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Why We Build Ballparks

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(Photo by Hannah Foslien /Getty Images)
(Photo by Hannah Foslien /Getty Images)
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Sunday, my parents went with me to their first game at Target Field. (Happy Mother's Day again, Mom!) Like just about everyone that's been there this year, they were quite taken with the park; Mom called it an "urban jewel," and Dad could hardly stop commenting on how nice our seats were, even though we were down the left-field line in the second-to-last lower-deck section.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon to sit in the sun and watch the Twins take it to Baltimore, and once again it got me thinking about why we build these ballparks.

In general, economists agree that the financial-benefit figures circulated by stadium planners - not just at Target Field, but everywhere - are myths, that parks do not "pay for themselves" in any meaningful sense. Airy arguments about needing to "keep Minnesota major league" may not be completely supportable, either; even without a baseball team, Minnesota will still be home to Fortune 500 companies and a Big Ten university and the best theater outside New York and lakes and parks and farms and all of the things that make this the greatest state in the union. The Twins are a part of that, but without the Twins, those things do not shrivel up and expire.

Ballparks do provide one thing, though; they're a community gathering place. This is true whether it's at Trojan Field for an Ortonville Rox townball game; or if it's at tiny Rosen, Minnesota, where the ballpark and the Rosen Express are just about literally the only thing in the entire town; or if it's at Target Field, where the park's big enough for the entire area - "Twins Territory," according to the marketing slogan - to come together on a Sunday afternoon.

Maybe I'm just naive, or maybe I'm just a soft-hearted, soft-headed, drippy-eyed doofus, but I think that this is both valuable and overlooked. I think communities need this sort of place, where people can come together and make common cause with each other to root for the home team - whether we're referencing a state of more than five million people, or a town with five hundred and five people.

It seems, then, that it's a good thing that Target Field is here. It's good that we built the kind of ballpark that people will want to see, that my Mom will enjoy on Mother's Day, that kids and Dads and grandparents and neighbors and politicians can all enjoy together. We have one of the nicest ballparks in the big leagues, and it's a destination kind of park, and it's bringing us together again and again this year - and hopefully for years and years afterwards.

Despite the high cost, I think that's valuable.