Umpires will shout “play ball” at 3:10 p.m. Monday when the Twins return to Target Field to play Kansas City in the home opener. As the season begins, so does a push by Metro Transit to get fans to take transit.

Just like the baseball team that has been on the decline over the past four seasons, the number of fans who rode trains and buses to the downtown Minneapolis stadium has also fallen. Metro Transit provided 499,834 rides on the Northstar and two light-rail lines last year, and another 46,166 on buses. This year’s lofty goal is to bump those numbers up by 5 percent to a total of 573,000 rides.

Metro Transit is trying to make it more convenient for fans to take transit to the game. The agency is expanding its online ticket sales this year to allow fans who take the Twins Express Bus or the Green or Blue line trains to buy their passes in advance, something that Northstar riders have been able to do for the past few seasons.

Round-trip light-rail tickets at $4 on weekdays and $3.50 on weekends and holidays will allow fans to hop on the Green and Blue lines up to three hours before first pitch and travel up to three hours after the final out. That could help address a common complaint lodged by light-rail riders, which is that trains departing immediately after the game are often overloaded.

With more time to travel, Metro Transit hopes fans will take advantage and hang out downtown longer, and thus help make the trains less crowded.

The agency also plans to increase capacity by having more trains parked on tracks north of Target Field, making them ready to roll when game lets out, said Kelci Stones, marketing development specialist.

“We hope their experience on trains won’t be like they are packed in like sardines,” Stones said. “Getting to a ticket machine is a stressful situation and if you hear the train horn blowing you get rushed and maybe take the chance of jumping on without a ticket. It does not have to be like that anymore.”

Twins Express tweaked

Metro Transit also tweaked its Twins Express Bus service. Known as Route 679, buses will run from the County Road 73 Park & Ride Lot off I-394 starting two hours before first pitch. To accommodate fans who need or want to leave early (think another lopsided loss), buses will start return trips two hours after the start time. The last bus will leave Minneapolis one hour after the last out. And like light-rail riders, Twins Express passengers will be able to buy tickets in advance online.

Over the weekend, the agency began deploying digital billboards, bus advertisements and ad wraps on light-rail cars with slogans such “Your Ride to a Slice of Summer Fun” and “Your Ride to a Night at the Park With Your Crew.” The ads promoting transit feature fans holding signs that read “Metro Transit takes us to Target Field,” a play off the popular “Circle Me Bert” feature that is part of Twins’ TV broadcasts.

“The focus is on how fun [taking transit] is, and it’s an easy and a convenient way to get in and out of downtown,” said Maria Cone, a marketing development manager.

The ads don’t promise great weather or a winning team, probably the biggest factors that will determine if Metro Transit can meet its goal. “Attendance and ridership go hand in hand,” Cone said.