You can read about the Twins’ exciting — if ultimately disappointing — 3-2, 11-inning loss at Baltimore to open the season in other parts of this newspaper, but we are going to turn our attention to an interview with Twins President Dave St. Peter, discussing everything that is new with the Twins front office and ballpark operations for this season.
It’s incredible that this is already the team’s ninth season at Target Field, and St. Peter said the Pohlad family has continued to try and find ways to improve the facility. The Twins home schedule begins next Thursday against Seattle.
This year, the Twins have made the main entrances of Gate 29 and Gate 34 more user-friendly, trying to eliminate the bottleneck of fans that often happened there at the beginning and end of games.
“[Owner] Jim Pohlad and the Pohlad family have pushed us to seek ways to make the experience here even better,” St. Peter said. “This year our focus has been largely in right field at the intersection of Gate 29 and Gate 34 and we have done a number of different things.
“We’ve worked to widen that concourse, adding about 1,500 square feet of space. It has created a much better experience for ingress and egress. It has also created some really new dynamic standing-room areas that offer some very solid sight lines.”
On top of the new concourse, the team also has replaced the Metropolitan Club, which was only available to season-ticket owners, with Bat and Barrel, which will be open to anyone with a ticket to the game. They also will have a tap wall, which will have 22 local beers, something St. Peter said is a big hit with the fans.
“All in, we’re talking about a $15 million investment, $10 million directly from the Twins, $5 million from the ballpark fund,” he said. “We think that our fans are going to love those additions to our ballpark when they see them on Opening Day.
“The efforts in this offseason have been aimed at improving that — enhancing that experience for more than 60 percent of our fans who go through these gates to come into our ballpark or go through those gates to leave the ballpark. I think that is a big deal.”
Fans coming back
The story of attendance at Target Field had been one of diminishing returns until last year.
While the team opened with 3.2 million fans in 2010, the team dropped in attendance every season from 2011 to 2016, as the Twins had five miserable seasons in that stretch. But attendance finally rose last season, going from 1.9 million in 2016 to just over 2.05 million in 2017.
St. Peter said that with a competitive team there is a strong belief that number will rise again in 2018.
“We’re pleased with the engagement of our fans going into the season. We have seen a nice increase in our season ticket base. I think it will be somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 full-season equivalents come Opening Day,” he said. “We’re certainly on pace to exceed our attendance levels of 2017 and I’m hopeful we’ll ultimately land somewhere between 2.2 and 2.3 million fans in total.”
The first year in Target Field the Twins ranked third in the AL and despite losing a small number of fans they jumped to second in the league in 2011. That was their best mark league-wide since the 1988 season at the Metrodome when they became the first AL team to eclipse 3 million fans. But since 2011 their rankings in the AL kept falling, dropping to 11th out of 15 teams in 2016 before jumping to 10th last season.
“I just think there is a lot of excitement and energy around the Minnesota Twins and our young core players and the additions we made this offseason,” St. Peter said. “[Former commissioner] Bud Selig used to always tout that you need hope and faith, and I think there is a lot of hope and faith when people think about the Minnesota Twins for 2018 and beyond.”
There have always been rumblings that the Pohlads didn’t want to spend on the Twins, this despite the fact that for years, former General Manager Terry Ryan said the family never denied a request for a contract if he made it.
St. Peter said that the new baseball operations staff, led by Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine, have found the Pohlads just as open to payroll discussions.
“The Pohlad family and Jim in particular have always been part of the solution here, not part of the problem,” St. Peter said. “They are more than willing to continue to invest in this franchise and that includes maybe most importantly our baseball operations. I think Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the plan that they have both for on the field and off the field, I think they would say that Jim has been everything they could have hoped.”
While a lot of people are focused on free agents such as first baseman Logan Morrison and pitchers Lance Lynn, Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed and Zach Duke, St. Peter said the team has made equally big moves behind the scenes.
“There has been a tremendous effort to build out the infrastructure of our organization, both in systems and technology but maybe more importantly people,” St. Peter said. “That work is ongoing. In terms of the major league team, I think Derek Falvey and Thad Levine and others across our baseball operations deserve credit for being patient and being prudent and being strategic in building out a team that we think is poised to compete in 2018.”
Falvey’s new vision
There was no doubt that when the Pohlads made the decision to move on from Ryan, they were looking for a change in how the front office was run, while still keeping a lot of the staff together.
St. Peter said Falvey has been doing that and the vision for the team is starting to come into focus in Year 2.
“We have been able to add some quality talent within our front office, across our scouting group, our player development. Some people who have been here a long time are in new roles and I think have been energized by those new roles,” he said. “I think we’re starting to see the benefit of Derek Falvey’s vision for evidence-based decision-making and maybe a new way of doing some things across baseball operations — in terms of collaboration between departments, utilization of new technology and different metrics and you know at the end of the day trying to build a foundation here that ensures the long term sustainable success of our franchise.”