Part XV: Target Field
(AKA: A Flair For the Dramatic)
This was the portion of the trip where I realized that I was close to the end, and I was beyond excited to visit the final three ballparks. After a few days finally home recovering from my previous travels, I was busy preparing for the last leg of my baseball travels. On paper, this would be one of the more expensive trips since I had two flights, several days of hotels, and a big car rental. However, I used some “Orbucks” to get one day of a free hotel. Plus, I had been accumulating so many frequent flier miles that I went ahead and used those miles for free flights! Additionally, I was able to get a big discount on my car rental, so this helped me immensely on this trip. After another week in Las Vegas for Trivia Championships of North America, I was on my way to Minneapolis to explore one of the spotlight ballparks I had been wanting to visit since it opened, Target Field. I heard about many of the park’s amenities and some of the unique food they offer up there. How would it stack up to the rest of the league?
Ballpark 29: Target Field, elevation 840 feet
The game: Rangers @ Twins on August 11, 2015
I arrived at Target Field in plenty of time for target practice… er… batting practice. Instead of opting for the garage parking, I took advantage of street parking two blocks away for only $10. Considering how expensive parking can get at most other ballparks, this felt like a steal. From the exterior, the ballpark is gorgeous. Target Field is classified as a retro-modern park, and with the sandy-colored exterior and lack of bricks, this feels like a more modern park. Just outside Gate 14, there is a statue dedicated to Kent Hrbek. Down that side of the ballpark towards the Target Field train station, there are many smaller statues showing all the Peanuts characters in their baseball gear. These statues were originally strewn around town for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game. Being a Peanuts fan, I found these statues to be quite whimsical and I enjoyed checking them out.
Ticket prices: There is hardly a bad seat in this stadium. I should know because I saw the view from plenty of seats here, but more on that later. When I arrived, I knew there were thousands of great seats left, so I opted to buy a single ticket directly behind home plate in the top section of the ballpark. At least I got a ticket in a lower row, and for $25, that’s not too terrible of a price. To be perfectly honest, the ticket prices are pretty good across the board, despite being a newer stadium. When debating purchasing an upgrade, some of those upgrades were around $10 for a good field level seat. With the “At the Ballpark” app, I hadn’t yet purchased any type of upgrade throughout my travels. Next season, I think I will give this a try. However, for the purposes of this blog, I wanted to get a view of the entire stadium from high above home plate. Plus, I want part of the purpose of this blog to show fans that great seats don’t always have to be in the first row of field level. The first rows of an upper section usually yield some fantastic views. In addition, you are usually near the press box and get a view similar to how the broadcasters view the game. For this game, being in the top section has a couple other fantastic perks.
The workers: I usually don’t talk about the workers in depth in a section, but I have to give a special shoutout here. Before the first pitch, I thought I would look for the section that featured the minimalist ballpark art of S. Preston Art + Designs. I’ve plugged his art on the podcast from time to time, have given some to friends, and bought a huge art print featuring all thirty ballparks. Anyway, I found his display in the club level of Target Field. It took me asking three ushers to find out where this was located. Sadly, the first two ushers had no idea what the heck I was talking about. When I found it, I took a couple pictures of the wall before asking an usher to snap a picture of me with the artwork. I asked another worker for another picture, but this time in front of the Twins piece with Minnie and Paulie. I took out my phone to show that my background picture was of that same print on the wall!
One of those workers who was curious about why I had that same picture on my phone was a man named Dean. He asked if it was my first time at Target Field. When I answered affirmatively, he then asked where I was from and why I was visiting Minneapolis. When I told him the story, he was impressed and asked if I wanted to take a quick gander around a couple of the club areas. Dean was so helpful and kind that I immediately agreed. What was originally a three-minute club level tour would turn into wonderful stadium tour.
I started off seeing the Target Field model just outside the doors of the wonderful club level bars and restaurants. When I entered through the doors, I saw many glass exhibits commemorating great Twins of the past. One portion of this level features an area highlighting Kirby Puckett’s career. There are a couple glass cases full of artifacts from his playing career. I should now point out that every section of this level features a giant wood-etched drawing above the bar areas and they look beautiful. One of the best sections in the club level is the area dedicated to the great Harmon Killebrew. I only say that because I got to meet him a couple times, and he was gracious each time. Plus, how can you not like a section for a Hall-of-Famer who hit 573 home runs? Not only were there pictures and jerseys from his youth, but there were also murals and a replica of his 1969 MVP award.
