New Twins park honors the old, too
MINNEAPOLIS — Kent Hrbek will be at Target Field for the inauguration of Minnesota's new ballpark, welcoming fans into Gate 14 — his retired uniform number — when the doors open three hours before the game.
He might stop in the restaurant behind home plate, Hrbek's, for a half-pound Rex Burger and some Bloomington onion rings — odes to his old nickname and suburban hometown.
Then Hrbek can watch the Twins play the Boston Red Sox, and look out in left field to see the pennants honoring the 1987 and 1991 World Series champion teams he helped fuel with his power hitting and deft defense at first base.
Target Field has modern amenities to match all the other new major sports stadiums these days, but the Twins organization also wanted their place to feel like a museum of the franchise's 50-year history in Minnesota.
This isn't quite New York, where Monument Park fetes the greats at Yankee Stadium, or Chicago, where vine-lined Wrigley Field was built in 1914.
But the place will be packed with former players for Monday's opener, from Harmon Killebrew to Brad Radke. Fans can check out all kinds of visual tributes to the past half-century of baseball in the northland.
"The history of our franchise we're very proud of, and we wanted to celebrate that history for the current generation," team president Dave St. Peter said. "But more importantly we wanted to have it there for future generations to learn the story of Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva and Kent Hrbek. That's an ongoing objective, but we think we were able to weave it through the initial design. One thing we're going to be committed to going forward is to keep it current and to keep telling stories whenever possible."
Each of the entries for fans into the stadium is numbered after a former player's retired jersey — 3 for Killebrew, 6 for Oliva, 14 for Hrbek, 29 for Rod Carew, and 34 for the late Kirby Puckett.
On Monday, Killebrew, Oliva, Hrbek, Carew and Puckett's son will ceremonially open their respective gates. Statues of Hall of Famers Killebrew, Carew and Puckett dot the plaza outside, where the names of every Twins player since the Washington Senators moved here in 1961 are listed on "Tradition Wall."
"It's definitely humbling," Hrbek said. "It'll be that way I think until they decide they want to put somebody else's name on there. I'll be long gone by then, but people will still be using Gate 14 to get in."
The hulking Hrbek was a fan favorite as much for his local roots and power-and-fielding prowess as he was for his everyman persona.
"Everybody knows I like to have a bite to eat every once in a while," he said. "I have a better chance of telling you how the hamburger is than how good the third baseman who plays for Anaheim is."
Hrbek doesn't own the restaurant, but he provided input on the menu, which includes Minnesota favorites walleye and wild-rice soup. He's hungry for the other Twins-themed fare available at the ballpark, too, including Killebrew Root Beer and a Cuban sandwich named after and approved by Oliva. Two of Hrbek's 1987 teammates, Frank Viola and Juan Berenguer, are the namesakes for a couple of ethnic-food concession stands.
Throughout the concourses and club areas are numerous old photos and artwork commemorating Twins history. The actual flag pole from Metropolitan Stadium was put up behind right field.
The most striking image is the 46-foot-high sign above center field, designed like the original logo with two large smiling men shaking hands across the Mississippi River to represent the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It's framed by an outline of the state's geographic shape, and it lights up for home runs and other feats.
Inside the clubhouse, there are more reminders of the past. Glass-encased memorabilia frames the entryway. Quotes from Puckett ("Live for today. Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone.") and ex-manager Tom Kelly ("We're all in this boat together. Everybody grab an oar.") are posted on the wall.
The Minnesota-centric features go beyond baseball, too. The suites are named after a few of the famous 10,000 lakes. Familiar local treats like Caribou coffee, Schweigert hot dogs and Grain Belt beer are sold inside.
Then there's the native limestone circling the structure and the spruce trees behind center field.
"We want to be seen as a uniquely Minnesota facility," St. Peter said. "When you're watching a game on TV, we want you to know you're watching a game at Target Field."