Twins set to learn new ballpark's quirks
Exhibition games vs. Cards will help club make adjustments
MINNEAPOLIS -- After a few years manning right field at the Metrodome, Michael Cuddyer knew how to judge the way that balls might bounce off the quirky baggie that made up the right-field wall.Now as the Twins prepare to begin their tenure at Target Field starting with Friday's exhibition game against the Cardinals, Cuddyer will have some new quirks to learn at his right-field post. Target Field may not have a baggie in right field, but there are a few obstacles to maneuver, including a section of seats in right field that juts over the warning track and will be in play for balls to bounce off, as well as a 23-foot high wall in right field. "At the Dome, it was actually all about the warning track," Cuddyer said. "I knew how high the ball was going to bounce, how high it would go if it hit the wall and then bounced. I knew how it was going to respond. I knew if I could play a little further back or if I had to go up and get it. That's something I'll have to figure out at Target Field, how hard the warning track will be." Cuddyer isn't the only one who will have to make adjustments at the new park. As the Twins move out of the Dome and into the Minnesota outdoors for the first time in 28 years, it will take a little time for them to learn some things about their new ballpark. And it's not just about adjusting to the weather -- the bitter cold or extreme heat -- that they've only had to deal with on the road in previous seasons. The Twins had hoped to possibly get some of the players out to the ballpark last fall for a batting practice session. It never happened, so the two exhibition games against the Cardinals this weekend will provide the team with its first opportunity to get in the batter's box and hit, as well as to get in the field and see how the ball might bounce. "I'm just eager to see how it plays," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "Seeing how the ball flies, all that kind of stuff. Seeing how it is to hit, all that kind of good stuff that goes along with being in a new park." The exhibition games are a dress rehearsal of sorts for the club's home opener on April 12 against the Red Sox. Two games isn't a lot of time to learn everything there is to know about a new park, but for the Twins, any amount of time is better than none. "That gives you an advantage to have at least a couple of games under your belt where you see how balls ricochet," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We probably won't see everything right away. ... But we'll learn a little bit." One of the biggest questions that's posed whenever a new ballpark opens is whether it will be a hitter's park or a pitcher's park. And Target Field hasn't been immune to those discussions either. The dimensions of Target Field are pretty similar to those at the Metrodome. There are some slight tweaks, such as the new park being slightly shallower down the left-field line and even more so into the left-field gap. It's something that right-handed hitters hope will benefit them. But the changes can't truly be judged until the club sees how the wind might affect balls hit into those areas. "The new Yankee Stadium had the same dimensions as the last one, but it played different," catcher Joe Mauer said. "So it's kind of the same thing with us. There will be a lot of different changes with being outside, dealing with shadows and things like that." "We're just going to have to play and see what it's like," Cuddyer added. "The batter's eye will be different than the Metrodome, obviously. And then the close proximity of the stands gives you a different feel when you get in the box. Is the pitcher going to feel like he's on top of you? Is the pitcher going to feel like he's a mile away? All of that stuff will iron itself out, but it's stuff you think about as a player." When the new Yankee Stadium opened last year, there was concern early about a possible wind tunnel or other factors that allowed for more home runs to right field. As the season progressed, the number of homers decreased, as did the outcry about the ballpark benefiting hitters. The Twins have done wind studies on their park, but club officials have said that they won't really know it might play until games actually take place at Target Field. But Yankee Stadium isn't the only place where a ballpark didn't play the same throughout the season. Morneau pointed to another place that the club commonly visits which plays differently once the summer months hit -- U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. "Obviously, every ballpark is different, but once it gets above 70 degrees, the ball starts jumping there," Morneau said. "So [Target Field] may play differently the first two months of the season as opposed to the rest of the season. As hitters, we're obviously hoping the ball flies the way it does there. That's a little smaller ballpark than ours. ... Hopefully it plays fair or more of a hitter's park than a pitcher's park." Hitters already have one advantage in the new park. Target Field has much less foul territory than the Metrodome (22,042 square feet compared with 30,244.1 square feet), and it's something that the pitchers like Scott Baker, who was second in the Majors last year in inducing foul balls (774), have noted. "I could think of several games in the Dome where a few balls in foul territory became outs, many of which were caught right along the railing," Baker said. "Those are out of play now. But I don't know. Both teams have to deal with it. It's just a matter of winning a ballgame." Many will be quick to judge how Target Field plays in these first two games, and even the early series of the season. But whether Target Field is a hitter's park or a pitcher's park may not be something that's determined for quite some time. "It takes years to decide whether a park is a hitter's park or a pitcher's park," Cuddyer said. "But it's a beautiful park. As players, we've played in both, so we know how to play in a stadium -- whichever way it turns out to be."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.