A temperature around 60 degrees and a gray sky may have been a downer for some Minnesotans, but Tuesday was a beautiful day for the latest celebration en route to the return of outdoor baseball. So what if a similar day three years from now could be tough for pitchers because of a 20-mph wind blowing toward what will be right field? This day was about looking to the future as Twins executives, members of the construction management team and other supporters gathered at the ballpark site to announce that the site-clearing process is about to begin.
Standing on an asphalt parking lot about 12 blocks from the climate-controlled Metrodome, near the North Loop neighborhood in the city's Warehouse District, people could close their eyes and imagine Justin Morneau taking advantage of the gusty conditions to hit a mammoth home run onto, or over, a right-field patio area.
"Quite honestly, I can't believe we're here. We're not having a meeting or a vote to begin the clearing of this land," Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc., said while standing in front of a home plate that was placed within inches of where the actual plate will be. Bases were also laid out and pink posts indicated where the foul poles will be located.
The team's point man for much of the discussion during the past decade, Bell has said throughout the process that he won't rest until he sees construction workers on the eight-acre site.
"This is close," Bell said, smiling.
Beginning May 21, personnel with M.A. Mortenson Company are to begin clearing and preparing the Rapid Park site for construction of the 40,000-seat ballpark. A formal groundbreaking is expected in August, with the first pitch in the new facility slated for April 2010, which will be the team's 50th season in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
"It's scheduled down to the day," said Dan Mehls, a construction executive with Mortenson, who will be the senior on-site project manager. "It's a reasonable amount of time to get it done, but it's not plenty of time."
He said the first stage of excavation will include digging approximately two to three feet, leveling the site, removing Third Avenue North between Sixth and Seventh streets, temporary closure of the Cedar Lake Trail while it is rerouted and rebuilding part of the Fifth Street bridge beyond the future left-field fence. Site surveying will also occur to lay out the perimeter, structure and the playing field before construction begins. Mehls said $3-4 million will be spent on site preparation and utility relocation.
The second phase will clear the non-ballpark areas of the site, such as utility work and parking lot construction.
An estimated 40 dump trucks are expected to haul away approximately 130,000 cubic yards of material. Much of the concrete and asphalt is expected to be recycled into a gravel mix, some of which may return to the site.
That is just another example of the environmentally friendly design that team officials require.
"The Twins and the county have made a commitment to sustainability on the project. They are incorporating all kinds of sustainable strategies into the project, such as recycled material, using certified wood, natural day lighting and energy-efficient mechanical equipment," Mehls said.
There are seven pockets on the site that have higher mercury contents than some people are comfortable with.
"The county has hired a contractor to come in and remove those seven concentrations. We anticipate that it's not going to be a big deal," Mehls said.
Prior to being a parking lot, the site was a railroad bed with a series of tracks running though it, so construction workers are expected to find some remnants of those days, including railroad ties and other scrap material.
According to team officials, additional steps in the next three months include a contractor open house, a county board vote on the site's Environmental Impact Statement, the issuance of bonds by the county, the start of premium seat sales and the opening of a ballpark marketing center.
Bell said the next three years are going to go by "pretty fast," yet he knows the finished product will be worth all the blood, sweat and tears.
"When everything is done at the end of the day, people will take a lot of pride in what is accomplished here."
Mike Cook is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.