Twins thinking big with move to Target Field

Twins thinking big with move to Target Field

Jim Thome considers himself fortunate to already have been on two teams in his career that have opened up new ballparks.

Thome was entering his fourth season with the Indians when the club opened up Jacobs Field in 1994, and he was about to begin his second year in Philadelphia when the Phillies christened Citizens Bank Park.

Mark McGwire

Now he's adding a third to that list this season with the Twins and Target Field.

"I've seen what it did to Cleveland; it brought a lot of energy to the city," Thome said. "In Philadelphia, it was the same thing, and look what the Phillies have done since that park has opened. The two games that we [played] at Target Field, I will say it's a beautiful park. The vibe is great in the city. The fans are excited. I think they have a lot to be excited about with our club. We have a very, very talented club, and it should be a fun summer."

There have been many success stories of teams who have opened up new stadiums, and Thome saw some of it firsthand. His Indians went to the World Series in 1995, the year after their new ballpark opened. And the Phillies have been to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, which includes one World Series win and another appearance in the Fall Classic, after moving into their park in 2004.

But they aren't the only ones who have seen a new ballpark lead to increased success on the field. The Giants won 97 games in 2000, their first season at then Pac Bell Stadium, and went to the playoffs in that inaugural year of the ballpark. Two years later, they went to the World Series. The Tigers opened up Comerica Park in 2000, and while there were some early lean years, they went to the World Series in 2006 -- the year after hosting the All-Star Game.

And then there are the Yankees, who won the World Series last year in their first season in the new Yankee Stadium.

So could the Twins be the next to see their new ballpark translate into postseason magic?

The Twins have seen their share of success in recent years, having won five American League Central titles in the past eight seasons. But there is hope that the opening of Target Field and its increased revenue stream will help the club to surpass its status as just being division contenders.

"We're proud of the success that we've had, but we, as an organization, frankly are committed to winning a championship, not just a division championship but a world championship," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. "So timing here is everything. When you combine the excitement of the team with the opening of the new park, you have this market place, this region whipped into quite a frenzy. That's pretty special as well."

The Twins will officially unveil their new ballpark on Monday with the regular-season home opener against the Red Sox. There has been a buzz surrounding the first game at the new park as expected, but it's been made a little greater due to the high expectations for Minnesota on the field this season.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the excitement of our team is just contributing to the overall anticipation for Opening Day," St. Peter said. "That's a pretty lethal 1-2 punch and one that all teams strive for when they move into a new facility."

The Twins' payroll has increased from $65 million on Opening Day in 2009 to a little over $97 million at the start of this season. The club went out and acquired some key pieces this offseason like Thome, as well as second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop J.J. Hardy.

OPENING UP RIGHT ON TARGET
Schedule of events for Twins' home opener on April 12
Time
   Event
Time
Event
11:30 a.m.   Puckett Statue unveiled2:50 p.m.National anthem begins
Noon   Gates open2:52 p.m.Flyover/fireworks
Noon   Twins BP2:53 p.m.Target Field video
1:15 p.m.   Red Sox BP2:58 p.m.Guests introduced
2 p.m.   Grounds crew works3 p.m.Retired numbers introduced
2:15 p.m.   Pregame video3:04 p.m.Ceremonial first pitches
2:22 p.m.   Raising of championship    flags3:05 p.m.Umpires/managers to home plate
2:34 p.m.   Red Sox introduced3:06 p.m.Opening video
2:38 p.m.   Twins introduced3:08 p.m.Twins' lineup announced
2:46 p.m.   Giant flag unfurled3:10 p.m.Twins take field
2:47 p.m.   Moment of silence3:12 p.m.First pitch
* All times CT

But perhaps more importantly, the Twins have taken steps in recent years to keep the core of their talented team in place. They signed Justin Morneau (six years, $80 million), Michael Cuddyer (three years, $24 million, and exercised the $10.5 million option for 2011) and Joe Nathan (four years, $47 million) to long-term extensions before the 2008 season. And this spring, they may have been the busiest of all, inking Nick Blackburn (four years, $14 million) and Denard Span (five years, $16.5 million) before they reached arbitration. Then came the biggest deal of the them all -- locking up franchise catcher and reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million contract extension.

"We had a struggle for many years, without the ballpark approved, being able to think long term," St. Peter said. "But when the ballpark got approved, our mindset changed immediately. The best evidence of that is the long-term contracts that were signed. It's about keeping this nucleus of players intact. It's a group that we think we can win a championship with. Certainly Target Field has put us on track to be able to do that."

The front office and manager Ron Gardenhire have not shied away from the high expectations that have been placed on this team. Everyone seems convinced that even with the loss of closer Joe Nathan for the year due to Tommy John elbow surgery, the 2010 Twins are a team that can compete for more than just another division title.

"The front office is extremely excited about this team, extremely excited about the stadium," said Cuddyer. "When you hear them talk and hear them conduct the interviews, you hear their excitement. And I think fans feed off that. I think it always starts from the top and trickles down. You've seen what they've done to this team, the pieces they've added, the pieces they've brought in, and you can't help but be excited and feed off their excitement."

Thome said he saw both the Indians and Phillies make a conscious effort to use their new parks to field winning clubs. He believes the Twins are doing the same thing, and it's why he feels that the 2010 season could indeed be a special one for Minnesota.

"I think those organizations stepped up, sure, as much as this one has," Thome said. "Fortunately for a guy like me and Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy, they brought us in here this offseason to be a part of this mixture of great talent they've put on the field. It's been a joy, it really has. I am excited to open up another new park and see what that's going to bring."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.