Published November 20, 2014
David Ortiz hasn't had much to smile about recently. He's hitting .136. He struck out four times on Sunday. He is writhing in the grip of the Boston media.
But there he was on Monday afternoon, a crowd of reporters in front of him, a grin on his face.
The Target Field effect.
In borrowing from the best of the new-age ballparks, the Minnesota Twins have created what might be the finest stadium of its generation.
At a reflective moment during this already-turbulent season, Ortiz paused to survey the new grounds. And he liked what he saw.
"A little bit of Cleveland there," he said, gesturing toward the grandstand.
Agreed. The club levels have a similar look. And the mezzanine seats are close to the field, adding to the intimacy.
"Seattle, looking back there."
Right again, Big Papi. The upper levels beyond the left-field wall are stacked almost on top of one another. Second-deck homers should be exciting and rare.
"Pittsburgh, back there."
See that, too. The right-field fence is taller than most -- just like the famous Metrodome baggie -- and the seats atop it are on a steep incline, as at PNC Park.
No roof? No problem. Rumors of rain were greatly exaggerated. The Twins' first outdoor home game since 1981 surpassed even the most optimistic expectations.
As if to ratify the team's architectural/financial decision to build a new baseball home without protection from the elements, the game-time temperature was a balmy 65 degrees. Thus, the sellout crowd of 38,145 was happy when it arrived -- and downright giddy when it left.
The Twins beat the Red Sox, 5-2. Hometown icon Joe Mauer, he of the newly-minted lifetime contract, upped his batting average to .423 with a 3-for-5 day. Jason Kubel swatted the first home run in Target Field history.
The Twins are 6-2. First place in the American League Central is theirs. For those who believe in omens, all the happy ones were there. The only downer was that 64-year-old Rod Carew didn't announce a comeback.
Seriously. The day went that well for the Twins.
Did I mention the weather was great?
"We had a cold spring training," center fielder Denard Span reminded a group of reporters. "It was colder in spring training than here today. The whole spring, I was like, 'God is preparing us for when we get to Minnesota.' I had my ninja outfit ready, the cold gear.
"For us to come out here today, 70 degrees, a lot of Minnesotans must be praying. All around, a perfect day for everybody."
After 28 summers under a Teflon roof, they deserved it.
Now, I'll admit to liking the Metrodome more than most. I appreciated its quirks. I loved all the noise when the crowd smelled a comeback. Last year's epic Game 163 had the energy and emotion of a state title game taken to the umpteenth degree.
But it was time for a change, and I was never surer of that than on Monday.
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was on hand and said he was more excited for Monday's grand opening than that of any other ballpark outside of Miller Park, in his hometown of Milwaukee. And I can understand why.
Without Target Field, Mauer might not have the $184 million deal that was universally acknowledged as good for the game.
Without Target Field, Minnesota might not have the Twins at all.
Remember: Less than a decade ago, fans here were justifiably nervous about the prospect the team would be contracted. No more. The wait is over, the franchise is thriving, and the new house is sparkling.
"Been waiting a long time," said Mauer, the St. Paul kid who received a heartfelt standing ovation before his first at-bat. "It was tough for me. I try to stay on an even keel and remind myself that we do have a ballgame to play.
"Right now, it's tough to describe to my teammates, because people here have been waiting for a long time for this. It's definitely a special place. I'm glad it's here."
If Mauer had picked football over baseball all those years ago, he probably would have enjoyed Monday's game from the stands with friends and family. He could have blended right in with a crowd that seemed as earnest and Minnesota-nice as it had been on the other side of downtown.
Even though the game was close, fans milled about the wide concourses to gauge the different views. I joined them for a while during the middle innings. At one point, the guy next to me stopped and shook his head as he peered in from the left-field concourse.
"Just fantastic," he said with a sigh.
The outfield has a few nooks and crannies, which prompted a longer-than-usual discussion of ground rules at home plate before the game. Michael Cuddyer talked about the challenges of playing in right field, where balls will carom off three distinct surfaces: padding, wood and limestone.
Boston's Mike Cameron nearly hit two home runs. One sailed just foul in the hard-to-parse left-field corner (the ruling was confirmed by video review), and another fell into Span's glove near the 411-foot marker in deep center field. (Question: Could this possibly be a pitcher-friendly park?)
My favorite feature is fans strolling along the main concourse can pause at a railing and look straight down into both bullpens. By that, I mean mustard could dribble off someone's bratwurst and plop onto the pitching rubber.
But not on purpose. This is Minnesota, remember?
"The ballpark is everything I dreamed it would be," said Carolyn Krueger, a Minnesota native who flew from Florida to attend the game. "It doesn't look like there's a bad seat.
"It really feels like home. The heart of Minnesota is right here."
And if there is a better place to watch a baseball game, I haven't found it yet. The new standard has been set.