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Despite loss, Twins christen new stadium to rave reviews

St. Louis batter Matt Holliday awaits a pitch from Minnesota's Carl Pavano during the second inning Friday night at Target Field. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Minnesota Twins baseball returned to the outdoors Friday in downtown Minneapolis.

The anticipation, the inclement weather and the dawn of a new era of Minnesota Major League Baseball turned the christening of Target Field into a cultural event.

Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer compared the exhibition game to an opening-day atmosphere and former Twins outfielder Jacque Jones was given a standing ovation as overcast skies gave way to a bright sunset across the downtown skyline. Twins greats Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Kent Hrbek were on hand to see their retired numbers unveiled in left field.

By the end of the day, the 8-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals mattered little to most in the stadium.

Jake and Lydia Dworshak of Dickinson N.D., sidetracked their Easter plans to attend the game and found the hard-to-find tickets through an online seller. The couple was in its second leg of a road trip to southeastern Minnesota.

"It's beautiful, really gorgeous out here," Lydia said before glancing at her husband.

"But we got a little scared because it was raining when we were coming in," Jake said.

The rain fell hard in the hours leading up to the game, but the skies parted about an hour before the opening pitch and weather didn't spoil the Dworshaks' first visit to a Twins game. The two spent time on their cell phones during the game sending pictures to friends and sharing their experience."

"We're hopefully going to go to a lot more," Lydia said. "We know our parents will like that because then we'll have to go see them as well."

The smells of a baseball stadium were aided by the breezy conditions. The aroma of hot dogs, fresh popcorn and cracked peanuts swirled through the concourse.

Lines were 20-30 customers deep at some stands on the lower concourse.

"We had a hot dog and a pretzel -- the hot dog was delicious, the pretzel was awesome and beer is always good," Jake said with a wide smile.

Perhaps the signature moment of the game itself was when Jones came to the plate to that standing ovation. Jones, a fan favorite who played with the Twins from 1999-2005 and formed the Soul Patrol outfield with Matt Lawton and Torii Hunter, was told last week that he would not make the opening day roster.

The gesture by the fans clearly moved Twins manager Ron Gardehire, who was quick to recognize the crowd at the opening of the postgame press conference.

"I tip my hat to our fans," he said. "I've always known we've got the classiest fans in baseball and we proved that again tonight. That meant a lot to that young man, and myself and a few of the people who were here when Jacque first came over. That was a big moment. It was a fun baseball game. We didn't win the game, but it was nice being out there."

Playing on the field was a pleasant distraction for Cuddyer, who noted how close he felt to the fans.

"My head was on a swivel ever since the first minute I drove into the parking lot today," Cuddyer said. "I was just in awe looking around ... being in the right field in the Metrodome you didn't see too many people's faces. Here, there's a foul ball and you say 'hello' to the fans in the first row as you run back to your position."

The Twins will get another chance to get comfortable in the new stadium Saturday with a 1 p.m. exhibition rematch against St. Louis. It will be the last time the Twins play in Minneapolis until the home opener April 12 against Boston.

"To see your big picture on the scoreboard, balls and strikes in 15 different places ... lights and cameras ... all that stuff," Cuddyer said. "It felt like a great atmosphere, opening-day game. It definitely did not feel like a spring training game, which goes to show you how exciting opening day really will be."