ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Unlike baseball games, there generally aren't ceremonial first pitches before legislative hearings. That didn't stop Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak from making a strong pitch in favor of the proposed new Twins ballpark on Friday, when he testified before a joint House-Senate conference committee.
Rybak, who was handily re-elected to a second term last November, talked to the gathering of five state senators and five state representatives about the advantages of the proposed ballpark site in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. He used the example of Coors Field in Denver as a ballpark being the centerpiece of a neighborhood revival, and predicted the same for that area of Minneapolis, should the legislation they're working on pass the state legislature.
"We are as close to getting this done as we have ever been," Rybak said, while talking about tying the proposed ballpark into current and future transit infrastructure to ensure that the site is easily accessible for fans. "Wrestle with whatever issues you have to, but please don't come away without winning this game we're about to win."
Rybak's testimony was one of the highlights of the first meeting of the bipartisan group of legislators trying to work out the considerable differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Among the notable contrasts touched on during the nearly four hours of meetings on Friday were the proposed metro-wide referendum and retractable roof that are spelled out in the Senate's bill.
With a cold rain falling and a biting wind howling in the Twin Cities on Friday, Twins officials acknowledged that it was not a good day to argue that they didn't need a cover on their new ballpark, but said that the proposal for a retractable roof is not currently within their financial plan.
"We would love to have a roof," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports, Inc. "We would also love to have Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, but we can't afford them. The bottom line is that we're better off in an outdoor ballpark than are in the Metrodome, even without a roof."
Bell said the team has studied the prospects of having an open-air facility in Minnesota's often unpredictable spring and fall weather, and said the team expects it would average about six rainouts per season. He said cold weather is a bigger concern than rain, but the ballpark would include elements to keep fans comfortable, even when it's chilly. Bell added that in 1997 he attended World Series games in Cleveland that were played in 45-degree weather, and the games were sold out with raucous crowds.
A recent poll has shown widespread support in the metro area for a referendum on the proposed sales tax extensions that would be used to fund the public part of the ballpark. Still, several testifiers said Friday adding a referendum would be a fatal blow to the project.
"If there is a referendum, there won't be a ballpark," said Rybak. "I just went through a referendum -- it's called an election. The Twins and Hennepin County simply will not build this if there is a referendum attached. And the worst referendum we could face is one of the people saying we did nothing."
Among the other topics covered were some potentially unique features that could be included in the ballpark design. The Senate bill calls for a "green building" design which would incorporate environmentally-friendly elements into the facility, such as recycling rainwater for use in irrigating the field, and making use of the ballpark's close proximity to the Hennepin County garbage burning plant for use in disposing of waste generated at ballgames.
The committee adjourned for the weekend with plans to resume work on Monday.
Jess Myers is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.