Accessibility is a major design element of new Target Field and baseball fans that use wheelchairs are particularly pleased about the new Twins ballpark.
Just after 3 p.m. students are pouring out of South High in Minneapolis. Sam Graves, an 11th-grader, rolls among them. He steers his wheelchair across the parking lot, to a van where his friend Michael Sack is waiting in his wheelchair.
Sam and Michael are lifelong baseball fans. Both sport Twins caps, and when asked what he likes about the team, Sam says he likes it all.
"Pretty much everything," Graves said.
You need to listen carefully to catch what Sam and Michael say sometimes, but they're great writers and they have a lot of opinions. Together they write "Two Men On," a blog dedicated to accessibility at Target Field.
After reading the blog, Twins President Dave St. Peter invited them to tour the new stadium. Michael Sack brought a three-page list of things to grade at the new park.
"We asked people for the questions," he said.
Studies show that, while accessibility features like ramps and door openers are designed for people with specific physical challenges, they end up being used by many more people.
Neither Michael Sack nor Sam Graves are fans of the Metrodome. Sam gives his thumbs down in a typically understated way.
"It was not very good," Sam said.
Actually, the Dome is an accessibility nightmare. It was built in 1981, before passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite extensive retrofitting, it never got much better.
There is only one handicapped entrance, and it's all the way on the opposite side of the building from the Metrodome's sole elevator. The wheelchair areas have railings right at eye level, obstructing the view. To make things worse, those areas are also considered walkways for people going to the concession stands, so the constant foot traffic blocks the view even more.
On the day of the tour, Michael and his mother, Laurie Sack, and Sam Graves and his mother Kathy, entered Target field through the executive office doors by the light rail station. A few moments later, after a quick ride in one of the new field's 12 elevators, Michael and Sam rolled across the concourse inside the park.
Chris Iles, the Twins communications manager, greeted the group. As Iles lead the way, Sam Graves and Michael Sack began scoping things out.
They found concession stands are low enough for people using wheelchairs, and they checked signage for bathrooms and elevators. That was a problem during an earlier visit, which they had discussed on the blog.
They found family bathrooms, where a companion of the opposite sex can provide help to someone with a disability.
A big issue for Sam is straws. You can't get them at the Dome, but for some folks they are the only way they can drink a beverage. Iles assured him there are straws at Target Field.
Sam and Michael are season ticket holders and they want to see their seats. Another quick elevator ride and they are there.
The accessible seats at Target Field are very different from those at the Dome. The spots are actually marked on the drink holders mounted on the wall. There are folding chairs in place, but they can be moved easily to roll in a wheelchair. The sightlines are amazing. Even Chris Iles is impressed.
"These are great seats," he said. "These are really good seats."
There are 794 accessible seats throughout Target Field, some along the baselines. Each row has a power outlet to charge up electric wheelchairs, and unlike the Dome, all stairways have railings.
Sam and Michael kept checking off items on their list. Iles pointed to several enclosed areas which can provide cover for electric wheelchairs, which need to be kept out of the rain.
Iles said the Twins are also making tweaks based on lessons learned at exhibition games, including the signage concerns. There's an accessibility guide available at guest service kiosks that will also be available online.
After an hour of exploration, the "Two Men On" crew said thank you and headed off to prepare their blog post about the tour. With a huge grin on his face, Michael Sack leaked his positive review.
"It was awesome," he said.
Michael Sack and Sam Graves say they will continue to blog about Target Field as the season goes on.