Kevin Smith, the Twins’ executive director of public affairs, highlights the new stadium’s Mankato limestone facing and the view of the skyline in this MinnPost video by Jay Weiner.
Let’s be up front about this: When Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter invited Jay Weiner and me to take a tour of the Target Field construction site, I expected to find a multitude of things to criticize.
As a Hennepin County taxpayer, I’m still torqued that the state Legislature approved the ballpark bill without a referendum on the sales tax to fund the public share. And I still think Carl Pohlad — Minnesota’s second-richest man, according to Forbes Magazine — should have built this with his own money instead of waiting more than a decade for a public handout, then settling for a boxed-in site next to an incinerator.
How would a new stadium along the Mississippi River, near the new Guthrie Theater, have looked instead of all those condos? Pretty damn sweet. Ah, an opportunity wasted.
Since the legislation requires the Pohlads to pay every cent of cost overruns, I expected to see shortcuts and cheapness everywhere, like I see too often with their baseball team.
Instead, even though the stadium is far from finished, I walked away impressed.
The Pohlads won’t open the vault for a free-agent slugger, but they’re spending on this stadium — not like sailors, but enough to make it look nice, instead of slapped-together. And they listened to complaints and suggestions, most of them anyway.
Reserving the right to change my mind, I think most Twins fans will like what they see when the joint opens in 2010. (Fans can follow the stadium’s progress with two Twins webcams here.)
1. Because I-394 cuts off the site from downtown, the Twins added two more access points besides the already-planned Seventh Street Plaza. The skyway that terminates in the Target Center has been extended over I-394 to the ballpark, though it’s not enclosed. Another handicap-accessible walkway, still under construction, will extend from the ballpark down Sixth Street to the corner of First Avenue.
The point of all this? People who work downtown can leave their cars where they parked in the morning and hoof it to the game. Twins spokesman Kevin Smith estimated there are 20,000 parking spaces within five blocks of the ballpark, though how many of them will be available after 5 p.m. for a night game (and at what cost) remains to be seen.
2. The best seats in the house will be on the third base side. Even from the $12 cheapies in the upper level, the downtown skyline view is spectacular. It reminds me of Fenway Park, where the Prudential and John Hancock buildings rise in the distance beyond the right-field foul pole. Best free ad: The Graves 601 sign at the top of that hotel. The Twins dugout, however, will be along first base, the opposite of its position in the Metrodome.
3. If the prevailing wind blows toward left field, as it did the day we visited, right-handed hitters will love this ballpark. But lefties get something cooler to shoot for. Target Plaza begins above the right field seats and runs down toward the Target Center. So if a big bopper like Justin Morneau or Jim Thome cracks one onto the Plaza, it could bounce high and keep rolling. That could make it the park’s signature home run spot, like the splash shots into McCovey Cove in San Francisco. And to my eyes, the fence in right appears closer to the plate than its listed 328 feet.
4. Blocks of Mankato limestone are already dotting the outside of the park, and the striking earth-tone color gives the ballpark a unique look and feel. Some of the limestone is 450 million years old, and Smith proudly pointed out what appeared to be a fossilized starfish in one section. (Smith joked they also found a Sid Hartman column in the same pit.) Thinking ahead, the construction crew built a mock limestone wall about a block away, to test chemicals that remove spray-paint removal. They’re planning for the night somebody tags the place.
5. The Twins still haven’t decided whether the park’s sports bar, tabbed the Town Ball Tavern, will stay open 12 months a year. They fear competition in the neighborhood will smother it in the offseason. Look: Surprise us. Be bold. Offer good food and cold beer at reasonable prices, and I like your chances. If the Yankees can gamble on a high-end steakhouse in the new Yankee Stadium, in a neighborhood nobody goes near when the Yankees aren’t playing, the Twins can roll the dice on this.
6. Pine trees, placed in a long planter’s box, will rise as the batter’s eye in center field.
7. Lee’s Liquor Lounge, a two-block straight shot from the stadium, can start printing money now.
Pat Borzi, a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, writes about sports for MinnPost.com.