Can Target Field help bring the Twins a title?
MINNEAPOLIS – Last year, the New York Yankees christened their billion-dollar ballpark with a World Series title.
This time, the Minnesota Twins are hoping their new downtown home can help supply the same October charm.
"I've never experienced — besides the birth of my two daughters — the feeling of winning a world championship in New York in the new stadium," Yankees star Alex Rodriguez said earlier this year, after using the word "magical" to describe the memory.
So here come the Twins, having torn the roof off and returned to the great outdoors, trying to repeat that feat. They settled in at Target Field this spring following 28 climate-controlled seasons at the quirky, clamorous Metrodome, and so far the results have been tough to beat.
"Our crowd always energizes us and gets us going. This is where the excitement is," manager Ron Gardenhire said. He added: "We've played really good baseball here at home, and there's a reason for that. You come to this ballpark, and every game is an event. The people are packing it, and the guys enjoy this ballpark. They love coming to the park. You're supposed to play well at home. Most good teams do. This has definitely been beneficial for us."
Minnesota's 53-28 home record during the regular season was bested by only the Braves, and the Twins set a franchise record for attendance with more than 3.2 million people counted through the turnstiles. The Twins averaged 39,798 paid customers per game, ranking sixth in the majors.
"It's just a great place," newcomer Jim Thome said. "Our guys like to play here. Our fans, the energy of the ballpark when it gets rocking, are great."
So is there truly a correlation between stadium openings and postseason success?
Well, the St. Louis Cardinals wouldn't argue. Just like those 2009 Yankees, they brought their baseball-loving city by the river a championship in 2006 with that new-ballpark smell filling the air. The only thing, uh, Busch league about the Cardinals' first year in their new home was the famous brewer's name on the stadium.
And while there's barely anybody still alive to actually remember this, the Boston Red Sox broke in Fenway Park in 1912 with a World Series title. The old Yankee Stadium was kind to the Bronx Bombers, too, with a championship in the inaugural 1923 season.
In all, 13 teams have unveiled new ballparks and qualified for the postseason in the same year, according to STATS LLC. More recently, the San Francisco Giants in 2000, the Atlanta Braves in 1997, the Colorado Rockies in 1995 and the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989 opened their gates in April and played in October past the 162-game schedule.
That makes a total of eight of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball that have been able to sell postseason tickets in their first year at their current headquarters.
In 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds even formed a cookie-cutter NL championship series after opening their perfect-circle multipurpose stadiums that summer. Oh, and the Pirates became world champs, too, after introducing Forbes Field in 1909.
Yes, good baseball teams are going to be good, no matter where they play. The new-stadium effect certainly didn't help the Washington Nationals in 2008 or those pitiful 2001 Pirates, who lost 100 games. The 1982 Twins coronated the Metrodome by going 60-102. The air conditioning wasn't installed yet, and the average attendance was 11,373.
These Twins didn't have that problem.
"There's something to be said for selling out every game at home," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "I think that's a big part of it. You look at all the teams that do that, they're usually pretty good."
The Twins were unbeatable at home in the Dome during their 1987 and 1991 World Series victories, but for all that was made about their indoor advantage they lost their last eight — eight! — postseason home games there. The last time the Twins won a home playoff game was 2002, the ALCS opener against the then-Anaheim Angels.
Time will soon tell whether these Twins will become the latest World Series winner from a first-year facility.
"We have a great chance," right-hander Nick Blackburn said. "It's all going to come down to how we keep playing. New stadium, old stadium, if we go out and do our job it's going to happen."
Twins players were like kids on Christmas this season with all of the amenities they didn't have at the Dome, like whirlpools and a spacious weight room and a batting cage right behind the clubhouse.
"All that stuff helps you get ready for the games," Hardy said.
And then, of course, there was the adrenaline boost that came from the always-full house.
"Playing in front of 40,000 people with your colors on usually is going to help," center fielder Denard Span said.
The Twins enjoyed a clear advantage at the Metrodome that opponents hoped would fade when the Twins left behind their tricky Teflon roof, high-bouncing turf and trapped crowd noise. They were out-homered at Target Field 64-52 this season, dealt with a rash of injuries all year long, and endured a stretch of substandard play in May and June before finding their groove in the second half.
But there was something special about this glistening new ballpark, with wide-eyed fans swarming the concourses each night and many of them paying premium prices to watch a contending team on the field while the prairie sunset painted the glass skyscrapers beyond right field a shade of orange.
Oh, about that weather: It was better than anyone could've asked for in year one. Despite exaggerated perceptions around the country that the lack of a retractable roof would create Siberian conditions, the Twins had only one postponed game (cold rain in early May), one suspended game (downpour in late May) and nary an in-game delay.
"That in itself is tremendous. I hope we're able to enjoy another full month of it," general manager Bill Smith said.
This week's forecast is promising: sunny and clear, with daytime highs in the low 70s and game-time temperatures in the 60s.