Twins opener: Earliest one outdoors also could be the chilliest

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2013 - 1:05 PM

This season’s April 1 opener is the earliest, by almost a week, that the Twins have played an outdoor game in Minnesota, and only once before has Major League Baseball dared schedule a game here before April 8.

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April 21, 1972: Twins manager Bill Rigney checked out snowy Metropolitan Stadium in the last year the team delayed its opener.

Photo: Star Tribune file photo by Earl Seubert ,

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Visibility was near zero at times, so heavy was the thick snow falling in huge, wet flakes, and traffic was a chaotic mess. Dave St. Peter recalls watching the spring storm dump 4 inches on downtown Minneapolis as the Twins conducted their Opening Day festivities in 2008, just two years before they were set to move out of the always-cozy-and-dry Metrodome, and thinking, “Well, we asked for it.”

So at least the Twins aren’t ducking the blame.

“We understand it’s Minnesota, and there are going to be occasional challenges in April and October. It’s one of the trade-offs of playing outside,” St. Peter, the Twins’ president, said last week as another inclement opener approaches, this one without a roof to mitigate the weather. “I think it’s a trade-off most of our fans would make.”

He might find some minority opinions in the center-field bleachers Monday. When Vance Worley throws the season’s first pitch around 3:10 p.m., though it should be mostly sunny, the temperature in Target Field will be about 34 degrees, according to Paul Huttner, chief meteorologist for Minnesota Public Radio, and winds could be howling, likely from straight behind home plate, up to 20 miles per hour. “The canopy should shield most fans from the worst of the wind,” said Huttner, who estimates a windchill in the low- to mid-20s, “but the outfield seats may be brutal.”

Ah, baseball weather. Infielders wearing ear flaps, batters’ hands stinging from making contact in the cold, relief pitchers huddling around bullpen heaters. The Twins’ four-year-old transplant into Target Field feels glorious during T-shirts-and-shorts weather, but nobody ever suggested that baseball and winter are a good mix. And never before have the two been placed in such close proximity.

This season’s April 1 opener is the earliest, by almost a week, that the Twins have played an outdoor game in Minnesota, and only once before has Major League Baseball dared schedule a game here before April 8. No wonder that the 2013 opener, if it goes on as scheduled, will threaten the club record for coldest opener in history — a 33-degree first pitch on April 14, 1962, at Metropolitan Stadium, which only 8,363 hardy souls braved.

“When you’ve got 162 games to get in over six months, there’s not a lot of flexibility,” St. Peter said. The club has the right to postpone the opener to Tuesday’s scheduled day off — the decision will be made on Sunday, to give fans plenty of notice — but the forecast isn’t significantly different a day later, only a degree or two warmer and perhaps a few mph less windy. “We’ve studied the forecasts, but the weather probably isn’t so much better on Tuesday that it’s worth changing everyone’s plans,” St. Peter said Thursday evening, and there is no predetermined temperature that would force the Twins to call it off. “At this point, our plan is to go forward.”

Requested the road

Concession stands will stock far more soup, hot chocolate and coffee than usual, the team store is ready with turtlenecks and earmuffs, and the team will remind fans that radiant heaters are located behind every section of stands, throughout the concourses, “really, in every nook and cranny in the ballpark,” St. Peter said. The diamond itself is green and thriving, thawed by subsurface piping that has warmed the soil to roughly 65 degrees now, though a sun-deficient patch in right field may require resodding after the homestand.

On top of the dirt and grass, pitchers will take extra time “warming up,” if that’s even possible, “and we’ll have our bullpen guys walk around, keep the blood flowing, maybe go inside between innings,” said pitching coach Rick Anderson. “Nobody likes the cold, but we can deal with it. We’ll try to give them some extra time to get their arm loose.”

Some extra time would have been nice for everybody; say, another week or so. In each of their first three seasons in Target Field, the Twins started away from Minneapolis, and when MLB’s front office asked each team, as it does 18 months ahead of time each year, for requests, conflicts and suggestions about the schedule, Minnesota’s No. 1 wish was: Let us open on the road.

The problem? “Almost every team asks for the same thing,” said Katy Feeney, MLB’s senior vice president for club relations and scheduling. With children still in school, baseball largely out of the news and the most devoted fans focused on Opening Day, the rest of the first week is the most difficult ticket-selling stretch of the season.

“Minnesota is obviously going to be colder than Miami,” Feeney said, “but for business reasons, it’s not fair to the teams in domes or warm-weather cities to force them to open at home every year. We try to balance it as much as possible.”

That goes for the entire schedule, actually. The Twins’ 2013 slate is April-heavy, with 15 of their 26 games in the month at home; in 2012, they played only 11 home games (of 22) in April, just 10 (of 26) in 2011, and only nine (of 23) in 2010. On the other hand, MLB granted Minnesota’s request to clear the final week of May for the Big Ten baseball tournament and sent the Yankees to Target Field for four games over the Fourth of July, a huge moneymaker.

In the interest of fairness, one opener at home out of four “is reasonable,” St. Peter said. “The Twins’ organization can cope with that. We asked to have [this year’s opener] changed, but we understand it was our turn. We just believe that common sense would dictate that it not happen too often, because you can only mess with nature so many times before you pay for it.”

‘A state of mind’

The Twins actually have had remarkable luck with their openers; only three have been postponed, and the most recent was in 1972. Temperatures have been in the 60s or higher in half of their previous 24 outdoor openers, and Target Field opened in 2010 in dazzling 68-degree sunshine.

But the Twins understand they risk enormous disruption, too. In 2007, Cleveland tried to finish its opener in a blizzard, but the game was halted in the ninth inning, and the remaining five games of the home­stand were wiped out, forcing the Indians to move a three-game series with the Angels to Milwaukee. The Twins would seem to have a more local solution, but “I cannot imagine a scenario in which we would return to play regular-season games in the Metrodome,” St. Peter said of the Twins’ old home. “It’s not as easy as it would appear, due to the reality that the Dome no longer has an MLB-quality playing field,” with dirt cutouts in the infield and regulation home-run fences.

Besides, they’ve played through worse. Back in 1962, volunteers with shovels uncovered the tarp that protected Metropolitan Stadium’s infield, and sprinklers were turned on in the outfield to melt the 6 inches of snow that had fallen overnight. When standing water developed and the dirt congealed into icy mud, a helicopter was hired to hover over the diamond, in hopes of drying out the worst of it.

Trucks carted off the snow and ice that blanketed the stands and dumped their loads into a huge mountain just beyond the scoreboard in right-center field. “That pile was there for weeks,” said Tom Mee, the Twins’ media-relations director at the time. “We were lucky as hell to get that game in.”

The moisture meant they had to push the game back a day, then play the opener in freezing temperatures, one of the coldest games in major league history. Or as it was known at the old Met, football weather.

That’s the mentality Twins fans should take Monday, St. Peter said. “If this was mid-November at TCF Bank Stadium for a Gophers game with Wisconsin, people would dress appropriately and feel pretty good about it,” the Twins president said. “It’s a state of mind.”

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