The Twins could not have imagined a first half of 2019 like the one they are having. They are off to the best start in club history and hitting at a historic pace, and fans are starting to return to the ballpark.
Through May 5, when the Twins wrapped up a four-game homestand with Houston, the team had drawn only 269,493 fans through 16 home games, averaging 16,843 per game.
Wednesday, the team played its 37th home game, vs. Boston. In the 21 home dates since that Astros series ended, the club drew 632,192 fans, an average of 30,104 fans per game.
And the simple fact is that even as the club is going through a tough stretch — until Thursday, it hadn’t gone worse than 3-3 over any six-game stretch this season — the Twins still hold a sizable lead in the AL Central and have the best record in the AL.
“The team has gotten off to such a tremendous start, and often when we see that there’s kind of a lag between when it kind of catches up with fans actually getting out to the park,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said about the recent surge in attendance. “The weather didn’t help that. But you know, the market is energized. People are excited about this team. I think they see a path towards continued success, not just in the regular season but I think we all dream of that success in October.”
What does St. Peter see for ticket sales going forward? “We still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We lost a couple thousand season tickets year over year from last year, but what we’ve seen in the last 30 days is really impressive from a fan perspective. We have sold more single-game tickets, more group tickets, in the last 30 days than in really any point in Target Field history. I’m encouraged and I’m hopeful that we’re going to push north of 2 million in total attendance, and I’d like to get to 2.1, 2.2.
“Coming off of last year, we drew just shy of 2 million, and I think that would be a good goal for us. Ultimately we want to get back to that 2.5 million mark, because I believe that’s where this market should be, particularly with a good baseball team.”
When the Twins opened Target Field in 2010, owner Jim Pohlad told me that fans would stop coming to the ballpark if the club did not win.
And that has proved true. The simple fact is that the Twins haven’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 2009-10, and attendance has dipped.
Payroll, free agency moves
Nearly every major contender figures to be looking to add some pitchers as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, and the Twins are no exception.
St. Peter said that while the team hasn’t made any moves yet, he believes the Twins will be aggressive and payroll won’t be a hurdle. The club ranks 20th in team payroll in Major League Baseball at $121.5 million.
“The circumstances are such that the group of players that we have here today, a lot of those guys over time are going to require us to make incremental decisions and investments, frankly, to keep them in Twins uniforms,” he said. “We certainly have a vision here to try to keep this group together, try to be smart about it as we go forward. But I can assure you that the Pohlad family is committed to winning.
“We have work to do this year, and I think we’ll aggressively pursue improvements to this team going forward. If that means taking on payroll, so be it.”
Does he have an inkling if the team will still look for position players?
“I’m not going to suggest we won’t look at position players, but we’re probably going to be more focused on pitching and that’s going to be our priority going forward,” St. Peter said. “I think [manager] Rocco [Baldelli] and our coaching staff and [Chief Baseball Officer] Derek Falvey and [General Manager] Thad Levine are really happy with where our offense is right now and I think our focus going forward is going to be to reinforce our pitching staff.”
This past week, Byron Buxton, Ehire Adrianza and Marwin Gonzalez went on the injured list. St. Peter said that the ability to call up players such as Luis Arraez, Jake Cave and Willians Astudillo shows part of the blueprint the club has for trying to compete over several years, not just this season.
“I think Jeremy Zoll, our farm director, probably doesn’t get enough credit. He came to us from the Dodgers organization and behind the scenes has just done a remarkable job of really working to shape our player development program,” St. Peter said. “It’s one of the reasons I’m so optimistic going forward, is I know we have depth, more depth than we have had, and that will prove to be valuable particularly going into the trade deadline.
“We might need to give up some of those assets to get something back. But also for 2020 and beyond, the opportunity to mesh what is currently here in Minnesota, which is going pretty well, with a group of players that have special opportunities going forward. I think that’s why hopefully 2019 is a period of sustained success. That is the goal. That is the vision. And we’re optimistic we can deliver on that.”
• Vikings assistant head coach Gary Kubiak on how former Washington coach Mike Shanahan’s system is helping him with Kirk Cousins: “The biggest thing is me watching Kirk, getting to know Kirk better each day. I had a little cheat sheet when I came in here, talking to Coach Shanahan, who worked with him for years. … It’s about me getting to know him as good as I possibly can and then working my tail off for him to put him in the best possible position to be successful.”
• Pro Football Focus recently published its ranking of the top 50 players in the NFL, and safety Harrison Smith was the lone Vikings player at No. 21. PFF also believes Everson Griffen is due for a big bounce-back year after the website rated him as the 10th-best pass rusher in the NFL in 2017. “Despite the year’s  challenges, Griffen still showed off his rare talent in bursts in 2018. He tallied three or more pressures in seven of the 11 games he played.”
• Coach P.J. Fleck and the Gophers football team brought a lot of recruits to campus recently. “This is a busy time because it’s a time for us to get live evals of 2020 recruits, but also 2021s, 2022s,” Fleck said. “It’s a very important time for us right now, and we are all over the country.” According to 247 Sports, the Gophers now rank 24th in the country in recruiting for the Class of 2020.
• Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke to reporters about his newest Minnesota signee, 6-9 Matthew Hurt of Rochester John Marshall: “Obviously Matthew can really score the ball. He is a gifted scorer. He can shoot, he can handle, he can play inside and out. He can score from a number of different positions and he’s a heck of a free-throw shooter.”
• Another Minnesota high school standout, Zeke Nnaji of Hopkins, made the USA Basketball Under-19 squad. Nnaji will play at Arizona beginning this fall.