Commentary

Inside new Target Field

Outdoor baseball returns to Minnesota for the first time in 29 years. Dress in layers!

Originally Published: April 12, 2010
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- What? No dull, beige Teflon roof? No cement-hard green carpet? No Hefty bag for a right-field fence? And they dare call this a major league ballpark?

Well, yes. And a damn good one at that. After 29 years of indoor baseball and after years of arguing over the proper amount the public should pay to build a facility for one of the richest families in sports, Minnesota finally has a new outdoor stadium. The Twins play their home opener at Target Field on Monday.

Or at least they are scheduled to play their first game Monday. It could rain or snow (this is Minnesota, after all), and after three decades in the Metrodome, the weather is a factor for the Twins again. That's because despite a $550 million price tag, the new ballpark doesn't have a retractable roof (and no possibility of adding one). More than a half-billion dollars may sound like a steep price for a roofless park, but bear in mind that includes the cost of the TruCoat sealant. "See, they install that at the factory …"

[+] EnlargeTarget Field
AP Photo/Jim MoneLong trapped indoors, Twins fans are prepared to enjoy their new ballpark no matter the weather conditions.

Of course, the whole point of moving outdoors is to experience the weather, good and bad. And if Minnesotans can enthusiastically drive onto frozen lakes to fish in subzero temperatures, they can handle some cold nights at the ballpark. And the Twins will avoid some of those because there are only three night games in April.

KSTP chief meteorologist Dave Dahl provided a snapshot of April weather conditions for our video tour of Target Field, pointing out that the average high for the month is a reasonable 56 degrees and the average amount of snowfall is 3 inches. He also said the record low is 2 above zero, a temperature he described as "cool." Which, I suppose, means that in Minnesota 20 degrees is considered warm, 32 degrees is tropical, the upper 40s are scorching and anything above 55 is like walking across the surface of the sun.

Bert Blyleven says he remembers an opening day at the old Met when he pitched in a snow flurry. On the other side of the calendar, the Twins went to the White House after winning the 1991 World Series and returned amid the infamous Halloween storm that dropped nearly 3 feet of snow on the Twin Cities and left temperatures below freezing for a week (what Bud Selig would term "ideal World Series weather"). But for the most part, Minnesota's weather during the baseball season isn't all that much different from in other upper-Midwest cities. Three years ago, Cleveland had a four-game series snowed out and a scheduled three-game series moved to Milwaukee because of the cold weather. Stuff happens, and in April it's about as likely to be a sunny 70 as a snowy 32. As they say, there is no bad weather, just the wrong clothes.

The bigger question is how eager fans will be to sit through cold and wet weather that isn't bad enough to postpone a game but is sufficient to be thoroughly miserable. An entire generation of Minnesotans grew up with the understanding that baseball was played indoors at a constant 72 degrees (well, maybe cooler, depending on whether the Twins were batting and they turned the air-conditioning ducts on full blast).

"Sure, it'll be cold," said former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, who grew up in Bloomington within sight of the lights at old Metropolitan Stadium. "The hard part is to be able to teach the fans, after 30 years, that you have to sit out and watch a baseball game in the rain once in a while."

They'll have to get used to that. Not only is there no roof at the new park, there is very little cover whatsoever. Most of the seats are exposed to whatever the weather will be -- be it snow, rain or hot sun during the summer. The lack of a roof won't hurt attendance much this season or as long as the Twins are winning. The issue is what will happen down the road. When I first covered the Twins in 1989, the conventional wisdom was they needed a dome because they drew so many fans from outside the area, and those fans needed to know they wouldn't drive several hours just to see a rainout. So we'll see how that plays out throughout the years. But as Jacque Jones said, "It rains in Detroit. It rains in New York. It doesn't diminish the stadium."

And it is a beautiful ballpark. Built on the opposite side of downtown from the Metrodome, the stadium makes good use of limited space. The light rail drops fans off conveniently on one side of the stadium, a plaza provides easy pedestrian access on another side and adjoining parking garages exit to the highway. Target Field holds 39,504 fans, or roughly the number of people related to Joe Mauer in the Twin Cities.

Inside, the dimensions are fairly similar to the Metrodome. Left field is 339 feet down the line, while right field is 328 but with a 23-foot-high (solid, nonplastic) wall. The biggest difference is the stands jut into foul territory, which will decrease popouts and increase the chance for umpire Phil Cuzzi to mess up a double.

Aside from not having a roof, the biggest difference from the Dome is the wide-open, main-level concourse. The Metrodome's concourse provided no view of the field, so if you ventured to the concession stand or restroom, you were almost guaranteed to miss something -- a Justin Morneau home run, a Torii Hunter leaping catch, a fly ball dropping in front of a confused Marty Cordova. That's not a problem at the new park. Not only is the concourse about twice as wide as the Dome's, but you have a clear view of the field anywhere you walk or stand, allowing even fans buying hot dogs in right field to complain about the home-plate umpire's strike zone.

The stadium's signature is the Twins' kitschy "ballplayers shaking hands across the Mississippi" logo that looms above center field. The best logo in baseball is an affectionate nod to the Twins' days when they played outdoors at the old Met.

Those outdoor days are finally back, but it might take a while to get used to them after 29 years inside. For all its critics, the Metrodome served its purpose -- no one complained about it when the Twins won two very loud World Series there -- and provided the Twins with one of the game's great home-field advantages. The Twins will have to get used to the new field and how it plays. As will the fans. For one thing, after watching outfielders lose fly balls against the ceiling, they now will have to get used to them losing fly balls in the sun.

They'll also get used to the wonderful smell of fresh-cut grass, rosy sunsets, starry nights, rain delays, vendors selling hot chocolate and cold beer, flip-down sunglasses, mosquitoes, home runs soaring toward the city skyline and all the other joys (and annoyances) of baseball played the way it ought to be, outside.

Enjoy your new park, Twins fans. And remember to bring sunscreen and long johns -- because you never know in Minnesota.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com