In 2010, Target Field became the place to be for Twins fans. The picturesque stadium became more than most Twins fans ever could have hoped for. If you have yet to see Target Field in person, I certainly recommend it and assume most in the chat room would agree.
Right now, as the Twin Cities are shoveling out from yet another snow downfall (and another one coming later this week?), the place to be for Twins fans is Ft. Myers, Florida. If you are reading this site, you know that the Twins spring training facility is located in the southwest Florida community. Along with getting out of the cold, fans are closer to the action in Ft. Myers than you might even believe. You can watch the players on the practice fields and even interact with them between sessions as they walk between fields. You can go to their spring training games or walk the back fields and watch more practice. Minor league fans would really enjoy getting an opportunity to see some of the top prospects working out.
Of course, if you can't travel now, Ft. Myers remains a great destination for Twins fans throughout the season. The Twins High-Class A affiliate plays its games at Hammond Stadium (where the Twins play their spring games). These are the players who have passed through several levels and are just three more promotions from the big leagues. Whenever players are rehabbing from injuries, they most often work in Ft. Myers.
Those minor leaguers that don't travel to one of the team's four full-season affiliates often remain in Ft. Myers, in Extended Spring Training. They play some games and work on skills. After the June amateur draft, those that sign go to Ft. Myers for evaluation, physicals and work outs. Some of those players stay in Ft. Myers and play for the Gulf Coast League Twins. They are generally the youngest players in the organization, players coming over from the Dominican Summer League or high school players from the current year's draft. Their games are played on the back fields at noon, and fans don't have to pay to watch the games. Usually the only fans at these games are family members.
The other players at Extended Spring Training, more advanced that those who will play at the GCL level, will play for the Elizabethton Twins. Elizabethton is found in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee. The E-Twins traditionally have won a lot of games in Appalachian League. They are annually in the league's championship series. This is a place that I definitely would love to visit!
Last year, I had my first opportunity to travel the 5 1/2 hour drive from the Twin Cities to Beloit, Wisconsin, and watch two Beloit Snappers games. Beloit is right on the border of Wisconsin and Illinois. It was great to see the likes of Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales and James Beresford play. Seeing players play can often give a different perspective on a prospect than just looking at box scores or stat lines. I learned a lot from the experience and hope to get there again once or twice in 2011. I definitely recommend a trip, if you are able. In case you were wondering... the weekend when the Twins play in Milwaukee in late June, the Snappers are home as well. Might be a great opportunity to see the Twins and their Low A affiliate in one trip.
If you want to see the Twins AA-affiliate, it is located in New Britain, Connecticut. You can fly in to Hartford. ESPN's studios are in Bristol, Connecticut, just miles from New Britain Stadium. The stadium holds over 6,100 fans and is referred to as the "Emerald of the Eastern League." If you're on a baseball trip, New Britain is about halfway in between Boston and New York City.
Finally, if you want to see the Twins AAA team, it is in Rochester, New York. Frontier Field holds over 12,000 fans. As we have seen in recent years, the Twins are frequently calling the Red Wings and sending players back and forth. Rochester is near Lake Ontario, but also not too far from Buffalo, Lake Erie, and Niagra Falls.
If you're a real, real diehard, you could go to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic and see the Twins Dominican Summer League team.
And this summer, Twins fans can show their support for Bert Blyleven with a trip to Cooperstown, New York. It is within driving distance from Rochester. I made the trek to Cooperstown in 2001 when Kirby Puckett was inducted. What a great little village, and what an incredible baseball atmosphere during induction weekend.
But of course, Twins fans now have Target Field which is always a great spot for a Twins fan to go to see terrific baseball. But if you are looking for a summer vacation, yet still want to get a Twins fix, consider traveling to see one or more of the Twins minor league affiliates.
If any of you have gone to these places, please feel free to comment below with your thoughts.