I would soon find myself just outside the Herb Carneal Press Box. This is named after the long-time radio announcer for the Twins. For many years, he teamed up with another Twins announcing legend, John Gordon. I only heard Carneal a handful of times, and mostly remember John Gordon playing Wally Holland in the film, “Little Big League.” Either way, it was awesome just to walk by that press box. After checking out the view from a couple spots in that area, Dean and I made our way to the Town Ball Tavern. This place has great significance to someone from southern California. That’s because the wooden floor tiles are actually from the Minneapolis Armory where the Minneapolis Lakers played until 1960 before they moved to Los Angeles. This brought great joy to my face as I got to see and feel the floor where the great Lakers of the past played before entering the Hall of Fame. Honestly, this was a real treat.
Finally, after passing through Hrbek’s Restaurant in the lower deck, Dean led me down to a very exclusive area called the Champions Club where the price tag to enter is easily in the triple digits. In the lobby, there are small replicas of each statue outside the main gates. Also, this is the place where the two World Championship trophies stood. Yes, the Twins won two titles in 1987 and 1991, and before entering the club they shimmer in a fanciful manner. Finally, Dean would lead me to my actual seat right behind home plate, but not before making one final stop… and that’s just below where I was sitting to where the Twins’ organist played!
Her name is Sue Nelson, and she has been with the Minnesota Twins for over a decade. She sits above the press box and just below the upper deck seats behind home plate. She also keeps the window open so she can interact with the game, and also interact with a portion of the beloved Twins fans. This is one of the coolest features of any ballpark I’ve been to. Lucky for the Minnesota faithful, she is constantly on her organ. Even luckier, we don’t hear the constant blaring of pop songs that some fans despise. I’ve always been of the belief that any sporting event with a live organ is a hundred times better than hearing pop music. Sue is one of the friendliest people I’ve met during my travels and we talked for a few minutes before the game. She asked me about the different parks I had been to and what I had left. Watching her play some tunes was a big highlight of this visit, and I’m glad I got to witness this excellence. I bid farewell to Dean for now and gave him a huge thanks. He is another employee of the Twins that went above and beyond. Thank you!
The food: Two words… JUICY LUCY! I had this before the game, and the only way I can describe this is pure bliss. For those that don’t live in the immediate Minneapolis area, this is a hamburger with cheese… inside the hamburger patty! The cheese oozes out after a huge bite. This thing is for real and a must-get. In addition to that, I sauntered over to the State Fair Classics section to see the local foods. I considered the walleye on a stick, but I have to admit that I wasn’t in any mood for local fish. Instead, I opted for another food item that I hadn’t seen anywhere else: fried cheese curds! At only six bucks, this is not a joke. The worker there filled my tray past the brim and they were just filled with cheese curd deliciousness. Because this item was still hot, even more cheese poured out from the fried batter. I have to admit, I was in food heaven and would have to wait until the middle of the game to get some more food.
I decided to really explore Target Field in the middle of the game and check out the seating from different sections of the park just to get a different perspective. Really, there isn’t a bad seat in the house, especially from the field level. The view from the bleachers are better than most parks. One major plus for this ballpark is near the flagpoles. One of those flagpoles is from the old Metropolitan Stadium where the Twins first played until 1981. Also, behind those flagpoles lies a water cooler with disposable cups. Folks, with the humidity in the Midwest, this is a BLESSING! More ballparks need to do this because watching games can get quite warm, and fans need water! Seriously, places like Atlanta need to get on this. Water coolers do not cost much, teams can spend the money on this.
While I explored left field, I finally went to the Red Cow Fine Burgers stand where they had gourmet sliders at $8.50 for one and $14 for two. I ended up getting two 60/40 Bacon Burgers with chips, and while the price may seem a bit high, these are high-quality burgers that are cooked very well. After that purchase, I finally found a stand that sold some Killebrew Root Beer for five bucks a pop. A tip for those of you that have a car: you can buy a four-pack of Killebrew root beer and cream soda for about three bucks at local supermarkets! Yes, this was a huge deal to me considering that Harmon Killebrew is a favorite classic player of mine.
