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Twins excited to christen their new home

Twins excited to christen their new home

MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Morneau has grown accustomed to the routine of returning from Spring Training and heading to the Metrodome for the Twins' first workout or their first game.

So the Twins first baseman admits that it will be a little strange to pull up to Target Field for Friday's exhibition game against the Cardinals and unpack his things as he settles into the club's new home.

Mark McGwire

"That's when it will kind of hit us," Morneau said. "Or I guess when we walk out of the dugout and we're outside. It's different. Usually when we get back to Minnesota, we go pick up our stuff from the Dome and everything is inside. But here it will be exciting. Everyone will be setting up in their lockers. It should be pretty cool."

Morneau isn't the only player who is still getting adjusted to the idea that the club will finally be moving into its new and eagerly anticipated digs.

"We still say we're going to the Dome," Michael Cuddyer said. "When my wife, Claudia, and I talk about the season we say, 'When we get to the Dome ...' You have to correct yourself. The place just isn't real yet."

But this weekend, Target Field will become a reality for the players as they get their first real taste of baseball at their new ballpark thanks to two exhibition contests against the Cardinals.

Friday's contest against St. Louis will mark the first professional game that has taken place in the new park. Target Field got its first taste of baseball last weekend, when the University of Minnesota Gophers hosted a college game against Louisiana Tech. More than 37,000 people went through the ballpark on that day in what was a combination of a game/open house.

There was nothing but positive feedback about the park following the college game. The Twins paid attention to how that college game went and what people thought of their new ballpark. And it only made them more eager to get back to Minnesota this weekend for their first official opportunity to get on the field and experience it for themselves.

"I'm so excited," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I'm really excited to get to the ballpark and check it all out. We've walked through it enough. And to kind of get out there and play a game with people in the stands, I think it's going to be a lot of fun."

The Twins players and coaches all got a chance to get a walkthrough of the new stadium during TwinsFest in January. At the time, there were rave reviews about the new facilities, including the oblong-shaped clubhouse, which is significantly larger than the one they had in the Metrodome.

The weight room, training room and video room have all been vastly upgraded at Target Field. There are also batting cages now located behind the dugout, as well as a running track for players to warm up before getting in a game.

"Obviously, the amenities in the clubhouse are going to be better than anything we've had," Cuddyer said. "The fact that we are going to have a batting cage behind the dugout will be nice. [There are improved] acoustics and a sound system -- it's such a big deal these days are made of walkup music when you go to the plate. To actually be able to hear it will be fun. And the in-game show hopefully will be a lot better than what they had to work with at the Dome. They were limited in what they could do, so hopefully they can make a fun show for the fans."

The weather forecast for this weekend's set of games is not ideal. The predictions are calling for rain both Friday and Saturday, so the hope of all the players and Gardenhire is that they'll find a way to get the games in.

"Hopefully the weather's going to hold up for us and be good, but I'm really excited about it," Gardenhire said. "I think the guys are, too. You get to that point where you're pumped up and ready to go, and I think everybody's there."

The two exhibition games will offer the Twins players a dress rehearsal at their new park, but there will be other things taking place around the stadium for fans to enjoy as well.

Just before the gates open at 3 p.m. CT on Friday, the club will unveil the Rod Carew bronze legend statue on Target Plaza. Leading up to gametime, there will also be an on-field parade honoring the construction workers who helped build Target Field as well as the unveiling of the retired numbers of Twins legends in the left field.

And before Saturday's contest, the Twins will unveil the Harmon Killebrew bronze legend statue on Target Plaza.

But for the players themselves, this weekend provides an opportunity to get a quick glimpse at how their new field might play. On Friday, many of the players hope to get out for a few early swings to get a chance to see how it feels to hit at the new park.

"My first couple years in the big leagues, I always hit early to get out there and just to see the background where the ball comes out of and everything," catcher Joe Mauer said. "I'll probably get up and do the same thing on Friday. Hopefully get out on the field and try to see it a little bit. It will be interesting to see where the wind blows and how the ball flies."

The Twins have spent the past six weeks in Florida getting prepared for the upcoming season. Like most Spring Training games, these exhibition contests will be about the players getting their swings or their arms in tune, but it will also provide them an opportunity just to get acquainted with their new home. There will be the first chance to dig into the batter's box, the first chance to step on the pitcher's mound and the first chance to walk out on the outfield grass.

With the team having spent the past 28 years under the Teflon roof of the Metrodome, the opportunity to get back to outdoor baseball in Minnesota is one that everyone is eagerly anticipating.

"It's extremely exciting," Cuddyer said. "I think I speak for everyone on this team when I say that we're really excited to get to Minnesota and test it out. Have it start feeling like home."

Kelly Thesier 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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