When I woke up at 4 am, too excited to sleep, I had “For the First Time in Forever” from the movie Frozen stuck in my head. And I mean it was stuck there. On repeat. For over an hour. If you’re not familiar with the song, clearly you didn’t have a small child sometime around 2014 or in the years after. And if you are familiar, I’m sorry that it’s now stuck in your head as well. Anyway... like I was saying, I was too excited to sleep because OMG I GOT TO GO TO THE HOME OPENER AND IT WAS FINALLY HERE!
I’ve heard so many reactions from people about fans being allowed in the stadium while we are in the midst of a pandemic. Some say that it’s completely irresponsible and they won’t go to a game until they’re completely vaccinated and the Covid numbers are diminished. Some say that it’s completely stupid to not be open at full capacity because it’s an outdoor stadium and they’re making us wear masks the whole time. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m also someone who (double) masked up, sanitized my hands till they were raw, and braved the “crowds” to see our boys play in person. Here’s my experience in this post-covid version of Twins baseball at Target field.
Upon walking out of the parking ramp, I was immediately stopped by my new best friend, Kamie Roesler from Rochester’s NBC affiliate, KTTC. She asked me a few questions about how I felt about being there - you can see the news clip here.
Normally on opening day, the gates (particularly Gate 34) are packed with people lined up for a long while before they open. This time, however, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a tumbleweed roll by if it hadn’t been rainy. I mean.. we usually have to wait for security and people fumbling with tickets and lots of people to cram in like sardines, stopping to grab whatever t-shirt and magnet schedule or whatever other promotions are being given out. Not the case this time! Bags, outside food/drinks (minus one sealed water bottle) are prohibited, and only medical necessities or purses sized 9x5” or smaller are allowed (mine barely passed the test.) They are also asking people to go to specific gates near their seats to keep everyone spread out. People cheered as the gates opened, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if people’s eyes got a little sweaty with emotion. This was the long, whopping line I had to wait in at the time they opened, and we literally strolled up minutes before they opened.
The concourse was pretty barren - none of the free-standing kiosks were open, so those lines were not clogging traffic. For instance, if you’ve been to a game at Target Field any time, ever, chances are you’ve been stuck in a traffic jam over by the Kramarczuk’s stand in the main level concourse area behind home plate. Log jam no more! They’ve finally moved this very popular sausage stand into an area that can allow people to keep moving (between gates 34 and 29). This is one change that I hope stays permanent.
Related: the bartender at Hrbek’s told my husband that the beer is all canned because if all the kegs are tapped and there’s another Covid shut down, they’d lose a boat load of cash on said tapped kegs going flat/bad before fans could drink them all. (I know a few people that might say “Challenge accepted, yo!” But I digress.) Cans, unlike kegs, can be returned/stay fresher longer. #TheMoreYouKnow
Speaking of Hrbek’s, that’s usually my first stop on opening day, and this year was no exception. I have many years worth of opening day pics of me and the great number 14 himself, Mr. Kent Hrbek. It’s a wonder the man doesn’t have a restraining order out against me. Finally! One thing that was refreshingly the same: Herbie in his reserved seat at Hrbek’s. I told him I was going to be writing this piece and asked to get a photo with him, I asked him what he thought of all the changes this year, he said “What changes?” And that was about it for the conversation.
We left Hrbek’s and passed the nearly empty Gate 14, time for a potty break, and more changes. The bathrooms have been updated to touch free toilets, soap, and faucets. Yay! Another thing that I am happy to see, Covid or not, because gross. Another welcome change? No line. None. There was only one other lady in the ladies room while I was there, and we had nothing but wide open stalls waiting for us.
From the potty break, we went on to the main clubhouse store. Not much has changed here, there’s usually a line and this year the only difference was that said line was more spaced out and yet somehow the same length as always. But new this year, you can pre-shop on the MLB Ballpark app and just pick up your purchase.
We finally meandered up to our seats, where the changes kept on coming. As you’ve likely heard by now, tickets are currently being sold in pods of 2 or 4. In order to enforce this social distance measure, seats have been zip tied shut. The ushers keep a close eye on their sections to enforce mask wearing as well. More than once, the usher in our section had to go remind people to put their masks back on if they were not actively eating/drinking. They. Mean. Business. And you know what? If it keeps us able to go to games for the entire season, I will gladly keep my goddamn mask(s) on.
Some changes as I looked out onto the field and as the game started:
- The stands were about as populated as a Tuesday afternoon game in the Metrodome circa 1996. You could hear conversations happening across the stadium and even from the dugouts.
- The 2019 and 2020 AL Division champion flags were flying high. Congratulations, boys!
