that’s them.  It’s comforting that, even though I go away and the house changes, the people I love are still exactly the same.  Loud, desperate to be helpful and useful, and warm.

I felt the same way last night while I watched Joe Nathan’s triumphant return to the closer role in Minneapolis.  Nathan, who sat out all of Target Field’s inaugural season after Tommy John Surgery, and who struggled with both his stuff and control in the first month of 2011, had been responsible for holding together the 8th inning since coming off the disabled list in late June, while usurper Matt Capps supposedly handled the closing duties.  And Nathan has looked great, striking out seven and walking none in 8.1 innings, allowing just four hits and one run.  Capps, on the other hand, has been abysmal, blowing seven of 22 save chances, and sporting an ERA of 4.76.  No lead was safe with Capps in.  So when the Twins went back to Nathan last night in the top of the 9th in Target Field, it still felt like coming home.  Nathan induced three popouts and a ground-ball single, and the game was over.  God was in His heaven, and all was right with the world.  It’s the people that make rooting for your team special, not the place.

The Common Man writes for The Platoon Advantage, and gets nostalgic on Twitter.