Miler: Target Field from head to toe

Posted: April 12, 2010, 12:05 a.m. CT

By Phil Miller

MINNEAPOLIS — The same weekend the iPad became the new must-have for techies, Target Field became the must-see for those of us — and there are a lot of us, it seems — who collect ballparks. So I wasn’t surprised when I heard from my Ballpark Friend last weekend, the guy who has nearly completed his own around-the-majors checklist, many times with me as tour guide.

And his first question was predictable, too: What’s it like?

There are a lot of answers, aren’t there? The steep centerfield seats, almost hanging over the field, remind me of Fenway. The way the left-field levels stack upon each other is reminiscent of the old Busch Stadium, and maybe Petco Park. The way the playing field seems dug into the ground from street level, that took me back to Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The bullpen views are Safeco-esque, and the entrance plaza with the skyline behind is straight out of Progressive Field in Cleveland, albeit in right field instead of left. The evergreens growing in the batting eye are similar to those at Coors Field. The way you can walk along the outfield concourse and still see the game from just about anywhere, that’s like Philadelphia or San Francisco. And the canopy is from an episode of the Jetsons.

It’s time to trade notes, Minnesota. What did you think? The weekend exhibition games couldn’t have been more perfect for exploring, because the weather was spectacular for April — seriously, don’t those mid-60s temperatures almost ensure a blizzard on Opening Day? — and the games were meaningless. I spent Friday night checking out the clubhouse, dugout and press box, and Saturday in the stands, watching the first four innings in the upper deck and the rest of the game wandering around, getting to know the place. I certainly wasn’t alone; the concourses had the feel of a trail through a nature park, with people just out for a stroll.

So what did you think? I want to hear the good and the bad; descriptions from the Twins got a little hyperbolic, with words like “perfect” and “greatest ever.” Can’t blame them, because by comparison with the grungy, depressing digs at the Metrodome, Target Field is heaven. And it’s pretty close, maybe an 8 or 9 on a 10-point scale. But Target Field isn’t really for the players, is it? It’s for us, the paying customers. So take a look at my observations, complaints and compliments, and then chime in with yours in the comments section below.

First of all, a general observation: The ballpark really is smaller than most, and it’s amazing how much the builders have shoehorned onto the property without making it seem claustrophobic. I had worried that Target Field would seem cramped like Fenway can in certain spots, but that’s not the case at all. Rather, it gives the impression of a pie crust, like they had to turn things up at the edges to make it fit. From a distance, it seems about half the size of sprawling facilities like Citizen’s Bank Ballpark or Camden Yards or especially the monolithic Yankee Stadium. But once inside, you never feel constricted. (Well, there’s one exception that we’ll get to in a moment, but it has nothing to do with the size of the park.) The upper deck is steep and the half-stairs seem made for tripping, but that’s not uncommon in newer parks.

The architect was quoted in the Star Tribune as calling the design “a muffin,” and from the upper deck, with that high wall looming over the right fielder, that’s really true. The playing field appears to be sunken, walled in by the steep stands around it, which is an interesting effect. I like it; it doesn’t have that breezy, wide-open feel that parks like San Diego or Los Angeles have, but it does have the effect of focusing you on the action. (By the way, the Twins insist the right-field wall is the same height as the baggie in the Dome, but does it look that way to you? Must be an optical illusion, because in my mind’s eye, the baggie loomed about twice as high.)

I had worried that Target Field might have an access problem, since such a huge proportion of the crowd will be coming from one direction, from downtown. And that appears to be the case — both Friday and Saturday, a bottleneck was created as the plaza narrows into the concourse near gates 3 and 29. (I suppose it’s a nice touch to name the gates for the retired numbers, but that’s going to confuse out-of-towners, like airport terminals named Lindbergh and Humphrey, isn’t it?) It was impossible to move for several minutes near those entrances; a 100-foot walk from the gate to the escalators took nearly 15 minutes, and people standing in lines for the concession stands were getting upset. Actually, everybody was. My advice for future games, until the Twins figure out a solution: Walk past the plaza and enter at gate 14, behind home plate.

That crush of people wasn’t so bad after the game, but a big fraction of the crowd left early. A game decided in the bottom of the ninth, where everyone leaves at once, might make it difficult to leave — think Metrodome after a Vikings game. I was happy to see the Twins did a good job of keeping the lower-concourse crowds away from the bottom of the escalators, because that can be dangerous. Some fans were injured at Coors Field a few years ago because fans getting off the escalator had nowhere to go, and the traffic jam piled people on top of each other. A suggestion, though: There was a pedestrian ramp next to the escalators, but no signage directing fans over there. Had we known there was an alternative to being herded to the escalators, lots of folks would have taken that alternative, relieving some of the pressure. How about a sign?

