Aesthetically speaking, Twins.com is one of the world’s least-interesting websites. It doesn’t take long to load, but that’s only because there’s nothing to see. In an instant, one can survey all the homepage has to offer: a pixelated “D&D” logo, and an accompanying name, D&D Miller. Then there’s the sentence excusing the site’s lackluster appearance, followed by two names, an email address, and a phone number. Beyond that, there’s white space on all sides, surrounding the centered text. It’s one step up from the websites that kids build in “Intro to Computing” class, the ones with “Hello, world!” above a big blank.
But what Twins.com lacks in looks, it makes up in location: While the website itself is as worthless as it seems, the virtual real estate it occupies isn’t. Those few lines of text are like a dingy bodega blocking the path of a Manhattan high-rise developer: a bull’s-eye for the wrecking ball. For years, Twins.com has been coveted by Major League Baseball, a company with billions of dollars at its disposal, as the would-be homepage of the league’s Minnesota team. And for years, MLB has been unable to buy it, because of brotherly love.
Twins.com’s strange story starts in 1994, a bad year for baseball. Mostly, it was bad because of the strike. But in retrospect, it was also bad because Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, a Philadelphia-based law firm, beat MLB to the punch by registering MLB.com. In 1994, no one knew that URLs mattered: It took until 1998 for MLB to create its own site, majorleaguebaseball.com, which took much longer to type than MLB.com. Fortunately for Major League Baseball, Morgan Lewis had often represented the league, and the relationship between the two MLBs was somewhat incestuous: Rob Manfred, MLB’s current commissioner, was a partner at Morgan Lewis before joining MLB as in-house counsel in 1998. In 2000, the firm sought to strengthen those ties by transferring the site to Bud Selig for $500,000 and six months of promotion on the new webpage, according to MLBAM President and CEO Bob Bowman.
Since 2000, Major League Baseball Advanced Media has conducted a stealth campaign to take over every team domain, undoing any damage caused by its slow start in registration. MLB and other leagues have tried to snap up team sites not only to attract more traffic and ad revenue, but to avoid the unwanted attention that can come from a site like Cowboys.com, which became an “online dating community for men who enjoy the same country living lifestyle,” after the NFL’s Dallas franchise passed on it at auction.1 Both to streamline the process and to avoid hurting its leverage by letting potential sellers know there was big money behind its overtures, MLBAM has worked mainly through intermediaries like Monte Cahn, the founder of URL registrar Moniker.com and the president/director of RightofTheDot, LLC.2
Dallas reportedly won the auction, but thought that bidding “275” meant $275, not $275,000, and passed on acquiring the domain at that price. The domain is currently up for auction, but bids below $10,000 won’t be recognized.
Theoretically unbiased brokers also protected sellers from bullying tactics like reverse domain hijacking.
According to Cahn, some of the URL squatters that MLB hoped to dislodge were “taking advantage of misspells and mistypes of famous brands,” like latter-day Twitter trolls who tweak prominent writers’ handles to break fake trades before the deadline. By placing ads on those sites, owners could profit from the traffic that flowed their way from baseball fans who hit the wrong keys. Most, Cahn says, “were unaware of the actual online domain registration laws vs. traditional trademark laws, so some registered names because they were fans of the teams or felt another fan would come and buy it from them, not knowing it could violate the trademark of the owner.” Still others owned sites with words that weren’t subject to trademark. “If you owned a domain like ‘Cardinals,’ your choice would be to just hold it, build a bird website — not that exciting or lucrative, probably — or sell it to MLB through us or other brokers,” Cahn says.
The decades-long scavenger hunt is close to complete. This February, MLB bought Rangers.com for $375,000. That triumph followed the 2013 purchase of Rockies.com (for an undisclosed price), the 2012 acquisition of Athletics.com, the 2010 addition of Angels.com (which went for $200,000 at auction), and the 2009 addition of Cardinals.com. Between 2004 and 2007, MLBAM acquired 12 team addresses, and had already brought 10 into the fold before that. That brings the total of MLB-owned team sites to 27, leaving three holdouts: Giants.com, Rays.com, and Twins.com.
Giants.com belongs to the football team: Better luck next time, baseball. Rays.com belongs to Ray’s Boathouse, a dockside restaurant in Seattle that dates back to the 1940s at its current location. According to Ray’s general manager Doug Zellers, it’s been years since the restaurant was last approached by MLB about the address, but it doesn’t sound as if the outcome would be any different today. “There’s some things on our menu and on our property that are so tightly wound,” Zellers says. “If we were to unwind them, there’d be public outcry. If we were to sell our domain name, they would hang us out to dry. The public, the Seattle natives, the Ballardites, the Norwegians, the fishermen. They’d hang us.”
