MINNEAPOLIS -- A huge cheer erupted throughout the main concourse at Target Field on Friday afternoon when the overhead speaker boomed, "And now here is your lineup for the Minnesota Twins."
"It's really here," one Twins fan shouted. "Outdoor baseball is back."
For the legion of Twins fans, Friday's exhibition game against the Cardinals marked the return of outdoor baseball to Minnesota following a 28-year absence. A rainstorm swept through the area early on Friday afternoon, canceling batting practice for the two teams, but it cleared out to allow the game to start on time at 5:11 p.m. CT.
There has been a palpable excitement around the Twin Cities leading up to Target Field's opening, and while this weekend's two exhibition games are just a lead-in to the regular-season home opener on April 12, fans were eager to get in the new park and enjoy some baseball under the blue, or in this case cloudy, sky.
"I think it's pretty sweet," said Matt Anderson, 30, of Maple Grove, Minn. "Outdoor baseball is how it's supposed to be. So we're all pretty fired up about it."
Fans gave a standing ovation when Joe Mauer ran out to the bullpen for the first time, and there was a buzz in the stands when the retired numbers of Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett were unveiled before the game.
Jim Flaherty, 31, of St. Paul, stood on the concourse and tried to take in all the early festivities. He, like many other young Twins fans, can't remember what it was like to have outdoor baseball here in Minnesota.
"I've never been to an outdoor game in Minnesota in my life, ever," Flaherty said. "So this is exciting. I don't even know what to say. This is just exciting to have a real ballpark."
Lisa Lansdale and her husband, Mike, arrived at Target Field around 4 p.m. and walked around the entire concourse before stopping in at Hrbek's restaurant, which is on the main concourse behind home plate.
"We wanted to just walk around the whole thing and take it in," Lansdale said. "We've been to a lot of different ballparks and we just wanted to see this one because we heard it was compared a lot to Baltimore, which we've been to before."
Noticed immediately by fans were the increased food options and wider concourses. Many stopped along the railings as they picked up food to look out at the pregame action on the field. Others headed down the third-base line to get a glimpse at the Minneapolis skyline.
"It looks like every seat you've got a great view," Flaherty said. "Wide concourses, there is no cluster anywhere. Unlike the Dome, there is no bumping into people. The functionality of everything, it's perfect. It's very, very well done."
For all the concerns about what the weather might be in Minnesota in early April, the temperature was a comfortable 65 degrees with a 15-mph wind out of the south when the first pitch was thrown. The radiant heaters were turned on along the concourse, and some fans stood beneath them for a little bit of warmth.
Among those fans were Diane Eckhoff, 59, and Sue Wagner, 46, who had both just returned from seeing the Twins during Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla.
"They have planned this ballpark very well," Eckhoff said. "There are a lot of coverings and a lot of places to get inside. A lot of heat and you still get all the feelings of being outside. It's awesome."
Eckhoff said that her group got to the ballpark around 3 p.m. and checked out Target Plaza, where the tradition wall had one of her friends' names on it. They took pictures outside and tried to get a look at all the various areas of the ballpark.
Twins president Dave St. Peter has said that these two exhibition games against the Cardinals will be the first real chance for the club to test-run Target Field and see if any changes need to be made before its home opener against the Red Sox. But judging by the reactions of the fans in the first day, there will be a lot of positive feedback on the new ballpark.
"Any concerns people had about having an outdoor stadium were probably put to rest walking in here," Flaherty said. "You can tell by the turnout. I would imagine that there will be a lot of great reviews of the park."