"Today we are breaking ground for the next generation," said president and CEO of Twins Inc., Jerry Bell, who helped lead the fight for a new ballpark over the last 12 years. "So that they will experience baseball the way it's supposed to be played."
A packed crowd gathered at the site of the new ballpark, which sits on the north edge of downtown between 5th and 7th Streets on 3rd Avenue N, and up until recently had been used as a parking lot. With grass sod laid down to represent exactly where the infield will be in the new park, the stage for the night's ceremony stood at the approximate position of home plate.
"Today we celebrate the start of construction, and in April 2010, this unremarkable parking lot is going to be transformed into a great urban ballpark," Hennepin County commissioner Mike Opat told the crowd of fans. "And I can hardly wait."
Twins radio and television announcers John Gordon and Dick Bremer emceed the event, which had been postponed from its original date on Aug. 2 due to the tragic I-35 W bridge collapse.
Among those gathered to help take part in the ceremony Thursday were Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, Twins owner Carl Pohlad, manager Ron Gardenhire, some members of the Minnesota state legislature, a few of the Twins front office staff, as well as current and former Twins players including Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew.
It was a day in which the group celebrated the Twins' past 25 years in the Metrodome, but more importantly looked forward to a future that includes outdoor baseball -- something the Twins haven't experienced at home since the Metrodome opened in 1982 and replaced old Metropolitan Stadium.
The warm and sunny conditions Thursday gave an ideal glimpse as to just what will be in store for fans once the new stadium opens at the start of the 2010 season.
And former Twins great Kent Hrbek even joked about how nice it will be to have weather conditions and not the faded white roof at the Metrodome play tricks on the players.
"I'm looking forward to sitting here in the stands with my daughter and watch as someone pops it up in the air, and Joe Mauer runs back to catch it only to shade his eyes and watch it drop in front of him," Hrbek said. "And my daughter is going to look at me and ask what happened. And I'll say to her, 'No, he didn't lose it in the roof, the dang sun got in his eyes.'"
"Just make sure you don't do that too often Joe," Hrbek chided Mauer, who was sitting on the stage behind him.
The new ballpark officially became reality on May 26, 2006, when Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the ballpark legislation into law during a pregame ceremony at the Metrodome. Since then, a lot of work has gone into the planning for the new park and it was capped by seeing the actual building process finally take place Thursday.
And while it was a special day for all those involved in the organization, the people that everyone seemed to focus on were those who gathered to celebrate with the team -- the fans.
"It's great to see everyone out here supporting us," Gardenhire said to the crowd. "This is going to be a beautiful ballpark. And hopefully Opening Day in 2010 will be a fantastic day for all of you, because that's who it is for -- you the fans."