Seattle, it seems, takes its URLs seriously. Frustrated fishermen aside, Ray’s has a past that would be understandably hard to set aside, even for a decent-size check. “We can change business cards and change website and redirect, things like that,” Zellers says. “But it would be giving up a little bit of our history that not too many places have.” After encountering serious resistance from Ray’s, MLB settled for an alternate URL that worked almost as well. “After several attempts and conversations with [Ray’s], it was apparent that they wanted to keep their name and their brand,” Cahn says. “So I suggested TheRays.com and was able to get that for MLB for a fraction of what they would have spent on Rays.com.” Given 30 potential team websites, a couple were bound to be owned by businesses that valued the URLs as much as MLB does. But that doesn’t explain the continued independence of Twins.com, a privately owned site that should have been swallowed up ages ago.
Twins.com was registered on March 10, 1995, which makes it roughly 18 months older than the Space Jam site, whose endurance has turned it into the Internet equivalent of an eternal flame. The Wayback Machine crawled the site for the first time in May 1998. Back then, “D&D Miller” was “D&D Telecommunications,” a “one-stop shop for all your telecommunications and facilities needs.” The ad promised services like “Modular Office Installations” and “General Facilities Planning” — exciting stuff compared to the text of today. The contact info even included a pager number, a true sign of the times.
By October ’99, the pager number and telecommunications copy were removed, replaced by an “Under Construction” sign and no fewer than four GIFs of jackhammers and excavators. Clearly, some serious site building was under way. But by 2002, the GIFs, too, were gone. Since then, Twins.com has been a rare constant in a chaotic world, aside from the temporary addition of a hit counter that had passed 4.25 million by its last Wayback appearance in February 2012.
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That GIF inspires some obvious questions. Can a site be under “reconstruction” if no initial construction occurred? Why would someone hold on to a site worth six figures for decades without developing it into anything else? And are “Durland” and “Darvin” real names?
Searching for answers, I emailed the listed address. No response. I left a voice mail at the listed number. No return call. So I Googled the owners’ address — which wasn’t far from Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley — and plugged it into Street View. The image, taken in December 2013, showed a nondescript house, with the juxtaposition of sunny weather, a temperate climate, and Christmas lights, always jarring for a native of higher latitudes. But my attention was drawn to the driveway, where black and white Hummers sat end-to-end, like the yin and yang of bad gas mileage.
Was it possible that the owners of Twins.com were actual twins named Durland and Darvin? And further, might they live in the same house and drive black and white Hummers? If so, was the color scheme for their own convenience, or a color-coded key, a way to tell the world that one twin was evil and one twin was good? Beyond the street address, the Internet trail ran cold. The mysterious Millers had hidden their Internet tracks well, or maybe moved through life without making many. Months passed. Winter wound down, and spring gave way to summer. The driveway and its Hummers haunted my dreams. Finally, last month, other business brought me to San Francisco, where I had some time to kill. I was only an hour away from D&D Miller HQ, and possibly from uncovering the secrets of Twins.com. There was no real reason to go. But there was also no excuse not to. I brought backup in the form of my girlfriend and her fraternal twin sister, who were also in town. That way, if the Millers were willing to kill to protect their site’s secrets, there would be witnesses. And if they turned out to be brothers, I’d establish my credentials as a friend to twins. The bread crumbs led to a nice neighborhood, all manicured lawns and split-level homes. From the outside, the house we were seeking showed no signs of life. There was only one Hummer, with several tons of less ostentatious SUV parked to its side. I pressed the doorbell, feeling 5 percent Woodward, 5 percent Bernstein, and 90 percent stalker.
The man who answered the door was late-middle-aged and avuncular and on the tall side, with graying, mop-toppy hair. I explained who I was, taking special care to make it clear that I had happened to be nearby, and hadn’t been quite crazy enough to fly across the country to stand on his stoop. “Did you leave messages for us?” he asked. “You’d be surprised at how many of those we get.” Behind him, on a landing next to some stairs, I could see a TV, which someone else was watching.
I asked him to tell me about Twins.com, like I’d reached the Tibetan mountaintop and was ready to receive my reward.
“We thought at some point of building it into more of a news group, information for twins needing information about twins,” he said. “So, ‘I need a minivan, I just had quadruplets,’ you know? Something like that. And it’s really something we were going to develop as we get older. We’ve always got high hopes for it. And not to make a fortune on it, but just to put information out there.”
