With Dome gone, Twins still believe in home edge

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Metrodome was a clear boost for the Minnesota Twins: friendly bounces on the turf, lost fly balls by bewildered opponents, and that roof-amplified roar of the crowd.

Those benefits are gone, but as the Target Field era begins the Twins are confident their new ballpark will offer just as much of an edge.

"Good baseball players can play anywhere," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We know the Dome was an advantage, but it was more of an advantage because other teams hated going in there and playing."

The Twins will break in their new home when they host the Boston Red Sox on Monday afternoon, a day fresh-air-craving fans and an amenity-seeking team have been desiring for more than a decade.

"I think it's a neutral field now. I don't think they get an advantage," Red Sox infielder Bill Hall said. "But I still feel like they are going to be a good team on that field."

The Twins played 28 weather-protected seasons at the Metrodome, using the noisy, quirky stadium to win two World Series, and five division titles in their last eight years inside. For now, though, with a loaded lineup and customers clamoring for tickets, 39,500-seat-capacity Target Field ought to provide plenty of energy itself.

"They're going to pack this place and be behind this team the same way," Gardenhire said. "They're what lifts our spirits and lift you up during the course of the game. So we're moving over with our fans to our ballpark, and believe me we can make this just as intimidating as the other place."

Rain delays are now a factor, of course, and there will be some cold April (or October) evenings without the roof. Precipitation statistics suggest fewer postponements than lakefront or seaboard cities to the east, however, and the Twins only have three night games scheduled before May 3.

The visiting teams are just as eager for a new environment.

"I hated that dome," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, adding: "You couldn't see the ball when it went up. You had those speakers hanging off the thing. I felt like I was in an office building."

Last season, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen — weary of all the games his team lost at the Metrodome — issued a challenge to the rival Twins.

"I want to see the piranhas in a different lake next year," Guillen said, using the metaphorical nickname he gave the Twins four years ago for the pesky, fundamental style they used then of slap hitting and hustling.

Actually, the Metrodome wasn't as much of a boon for the Twins as the baseball world would have believed. Though the rebuilding teams of the late 1990s had a significant negative impact on their won-loss record, the Twins posted a .541 winning percentage during the regular season at the Metrodome. During that time, according to STATS LLC, the major league average was .540.

Plus, despite the advantage they enjoyed in the 1987 and 1991 playoffs, the Twins lost their last eight postseason games at the Dome, with their last such win coming in Game 1 of the 2002 AL championship series.

Off-the-field comfort might benefit the Twins as much as anything with the move. Players often complained of the dim atmosphere under the roof when they came inside on a sunny afternoon, and the facilities — shared with football teams and all kinds of other events — were substandard.

"We were packed in like little rats," center fielder Denard Span said.

The sparse weight room was halfway around the stadium, next to a makeshift batting cage.

"If guys were taking batting practice in the cage, you might get hit while you're doing a bench press," catcher Joe Mauer said. "It's definitely an upgrade."

At Target Field, they'll have all the modern resources and comforts, from underwater treadmills in the training room to plush furniture in the clubhouse.

"Home-field advantage is sleeping in your own bed and driving to your park 81 times," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "That's kind of what you get used to."

The Twins wanted a park that played fair, not a bandbox, but not too spacious in the outfield. They wanted the grass at average length, not too slow. It certainly won't be as fast as that artificial turf was at the Dome.

It'll be a while before it's possible to assess, while players get used to the wind currents and the summer warmth and moisture begins to affect the way the balls travel.

The big blue baggie that served as a right-field wall at the Metrodome didn't make it, but in about the only ode to their former home the Twins have the same setup at Target Field — a short 328 feet from home plate and a 23-foot wall requiring clearance for home runs. The difference is a limestone-faced overhang that extends over the playing surface that could cause some tricky caroms during doubles off the wall.

"I'm sure as the summer goes along you'll see a few wacky things," Gardenhire said.

One of the biggest changes is a shorter distance to left-center field, 377 feet down from 385 feet at the Metrodome.

With a left-heavy lineup, the people on the plaza behind right field might want to keep their heads up in case Morneau or any of the other lefties connect. Because the Metrodome had the same dimensions to right, the Twins aren't changing the way they build their team much at all.

"We never tried to build our team specifically to the Metrodome," general manager Bill Smith said, adding: "We've worked hard to get left-handed. It played to our ballpark before, and it will play to this one. But also being strong left-handed is always a plus."