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Jon Krawczynski / AP Baseball Writer, Published April 13 2010

MLB: TARGET: BULLSEYE, Twins treat fans to a win in new home

MINNEAPOLIS – Frank Viola stood in the home dugout at brand new Target Field and looked out at the downtown skyline just beyond the right-field wall. He could only chuckle as he remembered his playing days for the Minnesota Twins in the shabby Metrodome.

“Am I going to miss the Dome? Absolutely not,” Viola said on Monday at the grand opening of the Twins’ new ballpark. “My history with this franchise ended when the Dome closed. It’s time for these boys to make their own history. I’m going to enjoy watching it happen.”

He won’t be the only one.

The historic day started with the unveiling of a statue of Kirby Puckett at the ballpark’s main entrance, featured a fighter jet flyover before the first pitch and ended with the home crowd roaring as the Twins won their first real game in their new home.

“Everything about today worked out great,” said designated hitter Jason Kubel, who hit the first homer in the new park to help the Twins beat the Red Sox 5-2.

For 28 years, the Twins and their fans spent the most anticipated of the four seasons under the stuffy roof of the Metrodome, a football stadium that moonlighted in baseball. Fans sitting along the baselines suffered from cramped necks because the seats were not angled toward home plate, players languished in substandard facilities and everyone grumbled as they shuffled indoors on those glorious summer evenings that folks spend nine months waiting for.

“Last couple years, we couldn’t wait to get on the road,” center fielder Denard Span said. “We were looking at the schedule and counting the days so we could play on grass in a nice stadium.”

On Monday, all those complaints vanished with the opening of Target Field, a real ballpark that took more than a decade to come to fruition. The wait appears to have been well worth it.

“This is a long way from the Metrodome, isn’t it?” commissioner Bud Selig asked.

Indeed.

Fans descended upon the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis more than six hours before the first pitch, flooding local bars and restaurants in a festive scene that was more reminiscent of Wrigleyville than anything the Twins have witnessed in these parts.

Kirby Puckett Jr. was on hand to unveil the statue of his late father – a bronze likeness of Puckett’s famous fist pump as he rounded the bases on his game-winning homer from Game 6 of the 1991 World Series – that still serves as this franchise’s enduring image.

“He’s here somewhere,” said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who grew close to Puckett during his six years in a Twins uniform. “He’s gotta be.”

Past Twins from Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew to Viola and Kent Hrbek attended the game to marvel at the new facility and fans cheered wildly as their team took the field for the first time.

“Minnesota in the summer is the most beautiful place in the world,” Viola said. “Why do I want to go indoors when it’s 80 degrees and sunny out?”

Of course it won’t always be that balmy here in the chilly north country. Snow storms in April are not out of the question and when the playoffs begin in October, you better have some layers ready. But on Monday, the temperature was a comfortable 65 degrees and sunny at first pitch, a glorious day by Minnesota standards.

And when the cooler days come, these hearty fans say they will be ready for them.

“We’re from Minnesota,” said Tony Carlson, a resident of nearby St. Louis Park. “We’ve got plenty of rain gear. We fish, we hunt.”

A sense of pride permeated the afternoon, with the franchise and the fans eager to show off their very own ballpark after being so embarrassed by the drabby Metrodome for nearly three decades. It’s a park on par with any in the big leagues, and coupled with hometown star Joe Mauer’s new $184 million contract, shows that the Twins don’t have to bow down to the big boys in New York and Boston any longer.

“It’s just a good feeling to know we can come back to Minnesota and know that we have a nice facility,” Span said. “Fans are comfortable and everything here is top of the line.”

Associated Press Writer Jeff Baenen contributed to this story.