Play ball! Largest state gathering in a year set for Target Field

A man wearing a mask poses for a photo at Target Field.
Matt Hodson is the senior manager of business communications for the Minnesota Twins. “We believe this can and will be done safely,” Hodson said about welcoming thousands of fans back to Target Field.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Target Field has been a busy place advance of the home opener.

“We have the bunting up and the green grass out there, freshly cut green grass and a beautiful, beautiful baseball field,” said Matt Hodson, senior manager of business communications for the Minnesota Twins.

Hodson said bringing back fans has been a carefully thought out process.

“It’ll be a different experience all aimed at giving you a safe, fun time at the ballpark,” he said.

The Minnesota Twins will welcome thousands of fans back to Target Field on Thursday for their home opener. The team says it’s taking extraordinary measures to ensure safety amid the pandemic. But some experts say that with cases up significantly in Minnesota, and the B.1.1.7 variant rapidly spreading, now is not the time to gather in large groups.

Some of the things fans will notice:

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  • Digital tickets will be required through the MLB Ballpark app to provide for contactless entry at the gates.

  • Masks will be required except when eating and drinking.

  • Once inside, socially distanced fans will move to their socially distanced seats in pods of two or four.

  • They can order and pay for food and drinks through the app.  They also can pay at concessions stands, but the only place they can use cash is at what are called “reverse” ATMs that will pump out credit cards in exchange for money.

A floor sign says "Welcome Back to Target Field."
A floor sign says "Welcome Back to Target Field."
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Hodson said capacity will be limited to 10,000 people — that’s 25 percent of what Target Field can accommodate. Fans are asked to stay home if they’re sick. Hodson said people who violate the mask policy will have one chance to comply before being ejected.

“We believe this can and will be done safely,” Hodson explained.  “We will be doing cleaning, sanitization and disinfecting before, during and after each game using EPA-approved COVID-19 cleaning products.”

Do-Hyoung Park of on the Twins home opener

The Twins home opener will represent the largest sanctioned gathering in the state in more than a year. It was less than a month ago that Gov. Tim Walz proclaimed “normalcy is on the horizon” as he relaxed a wide range of COVID-19 restrictions. That allowed for larger outdoor and indoor gatherings, increased bar and restaurant capacity and Twins baseball with thousands of fans.

A stack of signs
A stack of signs is seen asking fans if they have the coronavirus or COVID-19-like symptoms before they enter Target Field in Minneapolis.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

But since then, cases have been on the rise to levels not seen since January, prompting some experts to question whether the state is moving too quickly.

Michael Osterholm, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 — first discovered in the U.K. — is driving new case numbers and presenting a new challenge in the battle against the pandemic. He says failing to course correct or delaying a course correction will cost lives.

“If we do make these moves to limit contact, making them late in the game is going to be a challenge in terms of having a big impact,” Osterholm said. “You know in this county we’ve gotten really good at pumping the brakes after we’ve wrapped the car around the tree.”

Walz said he agrees that the variant cases present serious challenges but he is not yet planning to clamp down on restrictions he recently eased up on.

“I’m concerned,” Walz said in an interview with MPR News. “We’re watching it closely.

Walz said the state is in “a race to beat the next surge.”

“I think at this point in time we’re at least holding our own so there’s not a determination at this time to turn things back,” he said. “But as I’ve said all along, we adjust to what the situation of the virus is, not an arbitrary date or an arbitrary time.”

The Twins’ Matt Hodson said if officials conclude it’s too dangerous to have so many people in one place, even outside, the Twins will accept that. But like the governor, Hodson is optimistic they can safely host a limited number of fans.

“We’re going to listen to Gov. Walz,” Hodson said.  “We’ll listen to the experts at the Minnesota Department of Health and we’re going to by their guidance and if they feel that we’ve reached a point as a state, a tipping point where we need to dial back, if that’s what we need to do here, then that’s what we’ll do.”