The Twins will celebrate their 55th home opener on Monday with a little help from their basketball friends.
Kevin Garnett has long been scheduled to throw out the first pitch to buddy Torii Hunter, as both fan favorites have returned to the Twin Cities to finish out their esteemed careers.
“I’m pretty sure KG has a fastball,” Hunter said. “He might have looked like a pitcher when he was younger. He has a big body, and those long, lanky arms. He could probably throw it. … He might have to practice, though.”
Now Hunter and Garnett will be joined by someone who hopes to also have a long pro career, whenever it starts — Tyus Jones.
Jones, the standout guard from Apple Valley who helped Duke win the NCAA men’s basketball championship one week ago, also will take part in the first-pitch ceremony.
It’s just one of many events taking place before the Twins play host to the unbeaten Kansas City Royals in the latest home opener in Target Field’s six-year history — dressed in their new home whites without the pinstripes.
Gates will open at 1 p.m. for the 3:10 start. At that time the Twins will get to show off the new Barrio bar in left field that comes with lounge seating, huge television screens and USB ports. Twins President Dave St. Peter said it’s part of the Twins’ attempts to cater to younger fans who prefer not to be confined to standard stadium seating.
“The younger demographics don’t necessarily want a fixed seat,” St. Peter said. “They want spaces to move around, standing room type areas.”
At 2 p.m., the team will unveil a plaque in honor of longtime Twins executive Jerry Bell, who retired last year.
There was another unveiling the Twins had hoped to make on Monday — righthander Ervin Santana, the free-agent pitcher they signed for four years and $55 million. He was scheduled to pitch before testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug and being suspended for 80 games.
Santana was a big reason why the Twins felt they could avoid a fifth straight losing season — by overwhelming opponents with strong, six-inning starts by an improved rotation. But they’ve spent the past week or so explaining how they were going to move on and still compete following the embarrassing situation.
It’s the last thing they needed. This was a franchise that once had to cap it season-ticket sales at 25,000 because of demand. Since 2011, sales have dropped steadily. Based on approximate figures from the Twins, they went from around 19,000 in 2013 to 17,500 last year. This season, the Twins expect to sell between 13,000 to 14,000 season-ticket equivalents. The decline matches the run of four straight seasons of more than 90 losses — and for conspiracy theorists it began with the removal of the trees from behind the center field wall before the 2011 season.
Speaking to a group of fans gathered in the atrium of the Star Tribune office building on Friday for a baseball chat, St. Peter attempted to paint a better picture.
“I do believe if we play the way we are capable of playing,” he said, “we’re going to win our fair share of games.”
After a 1-5 start, Paul Molitor will manage his first home game since replacing Ron Gardenhire during the offseason.
“It’s the first time I’ll have the opportunity to be in this role in my hometown, my home ballpark,” Molitor said.
“It’ll be an emotional day, it’ll be a good day. Everyone is excited to be home after a long spring and opening on the road. Lot of positives about getting home, getting to play in front of our fans. Hopefully we have a good day.”
Staff writer Phil Miller contributed to this report.