As we talked, the man in the background also came to the door. And if it isn’t already obvious, given how easily my greeter had slipped into the first-person plural: Yes, they were twins, and they weren’t trying to hide it. They were both wearing shorts, with matching black tank tops. It was clear that they were related, although it wasn’t obvious that they were identical. It was easy enough to tell them apart that one wouldn’t have to resort to accessories, as in, “Durland was the one with the nasal strip.”
“I’m Durland,” the door-opener said. “My brother Darvin,” gesturing to the newer arrival. “And we are: The Twins.” He announced it as if they were about to launch into a choreographed dance, or maybe a tumbling routine. Instead, we all shook hands.
The Millers told me that they staked their claim to Twins.com so early that they got it for free. It was the era of Internet land grabs, when all one had to do to rope off a URL was be the first one with the impulse. (They admiringly mention a friend of theirs, Jeff, who “scored,” and still owns, Jeff.com.) “Everybody has known us as ‘the twins’ for as long as we’ve been around, and it’s an easy way to identify or find us,” Durland said. “As soon as you type in ‘twins’ on the Internet, you’re going to see us pop up.” I imagined clients asking for their phone number, only to be told to “just type in ‘twins.’”
Even though the Millers’ facilities management business doesn’t depend as directly on Twins.com as Ray’s Boathouse does on Rays.com, their attachment to their site sounds similar, and just as deep-seated. “It’s more of an identity thing,” Durland says. “To lose the Twins.com thing for us would be a life change. We’ve identified with it for decades.”
Plenty have tried to pry it away. “I couldn’t even tell you the different domain acquisition companies that have approached us,” Durland says. “They’ll say ‘Oh, there’s a sports team,’ and I’ll say, ‘Oh, let me guess.’” Durland claims that they’ve had offers as high as $750,000, although the biggest ones haven’t been baseball-related, but from “obscure” sources, like “some sheikh in Saudi Arabia.” One would also imagine that the Internet’s less savory elements have given some thought to the URL’s pornographic potential.
Between our meeting and follow-up emails, I pieced together much of the Miller family tree. The twins’ mother, who came from Kansas, had four children before meeting Durland and Darvin’s father. Naturally, the two brothers from that first marriage are also twins, although they don’t get along like Durland and Darvin do. Durland and Darvin’s father, Dale, wanted his offspring to share his initials, so he drew on his Scandinavian roots to name them and their sister, Durla. Neither Durland nor Darvin is married, although Durland has an 11-year-old son and Darvin has an 18-year-old daughter.
Darvin is in a long-term relationship, although the way the twins describe their own interactions, each of them is the other’s better half. “We’ve always lived together, we work together and spend our personal down time together,” they told me via email. “The bond between us is too hard to put into words, we share almost everything. It’s almost as if the two of us make up one person.” But the two of them can’t always carpool, which explains the dual Hummers (and, in the past, Harleys). “We have the same taste when it comes to vehicles, so it’s pretty much two of everything,” Durland says. The one-Hummer driveway has an explanation, too: They sold the white one, but they’re planning to pick up another. I find this strangely reassuring, a sign that the world hasn’t moved on.
For the better part of two decades, beginning in 1974, much of what the twins did with their down time involved the rock band they formed, Wild Fire, which they named after the underground lab in The Andromeda Strain. “They were basically what we called a copy band back then,” says Tony King, a friend of the twins who played for a Bay Area band named Choice. “They played a lot of rock and roll, Top 40–type stuff.”
The Millers looked the part. “They had a lot of pyrotechnics, stuff that they developed on their own,” King says. “For example, black powder with two arcing AC wires, and boom, you got a little flashlight. The typical ’80s long hair, glammed out, highlighted, colored. If you didn’t know them, you couldn’t tell them apart.” Darvin, who lets Durland do most of the talking to me, handled lead vocals and bass. Durland played lead guitar and keyboard, ranging all over the stage.
Durland says he’s not sure if the band ever officially disbanded. It simply stopped playing. “They were very, very well known in the Bay area and down towards Los Angeles, but I think the thing with Darvin and Durland is they never broke out into their own originality,” King says. “They were a great copy band. Their look, their sound, everything was copy.”
Maybe mirroring others comes naturally to twins. But the band did make original records, some of which are unreleased. “Even when the Internet exploded, we never put the songs out there,” Durland says. “And I’m like, ‘Why didn’t we do that?’ It was just a timing thing.”
“Life gets in the way, man,” Darvin answers.
“Life gets in the way,” Durland confirms. “And, you know, the songs weren’t that good.”