The game: Oh yeah, there was a game going on! At the time, this was a fairly important game between the Rangers and Twins who were both about three games out of a wild card spot behind the Angels in the American League. With the Angels having to face the Royals later in the week, either team could jump in and take that wild card spot. One hot streak could send either of these teams in the postseason and send either the Astros or Angels packing for early tee times. Texas would strike first on an Elvis Andrus two-run home run. That two-run lead would hold for most of the game. In fact, the score remained 2-0 in favor of the Rangers for a long time.
The game was moving at a fairly quick pace as base runners were kept to a minimum. It was a good thing I went to get some food and explore during the 4th and 5th inning because there wasn’t much action going on. The Twins would have runners at the corners in the bottom of the 6th inning via a Miguel Sano hit. However, Minnesota couldn’t plate any runs and they remained without a run. Shortly after that, it was stretch time at Target Field! The organist, Sue, would play along “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and this crowd gets into it. I can tell she is beloved by the Twins fans that were there. After a couple quick “three up, three down” half-innings, I decided to leave my seat and make my way back down to where Sue Nelson and her organ resided. Since some of the fans were leaving before the bottom of the 8th inning, I was able to easily make my way down to where her booth was. She smiled and welcomed me back!
Maybe I changed the luck of the Twins by changing locations because after Eduardo Escobar reached second base on a walk and passed ball, Joe Mauer slugged an RBI double to left field to cut the Rangers’ lead in half. Finally, the crowd was getting into the game and here was a golden opportunity for the Twins. After working into a full count, hot-hitting Miguel Sano ripped a game-tying double deep into right field. Target Field finally erupted, and this moment produced the loudest cheers of the night. The inning would end in a tie, and I was ready to open up my “walk-off challenge” once again. For those that haven’t played along, if a game I attend is tied going into the bottom of the 9th inning, I will offer up a prize from the ballpark I’m at to anyone who can correctly guess who is going to hit the game-winning hit of their respective teams. This time, I had a couple people play along as the game was still tied going into the bottom of the 9th inning.
The Twins quickly got two outs in the bottom of their frame, but a walk to Kurt Suzuki would give the fans some hope. With Spencer Patton pitching to Eduardo Escobar, the count went full. Finally, Escobar drove the ball deep nearly hitting the ball out towards the right field overhanging terrace. Suzuki ran on contact and quickly raced home to give Escobar a walk-off RBI double, and put the Twins in the win column! The funny thing about this was that Sue told me before the inning started that she always hopes for a Twins win, and I was hoping for something dramatic to happen. About twenty seconds after the winning run scored, she said, “Well… you got the walk-off you were hoping for!” That was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip… right there!
Right as the organ was playing courtesy of Sue Nelson, I checked my phone only to see that someone actually guessed correctly on the walk-off challenge! This meant an extra trip to the team store that I had passed by earlier in the evening. I had to give congratulations to Jim Williams on actually winning the challenge and guessing correctly.
After taking a few pictures and saying goodbye to Sue Nelson, I said goodbye to the rest of the ushers and workers, and they were all so courteous in wishing me a good night. Entering the team store, people are greeted with a large line score showing the final result from that night’s game. Apparently, those panels are put up by hand by the workers at the team store! This team store features the artwork from S. Preston, specifically the neon sign in center field, as well as fantastic post cards that I got for a buck. Aside from sending some mail, I bought myself a big coffee table book titled, “The Twins at the Met” by Bob Showers. Normally, I wouldn’t buy such a big book, but this was on sale for only $10?!? I couldn’t believe my eyes as I had seen this book on sale for over $25 a couple years back. As someone who enjoys the history of baseball stadiums, this was a must-buy at that price. Finally, I had to buy something unique to Target Field that didn’t only include a Twins logo for Jim. I settled on a Target Field magnet that was in the shape of the state of Minnesota. Overall, I spent less than $40 at the team store, and walked out of there happy!
On my way out, I happily took some pictures of the statues outside the entrances, including the Harmon Killebrew statue. There are several statues, plaques, and artwork outside Target Field that is picture-worthy. Seeing all that was a fitting ending to a fantastic evening. Target Field exceeded my expectations, and I would visit here again in a heartbeat. Overall, the food quality was better than I thought, the workers are among the best in the majors, and ticket prices are excellent. Also, live organ music is always a big plus in my book. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a place that should be visited by everyone and I mean that. After an exciting walk-off, I was ready to sleep as much as possible and get on that open road towards Missouri. I only had two ballparks to go! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel… I’m almost there!