Last weekend the Athletics completed a series against the Minnesota Twins at the recently opened Target Field, ranked in 2010 by ESPN The Magazine as the best stadium experience of all major sports in America (in 2009 the last year the Twins played in the Metrodome they ranked 114th). An open-air ballpark that’s very popular with fans, even though sometimes it snows in April, it has a seating capacity of 39,504 and is located in the Warehouse District just west of Downtown Minneapolis (birthplace of singer, songwriter, musician and actor Prince). So why do I care about the Minnesota Twins new ballpark? Because the Athletics and Twins share some similarities that make competing in the American League difficult and their baseball stadiums have played a big role in the two team's fortunes.
To begin with, both teams play in small markets, the Athletics in Oakland with a population of 390,724 and the Twins in Minneapolis with a population of 382,587. Subsequently they have experienced small payrolls. In 2009, the Twins last year in the Metrodome, their team payroll, according to USA Today, was $ 65,299,266 (24th in MLB), the Athletics had a payroll of $62,310,000 (26th in MLB). These small payrolls make it very difficult for the team's to compete for high level free agents and/or retain homegrown talent (ex. Twins: Johan Santana, Athletics: Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada).
The two teams also have/had two of the most ignominious stadiums in baseball. The Athletics play in the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, an antiquated multi-purpose stadium built in the 1960’s featuring a seating section in centerfield akin to large mountains that blocks views of the Oakland Hills and the rest of the surrounding world. What should be a festive day at the ballpark under the glistening sun surrounded by breathtaking surroundings watching professional athletes play America’s pastime, is rather more akin to mandated recreation time in the prison yard.
In Minnesota, the Twins played 28 seasons at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, famous for its fiberglass fabric roof self-supported by air pressure that recently collapsed under the weight of heavy snow. One of baseballs best catches was made at the Metrodome during the 1991World Series when Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett, like a batdance’n in the sky, leapt into the air for a mesmerizing catch witnessed by fans deliriously wishing they could reach out to their star player. If only they weren't separated by a plexiglass partition like an inmate yearning for the touch of his darling Nikki mouthing, my love is forever. And who could forget the 16-foot high right field wall that was covered with plastic and known as the “Hefty Bag”, ironically the same brand trash bag I used on my 1980 Datsun 210 that was missing its sunroof (I wonder if the Metrodome used duct tape to keep their trash bag in place).
Things for the Twins have shifted beginning with play at Target Field. Over the past two years the Twins have substantially increased their team payroll to $ 97,559,166 (10th in MLB) in 2010 and $112,737,000 (9th in MLB) in 2011. Whereas the Athletics have only managed to edge up the team rankings only as a result of other teams spending less. In 2010 they had a payroll of $51,654,900 (28th in MLB) and in 2011 a payroll of $66,536,500 (21st in MLB). So where did the Twins get all this money, as reported by Minnesota Public Radio, “Luxury boxes, concessions, naming rights, advertising sales; those are all new ways to make money the Twins got when they moved to Target Field”. The Athletics, however, still play in the Coliseum and as a result, no new revenue to speak of.
In part to the increase in revenue, the Twins were able to extend a contract offer to hometown hero Joe Mauer (eight-year, $184 million or $23 million/year) considered one of the best catchers in baseball, it will likely keep him a Twin until the end of his career. Wouldn’t it have been nice for the Athletics to have been able to afford to keep [fill in favorite player here who left for big money offered elsewhere]. Instead the Athletics continue to struggle to field a competitive team year after year having to instead push the full potential of young players before they opt out or trade them for other prospects and repeat the cycle (ex. Dan Haren and Carlos Gonzalez).
Regardless of where you think the Athletics should play, San Jose or Oakland, (I wholeheartedly support San Jose) I think that everyone can agree, one way or another the Athletics need a new stadium. If not just for the ability to increase team payroll, but because the team and fans deserve a modern stadium with the amenities and splendors that other teams across the league enjoy. However, delays continue as we await a decision from Bud Selig on the territorial issue.
Don’t fret though, I’m sure long before purple rain falls from the sky and Chuck Reed has a midlife crisis and trades in his Prius for a little red Corvette, the Commissioner will settle the controversy over territorial rights once and for all. When he does, and as expected in San Jose’s favor, I’ll throw my raspberry beret to the sky, and as Lew Wolff hangs from the chandelier gleefully shouting Let’s Go Crazy! we can all party like its 1999.