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  • Writer's pictureLloyd Brown

Sports Journeys: Historic Ballparks of the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) have a rich history with baseball dating back to 1859. A new book, Historic Ballparks of the Twin Cities by Stew Thornley, provides a fascinating look at the various stadiums in the Twin Cities that housed the minor league, major league, and university-level baseball teams over the last 160-plus years.

The first recorded baseball game in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area was in1859. In these early years, these games took place in open fields with no fencing to regulate the attendance of fans. The first stadium to enclose the playing fields was Red Cap Park in 1876. It served as the home for several teams, as the sport was made up of neighborhood or company teams. It would be 1884 before the first organized teams competed in a regulated league.

At first, the two Twin Cities were in a very competitive battle to recruit a major league team to their area as it would be a major feather in their (baseball) cap in promoting the city. St. Paul’s first ballpark was known as the West Seventh Street Grounds. It had a capacity of 2,400 and featured hitching posts for the fan’s horses. Minneapolis answered by building the Portland Park Grounds, with a capacity of 3,300 and hitching posts for 100 horses. It was also located near the trolley line that served the city.

In 1889 Minneapolis opened Athletic Park with space for 3,000 fans. Unfortunately, the wooden venue was destroyed by fire shortly after it opened. It reopened in 1894 and served the city for more than 15 years. A group led by Charles Comisky, who later owned the Chicago White Sox, then built the Dale and Aurora Grounds, also known as Comisky Park, in St. Paul. A replacement was built in 1903 and was nicknamed the “Pillbox” due to its small size.

Eventually, St. Paul and Minneapolis were in the same league and were competing on the field as well as off the field. The Minneapolis team played their home games at Nicolett Park, while the St. Paul squad called Lexington Park home. Lexington Park was a keeper, as the St. Paul Saints would call it home from 1897 to 1956. It was eventually torn down in 1958. Minneapolis also built a long-term ballpark at Nicollett Park. It would play there from 1896- 1955.

Eventually, the Minneapolis side of the ballpark war won out, as the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington was chosen to host the former Washington Senators in a new ballpark named Metropolitan Stadium. It opened in 1957 as the home of the Minnesota Twins. In a way, Minneapolis delivered an olive branch to St. Paul, as the team nickname and logo referred to the area as the Twin Cities. In 1961, the Minnesota Vikings expansion franchise was added as a stadium tenant, making Metropolitan Stadium one of the first stadiums to host both an MLB and an NFL franchise. Both teams would play at Metropolitan Stadium through 1981 when they both moved to the indoor Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome. Metropolitan Stadium was torn down and the Mall of America now occupies its footprint.

The Metrodome allowed both the Vikings and the Twins to play indoors, as it increased the fans’ comfort in a temperature-controlled environment. It also eliminated any games lost to bad weather. They would be joined by the University of Minnesota football team and the Minnesota Timberwolves as tenants at the facility. The Timberwolves were a short-term rental, as they were just waiting for the Target Center to be built. The Metrodome became famous for the noise level generated by fans in one of the first indoor football facilities. The Metrodome did have some drawbacks, as its air-supported roof collapsed twice under the weight of the snowpack that had formed on top of the roof. The baseball field also had issues, as the turf caused unpredictable bounces that led to many errors. The Metrodome would serve these teams from 1982- 2009, with the Twins moving to Target Field and the Vikings eventually returning to the site when the new Vikings stadium was built on the footprint of the Metrodome.

Target Field has been a huge success, as it has reenergized development in the downtown Minneapolis area. Its innovative design has been recognized, and it has also achieved LEED Gold status for its “green” design.

St. Paul has not stood still in ballpark development. The St Paul Saints moved from their longtime home at Midway Ballpark to CHS Field in downtown St. Paul. It offers an increased amount of seating, wider concourses, and more shade from the sun than its predecessor. The stadium also includes the City of Baseball Museum, which does a fantastic job of educating fans about baseball in the Twin Cities.

Historic Ballpark of the Twin Cities is a must-read for any ballpark chaser or baseball fan. It offers a timeline/roadmap for historians and sports fans alike. Fortunately, the modern-day ballparks are all located along the light rail system in the Twin Cities, making it easily accessible for sports travelers.

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