Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Twins Stadium on Target, Not Above & Beyond

Ballpark Review

Target Field
Minneapolis, MN

For those keeping track (namely me), after a weekend expedition to the Twin Cities with my friend Dave to see a Twins/White Sox game at the new Target Field, I have now attended games in 38 major league ballparks, including 27 of the 30 currently in use. The only ones remaining for an initial visit are the new Yankee Stadium in New York, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

While there are certainly stadiums that I have found better than others, in terms of design, special quirks, amenities, food, local flavor and various other criteria, now that all newly-built stadiums feature natural grass, open air (or a retractable roof) and asymmetrical dimensions, virtually all of them are great places to see a game, especially on an enjoyable day or night.

More than anything having to do with its appeal to tourists, a good ballpark should first & foremost serve the needs of its home team and fans, while fitting well into the fabric of its city (and hopefully not gouging local taxpayers too heavily).

In that regard, Target Field is a terrific success. It's well-situated in the western part of downtown Minneapolis, close to an active shopping, dining, music & theater district and next to the Target Center arena (home of the NBA's Timberwolves). It is easily accessible as the new last stop on a clean & comfortable light rail system that stretches to the Mall of Airport (and the airport). And although the "small market" Twins were well-supported and quite successful during their time playing indoors at the Metrodome--noted for its deafening din--Target Field seems to be a huge leap forward in terms of fan and player comfort.

Although economics that quelled a proposed retractable roof may be rued in Aprils to come--though I think the Twins have only had to cancel one game this year--the open air park is attractively clad in Minnesota limestone and looks good from a variety of exterior angles, particularly when seen across the adjacent expressway underpass.

Dave and I had some nice box seats and watching a close-knit game--fortunately completed in a blazing 1 hour and 52 minutes, before a tempestuous thunderstorm, including hail, rolled in--was perfectly pleasant, except for the Sox losing 3-2. And when I took a photographic stroll up to the top deck, I was pleased to see how nice the city skyline looked as a backdrop to the ballpark.

Although as I write the Twins are 50-45 and 2.5 games behind the White Sox, they seem to be acclimating well to their new home and rank 3rd in the American League in home attendance (well ahead of the Sox in that regard). Their fans should be quite pleased and the team rather proud of the new park.

All that said, there are a number of aspects that, at this point, keep Target Field from being considered exceptional.

First of all, there was nothing particularly unique about the interior scenery, other than perhaps the limestone-covered dugouts and the Twins logo within a Minnesota-outline in center field. Although I fully respect why money isn't wasted on "gimmicks" in these economic times, I like each ballpark to have something that makes it instantly distinguishable on SportsCenter, other than a team logo. Not every park can have a water landing like San Francisco's AT&T (which along with Pittsburgh's PNC stands out because of it), but I like the giant Coke Bottle & Glove in San Fran, the Train and Center Field Flagpole Hill in Houston, the fountains in Kansas City, etc. Maybe my tastes veer to the crass, but wouldn't a big Home Run Target (as in the Target logo) make sense?

Also, although Twins history is nicely conveyed in a variety of ways outside the ballpark--statues of Killebrew, Carew & Puckett, a display of oversized Twins baseball cards, championship banners on the park's exterior--there was nothing I saw inside the stadium that saluted the past or even provided some nice team-related decorations. I had read about a Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame being built into the park, but perhaps this was nixed, as I saw no signs of it.

As you may have discerned, I'm an oddball who takes pictures of everything, and was disappointed that there was really very little to document within the stadium itself. But perhaps this will be remedied in years to come.

Finally, and I admit that this is more the complaint of a tourist than a local ballpark regular, but I found nothing special to eat. Not that I can readily name any foods the Twin Cities are particularly known for (a la Chicago's Italian Beef, the Philly Cheesesteak, even Fish Tacos that are served at Angel Stadium, etc.), but except for a Walleye at one stand for $11 that I passed on (don't know if it's fried, sandwiched, on a stick, etc.), there wasn't much fare that you wouldn't find at every other ballpark.

Dave's brother and his wife, who live in St. Paul, recommended a Polish Sausage from a local proprietor called Kramarczuk's, but even in seeking this out it was hard to find. Most stands seemed to have sausages by Klement's--a Milwaukee brand--and I only came across the Kramarczuk's stand (possibly the only one) as it was shutting down. But one thing I really like about Minnesota is that people aren't so hard-ass up there and I didn't even have to break out my sob story about having driven all the way from Chicago and not finding anything to eat yet at the game. Simply getting in line and staying there after I was told they were closing caused a server to let me get the last Polish of the night.

It was damned good.

And all in all, I'd have to say that Target Field is a ballpark that readily cuts the mustard, even if there isn't a whole lot special to relish. And that's being frank. From one who sausage better ballparks in Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit, among other places (including Chicago, where Wrigley Field remains my favorite baseball venue anywhere). 

But, given the long ride (Dave did all the driving), foreboding forecasts and the nasty weather that followed, more than anything, I'm just delighted the game didn't get Purple Rained out.

1 comment:

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