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Legends ceremoniously open Target Field

Legends ceremoniously open Target Field

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The left-field wall opened up at Target Field on Monday afternoon, and a group of Twins legends emerged.

Kent Hrbek, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew were introduced along with 17-year-old Kirby Puckett Jr. -- representing his late father, Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett -- while a packed crowd for the first game at Target Field cheered in delight.

The prestigious group walked together to the mound where they presented the ceremonial first pitch balls to three men who helped make Target Field -- Minnesota's own Field of Dreams -- a reality.

As the sun shined and temperatures hit the mid-60s for the first outdoor game for the Twins in Minnesota since 1981, a 5-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox, the club marked the opening of their new ballpark with a celebration of its past.

It began at 11:30 a.m. when the statue of Kirby Puckett was unveiled on Target Plaza, signifying a pinnacle moment of his career. The statue is of Puckett, his right fist clenched in the air, his mouth open in celebration as he rounds the bases after hitting the game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.

Fans then got their chance to enter the ballpark at noon, and that group of legendary players gathered at their respective gates -- Killebrew (3), Oliva (6), Hrbek (14), Carew (29) and Puckett Jr. (34) to ceremonially open them.

Mark McGwire

Many other former Twins players were on hand for the historic day in Twins history.

The Twins welcomed nine prominent alumni, and general manager Bill Smith, to raise flags representing the club's division titles in 1969 (Jim Perry), '70 (Bert Blyleven), 2002 (Eddie Guardado), '03 (Shannon Stewart), '04 (Corey Koskie), '06 (Brad Radke) and '09 (Smith); American League pennant in 1965 (Jim Kaat); and World Series championships in 1987 (Frank Viola) and '91 (Jack Morris).

Donning Twins jerseys and sunglasses, the men each raised their respective flags to cheers from the crowd.

And for some players like Viola, Monday represented the passing of a torch.

"The thing that's nice is that my history ended last year when the Dome closed," Viola said. "This is 2010. It's time for these boys and these players from now on to make their own history. I'm going to be a fan of it, just enjoying it along the way."

In between the scheduled pregame events, there were sights that many Twins fans had not witnessed in over a quarter century. There was the grounds crew, watering down the dirt infield. There was the mostly blue sky and the sun shining brightly.

As the pregame activities got fully under way, the crowd saw a giant replica American flag unfurled in the outfield by a group of construction workers, and the anthem was then sung by The Twins Cities All-Stars -- a group comprised by the Sounds of Blackness, the Steeles, Moore by Four and the Twins Cities Community Gospel Choir.

And there was a buzz in the air -- literally and figuratively -- as four F-16s from the 148th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard in Duluth, Minn., flew over Target Field with cheers and applause from both the crowd and the players lined up on the field.

A huge cheer rang out throughout the packed crowd at Target Field when the public-address announcer said, for the very first time at a regular-season game, "And now, here are your Minnesota Twins!"

Wearing the off-white throwback jerseys from the 1961 season, the Twins were introduced one by one along the first-base line. Native Minnesotan Pat Neshek received a nice ovation, as did new Twins player Jim Thome. Injured closer Joe Nathan joined the team on the line and was greeted warmly with a big ovation from the crowd. But, of course, the loudest ovation of all was saved for St. Paul's own Joe Mauer.

One of the most memorable moments before the game got under way when the group of Twins legends made the trek from left field to the Target Field mound. Carew, Killebrew and Puckett Jr. handed the balls to Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, President of Twins Sports Inc. Jerry Bell and Mortenson Construction Superintendent Dave Mansell.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire went behind home plate to catch the first pitch from Mansell, while Michael Cuddyer caught the first pitch -- a strike -- by Opat. Bell's pitch was caught by a longtime associate, Bob Starkey.

From there, the umpires and managers met at home plate to exchange lineups and discuss the ground rules. And at 3:13 p.m. CT, the first pitch at Target Field was thrown, at long last, by Twins starter Carl Pavano.

And so began a new era in Twins history.

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

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