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New ballparks can mean new hope for teams

New ballparks can mean new hope for teams

A new ballpark promises many things, from a vastly improved fan experience to the revenue potential to help retain or acquire players. It promises a new visage of a team's home, a new identity -- literally, a new face for the franchise.

But it doesn't promise success on the field. It doesn't promise titles. Those still must be earned.

A ballpark happens to be an excellent vehicle that teams moving in the right direction on the field can use to take the franchise to the next level.

That's where the Minnesota Twins sit heading into 2010, the year their Target Field will debut and bring what has been one of baseball's feel-good success stories out of the Metrodome and into the open air.

The Twins have found success for much of the past decade, doing it with the type of homegrown, market-savvy approach that enabled them to sign American League MVP catcher Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million contract.

It's the type of deal that might have popped the top right off the Metrodome a few years ago. It's the type of deal that fits right in with Target Field.

Call it The House That Kept Joe.

"We've talked for a long time about the importance of the new ballpark, and certainly, Target Field puts the Minnesota Twins in a great position to retain the talent that we work so hard to scout, draft and develop in the Minor Leagues," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. "Joe and so many other current players on our roster fit into that mold.

"We're very happy being the Minnesota Twins."

For now the Twins are living -- or at least are about to live -- the ballpark dream. And they're in good position to make it last.

New Digs
Target Field will be the 18th new ballpark since Camden Yards and New Comiskey Park started the trend almost 20 years ago. Here's a glance at how teams have fared since moving to their new home.
Year
Team
Ballpark
Comment
1991 White Sox U.S. Cellular Field Only finished worst than second in AL Central once
1992 Orioles Camden Yards ALCS appearances in '96, '97
1994 Indians Progressive Field 455 consecutive sellouts, 1995-2001
1994 Rangers Rangers Ballpark Won 3 of 4 AL West titles upon move
1997 Braves Turner Field Won last 9 of 14 straight division titles there
1999 Mariners Safeco Field Back-to-back ALCS appearances in 2000-01
2000 Astros Minute Maid Park Hosted first WS in 2005
2000 Giants AT&T Park 3 playoff appearances, including WS, in first 4 years
2000 Tigers Comerica Park Lost 119 in '03, went to WS in '06
2001 Pirates PNC Park No winning seasons; hosted All-Star Game
2001 Brewers Miller Park Reached playoffs in 8th year
2003 Reds Great American Ball Park No winning seasons yet
2004 Phillies Citizens Bank Park Playoffs in fourth year, two WS appearances
2004 Padres PETCO Park NL West titles in 2005-06
2006 Cardinals Busch Stadium WS champs in inaugural season at new ballpark
2009 Yankees Yankee Stadium Won 27th WS title in debut season
2009 Mets Citi Field Dropped to fourth in NL East

Target Field will be the 18th ballpark built as a replacement for an earlier MLB home since Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field (then New Comiskey Park) opened almost 20 years ago to start the trend of new ballparks. (That doesn't include Coors Field or Nationals Park, both planned before the Rockies' arrival in Denver and the Nationals' arrival in Washington, respectively, or Chase Field, the D-backs' ballpark.)

Eight of those first 17 teams improved in the standings their first year in their new ballpark, three stayed the same and six took a dip. Among the 14 with a long enough track record, 11 went to the postseason twice within the first five years of the new park. Though some -- Atlanta, for example -- already were contenders, others -- Cleveland, most famously -- found a new park to be the start of a run of October success that was years in the making.

Perhaps the best corollary for the Twins is the Braves, although Atlanta enjoyed a higher level of success -- four World Series in six years -- before Turner Field opened in 1999.

Really, a better hope for the Twins would be to follow the lead of the Phillies. Although the Phils didn't have the success of the Twins prior to moving into Citizens Bank Park in 2004, they were second in the National League East the first three years and won it each of the past three, reaching consecutive World Series and seeing huge attendance gains that hit a franchise-high 3,600,693 in 2009.

In some places, a new ballpark has been like a magic bullet, pure and simple.

