Twins targeting more homers at Target Field
New stadium proving stingy when it comes to long balls
MINNEAPOLIS -- Denard Span seemed certain that he had just delivered the game-winning home run. As the Twins tried to finish a comeback with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning on Saturday afternoon against the Brewers at Target Field, Span belted a ball toward the overhang in right field that he thought immediately was a walk-off grand slam."I don't hit 50 home runs a season, but I know the feeling of one when it comes off my bat," Span said. "And it felt like that. Off the bat, I'm thinking, 'That's way gone.' " As he ran down the first-base line, Span went into his home-run trot, and celebrated the moment with his right arm outstretched, finger pointing to the sky. But halfway there he realized that perhaps the celebration had come too soon.
He was right. His shot fell into the glove of Brewers right fielder Corey Hart near the base of the wall in right-center.Span is far from the only player to have that feeling at Target Field this season. It seems to be a common occurrence in the inaugural season at the Twins' new ballpark -- watching balls that sound like homers off the bat suddenly turn into fly-ball outs. In the same game, Michael Cuddyer hit a ball to straightaway center field that he told teammates would have been gone at the Metrodome. "I don't know what it's going to take to hit a ball out to center," said Gardenhire. "He crushed that ball." "I don't know if it's the wind, or if it's farther [to the fence] than the signs say, but they're not going out," Cuddyer said. All indications through the first couple of homestands are that Target Field will not be a homer-friendly ballpark. But perhaps the greatest test of that theory will come this week, when the Twins host the Yankees for a three-game series beginning on Tuesday night. The Yankees certainly have hit their share of home runs in recent seasons. The reigning World Series champions led the Majors in home runs last season, with 244. This year only two teams in the American League have slugged more home runs than New York's 50. So it seems that Target Field's early reputation as a pitcher's ballpark, a park that has been playing big despite its intimate setting, could be challenged this week as temperatures rise to summer-like heights and the Yankees come to town. "There aren't too many ballparks that can hold them," Span said of the power-hitting Yankees. "So we'll see." Twenty-one games into the inaugural season at Target Field, the numbers have certainly indicated that home runs are difficult to hit there, with an average of 1.38 homers per game in 2010. Only two AL ballparks have averaged fewer this season -- Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (0.89) and Seattle's Safeco Field (1.00). In comparison, the Metrodome averaged 2.30 homers per game last season. The Twins have seen the impact the stadium is having on their own numbers. Though the club has hit a total of 38 home runs this season, only 10 of those have come in their own ballpark. "It's a small sampling, but there is a sample," said third baseman Nick Punto of how the ballpark will play. "We'll just have to play out the year and see where it takes it." Despite the lack of long balls, the ballpark has played relatively big, with deep power alleys. Manager Ron Gardenhire acknowledged that pitchers must certainly enjoy throwing the ball at Target Field -- as long as they don't give up balls hit down the lines. Of the 29 home runs hit at Target Field, only three have gone between left-center and right-center, according to hittrackeronline.com, which records data on every homer hit in the Majors. Jim Thome hit the only home run into the Northern Spruce trees beyond the fence in dead center, and Kansas City's Yuniesky Betancourt and Rick Ankiel are the only two players to hit balls into the bullpens, which are in left-center field. "If you hit it down the line, those balls are going to go," Cuddyer said. "But nothing is going in the gaps or center field. So that's the way it's playing right now." Gardenhire described the swirling winds at Target Field as "kind of like a little tornado." Looking at the flags in left field and right field aren't necessarily a good indication of how things will play. Twins players have said that lower to the ground, the winds sometimes seem to be blowing out toward the outfield wall, but when balls get in the air, the wind is going an opposite way and blowing in. Of course, it's only a little less than two months into the ballpark's inaugural season, and it's too early to get a complete picture. The hope of the Twins' hitters has been that once summer arrives, bringing higher temperatures, humidity and some changing wind patterns, the ball will carry out of the park. For now the Twins can only wait and see whether Target Field will become friendlier as far as homers are concerned. There is certainly hope that their new, more powerful lineup can deliver more long balls at home, and perhaps this week against the Yankees they'll see if that can happen. "I hope things change," Span said. "At least for our offense's sake."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.