A couple of other things I noticed about entering the park: The statues of the Hall of Famers are excellent, but they sure seem like they’re a long way from the park. I guess the idea is they mark the perimeter of the grounds, but it just seemed like Rod Carew was batting a block from the park. Also, it was great to see the effect the spillover had on downtown. There were fans everywhere, crowding the bars and restaurants and making the place seem alive. Heck, there were more people in front of Target Center for a Twins’ game than a Wolves’ game.

Back to the stadium: I’ve never seen a park with so many terrific standing-room views. There may be lots of people walking around during a nice summer’s night, because I scouted locations in all three decks, from all vantage points, and found a bunch of great spots to stop. My theory is the limited seating capacity means that the seating areas are several rows shorter at Target Field than most parks, because you’ve got great views from behind the seats almost everywhere. The edge of the plaza is an obvious standing-room spot, and the left-field railing is good too. I went into one of the upper-deck bars and watched a couple of batters from a window there. (Quick complaint: the tables for standing and eating are wobbly. Nearly spilled my beer.) I stood in the left-field corner in the upper deck for a half-inning, and couldn’t believe that the game didn’t seem distant at all.

My favorite spot: For some reason, when I stood behind the seats on the lowest left-field deck, I felt like I was standing beside Delmon Young. Maybe it’s the tunnel effect, because the overhang blocks your view of the sky, but I felt on top of the action. Loved that spot.

The bullpens are part of the show, now, too, though not as much as in some ballparks. There’s a space between the railing and the wall that prevents fans from leaning over the bullpen — probably not a bad idea. (By the way, that space exists in the front row of the outfield seats, too, so while it looks from the infield seats like fans can reach over and steal home runs, Jeffrey Maier-style, I don’t think it’s actually posslble. If you sat in the outfield, let me know if I’m wrong about that.)

The only places to actually look down at the bullpen are on the sides, and the side closest to the foul pole has seats. The only place to wander over and watch the bullpen is from behind the mound, and it’s sort of a wait-your-turn experience. But once you’re up front, it feels like you’re directly on top of the pitcher. Interesting, and worth stopping for a look.)

There was a definite, steady wind-tunnel effect going on in a few spots in center field, and the fans unfortunate enough to be sitting in the wrong place — really, five feet in either direction seemed to make a big difference — looked a little beleaguered. It was uncomfortable, annoying and really really cold in some places. I’ll be interested to see if that effect lasts when the weather is a little warmer, and whether it’s always in the same place. Bleacher rats, let me know below.

Plenty has been written about the ballpark food, and I was impressed with the couple of items I tried. Had a steamed bratwurst because I didn’t want to brave the long lines for the grilled ones, but it was fine, helped a lot by the fresh bun. My advice, and it’s pretty universal at all ballparks: If you can wait a few innings to have dinner, do so. The lines got a little long in the upper deck, and I heard some complaints about how slow things were moving. But they were almost gone by the fifth inning.

The men’s rooms got a little crowded, too, and the three I checked out weren’t as spacious as at some parks. There are going to be some lines, in other words, especially between innings, so plan accordingly. One ran out of paper towels, too, a real annoyance.

The experience itself is mostly positive. There wasn’t an all-out assault with commercials, as you get in some parks (I’m looking at you, Hal Steinbrenner), and the music wasn’t obnoxiously loud. Some of the players’ choices for batting music are a little jarring (but nothing as shocking as what they play in their clubhouse, believe me). I’m glad the Twins kept an organist — whose keyboard is located in one of the upper-deck bars, by the way, so stop by with requests — because that adds a nice old-time-baseball touch.

The Budweiser deck looked interesting, but for all the hype about the fire pit located up there, it’s pretty clear you’ll have to be up there to know it’s there. A cool feature, but it doesn’t figure to be an iconic image, just because you can’t see it from around the park. Same goes for the huge Twins logo sign in center field. The sign itself is cool, a terrific touch to connect the team with its past. But the hand-shaking home-run “celebration”? Way too subtle. You have to watch awfully closely to even notice that it’s happening. Cute idea, but it’ll probably come across better on TV than in person.

The scoreboard is awesome, high-def and huge, and there are all kinds of boards keeping track of all kinds of stats. One complaint: balls-strikes-outs on the main scoreboard are sort of wedged in between the linescore and the Twins-o-Gram board, labeled B-S-O, and you don’t pick up that most basic information at a glance. Many scoreboards almost exaggerate those numbers, making them huge. I wish the Twins could find room to make them a little more obvious. And the scoreboard operator must be learning the ropes, because it sometimes took a pitch or two to the next batter before runs were added to the board.

So what about you? What did you think? It was a great weekend of exploring, and I’m anxious to hear what you found, good and bad. Chime in below!

Follow Phil Miller on Twitter @fsnorthmiller