Twins fans celebrate return of outdoor baseball

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Freed from the stuffy, dim interior of the Metrodome, Twins fans breathed deeply of fresh air as outdoor Major League Baseball returned to Minnesota after a 28-season absence.

“This is the way baseball is supposed to be played,” softball coach John Warling of Cottage Grove said Monday as he sat with his 12-year-old daughter, Gwen, before Minnesota’s home opener against the Boston Red Sox at sparkling new Target Field.

“It’s the smells, the unpredictability of the weather,” Warling added. “It’s just awesome.”

Warling’s daughter, who was about to see her first outdoor baseball game, also got into the spirit — she had braces of red and blue, the Twins’ colors, put on her lower front teeth last week.

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Hundreds of fans decked out in Twins uniforms bearing the names of their favorite players swarmed the plaza outside Target Field hours before the first pitch at 3:13 p.m. CDT. They snapped photos of Target Field’s limestone exterior and of a just-unveiled statue of the late Twins slugger Kirby Puckett, his fist raised in triumph.

Outside Gate 29, named for former Twins great Rod Carew’s number, a cheer went up when the gate opened and a Dixieland band played the “We’re Going to Win Twins” theme. Smells of hot dogs, beer and kettle corn filled the air.

Skies were blue with puffy clouds before game time, with the National Weather Service forecasting a 30 percent chance of rain. But Twins fans said they didn’t mind if it rained — it was all part of watching baseball in the open air.

Marshall Freeman, of St. Paul Park, said he’s willing to get “soaking wet” as long as the Twins play.

At the time of the first pitch from Twins right-hander Carl Pavano, it was 65 degrees with a light wind out of the southeast.

Monte and Cindy Bender of Sioux Falls, S.D., brought their 5-year-old son Jacob, who wore his Joe Mauer shirt. Monte Bender was keeping a vow he made when the Twins’ stadium bill was signed years ago that they’d be there for the first game. And while he’s been keeping an eye on the weather for a week, Monte Bender said, “I don’t think weather would have kept us from here.”

Former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, who played in two World Series at the Metrodome, said last week that he now embraces outdoor baseball.

“Believe me, I loved the Dome. I had some great memories there, but after becoming a fan I could see it wasn’t the greatest place to watch a baseball game. We’re pent up enough inside in Minnesota,” Hrbek said.

Bryan Spratt, 26, of Minneapolis and his friend, Tony Carlson of St. Louis Park, struck poses on either side of the Puckett statue.

“We can see the ball. Even if it rains, it’s better,” said Spratt, who has a 20-game package this year.

Carlson, who was going to celebrate his 27th birthday at the game, said he doesn’t worry about rain.

“We’re from Minnesota. We got plenty of rain gear. We fish, we hunt,” he said.

Rick Mathisen, 50, of St. Paul and his son Corey, 25, of White Bear Lake wore Twins caps as they walked to Target Field.

“It’s great. It’s unbelievable,” Rick Mathisen said. “I can’t believe it. They put it right here, and it fit nice. It’s very intimate, fan-friendly. It’s player friendly. It’s perfect.”

For Rick Mathisen, there’s no comparison between the open air of Target Field and the sterile atmosphere of the Metrodome.

“The Dome served its purpose,” he said, “but it was more ‘a game.’ It wasn’t intimate, it wasn’t friendly. It wasn’t warm, inviting to you.”

Mathisen, a former baseball coach who remembers Twins games at the old Metropolitan Stadium, said he didn’t think he’d see the day when the Twins would play home outdoor games again.

“It’s nice to be outside — fresh air,” he said. “More than just a game — it’s coming home.”

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