The Minnesota Twins christened Target Field Friday night with an 8-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, but the exhibition game gave Twins players and staff a chance to get used to their new digs. It was also an opportunity for the city to get a taste of how game day traffic will affect travel downtown.
Nearly 33,000 fans came to watch the first Twins game ever at Target Field. They came by car and by light rail. They parked in nearby ramps and lots.
As traffic officers tried to keep things moving smoothly, non-game attendee Karl Robinson tried to ride his bike across town through the mix of cars and fans.
"It doesn't really bother me," Robinson said. "Because when there's more people on foot the drivers are a little bit more cautious; actually looking out for people and not just driving."
Fans, many dressed in Twins jerseys and jackets, lined the sidewalks and crosswalks downtown. Minneapolis police officer Ken Tidgwell said, despite the periodic rain showers, the crowds were cheerful and cooperative.
"Everybody's excited to be here and it sounds if the rain holds off they're all excited to get in and watch a game," Tidgewell said.
The gates to Target Field opened two hours before game time. Some of the first fans to pass through the turnstiles at Gate 34 -- named for Kirby Puckett -- jogged into the ballpark with their arms raised.
The rain picked up for a minute as fans entered the ballpark, but Twins spokesman Kevin Smith said the game was not in danger of being called on account of rain.
"Our fans will learn -- and I learned this from Larry DiVito, our head groundskeeper -- you'll be amazed at how much rain we play through," Smith said.
Smith said the grass at Target Field sits on top of a high-tech drainage system which whisks away water and prevents puddles.
After the team saluted the construction workers who built the stadium and honored a few of the legendary players who helped build the team, the current team took the field for the first time.
The Twins set the Cardinal batters down 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning, and the Twins took an early lead in the bottom of the first. Outfielder Denard Span scored the first run and he was the first Twin to hit a home run in Target Field. But it was obvious that the Twins pitching staff and the scoreboard operator were far from mid-season form. At one point the board put Denard Span's name next to Delmon Young's picture.
The Cardinals scored runs in bunches and will go down in the books as the team who won the first game ever played at Target Field.
But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that doesn't mean the team has lost its home field advantage. He said the Metrodome gave the Twins an edge for several reasons, including the fact that opposing teams hated to play there. Gardenhire said the true home field advantage comes from the cheering crowds.
"With our fans, you know they're going to pack this place and get behind this team the same way," Gardenhire said. "They're what lift your spirits and they lift you up. We're moving over with our fans to our ballpark and believe me we can make this just as intimidating as the other place."
The Twins had very little time to hit and practice fielding in Target Field before the game because pregame practice was shortened by the rain.
Outfielder Michael Cuddyer was known for playing balls hit off the right field baggie at the Metrodome and gunning down runners trying to reach second base. But now, he's got a whole new right field wall to work with. And Cuddyer doesn't know how long it will take for him to get used to the new field.
"I don't know a timetable, but I can promise you one thing; everyday Jerry White and I will be out there working that wall," Cuddyer said. "We'll be hitting it off the bricks out there, the overhang. We'll be hitting it off the scoreboard."
Of course outfielders also have to be concerned about lighting and turf conditions. Cuddyer said both are great at Target Field. In fact, he said the footing on the grass was excellent, even though it had rained for a few hours before the game.
Twins officials said overall things went quite well. Officials will meet and discuss what went well and what didn't before the team takes the field for its second exhibition game against the Cardinals this Saturday afternoon.
(MPR reporter Jessica Mador contributed to this report.)