"I hope we have this problem every October," he said, during a tour of the new 40,000-seat facility adjacent to the Target Center basketball arena where the Timberwolves of the NBA play.
The new $550 million yard, which is nearing completion, will debut next April 2 with an exhibition game against the Cardinals. The regular-season opener is April 12 against the Red Sox. As daunting as the weather may be for games in April and possibly October, St. Peter said the numbers prove that Twins fans are ready for outdoor baseball played on Kentucky Blue grass instead of artificial turf.
The team has already sold 17,000 full-season ticket equivalents (partial plans that add up to a full-season ticket, plus full-season tickets). With six months to go prior to the opening of the new ballpark, that figure already dwarfs the 11,000 equivalents that were sold in the Metrodome this year. And that was the highest count in the 27-year history of Twins baseball in the Dome, St. Peter said.
"An entire generation has never seen outdoor baseball in Minnesota," he said. "Fans are proving to us that they're more than ready for it."
In the 21 years after their move from Washington to Minnesota in 1961, the Twins played outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium in nearby Bloomington. They didn't draw like gangbusters there, averaging about 1 million fans a year. Their highest attendance at the Met was the AL pennant-winning season of 1965 when the Twins drew 1.4 million. The club's all-time highest attendance was 3 million indoors in 1988, a year after the Twins defeated the Cardinals to win the first World Series during the Minnesota phase of the franchise.
But these are different times. The new ballpark will be fed by light-rail, will have 20,000 parking spots within walking distance of it and is surrounded by a burgeoning downtown community replete with shopping and restaurants.
Ticket prices are scaled for season-ticket sales from $10-$275. There are only 16 of those most pricey seats in the first row of a special club section, and all are already sold. Elsewhere there are 3,500 club seats 90-percent sold. Of 54 luxury boxes, five are still on the market.
It all bodes well for the immediate future outside the Dome, which St. Peter said "was great for history, but had its challenges."
Fans will find the new park to be an aesthetic marvel. The outside of the edifice is cobbled from glass, steel and Minnesota stone, which was trucked from 90 miles away at the expense of $8 million. Of the $550 million construction cost, about $175 million is being privately financed by the Pohlad family, which owns the team, said Jerry Bell, the president of Twins baseball and the coordinator of the ballpark project. Hennepin County floated bonds to pay for the rest based on a 0.15 percent sales tax.
Inside, the seats are green instead of Metrodome blue, because "that's the color seats we think a real ballpark should have," St. Peter said.
Those seats are all comfortably turned toward home plate, unlike the Dome, a multipurpose facility, which was predominately built for football and has the NFL Vikings as its lone remaining primary tenant. To pay homage to the past, there will be a Kent Hrbek bar, Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew atriums, a facsimile of a bat signed by Harmon Killebrew at a club bar and all-time great radio moments etched in wood planks on the wall outside the radio and TV press box.
The new ballpark took 10 years to wind its way through the public approval process. During that period, Carl Pohlad, the team's patriarch, who passed away earlier this year, offered the team up for contraction and threatened to move it. Obviously, neither of those events occurred. The Twins are committed to Minneapolis for the long term. And now only two AL teams -- Tampa Bay and Oakland -- remain without new, refurbished or upgraded ballparks.
The city of St. Petersburg, Fla., is studying the issue for the Rays, who call the Tropicana Dome home, and will be the last team in the Majors playing on artificial turf. Major League Baseball has a committee evaluating the A's situation after a deal to build a new ballpark in Fremont, Calif., fell through late last year.
For their part, the Twins are so excited about their new digs, they've already applied to MLB for the 2014 All-Star Game, the next one available to an AL team. St. Peter said all indications are good. The 2010 game was awarded to Anaheim and '11 is slated for Phoenix. Although, MLB has not announced the sites of All-Star games past '11, all indications are that the '12 game will played at newly refurbished Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City and '13 is earmarked for Citi Field in New York, which opened along with the new Yankee Stadium this season.
Though the weather outside right now might be frightful, the future of Twins baseball is anything but.