Twins ready for historic Target Field opener

Twins ready for historic Target Field opener

It's a day that's been more than a decade in the making.

When the Twins run out of the dugout at Target Field on Monday afternoon for the first regular-season game there against the Red Sox, it will complete what has been a long and sometimes arduous journey for the organization to its new ballpark. But one that certainly was well worth the wait.

"It's the day that most people, maybe even including some of us, never thought would happen," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. "You think about the struggle and the time it took for our organization and ultimately our community to resolve this issue. So to be here on the eve of Opening Day at Target Field is an incredibly special time and an incredibly rewarding time for everybody associated with our franchise."

Mark McGwire

For the first time since the team moved to Minnesota in 1961, the Twins will have a home of their own. Prior to their 28 years in the Metrodome, which they shared with the NFL's Vikings and University of Minnesota Gophers, the club also was a co-tenant at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn.

The Twins' push for a new ballpark started in the mid-1990s, when the late Twins owner Carl Pohlad said his team needed to move out of the Metrodome to survive in Minnesota. Numerous legislative proposals for a new ballpark followed, along with talk of moving the team to places like North Carolina, and even the possibility of contraction in 2001.

But five years after talk of contraction, the club got the approval from the state legislature that it had been seeking. On May 26, 2006, Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the ballpark bill in an on-field ceremony at the Metrodome.

Following the construction process and preparation for Target Field, the Twins now have a long-term home. And on Monday, they'll begin what they call a new era in Twins history with one of the most anticipated games since the franchise first arrived.

The Twins Cities are energized in anticipation of the christening of Target Field. In recent weeks, fans have lined the gates trying to get their first glimpse at the field. The two exhibition games against the Cardinals on April 2-3 were packed with people excited to take their first walk around the concourse areas and see the return of outdoor baseball.

But there is nothing like seeing an actual game take place in the club's new home.

"Opening Day is going to be pretty special," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's been a long time coming. I don't know how you prepare for that stuff. You just try to work your way through it. There are a lot of emotions, a lot of people coming back. Ultimately, when all is said and done, you just can't wait for the game to start, because everything calms down then."

The Twins will head home coming off a 5-2 road trip to Anaheim and Chicago to begin a season that already was filled with high expectations. It's been the strongest start to a season for the Twins since 2002. But there is no doubt that a lot of the excitement for the players is surrounding Target Field and what Monday's opener will bring.

"I think it's the first time that everybody is ready to get back home," outfielder Denard Span said. "I think everybody was looking forward in the past to go on the road because of the Metrodome. Now, everybody is looking forward to tomorrow and playing at Target Field. You know it's going to be a special day for the fans and for the city."

The Twins got their first real look at their new $545 million home during those two exhibition games. It gave them an opportunity to take batting practice on the field for the first time. They got a chance to see how the ball might fly within the new confines as well as some of the unique bounces and plays that could occur with some angular outfield walls.

For many of the Twins, it felt in some ways like they were on a road trip as they explored their new digs.

But on Monday, the official start to their home season will begin, and the reality that Target Field is indeed the club's place to call home will likely start to sink in.

"It's just hard to believe it's our ballpark," Gardenhire said. "We've been in the other place so long that when you walk out of the dugout and you look at that beautiful sight, it's just hard to believe that it's ours.

"In the clubhouse, I think Joe Mauer said it best, 'Let's not get too comfortable,' because that would be really, really easy to do in that clubhouse. It can really spoil you, because it's gorgeous."

