MINNEAPOLIS -- Years from now, when they start talking about knocking down Target Field to build another Mall of America or whatever, here's a prediction: This joint won't go as easily as old Metropolitan Stadium did.
Not after the $545 million price tag (cost even more than Joe Mauer!), great sightlines to both the field and downtown Minneapolis and the sensational touch high atop center field featuring a giant old-school Twins logo in which twins Minny and Paul, standing on opposite banks of the Mississippi River, shake hands and light up following Minnesota home runs.
|The Twins honor Kirby Puckett in their new park with this statue. (Getty Images)|
Not since Roy Smalley popped up to shortstop against Kansas City's Larry Gura to finish a 5-2 loss to the Royals on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 1981, had the majors ventured outside into the Minnesota wilderness.
And what did the Twins and their 39,715 fans (38,145 paid, 1,570 comped on this historic day) learn on a perfect, 65-degree afternoon (with, for the record, a soft wind blowing at about 10 miles an hour from the west)?
"All spring training, I was worried. Golly," Minnesota center fielder and Florida native Denard Span said. "But it was colder during spring training than it was here today. The whole spring training I thought, 'God is preparing us for Minnesota.'
"Then we come here today and it's 70 degrees. I think a lot of Minnesotans must have been praying or something."
Indeed. You've got to start with the weather as the most notable thing about Monday's opener. The absolutely perfect, gorgeous, marvelous weather. No parkas, ice scrapers or snow shovels in sight. Windbreakers weren't even required.
Next ... where to begin?
How about where they left off in Minnesota the last time somebody threw an outdoors, major league pitch?
"It was anticlimactic," said Smalley, who now works for a Twin Cities financial investment firm, moonlights on Twins telecasts and popped out to short in that last at-bat mainly because he was trying to rip a home run to carve a place in history. "There really was no celebration. We were leaving, and we weren't in the race."
Those Twins finished seventh (last) in the AL West and they said goodbye to outdoor baseball in front of 15,900 at the old Met.
"Maybe," Smalley smirked of the 15,900 figure.
Draw a line from that day through Monday, and it crosses through 28 years of indoor baseball quirkiness and, yes, two World Series triumphs in the Metrodome.
Recap: Twins 5, Red Sox 2
|2010 (new)||Target Field||39,504|
|1982-2009||Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome||56,144|
"What a dive," said Frank Viola, a starting pitcher on the '87 World Series champs.
"It was horrible," Viola continued as Target Field sparkled and gleamed around him. "A hell hole. And that turf they played on in the beginning. You didn't know what was going to happen.
"This is what you dream of."
This is a ballpark that is steeped in history at every turn. From Hrbek's Bar, conveniently located just inside Gate 14 (Kent Hrbek's old number) at Target Field to the statues of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew. From the giant baseball cards lining a fence near the light-rail line featuring dozens of former Twins -- Paul Molitor, Ron Coomer, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Jim Kaat and Jim Perry among them -- to Mauer's old locker nameplate from the Metrodome in a trophy case just off the clubhouse.
This also is a ballpark that gives the Twins all the modern comforts of home, and more. A legitimate weight room, two batting cages in the tunnel off the dugout (at the Metrodome, swings between at-bats during a game -- especially for the designated hitter -- were impossible because the makeshift, indoor batting cage was way down the right-field line, near the loading dock).
"Our guys can work out, we can do aquatherapy, we've got it all," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Here, closer Joe Nathan, out for the season following Tommy John ligament transfer surgery, can remain with the team to rehabilitate. Were the Twins still in the Metrodome with limited facilities, Nathan would be at their spring training headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla., rehabbing right now.
"We even have soap to wash our pants from the real grass," Gardenhire quipped.
|Target Field awaits eager Twins fans on a very nice day in Minneapolis. (Getty Images)|
"I tell you what, it's only fitting," Span said. "A Minnesota boy, playing in this new home ballpark. You can't write a better script.
"He's probably going to be doing that about 80 more times."
The Twins -- and twins -- lit up when Jason Kubel smashed the first Target Field home run off Boston reliever Scott Atchison in the seventh inning to jack their lead to 5-1. A 13-year-old boy who had come to see the opener from Iowa caught it.
"Pretty cool," Kubel said.
Two innings earlier, Boston's Mike Cameron had come within a television replay of cracking the first home run, driving a Pavano pitch into the very narrow gap between the left-field foul pole and the native Minnesota limestone wall to its left. The game was delayed briefly when the umpires -- including three Minnesota natives, Jeff Nelson, Mark Wegner and Tim Tschida -- reviewed it.
"Foul ball," Gardenhire said sternly afterward, concurring with the arbiters, before smiling.
"That's what makes it fun," he said. "The umpires get to run off the field and look at the video. That's what we have it in place for. Might as well use it."
It will take awhile to tell for sure how Target Field will play. Gardenhire thought the ball was flying during batting practice, but some hard-hit fly balls during the game seemed to die. Then again, that well could change as the summer's heat and humidity arrive.
Out in right field, a section of seats with a limestone façade hangs over the right-field fence, which could make life interesting for Michael Cuddyer and opposing right fielders.
"A lot of that will depend on the trajectory of the ball," Cuddyer said. "It comes off of the padding [on the fence] a heck of a lot harder than off of the wood [which is between the fence and the limestone façade]. The ball shoots off of that padding."
That did not come as a surprise, by the way. Because the Twins' imprint is all over this park, to the point where club president Dave St. Peter, Gardenhire and other key organizational figures tested it.
True story: One morning around 7:30 last summer as Target Field was still under construction, Gardenhire fed baseballs into a pitching machine aimed straight at the right-field wall. It was the Twins' very own test kitchen. General manager Bill Smith was on the field with Gardenhire observing, while St. Peter and former GM Terry Ryan were stationed in the right-field stands with gloves shagging the balls that went over the fence.
Only the Twins. And what they learned was, the wood deadens the ball. And they were good with that.
"The Twins' organization over the last two or three decades has been, in my opinion, a model major league franchise," commissioner Bud Selig said before the game.
There are a lot of reasons to support that opinion.
There also was one reason to tune Selig out Monday, and that was when he called talk of the threat to contract the Twins back in the early 2000s an "exaggeration." The plot, essentially used as a sledgehammer to get this stadium built, was serious enough that the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a district court's decision to grant an injunction against contraction.
Now, that was a long time ago, in a far earlier chapter. And no, none of that ugliness is represented in the nooks and crannies of Target Field, and that is a very good thing.
"I don't think you can get a better setting than this ballpark," Gardenhire said. "I think it's fantastic."
And that was only after Day 1.
"Now, for generations down the road, people can bring their families here," Gardenhire continued. "This place is going to live a long time, and we're excited about that."