The Orioles and White Sox found remarkable success right out of -- or into -- the gates. The Orioles reached the AL Championship Series twice and reeled off nine seasons of 3 million or more in attendance. The White Sox set a single-season attendance mark the first year, reached the ALCS the third year and reached the World Series in 2005.

But perhaps nobody made a ballpark into a springboard to success quite like the Indians, who moved into Jacobs Field in 1994, leaving one of the more dreaded buildings in baseball for one of the finest.

The Tribe went to two World Series and reached the playoffs six of the first eight years at Progressive Field, then known as Jacobs Field or The Jake. Combined with the Quicken Loans Arena next door, the sports complex transformed downtown Cleveland, not just a baseball club, setting an example for San Diego and other cities to follow.

From June 12, 1995, to April 4, 2001, the Indians hosted 455 consecutive sellouts. The streak was broken in September 2008 by the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Also from 1995 to 2001, the Indians won six AL Central titles and featured such All-Stars as Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar Jr., among others.

It was the perfect storm -- an organization that was ripe with homegrown and deftly acquired talent playing in a new ballpark that was among the best in the world.

"I think those will go down as truly the golden years of Indians baseball," said Bob DiBiasio, the Tribe's vice president of public relations, said in 2008 when the Red Sox surpassed the consecutive sellouts record. "It's still amazing to us that Cleveland, Ohio, and the Cleveland Indians were the first ever to sell out the entire season, let alone to do it five years in a row."

Of course, there's now the Yankees, the second team among the 17 to reach and then win the World Series. The Bronx Bombers are now 1-for-1 after winning 26 titles in 86 years in the various versions of old Yankee Stadium. The other team to win the World Series in their first year at its new home? The 2006 Cardinals, who dipped back down for a couple of years before reaching the playoffs again in 2009.

The Gotham flip side of the Yankees' first-year success would be the Mets, who topped 4 million in attendance for the first time in their first year at Citi Field but dipped to fourth place in the standings after three seasons of either finishing first or second in the NL East. The other four teams that went the other way in the standings are all in the NL Central -- the Brewers, Reds, Astros and Pirates, although the Astros recovered more quickly than others.

And there are certainly the exceptions to the rule that says if you build it, success will come. When the Pirates opened PNC Park in 2001, they suffered their first 100-loss season in 15 years and have yet to have a winning season at what is regarded by many around baseball as the most beautiful of the newer ballparks. And the Tigers lost 119 in their fourth year at Comerica Park, which opened in 2000, before snapping back to reach the World Series in 2006. The Reds have yet to catch a groove since moving into Great American Ball Park in 2003, although they may be onto something now.

Then there's the middle ground. Other teams had great success to start but now find themselves rallying to become contenders again.

The Mariners were spectacularly successful in their first two seasons at Safeco Field, going to the ALCS in 2000 and winning an AL-record 116 games in 2001 before again dropping the ALCS. All the while, the attendance figures rose, hitting a high of 3,542,938 in 2002.

The Giants also jumped in with success, reaching the playoffs three of the first four years of what's now known as AT&T Park, including the 2002 World Series. Attendance spiked, from 2 million the last year at Candlestick to 3.3 million the first year downtown. But the Giants also are working their way back up the standings after an early ballpark heyday.

Similarly, the Padres went from consecutive seasons in the NL West basement, up to third and then up to back-to-back division titles in 2005 and 2006. But now they're rebuilding, either with or without first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, their lone remaining star, and they'll do it with a ballpark that has proven to be friendlier to good pitching than good hitting.

But no matter what, San Diego has a jewel of a ballpark surrounded by a redevelopment district that has changed the face of downtown, adding a vibrancy to the Gaslamp Quarter and Convention Center. As it did in Cleveland, a ballpark brought change off the field as well.

That indeed was a promise delivered to the San Diego voters in 1998, and one that downtown leaders say has been kept.

"This project is so much more than simply a ballpark," Fred Maas, board chairman of the Centre City Development Corporation, said on the group's Web site. "It sparked the transformation that resulted in a thriving neighborhood, now one of the most sought-after locations to live, work and play in San Diego."

Sometimes success on the field can come with success around it as well.

But history has shown success is in the team more than the ballpark.

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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