OPENING UP RIGHT ON TARGET
Schedule of events for Twins' home opener on April 12
Time
   Event
Time
Event
11:30 a.m.   Puckett Statue unveiled2:50 p.m.National anthem begins
Noon   Gates open2:52 p.m.Flyover/fireworks
Noon   Twins BP2:53 p.m.Target Field video
1:15 p.m.   Red Sox BP2:58 p.m.Guests introduced
2 p.m.   Grounds crew works3 p.m.Retired numbers introduced
2:15 p.m.   Pregame video3:04 p.m.Ceremonial first pitches
2:22 p.m.   Raising of championship    flags3:05 p.m.Umpires/managers to home plate
2:34 p.m.   Red Sox introduced3:06 p.m.Opening video
2:38 p.m.   Twins introduced3:08 p.m.Twins' lineup announced
2:46 p.m.   Giant flag unfurled3:10 p.m.Twins take field
2:47 p.m.   Moment of silence3:12 p.m.First pitch
* All times CT

There is an entire young generation of baseball fans in Minnesota that has never seen an outdoor Twins home game. After years of watching the Twins play baseball inside what was really a football stadium, the time has now come again for the starry nights and sunny days in the Minnesota summer.

And there is no question that Target Field has a very Minnesota feel. A combination of new and old is spread throughout the urban ballpark. There is the native Minnesota Kasota stone making up the large part of the exterior of the park, and the batter's eye behind center field is made up of spruce trees. There's a lot of glass to give the ballpark a modern feel, as well as some great views of the Minneapolis skyline down the third-base line and into left field.

Fans will get a chance to see Twins' influences throughout the park, between the various Twins logos from the past 50 seasons on the tin ceiling of Hrbek's restaurant to the gates numbered after the retired jerseys of Twins legends. Other small touches include the gate handles in the shape of the state of Minnesota and numerous old photos and artwork commemorating the Twins' history through the concourses and club areas. The actual flag pole from Metropolitan Stadium has been installed in right field.

To ensure that anyone watching television would know immediately that the game was being played in Minnesota, the Pohlad family spent additional money on a 46-foot-tall sign in center field featuring the original Twins logo from 1961. It has the outline of the state, with cartoon characters Paul and Minnie representing the two cities standing across the Mississippi River. When a Twins player hits a home run, the sign will light up and show Paul and Minnie shaking hands.

"Obviously we wanted to make sure fans in the ballpark recognized it, but maybe even more so when you watched the game on television," St. Peter said. "We wanted this to be a uniquely Minnesota facility and one that was immediately identifiable as the home of the Twins to fans watching games far away on television or on their mobile devices. The trees in center field, the downtown skyline, the celebration sign are certainly some of those aspects that help tell that story."

The experience for fans at Target Field will also include a much closer to the action feel than they had at the Metrodome.

Target Field is an intimate ballpark, coming in around 1 million square feet. It's similar in size to AT&T ballpark in San Francisco. And its seating capacity is 39,504, which is less than the 45,423 baseball capacity (with curtains down in the outfield) at the Metrodome. But about 19,000 of Target Field's seats are in the lower bowl.

"I think the fans are excited," said reliever Pat Neshek, who is a native of Brooklyn Park, Minn., and grew up a Twins fan himself. "There looked like there was a lot of cool views. You walk around the park and you are going to see something different every time. I think that gets them excited. They built it on such a tiny piece of land that it's right on top of you, on top of the players. The pitchers don't like it since there is not much foul territory. But it's got to be a great view for fans. I'd love to see a game there."

The Twins faced a unique dilemma when they first began construction -- attempting to build a 12-acre site on an eight-acre parcel of land. To accommodate such a plan, the ballpark is somewhat like a mushroom, coming up and over train tracks and a highway. The ability to configure a ballpark like Target Field was provided by the architectural firm Populous, formerly known as HOK, which has designed a number of the new ballparks.

Tickets to Target Field's home opener are sold out and the anticipation for the first regular-season contest at the club's new ballpark has reached a fever pitch in recent days.

So, as the Twins prepare to enter their 50th season in Minnesota and begin what they are calling a new era, the reaction of fans and the team to the new ballpark is everything that they could have hoped.

"It's been incredibly rewarding for all of us that have worked on this project to see how the community and how the fans have reacted to this place," St. Peter said. "I think in a very short amount of time it's become their ballpark. That was always the goal."

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