The starting pitcher scheduled for Friday night's opener of a three-game Twins-Angels series in downtown Minneapolis is an attention-getter, a familiar name with a unique backstory and a throng of devoted fans who eagerly anticipate his first career performance on the Target Field mound.
Also: Shohei Ohtani.
Yes, the game will match Ohtani, baseball's only two-way superstar in more than a century, against Louie Varland, the only big-leaguer ever to play for St. Paul's Concordia University. Maybe that sounds like a name-recognition mismatch, but to the devoted family, friends and frequent travelers of Team Louie, it's an opportunity to revel in a hometown stage.
And if that's not enough, it will also be the Target Field debut of Matt Wallner, the Forest Lake native who became the Twins' regular right fielder on last week's road trip. The former first-round pick is 8-for-25 (.320) in the first seven games of his career, with two doubles, a home run and four RBI.
"It might be the most memorable game of their careers, in some ways," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I'm sure it will stand out and they'll never forget it. It won't be the first time [friends] have packed the place to support them, but it's going to probably be an emotional day for them, too."
Varland's big-league debut came in Yankee Stadium, and he faced a former Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber, in his second game, last Saturday in Cleveland, so he's already dealt with the nervousness that comes from the first call-up to the majors. And Wallner homered in his debut and has settled in well during his first week.
Still, Baldelli said, "Sometimes these [debuts] become a little bit of a blur. You can only remember certain images because there's so much going on and you're trying to play. I'm sure things will be spinning for them, in some ways. … But I know it will be a lot of fun for them."
Already has been for Wallner, who collected his first three-hit game on Tuesday. "It's pretty cool. Just trying to grind out at-bats against tough arms and get pitches to hit, and [Tuesday] night, I was able to," he said. "It's obviously rewarding."
So will be playing in Target Field for the first time, besides a couple of prospect showcases for scouts.
"Hopefully it goes well. It's pretty cool to play at home," Wallner said. He appeared in 29 games at St. Paul's CHS Field while with the Class AAA Saints this summer, "but Target Field is a little different," he said.
Second time around
Ohtani will be pitching for only the second time in his career against the Twins. In a weird coincidence, that one also came against a highly regarded Twins rookie making just his third career start.
The opponent back in 2018 was Fernando Romero, who hadn't allowed a run against the Blue Jays or Cardinals in his first two starts, carrying a streak of 11⅔ shutout innings into the May 13, 2018, game against Ohtani, also a rookie. Neither player got a decision in the Angels' 2-1 win, but each pitched well, allowing only one run apiece and keeping the game scoreless into the fifth inning.
Romero's Twins career lasted only two mostly disappointing seasons, but Ohtani obviously has flourished, and his 46-homer, 3.18 ERA season in 2021 made him a unanimous MVP — one that Baldelli can't wait to watch.
"When you run into the [Angels], their center fielder [three-time MVP Mike Trout] and the guy on the mound, they're generational-type talents. They're among the most talented people in the world at what they do," Baldelli said. "You take pride in competing against them."
The Twins will have to clear a roster spot for Varland before Friday's game, but did not announce Thursday who it will be.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the event.