04/03/10 12:30 AM ET
Twins thrilled to break in new home
Target Field hosts first Major League contest
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
"I was probably walking around the clubhouse and the park for about 45 minutes before I even took off my shirt to put on my B.P. top," Cuddyer said. "Unbelievable facilities. We were up here for TwinsFest, but it's changed even in those two months. It's beautiful."When Cuddyer and the rest of the Twins got that last glimpse of the ballpark in January during TwinsFest, there was a thick layer of snow on the ground and temperatures hovered well below freezing. So it's no surprise the club was very eager to get out on the field for Friday's exhibition game against the Cardinals, which ended in an 8-4 loss. "I think our players are kind of in awe, walking around," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said before the game. "We all knew this was gorgeous. You talk to our players, and they're in awe to tell you the truth. It's beautiful and it's done right." An afternoon rainstorm canceled the Twins' first batting practice on their new field. They did make it out on the field to take a shortened version of infield practice and also to run around in the outfield a little bit before the sky opened up and rain started to fall. But the rain cleared in time for the first pitch to be thrown at 5:11 p.m. CT, and the new era at Target Field was officially under way. Without any early hitting, the Twins had to wait until game time to see how the ball might fly in the park and to see how it was to hit at their new field. "The playing surface is great," Twins catcher Joe Mauer said. "It's kind of a little tricky trying to figure out the wind and the ball carrying. I wish we could have got out there for B.P. today. We'll get out there tomorrow and see how the ball flies. The wind was swirling a little bit, a little different than the Metrodome. It was definitely a great atmosphere and a lot of fun playing there tonight." As for how it was to hit, there were varied reactions to the batter's eye and how easy it was to see the ball. Denard Span certainly didn't seem to have trouble, tripling to the right-field corner in his first at-bat and hitting one over the right-field wall for his first home run of the spring in his third. Others like Cuddyer said that the evergreen trees out in center field might affect some hitters. "I can't wait for the trees to grow a little bit and get bigger," Cuddyer said. "That was the only thing I could say. Balls up to me were good, they were in that hitter's background, balls that went down kind of got into the trees for me, but I think I was the only one who saw that." The wind is something that the club will have to adjust to as well. "You look at the flags going one way and the current whipping around," Gardenhire said. "You can see the pitchers on the mound getting blown all over the place, but the ball seemed to be true." Overall, the reviews of the park from the first night seemed to be positive from both sides. "I think it played fair," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "I don't think it played big. You're not going to be able to tell until you get the summer wind, you don't know. It didn't play too big when Span hit that ball. It's a good size. But when it gets warm. ... I don't know if that's going to be the wind that you contend with all year." The atmosphere on Friday night certainly didn't seem like an average Spring Training game. The crowd at Target Field was announced at 32,995, which was not including the 6,500 complimentary tickets given to construction workers and other project people who helped to build the $545 million downtown ballpark. From the moment the lineups were announced, the crowd seemed to be into the game. They cheered when Mauer ran from the dugout to the bullpen to warm up the pitcher for the first time. There was also a lengthy standing ovation for Jacque Jones, who is back with the organization for the first time since 2005, during his first at-bat in the eighth inning. It created a pretty special night for the players. "It felt like a regular-season game," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "Hopefully that'll take some of that extra adrenaline out of it that can work against you as a baseball player. When we come back, obviously we're going to be excited for the real home opener, but this will hopefully help us settle in a little bit." It's no surprise that it felt like a regular-season game since both clubs trotted out what looked like Opening Day lineups, except for the Cardinals at catcher due to some injuries. The contest also featured the two reigning MVPs in Mauer and Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who went 1-for-3 with a walk in the contest and was pleased by what he saw in the Twins' new ballpark. "It's nice," Pujols said. "The infield is unbelievable, in pretty good shape. I'm pretty sure it's just going to get better. Everything is good. There's nothing that you can complain about. I think they did a good job with it. ... I care more about the playing field than anything else, and it's outstanding." The Twins and Cardinals will play again on Saturday, before the teams both head out on the road to start the regular season. The Twins will go to Anaheim to play the Angels, and the Cardinals travel to Cincinnati to face the Reds. So for the Twins, there is at least one more game to get a sense of their new home -- even though they all agree it will take some time for it to feel like that. "We're kind of like the visitors here," Span said. "That's what it felt like today. We're sitting in our lockers feeling like we're on the road. But I think over time we'll get the hang of how the ball plays off the wall and in corners and everything else."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.