I grew up with the Metrodome, a concrete hole in the ground with troughs instead of urinals, fake grass, plastic garbage bags for fences, and a big semipermeable roof that kept you dry and let you know if it was light out, but never let you see the sun. The food was bland and awful, though cheap. With the air conditioning going full bore, I never really needed a beer to cool off. I don't think I ever even sweat. It was still baseball I was watching, and so I had a good time, and I have far more pleasant feelings about that building than it actually warranted.
So when I tell you about the depth of my love for Target Field, well, it's possible that I'm grading on a curve. Still, I've been to Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, PNC Park, Safeco Field, Camden Yards and more, and Target Field might be my favorite major league park to watch a game, even if I have to watch a club on its way to its third straight 90-loss season to do it.
The park is steeped in Minnesota Twins tradition. There are statues outside to Kirby Puckett, Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew (and Carl Pohlad and racist former owner Calvin Griffith, but I digress). Each of the gates to get in is numbered after a different Twins Hall of Famer. The signature Cuban sandwich is the Tony O for Tony Oliva. There's a beautiful bar named after former first baseman Kent Hrbek. The sightlines include a giant version of the team's first logo, of two "twins," representing Minneapolis and St. Paul, shaking hands across the Mississippi River.
But while proud of its history, the park is actually fairly humble elsewhere. Miami's new park is gaudy and tacky. Miller Park and Minute Maid Park are essentially malls with a baseball field in the middle. Damn near every other park built in the last 20 years has tried to artificially recall an idyllic version of the sport's past. The Twins, on the other hand, used locally quarried sandstone to finish off many of the surfaces in the park. The bright color of the stone distinguishes it from every other park in the majors, and blended with the metal and glass of the luxury boxes, makes the field simultaneously feel like a relic of another age, and the future of ballpark architecture. The eccentricities of the Target, meanwhile, are interesting and generally unobtrusive, especially a particularly passive-aggressive sandstone outcropping in right-center field that only slightly hangs out over the field of play.
It's a stadium that also succeeds in feeling smaller than it actually is. Light rail takes fans directly to the park and drops off right outside the gate. Then the main gate opens up into a spectacular first peek at the park from behind the right field fence. While the ballpark seats more than 39,000 fans, most fans are on top of the action. Only those in the uppermost sections of the bleachers and the terrace feel far away. Even then, the park compensates for that by giving fans excellent sightlines, and a particularly beautiful look at the Minneapolis skyline if you're sitting in the infield.
Frank Thomas knows what it's like to be snubbed
At the Home Run Derby to promote a favorite charity, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame slugger makes it clear he hasn't lost any of his intensity, whether it's dissing the shift or candidly discussing his relationship with White Sox exec Kenny Williams.
By far the best place to sit is in the 200 level Home Plate Terrace. First, the view of both the field and the city is fantastic, probably only second to PNC Park in Pittsburgh. You also sit directly below a series of pubs, where you can get hard alcohol and halfway decent beer quickly between innings. It's also close to some really terrific food, including that Cuban sandwich I mentioned above, a pretty excellent steak sandwich and good brats. I haven't been to Butcher & the Boar yet, a new vendor who serves beef rib tips and Knob Creek at non-gougey prices, but have heard great things. It sounds as though there will be some additional options available just for the break, but frankly you should stick with the food that the stadium does best. And while I'm as excited as anyone for the self-service beer stations, the crappy selection would still have me hitting the pub for a bourbon or walking to one of the portables stands.
Although the stadium's dimensions limit home runs, especially to anything hit toward the middle of the field, it actually has been about an average park over the last three years, providing big gaps and a high wall in right field to facilitate doubles and triples. Especially given the height of the wall in right field and the dimensions in left, line-drive hitters like Joe Mauer simply don't get enough air under the ball to hit it out. The most successful home run hitters at Target Field, guys like Josh Willingham, Jim Thome and embarrassingly enough Jose Bautista, get tremendous loft under the ball. Then again, with everyone trying to murder baseballs at the Home Run Derby on Monday, I imagine guys won't have a lot of trouble, especially down the line, and their shots will look majestic.
I'm glad that Target Field is getting highlighted this week. It certainly deserves the attention, as the sheen has mostly worn off of it and it's lost that new park smell. Twins fans are starting to become complacent with it, and certainly the praise has died down over the years. When it opened, it did so with tremendous aplomb and has garnered almost universal praise, but that talk has died down. Certainly, some of that is due to the contrast with its predecessor, but there's no denying that Target Field is a beautiful place to watch a game, even if the product on the field stinks. Fortunately, with the best players in the universe gathered together, that shouldn't be a problem for the next couple of days.