Commentary

Twins can get used to the outdoor life

Minnesotans enjoy the view of looking up and not seeing a roof

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

MINNEAPOLIS -- Despite a $550 million price tag, the Minnesota Twins' new ballpark has some drawbacks compared with the Metrodome. For one thing, the box seats are lower, closer to the field, allowing the players to better hear drunk, balding, 300-pound men yell that they need to get the piano off their backs.

"They're down closer, so you can hear a lot more one-liners than we did in the Metrodome," manager Ron Gardenhire said with a smile. "And if something goes wrong, we'll definitely hear a lot of one-liners."

Another issue is that outfielders can no longer say they lost a fly ball against the dirty Teflon roof or in the lights hanging from the ceiling. Ex-Twin Marty Cordova would have been at a complete loss, though he probably could have claimed he lost the ball in the sun. "You can use that now," center fielder Denard Span said. "You couldn't use it for 30 years here, but you can say 'I lost it in the sun' again. That's still not a good excuse, though."

[+] EnlargeOrlando Hudson
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltOrlando Hudson pointed up to the sky -- not a roof -- after the Twins won their opener at Target Field.

Other than that, though, the new ballpark looked wonderful when the Twins officially opened it Monday.

Squeezed snugly at the edge of downtown -- "It feels like it was dropped from the sky," 1987 World Series MVP Frank Viola said -- the lovely Mankato limestone ballpark opened on a warm, April afternoon that turned on more Minnesotans than Mary Tyler Moore's smile. Sponsors handed out sunglasses (unnecessary the previous 29 years), and 39,715 fans cheered Joe Mauer's three hits, Jason Kubel's stadium-christening home run and a well-pitched, 5-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox in which the Twins led from the first inning. It was like a day at the state fair, complete with all manner of deep-fried food on sticks. (Note to fans: Do yourself a favor and spring for the $6 wild rice soup, but do not waste your $11 on the bland, overpriced walleye on a stick.)

And what do you know? Despite weather fears, the game-time temperature was 65 degrees, and it felt warmer when the clouds thinned and the sun brightened later in the game. The only goose bumps were those brought on by the ballpark.

"All spring training, I was worried [about the weather]," Span said. "It was so cold in spring training -- colder than it was [on Monday] -- and the whole spring training, I'm like, 'God is preparing us for when we get to Minnesota.' I had my ninja outfit ready, ready to go out it in cold-weather gear. I don't know, there must have been a whole lot of Minnesotans praying for good weather."

Oh, they'll get cold weather here, no doubt about it. They'll get snow and rain and everything else that comes with playing baseball outdoors. But they'll also get sun and stars and grass and pennants waving in the breeze, which is a nice tradeoff, especially after three decades under a roof.

"We've been waiting a long time," said Mauer, who grew up in St. Paul. "It was tough for me. I was trying to stay on an even keel and remind myself that we had a ballgame to play and we had to try to win that ballgame. It's tough to describe to my teammates [what it means] because people have been waiting a long time for this. It's definitely a special place."

Mauer can remember the approximately 14-year battle waged over whether the Twins should have a new stadium and, if so, how much one of the nation's richest men should pay for it and how much the citizens should pay. As usual, the taxpayers covered most of the bill in the end, though commissioner Bud Selig had an interesting spin on the whole ordeal in a pregame news conference.

"History has a way sometimes of letting myths get in the way of what really happened," Selig said. "Never -- and I can say this unequivocally -- did the Pohlad family ever waver about wanting to keep the Twins here."

[+] EnlargeTwins fans
AP Photo/Andy KingFans in Minnesota waited a long time for a day like Monday, when baseball again was played outdoors.

Hmmm. That will come as news to the people in Minnesota who lived through the constant threat of losing the Twins. That was particularly true in 1997 when Carl Pohlad announced a verbal agreement to sell the team to a North Carolina businessman who planned to move the Twins to his state. And again after the 2001 season when Selig announced that two teams would be eliminated through contraction and the state subsequently went to court to get an injunction requiring the Twins to play the 2002 season.

Selig was undoubtedly accurate, though, when he said something he never expressed while stumping for a stadium in the '90s: "Nobody in their right mind would want to leave a market like this."

One look at the New York Mets' attendance from the first week at their year-old, $800 million stadium -- 25,982 one night, 28,055 on a weekend night -- provides ample proof new that a new ballpark has only so much appeal. After that, you need to win. With two MVPs and solid defense, the Twins are poised to do that. They're off to a 6-2 start, including four wins over the Red Sox and Angels, and five saves from Jon Rauch in place of closer Joe Nathan.

"We're great, and I think last year bred a lot of confidence," said starter Carl Pavano, who earned the win with six crisp innings. "What we accomplished late in the year that fed into this year. We made some additions that we needed to. Everyone is fresh, everyone is aggressive and everyone is playing together, and that's what we're going to continue to do."

Despite all the complaints -- and they were legion -- the Metrodome provided one of the great home-field advantages in baseball history. The Twins famously won all eight World Series games there, each played in eardrum-bursting crowd noise that would make AC/DC beg for mercy.

"The Cardinals were sticking cotton in their ears [during the 1987 World Series]," Viola said. "Their equilibrium was shot. They tried everything."

The Twins will find out how the park plays as the games go on. How the ball carries as the weather and winds change, how the overhang in right plays, how they'll get along without a garbage sack for a fence. They also will look to find the advantages the Metrodome provided while enjoying the beauty of playing outdoors.

"The biggest thing for these guys to do now is make it home, to get home-field advantage," Viola said. "If they're able to accomplish that, good lord, who knows what can happen."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com