Experts said the ballpark's design elements set a high standard for handicapped access.
The brat and beer were similar to ones Bruce Burchett had savored at the Metrodome, but the view from his seat at Target Field was something else again.
"People can stand up and I'm able to see," he said.
A big deal? It is if you're in a wheelchair, like Burchett, and you've been consigned for years to sitting behind the bouncing backsides of fans cheering the game-winning home run.
Perhaps the most overlooked accolade among those piled on the Minnesota Twins' new ballpark is how well it caters to people with disabilities.
Dominic Marinelli, a national consultant who has worked on a number of new stadiums, called Target Field "the most accessible one in the country."
"It sets a standard for the next ones,'' said Marinelli, vice president for accessibility services with New York-based United Spinal Association. "We're trying to use tricks from Target Field at Madison Square Garden [currently under renovation]."
It worked last week for Burchett of Fridley, who attended a day game against Boston with his wife, Linda, daughter Bridgett and grandson Trent Chromy.
The rail before him was well below eye level, unlike some that obstruct wheelchair users at the Metrodome. His perch was well above the jumping fans in front. An outlet box to recharge electrical wheelchairs was nearby, as they are in accessible seating areas throughout the ballpark.
Not only that, the brat was pretty good.
"I've got a very positive impression," Burchett said.
Margot Imdieke Cross, an accessibility specialist with the Minnesota State Council on Disability, said ballpark planners agreed early in the process not to settle for the bare minimum. The first step was to form the Target Field Access Advisory Committee, which included Imdieke Cross and 19 others who developed design recommendations.
Getting it right was important to the Twins because that's the team's philosophy and it cares what the public thinks, said Ed Hunter, project manager for the Minnesota Ballpark Authority.
In addition, the Metrodome was built before the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. Target Field was a controversial project built with public dollars, and the Twins knew they had one chance to get it right.
"We were going to do everything in our power to absolutely satisfy the local community here," Hunter said.
Consider how the ballpark entrances address the requirement that all new public facilities meet federal and state standards promoting accessibility and convenience for persons with disabilities. The state of Minnesota requires that three of every five entrances be wheelchair accessible; the feds say half.
But at Target Field, every gate is accessible for people in wheelchairs.
When steps looked to be necessary for the ballpark approach from 1st Avenue, project partners worked with Target Corp. to make the plaza one big long ramp instead.
Inside, there are nearly 800 accessible seats available at all ticket levels. All elevators and restaurants accommodate wheelchairs. Most larger restrooms have more than one accessible stall, and there are eight family restrooms where people can get private assistance. Stalls are provided for people who can walk but might need grab bars.
Among other features, some that likely would go unnoticed by fans who don't need them:
•All concession counters are 8 inches lower than usual, 34 inches high, to help customers in wheelchairs and shorter people. Many include signs in Braille or large print for sight-impaired fans.
•Speaker boxes at ticket windows were placed below the agent's mouth so fans who are deaf can read their lips. Ticket windows have amplification devices that agents can use to transmit to a buyer's hearing aid.
•Fans who are hard of hearing can read the ballpark announcer's messages on captioning boards along the foul lines overlooking left and right field. Assisted listening devices to transmit ballpark audio are available for free.
•There are two elevators, not one, at Target Field's rail station. That was done to make sure fans in wheelchairs coming in from the Northstar commuter line, which runs below the ballpark, won't be stranded if a single elevator breaks down.
•Curb cuts that are supposed to be 3 feet wide are double that in places near the ballpark so wheelchair users don't have to fight with pedestrians to cross the street.
•Drop-off areas for Metro Mobility and vehicles showing handicapped stickers are located on N. 7th Street at Gate 14, behind home plate, and the right field entrance at Gate 29.
Going in any door
Marinelli, who began working in 2006 with the Twins on the new ballpark, said several features already are influencing accessibility design in other stadiums.
The assisted-hearing devices in ticket windows will become a national requirement and part of the international building code in 2012, he said. Even little touches, such as removable armrests on some ballpark seats to accommodate larger fans, are getting noticed.
Last week, Alex Stoiaken enjoyed a game with her boyfriend, Ryan Fromm, from their wheelchairs. Stoiaken, an Augsburg College freshman, and Fromm, an adaptive athletics coach at Bloomington Kennedy High School, said they loved their seats. "It's a great view and great food," Stoiaken said.
Fromm's mother, Joanna, of Excelsior, nodded. "We had 20-game season tickets at the Dome and the beer guys would get in your way," she said. "They still did a good job, but this is awesome. You can go in any door."
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455