There will never be a better time for Wild Fire’s belated Internet debut. With an assist from Lisa Wheeler, the proprietor of Radio Use Only (“an on-line collectors’ guide dedicated to vinyl radio station compilations and singles”),3 I tracked down a copy of KSJO Best of the Bay 1982, featuring Wild Fire’s “Video Warrior,” an Atari-inspired anthem. According to King, the winner of “Best of the Bay” — which, sadly, wasn’t Wild Fire — competed with the winner of an East Coast competition for a contract with Mercury Records. The winning band? Bon Jovi, who announced a bitter breakup with Mercury earlier this week. Had “Video Warrior” made it one step further, it would’ve gone one-on-one with “Runaway.”
Another reminder that there’s a home on the Internet for every interest.
You can click on the title to view the lyrics, which I did my best to transcribe.4 I recommend cranking it up.[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/220799869" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&visual=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&color=ff5500" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]
“The twins had a unique way of pronouncing words,” King says. “Almost an accent but not.”
Yes, it sounds very much like it’s from the late ’70s, right down to the laser sounds (which, frankly, I wish there were more of). It’s kitschy, but it’s catchy, too: I’ve caught myself humming it in a way that bystanders have described as “very distracting.” I’m not saying that “Video Warrior” should have replaced the theme from The Last Starfighter. But I am saying that the soundtrack would’ve been big enough for both.
More so than the Hummers, the hair band, or the names that sound like they were left over from Tolkien’s “Thorin’s Company” brainstorming session, this is the part of the Twins.com story that makes me wonder whether the universe is playing a practical joke: Durland and Darvin, born and raised in San Jose, are Twins fans. Not because they are Twins, or because they bought Twins.com. Either of those explanations would make too much sense. They’re Twins fans because their father is from Minnesota, where much of their family still lives.
“Years ago we’d actually reached out to the Twins, saying, ‘Hey, we have this [website], and we’re not really using it, maybe we could work out a deal,’” Durland says. “And they just never really followed through on it. But certainly, if the right offer came around, we’d sell.”
An MLBAM spokesperson confirms that there has been “direct outreach [to the twins] from in-house,” but that the talks have never resulted in the right price. The Millers seem to prefer that the outreach originate with their team, not the league. “We’ve just never been approached by anybody directly associated with the Minnesota Twins,” Durland says. “It’s always been through some other party trying to probably broker a deal, or commission a deal.” Judging by my own initial efforts to contact the Millers, the indirect approach doesn’t work. If MLB is serious about acquiring Twins.com, Twins president Dave St. Peter might have to fly to California and knock on Durland and Darvin’s door.
St. Peter, who tweeted in 2011 that he was “not optimistic” about reaching a resolution with the Millers based on the reports he’d received from MLBAM, told me that the Twins haven’t reached out to the Millers directly because teams rely on MLBAM to lead the acquisition effort. “At this point, would I like to have Twins.com?” St. Peter asks. “Yeah, I think it would be great to have that. But obviously we’ve invested a tremendous amount of time and energy into twinsbaseball.com. And I think generally our fan base is well aware of what the URL is.” St. Peter, who knew the Millers were twins but wasn’t aware they were Twins fans, doubts that the “baseball” tacked on to “twins” has cost the team any brand awareness or ticket/merchandise sales. And given the hassle and expense associated with changing a team’s long-held URL, he’s “not sure that it [would be] in the business interest of the Twins.”
The twins’ tactics haven’t been in their business interests, either. If they had been trying to maximize their earnings from a sale, they wouldn’t have waited this long. Although dot-coms are still desirable, their value is on the ebb, as mobile traffic through Facebook and apps like MLB’s “At Bat” eat away at the percentage of users who access sites the old-fashioned way, by typing URLs into a browser bar. According to an MLBAM source, mobile accounts for 55 percent of the traffic to MLB sites. And MLB has also registered two top-level domains with ICANN, .mlb and .baseball, which suggests that someday soon, St. Peter might be redirecting Twins fans to Twins.mlb. Cahn likens dot-coms to 800 numbers, which were once the only toll-free options available but are now one option among many.
The Millers have a fail-safe in case their website ever sells. “We kept ‘twinz’ with a z as well, so we use that as our backup email address for all those free Chili’s gift certificates,” Durland says. But if Twins.com stays in the family forever, Durland and Darvin won’t mind. “Everything we do in our lives embodies twins,” the brothers told me via email. “‘Twins’ is who we are, how we live.” And thus far, no one — not Major League Baseball, not domain brokers, and not even, apparently, an oil-rich sheikh — has met the high price they put on each other.
This article has been updated to correct a statement, made based on previous reports, that MLB acquired MLB.com for free.