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This artist's conception shows the view of downtown Minneapolis from Target Field.

Twins stadium on track to open in the spring

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Tour the new Minnesota Twins ballpark and it appears almost ready to host its first game.

Just add some turf and a few more seats and Target Field will offer Upper Midwest residents baseball the way it was meant to be played: outdoors. At least that is what Twins' officials hope people will think about their new $545 million ballpark.

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Officials and fans anticipate the park's opening, unofficially set for April 12 when the Boston Red Sox visit.

The Red Sox will help inaugurate a new chapter in Minnesota baseball history, with the Twins strongly promoting the return to outdoor baseball after nearly three decades inside the Metrodome. The other major factor Twins push is that Target Field is designed for baseball and baseball only.

"We have been playing baseball in the corner of a football field for 28 years," Twins President Dave St. Peter said.

During a tour of the new park, St. Peter looked up at the sky, something he cannot do in the Dome. With sunny skies and an 80-degree temperature, he proclaimed: "You are going to embrace days like today."

Whether the ballpark should have a roof was a major debate - following only whether the state should be involved in funding a stadium - before legislators approved Target Field.

Kevin Smith, executive director of the Twins' public affairs operation, went to great lengths in a recent interview to ensure fans headed to games that the trip will be worth their while.

If a family is driving in from greater Minnesota and a strong rainstorm is reported in Minneapolis, Smith said, there is no need to turn around and go home. The new field will have "great drainage," giving the field a good chance to dry up by game time, he added.

Sure, Smith said, there will be rain delays, but no more than in other Major League parks.

St. Peter said that Chicagoans never complain about Wrigley Field not having a roof.

"We will have far more days when the weather is beautiful," St. Peter said.

A field heating system will warm the soil enough that grass will grow in Minnesota's cold April and May weather.

Smith wants to turn the tables on the weather debate. Instead of fearing the weather, he wants to promote it.

"We want to make it cool to be part of the weather scene," he said.

Beyond providing access to the sky, the stadium will provide a different fan experience than the Metrodome, which was built for uses ranging from football to monster truck rallies.

Target Field is targeted only for baseball, although St. Peter said it may host a concert or two each year. And he hopes to convince the National Hockey League to someday play its annual mid-winter outdoor game there.

In the Dome, fans' seats often do not face the diamond since it is a compromise facility. In the new park, seats are angled toward the infield, and fans barely will need to move to see anywhere on the field, or the giant scoreboard, nine times larger than one in the Dome.

Fans should miss fewer plays in the new field when they head to restrooms (with many more stalls than in the Dome) or go to the expanded number of concession stands. Hallways surrounding the main deck offer views of the field, unlike the tunnel-like halls of the Dome. The concourses also will provide a place to escape nasty weather since they will be heated.

"You stay connected to the field," St. Peter said.

Turf being grown in Colorado should be laid in the late August, and St. Peter said he hopes players can practice on it in September.

Before opening day, the Twins hope to host high school and college baseball games, along with some Twins exhibition games, to work out new ballpark kinks.

Ticket prices for Target Field will be higher than in the Dome, but St. Peter said he knows of no team raising prices less than the Twins.

A few thousand $8 Dome bleacher seats will be gone next year because the new field can seat just 40,000, compared to the 55,300 normal Dome capacity.

Even with price increases, the cheapest Target Field ticket will be $10.

For the first time, the Twins can offer their own club seating, with names such as Champion Club and Legend Club, with premium seats, restaurants and bars.

As for the players, they will learn to play on natural turf instead of the Dome's artificial variety.

Former Twins player, coach, manager and broadcaster Frank Quilici said the team's star hitter, Joe Mauer, should see little difference since he hits line drives, and "a line drive is a line drive."

Those who tend to hit ground balls may see fewer of them squirt through the infield because natural grass tends to slow the ball. But bunters may like the new field because the ball would tend to die quickly, making it tougher for the defense to field.

Today's Twins players have a couple of Dome advantages, Quilici said. For one, they know better than visiting teams how to follow fly balls in the stadium's white Teflon-covered dome. Also, the artificial turf sends balls skidding faster than on the natural grass on most fields, allowing more to get through to the outfield.

The new park sits on less than nine acres of land, "the most complex site a ballpark has been built on in the last 50 years," St. Peter said, citing rail lines, an interstate highway, streets, parking garages and other existing structures that surround the facility.

It is worth the trouble, though, he said, in part because of the view over downtown Minneapolis and the fan-friendly design of the stadium.

"The ascetics of this ballpark takes it to another level," St. Peter said.

ddavis@forumcomm.com

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