MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Michael Cuddyer cruised into downtown on this first Sunday in April and spotted a dusting of morning snow on the crown of Minnesota’s new ballpark.
He kept driving.
“I’m excited that I get to take a right and go to the Dome right now,” Cuddyer said, smiling at the promise of a dry, 68-degree first pitch to start the season against Seattle.
The Twins are eager to leave the dingy Metrodome for Target Field when it opens next year, but they’ll savor the guaranteed game and feeling in their fingers when they face the Mariners on Monday night. Minnesota weather isn’t reliable much before Memorial Day, so this will be the last time postponement isn’t a possibility for the opener.
“We’ve kind of got spoiled, and rightfully so,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “This is a great place, just because you know you’re going to play and start on time unless the roof leaks.”
Ah, but the list of benefits ends quickly after protection from the cold and precipitation.
“During the summer,” Cuddyer said, “it’s like walking down into a dungeon.”
Though the Twins have not been shy about trashing the Metrodome’s ambiance for baseball to help hype their new open-air building, they’re taking full advantage of the marketing opportunities for this final, climate-controlled season.
They’ll don throwback jerseys from 1982, the Dome’s first year, for Saturday home games. The retro wear is available at the team’s suburban memorabilia stores for $169.95—or $215 with numbers. The Twins will also throughout the season share their 100 most memorable moments in the stadium, ask fans to vote for the all-time Metrodome team, and wear a special logo on their uniforms.
Monday will signal the start of a special season for Seattle, too.
The fact that it’s 2009—and not 2008, with all the misery of that AL-worst 61-101 record—is enough to celebrate, but the Mariners are breaking in manager Don Wakamatsu and welcoming Ken Griffey Jr. back after a 10-year absence.
“Everybody really wants to focus on what my feelings are,” Wakamatsu said. “My feelings are really an accumulation of, ‘Have we prepared this team to play?’ To watch these guys perform is going to be a neat thing. It’s almost like parenting. Seeing the team go on the field will be exciting.”
The 39-year-old Griffey will start in right field for Ichiro Suzuki, whose bleeding ulcer brought him a career-first spot on the disabled list. Endy Chavez will take Ichiro’s leadoff spot and play left field. Mike Sweeney, who has overcome a chronically bad back and surgeries on both knees to make the team on a non-roster invitation, is expected to be the designated hitter.
Felix Hernandez will take the mound, still two days before his 23rd birthday.
“It’s going to be an honor,” Hernandez said. “For me to be the ace of this staff, I’m excited for that.”
Waiting for a ninth-inning lead will be new closer Brandon Morrow, who learned over the weekend he won the job. The fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft, his forearm injury earlier in spring training helped force him out of the starting rotation. He had 10 saves last season subbing for the since-traded J.J. Putz.
Morrow’s 1.47 ERA in 40 appearances last year was the second-lowest in team history for a reliever with at least 30 innings, but he struggled with his control and worked only four innings in Cactus League exhibition games this spring.
The Twins must get by for at least a few weeks without injured All-Star catcher Joe Mauer and his hiccup-quick swing, not to mention his ability to call for the right pitches from behind the plate. With the addition of third baseman Joe Crede and the return of a healthy Cuddyer, however, the offense is built better than it’s been in several years.
Crede was available because of his past back problems, but Gardenhire raved about him all spring and declared him ready to play on the Metrodome’s artificial grass.
“When you have an injury with your back, you get into a lot of bad habits. He’s been working very hard with that, trying to get back to his normal swing,” Gardenhire said. “At the end of spring, he was feeling really good. You’re going to love watching this guy play defense. He can flat-out pick it, and I think he’s going to put some balls in the seats too. He’s a pretty good player.”
“I’m kind of nervous for tomorrow, but I’ve just got to get in my mind it’s another start for me because I don’t want to get too excited out there,” Liriano said Sunday. “I don’t want to try to do too much.”
AP Sports Writers Gregg Bell and Tim Booth contributed to this report from Seattle.