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Minnesota is getting that new stadium smell

By Rick Lubbers

McClatchy News-Services

I toured the new stadiums under construction for the Minnesota Gophers and Minnesota Twins a few weeks ago with a group of sports editors from around the state.

To be sure, both places are breathtaking, state-of-the-art monuments to modern engineering and architecture that will include many cool amenities and leave fans with a more satisfying experience than the stale Metrodome ever will. But the best feature of either TCF Bank Stadium (Gophers) or Target Field (Twins) is the lack of a roof.

Amen. No more baseball or college football games played inside the lifeless confines of a hermetically sealed dome.

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Baseball is supposed to be played on real grass with the sun shining on the faces of players and spectators. And if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, that’s OK. Rainouts are a part of the game.

Likewise, football is best experienced outdoors, where the colors and pageantry can add to a cool autumn day. And if Minnesota decides to dump an early snowfall onto the field ... well, that’s what they made snowplows and winter clothes for, right?

TCF Bank Stadium

OK. I’m already sick of that corporate name. From now on, let’s just call it Gopher Stadium, all right?

Apparently you can buy a lot with $288.5 million (or so). The field boasts what Minnesota officials are calling one of the three largest college football scoreboards in the country, the latest generation in FieldTurf with long "blades of grass," about 50,000 seats (20,000 with chair backs between the goal lines and 30,000 bench seats everywhere else) and a great view of the Twin Cities skyline.

Future expansion would put the stadium at about 80,000 capacity. It’s not The Big House, but certainly big enough.

Of course, there is a lot of space and seating devoted to suites. I sat in one of the $3,000 seats overlooking the 50-yard line. That $3,000 includes parking and all the food and drink you can consume.

But the stadium’s coolest feature is one most fans will never see — the locker room. It takes a lot to impress a group of sportswriters, but the collective gasp we made as we entered the locker room said it all. It’s 60 yards long, shaped like a football and includes 120 lockers made out of cherry wood. It is believed to be the largest football locker room in the U.S., college or professional. It was, by far, the nicest locker room any of us had been in.

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So, at least for now, the Gophers will have a nicer stadium and larger locker room than the Minnesota Vikings. Shhh. Don’t tell Brad Childress.

Target Field

Construction at the new Twins ballpark (at a cost of about $544 million) wasn’t nearly as complete as the Gophers’ stadium, but it didn’t take a lot of imagination to hear the roar of the crowd after a Joe Mauer home run or a Joe Nathan save. I could almost smell the hotdogs and the watered-down beer as I walked around the park.

The field dimensions will be 339 feet to left field, 377 feet to left-center, 404 to center, 367 to right-center and 328 to right field — very close to the dimensions of the Metrodome, except that a healthy breeze can help some hits leave Target Field.

The ballpark will feature plenty of high-priced suites, but the amenities that the average fans will enjoy include a section of wood-backed seats (just like the old, old ballparks used to have), some Minnesota black spruce trees planted in center field and grass.

That grass — a hybrid of about a dozen different kinds of Kentucky bluegrass —is currently growing at a turf farm in Fort Morgan, Colo., and will be transported to the ballpark in late August in a convoy of 16 refrigerated trucks. Those sections of grass will be installed and experience a cold Minnesota winter before being played on in the spring.

Another nice feature of the new park will be Target Plaza, an open space just beyond right field that is tucked in between Target Center and Target Field. People will be able to sit and enjoy the atmosphere of the games without having to buy a ticket to them. Hearing a game is the next best thing to seeing one. Who knows, maybe a homer or two will drop in on the denizens of Target Plaza.

Fans of both the Gophers and Twins have a lot to be excited about when those venues open in the coming months. There will be a lot of neat things to see, but none of them will trump being able to look up and see the sky.

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Lubbers is the Sports Editor at the Duluth News-Tribune. His column was distributed by McClatchy News Services.

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