MINNEAPOLIS – Kent Hrbek will be at Target Field for the inauguration of Minnesota’s new ballpark, welcoming fans into Gate 14 – his retired uniform number – when the doors open three hours before the game.
He might stop in the restaurant behind home plate, Hrbek’s, for a half-pound Rex Burger and some Bloomington onion rings – odes to his old nickname and suburban hometown.
Then Hrbek can watch the Twins play the Boston Red Sox, and look out in left field to see the pennants honoring the 1987 and 1991 World Series champion teams he helped fuel with his power hitting and defense at first base.
Target Field has modern amenities to match all the other new major sports stadiums these days, but the Twins organization also wanted their place to feel like a museum of the franchise’s 50-year history in Minnesota.
This isn’t quite New York, where Monument Park fetes the greats at Yankee Stadium, or Chicago, where vine-lined Wrigley Field was built in 1914.
But the place will be packed with former players for Monday’s opener, from Harmon Killebrew to Brad Radke. Fans can check out all kinds of visual tributes to the past half-century of baseball in the northland.
“The history of our franchise we’re very proud of, and we wanted to celebrate that history for the current generation,” team president Dave St. Peter said. “But more importantly we wanted to have it there for future generations to learn the story of Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva and Kent Hrbek. That’s an ongoing objective, but we think we were able to weave it through the initial design. One thing we’re going to be committed to going forward is to keep it current and to keep telling stories whenever possible.”
Each of the entries for fans into the stadium is numbered after a former player’s retired jersey – 3 for Killebrew, 6 for Oliva, 14 for Hrbek, 29 for Rod Carew, and 34 for the late Kirby Puckett.
On Monday, Killebrew, Oliva, Hrbek, Carew and Puckett’s son will ceremonially open their respective gates. Statues of Hall of Famers Killebrew, Carew and Puckett dot the plaza outside, where the names of every Twins player since the Washington Senators moved here in 1961 are listed on “Tradition Wall.”
“It’s definitely humbling,” Hrbek said. “It’ll be that way I think until they decide they want to put somebody else’s name on there. I’ll be long gone by then, but people will still be using Gate 14 to get in.”
“We want to be seen as a uniquely Minnesota facility,” St. Peter said.