FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Minnesota Twins are in the middle of two rebuilding projects.
The one on the field will mean integrating hitting prospects like third baseman Miguel Sano and outfielder Byron Buxton into the lineup, perhaps as soon as later this season. The Twins also will continue to develop pitching prospects like Alex Meyer and Trevor May, putting the pieces together for future American League Central Division contention.
The second reconstruction project is of the literal kind. It regards the 23-year-old Hammond Stadium and the Lee County Sports Complex, to which the franchise moved its spring training headquarters in 1991 from Orlando.
The initial construction cost $18.1 million.
The renovation project, built in two phases, will cost $48.5 million.
"It’s the equivalent of a brand new facility," Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter said.
Phase One will be finished in time for Minnesota’s first home Grapefruit League game, scheduled for 12:05 p.m. Saturday, March 1.
Phase One created an additional 1,236 seats around the outfield boardwalk. This includes a new grassy berm seating section behind the left-field fence, drink rails that circumnavigate the outfield and chair-back seats to the right of the tall green wall known as the "batter’s eye."
For the first time, fans will be able to watch a game from behind the outfield.
They will be able to capture a completely different gameday atmosphere, St. Peter said.
"One of our goals was to enhance the fan experience," he said. "It’s going to give fans a lot more room to breathe — room to spread out and be more a part of the game. We’re very excited about that."
Phase One also includes a renovated minor-league clubhouse with a new hydrotherapy room and a new trainer’s room. Those are located adjacent to a new, 54-room dormitory slated to open in May. That portion of the project was funded by the Twins with $6 million.
The Manhattan Construction company also built a grassy hill — hills are pretty much nonexistent in Southwest Florida — for Twins players to use during conditioning drills.
The state of Florida funded $15 million, and Lee County footed $27.5 million of the project, which also includes a new baseball field located behind the dormitory in a spot that one year ago was used as a water retention pond. The new field will be used by the Gulf Coast League Twins.
"This was one major project," said Bruce Miller, principal and project manager for the architectural firm Populous, which also designed JetBlue Park, spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.
Miller began working with the Twins eight years ago during construction of Target Field.
"It’s really gone by fast," Miller said.
The project temporarily will boost Hammond Stadium’s capacity from 7,500 to about 9,300. That number will fall next season, to about 8,500, because the existing upper level bleacher seats will be converted into the wider, green chair-back seats on the lower level.
St. Peter said he wasn’t sure if an untouchable attendance record could be reached this spring training. The Twins set a single-game, paid attendance record last March 22, drawing 8,366 for the New York Yankees.
"Never say never," St. Peter said of reaching 9,300 fans this year. "To be honest, we want to make sure we have adequate parking. We want to get a feel for the new normal here — how fans are going to move through the facility.
"It’s all about fan experience. We don’t want to do anything that would impede the experience for our fans. This is the equivalent of a brand new facility. Fan experience tops attendance records every single time."
The Twins signed a lease to remain at the Lee County Sports Complex through 2045.
Phase Two construction will begin as soon as spring training ends and is scheduled to be finished in time for when pitchers and catchers report in 2015.
Phase Two includes: Expanding the concourse on the front side of the stadium, blasting out the existing gift shop, converting that space into a grand entrance to the ballpark, construction of a new gift shop, creating new luxury suites and expanding big-league clubhouse.
"We’re very excited about our long-term future in Lee County," said St. Peter, whose team will lease the complex through at least 2045. "We’re enhancing what has already been one of the best fan experiences in the Grapefruit League."