Gone are the cardboard cutouts, the ones that lined rows of seats to make the ballpark feel less empty. They were replaced by boisterous fans seated in a checkerboard arrangement dotting Target Field’s dark green seats.
Gone is the deadening silence, so quiet that conversations happening in other parts of the park could be overheard. That was replaced by cheers, “MVP!” chants for Byron Buxton and plenty of organ music.
It was almost hard to tell who was more excited, the Minnesota Twins or their fans, for the home opener on Thursday afternoon. Reliever Taylor Rogers said he woke up at 6:30 a.m. “ready to rock” and was particularly excited to see the crowd cheer for Nelson Cruz after Cruz spent the whole season in empty ballparks across the Midwest cheering for himself.
That’s one thing that won’t change — Cruz said he will continue to cheer for himself because “I’m my biggest fan.” But much of the rest of the Target Field experience reverted back to somewhat normal on Thursday, and for the better.
“It’s a great energy boost to have them out there cheering for us, and I feel proud and humbled that I was part of this game today since we brought baseball back to the city,” said starter José Berríos, who threw 5 2/3 innings in the Twins’ 10-2 win over the Seattle Mariners.
After all, it wasn’t really Target Field without the people who make it Target Field. And the Twins won’t be forgetting that anytime soon.
“We got a chance to see what it was like to play with no fans in this building, and I’ll tell you what, it’s a beautiful stadium, we love showing up here, but it’s really only Target Field when the fans are out there with us when we take the field,” manager Rocco Baldelli said before the game.
Over the past couple of days, Josh Donaldson has become something of a “BP machine and treadmill monster,” Baldelli said. Those are both encouraging signs as he moves towards his eventual return.
Donaldson, who strained his hamstring during the first inning last Thursday, will continue to test his hamstring, and if all goes well, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said, they could see him getting some at-bats in simulated games at the Twins’ alternate site in St. Paul this weekend.
“We’re not quite there yet. He’s eligible to come off (the injured list) on Monday, so we just want to see how it goes, really take it day-to-day, but we could see him getting some at-bats by the weekend,” Falvey said.
The Twins offered the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to players, staff and family members after Thursday’s game. Two weeks after teams reach the 85 percent vaccinated threshold, they will be able to start easing up on protocols. Falvey said that 85 percent also includes the St. Paul group, which was offered the vaccine earlier in the week.
“We’re still working through exactly where that threshold is,” Falvey said. “I think that what we want to do is get through the vaccination opportunity today, see where we’re at with our secondary site and our major league site and then ultimately (have) some conversations with the league about where does that put us and what are options are at this point.”