Joe Mauer wasn't rounding the bases after a home run. Jon Rauch wasn't closing out a game. No, the reason for the cheers at Target Field on Friday night had nothing to do with baseball. But in that instance, the significance of the Twins' new home as more than a ballpark became blatantly clear.
With a new open-air ballpark, the advantages have been obvious early on. The Minnesota Twins have been able to open up the checkbook and hand contracts out to players such as Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome, two late offseason acquisitions that would likely be elsewhere without the new state-of-the-art Target Field. It's the big thing in Minneapolis right now, and sellout crowd after sellout crowd means more revenue; which in return has the team locked heavily into trade rumors that never seemed so possible.
The atmosphere is different too. After spending 28 seasons under the confines of the Teflon roof across town at the Metrodome, both players and fans are enjoying the natural state of baseball. There is no longer a guarantee that baseball will be played each day, but that uncertainty has often been met with sunny days and evenings. There is the smell of freshly cut grass and smoke from the Budweiser deck, and the wind keeps players wondering and fans saying, "Ohhh."
With all of this, who could forget quite possibly the most memorable part of Target Field to date--the nature. After a half-season of play at their new home, the Twins have seen "Kirby the Kestrel" and a nervous squirrel that had Brendan Harris jumping into the air.
The new revenue streams available to the front office, the natural element of baseball and the addition of Minnesota's nature have all been great, but Target Field means so much more.
As the grounds crew picked up the field following a victory, the lights at Target Field slowly went off. A still jam-packed sellout crowd cheered. It was the first ever fireworks night, an event that would never have been possible in most of the past three decades.
When the countdown clock struck zero, the remaining lights went off, and as fireworks sprang into the air, fans oohed and aahed. At this point in time, there was no competitive drive, no taunting players, no caring about baseball for a period of time. Players and their families sat outside of the first base line while thousands of others enjoyed the experience with their own.
One year ago, there was just one reason to go to the ballpark. A victory would send fans home happy, a loss would have them upset. As fans pack the ballpark this season, there is more to the experience than baseball.
Going to the ballgame is no longer just about watching America's pastime. As fans sat in the dark at a baseball stadium on Friday night with no players on the field, that sentiment became undoubtedly clear. Baseball in Minnesota has become an experience, not just an event. When fans leave a Twins game, there is now something much bigger than a final score; there are memories shared by friends, family and a fan base that can last a lifetime.
[Photo Credit: Rockin' Rob and FOX Sports North]