Target Field powering up in Year 2

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Head groundskeeper Larry DiVito sprayed the infield Thursday as the Twins readied for the second Opening Day at Target Field. Team officials didn’t let a successful debut keep them from making changes.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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A new video board sits above the right field seats at Target Field, so fans in left field no longer will have to wrench their necks and backs while watching replays on the main scoreboard in left field.

But while they glance at the new addition to the still somewhat new park, they shouldn't expect to see a lot of home run replays -- the result of a team lowering its expectations in their pitcher-friendly park.

The Twins were 53-28 in Target Field last season -- the most home victories in the American League. While the club added a few things to the stadium for 2011, the fences weren't moved in to help the Twins hit more homers.

As a team, the Twins hit 142 homers last season -- but only 52 came at their shiny, new ballpark. First baseman Justin Morneau, in half a season before a concussion ended his campaign, hit 18 homers, four at home. Catcher Joe Mauer, coming off a career-high 28 homers in 2009, hit nine all of last year, including four at home.

Consequently, the players expressed concern over the dimensions. Behind the scenes, there was a request to move the fences in, which was turned down.

The club did acquiesce to concerns about the hitting background, leading to the removal of the 14 black spruce trees in center field and a new hitting background behind the fence.

Any other changes will be up to Twins hitters going into the second season at Target Field, which begins Friday when they play Oakland. A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 41,000 -- the record is 40,966 -- will squeeze into the park and see the latest enhancements for the first time.

What they might not see is enhanced power because the Twins now know what it's like to hit in Target Field.

"We probably just have to do better in situational hitting," Morneau said. "Instead of a three-run homer, we might end up with a double with runners on second and third. And you might have to move runners over more. It means we have to be better at that stuff."

Balls didn't carry from the start

Michael Cuddyer and other Twins said the problems started before the first pitch was thrown. The signals they picked up suggested that the ball would carry well at Target Field and would be conducive to home run hitting.

The Twins promotions department piled on, airing a commercial before Opening Day that had Mauer and Morneau bashing baseballs onto 1st Avenue.

"We expected to have such a greater hitter's park than the Metrodome,'' Cuddyer said.

Once the games began, the Twins were jolted into reality.

"It happened right away,'' Jason Kubel said. "I hit some good balls to left field, balls we all thought were going to get out before the season started, and it didn't work out.''

According to ESPN, Target Field ranked 30th last season in park factors, which compares the rate home runs are hit from park to park.

"You hear the ball is going to carry more than the Dome, that it is going to be a hitter's park,'' Cuddyer said. "[Target Field] was a good hitter's park. We scored a lot of runs in there. It just wasn't conducive to home runs."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he had to address his team's approach to hitting in the ballpark during the season when he heard complaints that the ball didn't carry the way they thought it would. Just hit the ball hard, he told them, and see what happens.

Does Gardenhire expect more of the same in Year 2?

"I honestly hope it stays the same because we won [53] games there,'' he said. "And I kinda like winning [53] games at home.''

'The agony of success'

Target Field drew nationwide accolades during its debut season in 2010. But the club tinkered with some of its features during the offseason.

In addition to the scoreboard, there's a Twins Tower in right field, more heaters and a new burrito on the menu.

"The agony of success,'' said Kevin Smith, Twins executive director of public affairs.

On the field, there was more speed in the lineup with Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who went down Thursday because of a fractured left fibula. But players such as Kubel have tinkered with their swings to adapt.

Kubel hit .300 with 28 homers and drove in 103 runs in the final season of the Dome. He struggled more than most Twins at Target Field, getting into bad habits that led his numbers to drop to .249-21-92.

"Hit it harder or pull it,'' Kubel said of the approach that got him in trouble.

Kubel was a .320 hitter in the minors, including a .343 average in 90 games at Class AA New Britain in 2004. So he changed his swing to the one he used to hit for a high average in the minors.

"This spring I hit a lot of line drives; it's pretty much all I worked on,'' said Kubel, who has started the season 7-for-21. "Pretty much what I used to be was a line drive hitter, gap to gap. I'm hoping to get back to that this year, and this park plays perfect for that.''

The Mets' David Wright hit just 10 home runs in 2009, five in the first year at Citi Field. He bounced back with 29 homers last year, 12 at home, and said he simply had to adapt to the ballpark.

"It's a big ballpark, a pitcher's ballpark, so you have to hit the ball in the gaps, go to all fields,'' he said during last season.

So it's possible for players to adjust to the park they spend 81 games in.

"We had high expectations for last year and it didn't work out that way,'' Kubel said. "So we know what to expect and have a different game plan.

"We played pretty well there last year, and hopefully we can improve on that."

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