The first official game was played at Target Field on April 12, 2010. Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel had three hits and two RBI apiece in a 5-2 victory over Boston. The announced attendance was 38,145.
That would be the smallest number of tickets sold among 81 home games for Minnesota’s return to big-league outdoor baseball after 28 years in the Metrodome. The reason is that the Twins distributed free tickets on Opening Day to people involved in the planning and construction of the new ballpark, including laborers.
Once standing room became popular, there were 45 crowds of more than 40,000 and a final attendance number of 3,223,640. The on-field product contributed with 94 wins and a sixth AL Central title in nine seasons.
“The projections when we moved in here were that attendance might level off at 2.4 or 2.5 million at some point in this first decade,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said. “We did not see tickets sold falling under 2 million, falling to 1.9 million.”
That first season in Target Field was the conclusion of the No. 2 decade for consistent success in Twins’ history, second only to 1961-70, when they arrived in Bloomington and made Minnesota major league in both our minds and in the standings.
The Twins had become convinced that winning seasons should be the norm. They entered 2011 with a then-record payroll of $113 million, $15.5 million higher than in the previous season.
As has been stated often, the most popular question heard from visiting Minnesotans to reporters in 2011 spring training was, “Can we beat the Yankees in October?”
That rapidly became a nonissue. Injuries and futile pitching produced mediocrity, and then deteriorated into baseball that approached criminal: 19-50 to close the season and a record of 63-99.
That was not part of the new ballyard projection, nor were the next three seasons that also produced more than 90 losses. Since then, there has been a winning season (2015), a 103-loss disaster (2016), a wild-card playoff season (2017) and a losing season (2018) with a another record payroll of $130 million.
The official attendance for 2018 was 1,959,197, the lowest in Target Field and also wildly exaggerated compared to actual bodies in the ballpark.
“You can talk weather, you can talk competition in this market, you can talk baseball attendance in general, but for us, it has been the product,” St. Peter said.
“We have a lot of work to do to get fans back to the ballpark.”
Season tickets fell another 2,000 this season to roughly 11,000. Looking at that number, the Twins in early March offered a dramatic discount package: a season pass to get a buyer access to 79 games for as low as $49 per month.
How did that go? “Not nearly as well as we hoped,” St. Peter said.
The Twins on Tuesday made another serious effort at ticket discounting: a $5 top-deck ticket to any of the 12 remaining games in May. They sold 20,000 of those quickly, then added another 12,000 standing room and also sold those.
What are you hoping to accomplish with a five-buck ticket?
“A big incentive was to get some people in the ballpark for this weekend,” St. Peter said. “We had a team starting a homestand that’s playing very well, and we were hoping to get fans who hadn’t been here for a while to take a look.”
St. Peter said mild research indicated that two out of three buyers had not purchased a Twins ticket in three years.
“Our TV ratings are up 30 percent; we know that baseball fans are still out there,” St. Peter said. “We know that the dad and the mom and the two kids from Bloomington are still going to their Twins game every summer. We have to get them to make that three games if we’re going to get back to 2.4, 2.5 million again.”
There were around 1,000 of those $5 tickets used in the upper decks in left and right field for Friday night’s 6-0 victory over Detroit. Those cheap tickets helped to produce a crowd announced at 26,739, the largest since Opening Day.
Presumably, the remainder of the audience was attracted by the prospect of excellent baseball and tolerable weather (60 degrees at game time). The baseball promise was fulfilled in high style.
Pitching: Starter Jake Odorizzi, five consecutive victories and seven scoreless innings, to put his streak at 20 innings. Fielding: Byron Buxton, terrific catch against bullpen fence in first to prevent two runs.
Hitting: Mitch Garver, a two-run homer to make it 4-0 and give him eight home runs in 66 at-bats.
“No matter what incentive we offer, winning always is going to be the best promotion in baseball,’’ St. Peter said.