Finally home, thanks to Target Field

Minnesota will play its Big Ten home games at the Twins’ outdoor stadium.

Derek Wetmore

Road weary and in need of some normalcy, the Gophers baseball team not only gets to stay home this weekend, it will play at the stateâÄôs newest and shiniest stadium, the Minnesota TwinsâÄô 1-year-old Target Field.

When the Metrodome roof collapsed in December, Gophers head coach John Anderson said panic didnâÄôt set it right away; he assumed it would be fixed in plenty of time.

However, Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter reached out to Anderson and the Gophers and offered Target Field as a possible venue while his Twins were on the road.

âÄúFrom the moment the Metrodome roof collapsed, the Pohlad Family and the entire Twins organization have bent over backwards to help us make this work,âÄù Anderson said in a statement released by the team.

Now the hope is with four weekend home series in the chic new venue, the Gophers can finally have some stability.

âÄúWell, it surely will help put a bounce back in your step, thereâÄôs no question about it. We get to play in one of the nicest baseball stadiums in the country,âÄù Anderson said.

âÄúFor the Twins to offer that under the circumstances is very unique; IâÄôm not sure youâÄôd have that in other cities,âÄù he added. âÄúIt speaks volumes to the Twins organization âĦ and our players were excited.âÄù

If the players were excited when the move was announced, they have to be ecstatic now.

In the past few weeks, Minnesota (8-8) has been beaten up by the road, running up against canceled series and rain delays in multiple time zones. ItâÄôll be a big boost to finally get some home cooking.

âÄúIt feels good to just be back here,âÄù Phil Isaksson said. âÄúWeâÄôre looking forward to playing at Target Field, obviously; itâÄôs generous of them to let us play there.

âÄúWeâÄôre also looking forward to hopefully having some decent weather for once Saturday.âÄù

The Gophers have said that, in this season especially, their nonconference slate is more like the college equivalent of spring training. Yes, the games still count toward the teamâÄôs record, but the goal all along was to be ready for Big Ten play, Isaksson said.

And with the strength of their first two opponents, theyâÄôre going to need to be ready.

With the number of canceled games, it might be nice to treat the opening weekends of Big Ten play as an extension of spring training, but with Purdue and Michigan State on tap for the next two weekends, the Gophers canâÄôt afford not to play to win.

âÄúYou just try to be as ready as you can be, learn as you go and hopefully by the end of the season everything is in our favor,âÄù Isaksson said.

The Boilermakers (15-8) are at or near the top of the Big Ten in a host of offensive categories. They lead in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, hits, runs scored, runs batted in, doubles, home runs, total bases, walks, and hit batsmen. For good measure, theyâÄôre also tied for the lead in triples.

âÄúTheyâÄôve got some great hitters,âÄù Isaksson said.

Isaksson will be tasked with getting those hitters out âÄî or at least keeping them from driving and elevating balls the way they have routinely thus far. He said he remembers facing one of the Boilermakers last year and recalls that the batter hit a ball off him that âÄúprobably hasnâÄôt landed yet.âÄù

MinnesotaâÄôs hitters moved outdoors for some drills Wednesday, even though snow still covered parts of the Gibson-Nagurski field.

One of the most important hitters to make the trek outdoors was Nick OâÄôShea. He missed time after damaging cartilage in his ribcage, though the injury was originally classified as an oblique strain.

Anderson said barring a late-week setback, OâÄôShea will play this weekend without restrictions.

âÄúHe had a good day of practice [Wednesday]; he was a lot freer,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúI think at this point heâÄôs healthy. ItâÄôs just about overcoming the mental block. Putting a full swing on the ball and doing everything without worrying about a tweak or being a little tentative.âÄù

The Twins open their Major League Baseball season on the road Friday at Toronto before returning home April 8, but the Gophers arenâÄôt concerned that play will have any long-term damage to the playing surface.

Neither team will be able to take batting practice on the field before the game as a precaution, but that is the only restriction, Anderson said.

As if the Boilermakers werenâÄôt enough to deal with, Minnesota also has to have an eye toward its now-weekly tussle with the weather. The Gophers were previously scheduled to play a double-header Friday with a 1:05 p.m. game Saturday, but with dicey weather expected Friday, the second game has been moved to Saturday.

As usual, TJ Oakes will start FridayâÄôs game. Isaksson and Austin Lubinsky will each draw starts Saturday.

University students get free admittance to each game this weekend with a valid U card.