MINNEAPOLIS - As fans of the Minnesota Twins longingly anticipated this return to outdoor baseball, Joe Mauer was right there with them.
Born the year after his hometown team moved into the multipurpose, air-conditioned Metrodome, Mauer had more on his mind about the opening of Target Field than just a better, newer place to play. This was for the people who pay to watch.
After 28 seasons under a roof, Mauer and the Twins celebrated in their new home by beating the Boston Red Sox 5-2 on Monday.
“We’ve been waiting a long time,” said Mauer, who had three hits and two RBIs.
Yes, the Twins finally moved into their own place, and they held the housewarming party outside on a blue, breezy 65-degree afternoon. The guest list ranged from Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig to fans like John Warling of Cottage Grove, whose 12-year-old daughter wore red-and-blue braces on her lower front teeth to match the home team’s colors.
“This is the way baseball is supposed to be played,” Warling said.
Jason Kubel hit the first home run — “I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he said — and Carl Pavano earned the first victory to send the crowd of 39,715 home happy.
The unpredictable spring weather played right along, too.
“It was colder in spring training than here today,” said center fielder Denard Span, a Florida native who acknowledged concern about the early-season conditions. “All around, a perfect day for everybody.”
On the Twins side, at least.
Pavano (2-0) gave up four hits and one run in six innings, and the Twins bullpen backed him up, with Jon Rauch recording his fifth save in as many attempts.
Jon Lester (0-1) struggled for the second straight start and labored through five innings for the Red Sox, throwing only 59 of his 107 pitches for strikes while giving up four runs on nine hits and three walks. He struck out five.
“I just stunk,” Lester said. “Didn’t make pitches, and I really don’t know what else to say.”
Kubel hit his home run into the right-field seats in the seventh inning to finish with three hits and two RBIs.
Mauer did the same.
“It’s only fitting, a Minnesota boy playing in his home ballpark,” Span said of Mauer. “You can’t write a better script than that. He’s probably going to be doing that about 80 more times here. You guys might want to go ahead and get used to that.”
Twins baseball started in suburbia in 1961 at Metropolitan Stadium and moved downtown to the Metrodome in 1982, the year before Mauer was born, sharing both facilities with the Vikings football team and all kinds of other events.
Now, in their 50th season, they’ve merged fresh air with city energy in this cozy ballpark of their own with rail tracks, parking ramps and bike racks, warehouses and skyscrapers, and bars and restaurants all around.
“It’s beautiful,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who frequently compared the Metrodome to an office building.
The Twins wore 1961 throwback jerseys and brought back Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek and dozens of former players who graced the Met and the Dome.
Frank Viola stood in the home dugout, chuckling as he remembered pitching for the Twins on the other side of downtown more than two decades ago.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“Am I going to miss the Dome? Absolutely not,” said Viola, who helped the Twins win the 1987 World Series. “My history with this franchise ended when the Dome closed. It’s time for these boys to make their own history. I’m going to enjoy watching it happen.”
He won’t be the only one.
The Twins and their fans are extremely proud of the $545 million ballpark, a place on par with any in the big leagues. Ticket demand has surpassed the team’s expectations, with sellouts for the entire season possible.
“This place is going to last a long time, and it’s a special place,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.
And Mauer’s new $184 million contract, which kicks in next season, is a clear sign of the boost it will give the franchise beyond simply morale.
“It’s just a good feeling to know we can come back to Minnesota and know that we have a nice facility,” Span said. “Fans are comfortable, and everything here is top of the line.”
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