Puckett, Hrbek make appeal to Stadium Task Force to save team

by Justin Ware

The state-appointed Stadium Task Force met for the first time Tuesday to set an agenda and listened as former Twins stars pleaded to keep professional baseball in Minnesota.

The former fan favorites testified about what fans and the community stand to gain if a multi-million-dollar sports facility is built in the Twin Cities.

But task force members questioned if building such a facility would benefit small-market teams such as the Twins.

Task force co-chairman Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead, said the Twins are a state asset worth keeping.

“Should taxpayers pay for millionaire players owned by billionaire owners?” Goodno said. “Well, there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek said a new stadium would not guarantee the Twins would be a better team, but he said there are other benefits to a new park that go directly to the fans.

“We don’t build a ballpark for Doug Mientkiewicz; we build it for the fans,” he said.

He said the ballpark would provide a more enjoyable experience for the fan sitting in the bleachers on a Friday night with a hot dog and a beer.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, said the emotional ties the community has to the Twins are as important as the cost of a new park.

“We have to pay attention to the values at stake, as well as the
logistics,” Kelley said.

Hrbek said the amount of charity work professional athletes perform in the Twins Cities is often overlooked and could help offset the cost of a new stadium.

He said he and former outfielder Kirby Puckett have raised between $7 million and $8 million dollars through their golf and pool tournaments alone.

“I think (Minnesota) needs baseball,” Hrbek said.

Karla Blomberg, co-chairwoman of Minnesotans for Major League Baseball, said she thinks the Twins are an asset but is unsure of the impact that asset has on the community.

“Is there an advantage to the public, and how big is that advantage?” Blomberg asked.

Dean Barkley, director of the Office of Strategic and Long Range Planning, questioned if building a ballpark would improve the team on the field. Without significant gains in revenue, the Twins cannot afford to keep talented athletes, he said.

“Will the Twins just be a good farm club for the Yankees?” Barkley asked.

William Haddeland, senior adviser for Minnesota Public Radio, said building a new stadium would not change levels of revenue from sources such as local television.

Citing numbers from 1999, Haddeland said the New York Yankees made $58 million that year in local broadcasting, while the Twins made only $5 million – numbers a new stadium would not change.

Former Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven said Major League Baseball must make changes to provide a more level financial playing field for all teams.

“Baseball is going to have to look at some kind of a salary cap,” Blyleven said.

He said baseball’s decision to eliminate two struggling teams does not make sense to him and offered a solution he did feel would help the league.

“Instead of the Twins and the Expos, why not contract the Yankees and the Braves?” he said.

Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]