MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -The Minnesota Twins ventured into the great outdoors Friday, opening Target Field for a full house of gawking fans - even managing to save their first rainout for, well, another rainy day.
Matt Holliday and the St. Louis Cardinals left with an 8-4 victory in the exhibition game, but the customers didn't care about that. They were too busy admiring the $545 million open-air ballpark, which has replaced the Metrodome as the home of the Twins.
Steady rain fell throughout the morning and early afternoon, but it stopped two hours before the first pitch. The first few fans through the right-field turnstiles - Gate 34, in honor of the late Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett's jersey number - screamed in celebration as they sprinted to the seats like kids escaping the last day of school.
Nobody minded the gray sky or the wet seats.
``The best part,' 12-year-old Calvin Dauner said, ``is that it's outside.'
His dad, Scot, was just as impressed.
``I'm overwhelmed by what I see. It's so much better than I expected,' he said. ``When we walked in I said, 'The best is that it's ours. I don't have to get in my car and drive six hours.''
The crowd was announced at 32,995, not including 6,500 complimentary tickets given to construction workers and other people who helped build the limestone-lined facility nestled into the edge of downtown.
The sun even came out in the later innings, when veteran Jacque Jones entered and made a diving catch in right field to end a five-run eighth by the Cardinals that included a two-run double by Holliday against Pat Neshek. Holliday also hit a two-run drive in the fourth off Carl Pavano, followed by a homer from Colby Rasmus.
Jones, a regular for the Twins from 1999-2005 who will start the season in Triple-A, was greeted with a loud standing ovation when he batted in the eighth, looking overwhelmed by the welcome as he nodded his head in appreciation.
Jones had joked to teammate Jim Thome about the cheer he would get when his name came up: ``You'll see how much people love me.'
``I was kidding with him, but I didn't know it was going to be like that,' Jones said.
But the star of the day was the ballpark itself.
Right fielder Michael Cuddyer came to the dugout about an hour before the game to check on the field. He looked out as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
``It doesn't even feel like it's ours,' Cuddyer said. ``It feels like we're just in for a series.'
Afterward, Cuddyer said his head was ``on a swivel' the whole time as he took in all the sights.
``Unbelievable facilities,' he said.
The Twins and Cardinals will play again on Saturday, then scatter to start the regular season. The Twins go to Anaheim to play the Angels, and the Cardinals travel to Cincinnati to face the Reds.
Both teams trotted out their opening-day lineups, except for St. Louis catcher Matt Pagnozzi. Yadier Molina (side muscle) and Jason LaRue (left hand) are recovering from injuries.
The game also featured both of last year's league MVPs - local boy Joe Mauer for the defending AL Central champion Twins and the powerful Albert Pujols for the defending NL Central champion Cardinals. Mauer got a loud cheer when he jogged out to the bullpen before the game, and Pujols reached base twice after being robbed of an extra-base hit in the first inning by center fielder Denard Span's running catch at the warning track.
``It's a nice place to play,' Pujols said. ``The infield was unbelievable, in pretty good shape. I'm pretty sure it'll only get better. Everything is good. There's nothing you can complain about. They did a great job with the design and everything.'
Span hit the first home run, a drive to right field in the third inning against former Twins starter Kyle Lohse.
``The hanging changeup to Span was terrible,' Lohse said.
One of Target Field's most unique features is the team's original logo, dating to their days at open-air Metropolitan Stadium starting in 1961.
It's an outline of the geographic shape of Minnesota, with two ``Twins' shaking hands across the Mississippi River representing the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. After Span's homer, white lights sparkled around the edge of the logo and the hands of the two smiling men lit up to make it look like their hands were moving.
Even on a rainy day in early April, the weather got raving reviews. It was 65 degrees just after 5 p.m. for the first pitch, with a light wind. And the drainage system got in a good day's work, too.
``I didn't feel any puddle, not one,' Cuddyer said. ``I didn't feel any water out there at all running. No sloshing, nothing. It was as if it never rained.'
The Associated Press News Service
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