Golden Gophers open Target Field

Target Field opened its doors for the first time to fans Saturday, as the University of Minnesota baseball team hosted Louisiana Tech University.

Gophers Trip Schultz, left, Kurt Schlagen, center, and Ryan Abrahamson, right, chat before the first game at Target Field.

Gophers Trip Schultz, left, Kurt Schlagen, center, and Ryan Abrahamson, right, chat before the first game at Target Field.

Michael Rietmulder

Target Field opened its doors for the first time to fans Saturday, as the University of Minnesota baseball team hosted Louisiana Tech University. The game drew 36,056 fans, the second-largest attendance figure in college baseball history and significantly higher than the GophersâÄô previous home attendance record of 3,542. Only a 2004 San Diego State University game at PETCO Park drew a larger crowd, with 40,106 in attendance. The GophersâÄô christening of Target Field was the result of an innocuous conversation, which took place last summer between head coach John Anderson and Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter. Out of the blue, St. Peter inquired about where the Gophers were playing the weekend of March 26-28. When Anderson replied that the Gophers were scheduled to play a three-game series against Louisiana Tech at the Metrodome, St. Peter asked if the team would consider playing one of those games at Target Field. âÄúIt didnâÄôt take me very long to say yes,âÄù Anderson said. After Louisiana Tech happily agreed to the venue change, the plans were finalized last fall, Anderson said. Gates were open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. for the event which also served as an open house for the TwinsâÄô new home. Tickets were sold for $2 each, with the proceeds going to the Twins Community Fund. Tickets were said to be capped at 25,000, though more than 36,000 fans had passed through the turnstiles by the end of the game. Re-entry to the stadium was not permitted, so as fans left, more tickets were sold. The Twins are scheduled to play their first game at the new ballpark April 2 in an exhibition against the St. Louis Cardinals. âÄúWe thought it would be maybe nice to have an additional dry run, a test game so to speak, even in advance of the exhibitions,âÄù St. Peter said. St. Peter said it was important for the club to get a sense of the foot traffic as well as concourse traffic and concession and retail operations. After the game, which the Gophers lost 9-1, Twins Executive Director of Public Affairs Kevin Smith called the event a âÄúgreat learning experienceâÄù and said it was âÄúcriticalâÄù to have a trial run before opening day. âÄúI donâÄôt know one person whoâÄôs ever bought a car who hasnâÄôt taken it for a test drive,âÄù Smith said. The Gophers were all too happy to oblige. Standing outside the home dugout before the game, Anderson talked about the level of excitement among his players. âÄúIn some ways I think itâÄôs kind of surreal to them,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúThis isnâÄôt the norm for any of us, and I just think right now itâÄôs overwhelming.âÄù The Gophers started their day on familiar turf, stopping at the Metrodome to collect their equipment before taking the 9:34 a.m. light rail to Target Field. âÄúWe had no problem getting guys out of bed this morning,âÄù Anderson said. Louisiana Tech players were equally excited to play in a big league stadium. Catcher Clint Ewing, who hit the first home run at Target Field in the fourth inning, described his emotions as he stepped onto the field. âÄú[My] jaw dropped, my eyes lit up,âÄù Ewing said. âÄúWe all whipped our cell phones out, and we were just taking pictures of everything around us because itâÄôs incredible.âÄù Anderson said participating in such an exclusive event in front of a large crowd was a âÄúunique opportunityâÄù for Gophers baseball. âÄúItâÄôs an opportunity to showcase your program and get some publicity and visibility,âÄù Anderson said.