- The AL and World Series champion flags have moved over to right center, and they’ve added flags for the championships for the Washington Senators as well.
- The Budwiser Roof Deck is a ghost town. Sorry party people, you’ll have to mingle elsewhere.
- Noticeably absent were kids. Obviously, there were kids there, but not nearly the amount you’d see at a normal game. Personally, the hubs and I didn’t bring our kids for a few reasons - tickets were hard to get, they had school, covid raging all around still, we needed some grown up time, etc. - and I suspect many parents felt the same way we did. We needed a day away for the first time in over a year. I regret nothing.
- The FSN logo surrounding the jumbotron has been replaced by that big B for Bally Sports North.
- There was no flyover during the anthem this year. I had planned to get a pic to show you guys, but alas, no speedy planes flew overhead.
As a graphic designer by day, I obviously obsess over the graphics around the ballpark. That being said, the scoreboard and I have a love/hate relationship this year. I love the graphic feel this year, and I love the retro 1991 Nintendo-esque vibe they have in this, the 30 year anniversary for the 1991 World Series. BUT JESUS H. CHRIST YOU HAVE WAY TOO MANY STATS UP THERE AND I CAN’T READ ANY OF THEM BECAUSE YOU’RE CRAMMING TOO MUCH SHIT IN THAT SPACE. I didn’t take a pic of the actual big jumbotron to show you what I mean, but they have player slash lines and OPS and every other stat under the sun, plus fun facts about the players and way too much other info up there. The color scheme + a lot of info + my aging eyes = hard to read a goddamn thing. The smaller jumbotron has a lot as well, but the line up on the main one is really smooshed because they’re trying to fit too many stats in there. We have the internet in our pockets at all times, we can look up a player’s OPS+ there. Just gimme his average, his at bats, hits, and homers, kthanksbye.
Speaking of internets in our pockets, if you get hungry mid game, just order yourself up some food before heading to the concession stands nearest you and it’ll be ready when you get there. Granted, you didn’t HAVE to do it this way, but man was it easy. There was a bit of a wait in the line to pick up the order, but that’s because there were a lot of us that got hungry after the 3rd inning and all ordered the same thing. But the pizza stand next to me had ZERO line. Another difference in ordering is that there is a plastic barrier over the window, separating you from the people working behind the counter. My hubs didn’t like this addition because he said he wanted to smell the regular smells of the game. While I somewhat agreed, I’d also like to be able to keep my sense of smell because I didn’t get the ‘vid, so I’m not going to complain.
Oh, and BTW, if you order alcohol, be prepared to show ID at the stand at pickup. Just because you order on the app doesn’t mean you’ll get it if you’re underage, so don’t even bother, kids.
Also new this year: you can’t use cash at the games. It’s all on credit cards or pre-pay via your card through the Ballpark app. But if you’re a cash only/live-off-the-grid kinda guy or gal, they have these ATMs where if you have cash, you put it into the machine and out pops a pre-paid card for you to use in this new cashless utopia. Kind of neat!
Yet another Covid victim: The race with Bullseye and Babe and all those other Minnesota based characters. The race still happened, but it was pre-taped/old footage. Nobody will be in the costumes breathing their possibly-infected-with-Covid droplets all over those suits. Spoiler alert: the new character, Gracie Gray Duck won. She either replaced Skeeta the mosquito or the Loon. I’m not sure. I wasn’t paying full attention.
A game still happened during all of these changes. We still had a fantastic day and the Twins completely destroyed the Mariners 10-2. The crowd may have been smaller than usual, but the love for our boys was bigger and louder than ever. There were (ridiculously premature but also awesome) chants of “MVP! MVP!” for Buxton during his at-bats. The fans absolutely erupted when Astudillo entered the game in the 8th. (Nothing against Garver and his fantastic day at the plate - but we all love us some Tortuga.) The familiar sound of the Bomba siren going off and the crowd going nuts after the home runs made it feel like no time had passed, and that nothing had changed at all.
I mostly didn’t mind wearing a mask at all, as it was windy AF in our seats and it kept my face warm. (Not to mention that when we all mask up, we are all protecting each other.) I only minded a little because I have asthma and with two masks on (an N95 and my adorbs Twins mask) and a LOT of stairs to our seats I got a little winded - but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. I actually kind of loved how not crowded it was in there. My husband would have preferred to see more fans there, and to be able to smell the beer and hot dogs wafting through the concourse rather than the smells being contained behind the plastic barriers. But to be there at all made all of the changes completely worth it and completely bearable. So worth it in fact, that we will be there again on Sunday.. and hopefully many more times throughout the (hopefully full and not Covid-shortened) season.
Were you there, friends? What did you think?