MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -The Interstate 35W bridge provided an eye-catching view of downtown Minneapolis as it snaked through the city and over the river, framing the Metrodome's white, puffy roof in front of the glittering skyscrapers.
Manager Ron Gardenhire and thousands of his team's fans drove that stretch of freeway every time the Twins had a home game, until Friday. The bridge's fatal collapse two days earlier erased a major access point to the area around the stadium, one of many ways this catastrophe has affected life for Minnesotans.
``Every time I take a different route, I'll think about it,'' said Gardenhire, who commutes from his home in the suburb of Little Canada. ``That's what's going to happen here for a couple years.''
Far more importantly, though, there were lives lost to mourn. Before the Twins and Indians began their four-game series, there was a moment of silence in honor of the victims and a video tribute.
The team placed a red, white and blue decal - shield-shaped, just like the roadside signs that mark the interstate system all over the country - reading ``Interstate 35W'' on the padding behind home plate. The Twins wore a smaller version of that logo on their batting helmets, and they were hopeful a good game could provide some therapy to a shaken community.
``It's a game, so it's supposed to be fun. Hopefully it can help,'' first baseman Justin Morneau said.
Earlier this week, the home clubhouse was filled with tension and frustration. Popular second baseman Luis Castillo was traded for two minor-leaguers on Monday, and the non-waiver trading deadline passed the next day without an acquisition. Two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana sounded off on his disappointment with the direction and philosophy of the franchise to the Star Tribune newspaper, saying it didn't ``make any sense'' for him to be here.
Then came the collapse, about an hour before Wednesday's game against the Kansas City Royals. Thursday's game was postponed, and the mood around the ballpark was much different.
``All that stuff doesn't really matter,'' Morneau said. ``It's just a game. It's important, because we're fighting to get in the playoffs, but at the same you don't want to take it too seriously.''
The Indians led the Twins by 5 1/2 games in the AL wild-card race when Friday began, with two other teams in between. They were trying to figure out where they fit in, too, after arriving the night before.
``Obviously people are going through a lot, and it's a tough time for the city,'' center fielder Grady Sizemore said. ``If we can keep their minds off it, that's great, but we're not trying to make people forget about it. You just want to do whatever you can.''
Though rescuers and inspectors were combing through the crumbled concrete a half-mile away, fans felt staying on schedule was the right thing to do.
``Life goes on. Everyone here that's a regular at the games, being able to see each other and talk about it is good because the last time we talked about it was Wednesday night when this happened,'' said Marcus Skogman, who came from the northern suburbs. ``Everything's a healing process.''
Michelle Jensen, who lives in northeast Minneapolis, is a regular at the Dome. But she decided not to go to Wednesday's game.
``Something told me not to come,'' Jensen said.
The Twins spent some anxious moments tracking people down. Reliever Pat Neshek, who grew up in the Twin Cities and has dozens of friends and family who were frequent commuters across 35W, was glad to hear his sister-in-law was running late on Wednesday. She lives a half-block from the bridge and was five minutes away from driving across it when it collapsed.
When right fielder Michael Cuddyer lived downtown last season, he drove across the bridge every time he went to the store.
``It's just hard to believe that it's so close,'' he said.
---
AP freelance writer Mike Cook contributed to this report.
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