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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
FORT MYERS, FLA. - One way the Twins will determine if fans like the renovations at Hammond Stadium will be if there are empty seats behind home plate. That means spectators will be exploring the new vantage points around the field.
The Twins led a tour of Hammond Stadium as Phase One of a $48.5 million renovation project neared completion Wednesday. By the time the Twins play their spring training home opener March 1 against Boston, spectators will be able to walk around the entire stadium, thanks to a concrete boardwalk that spans from foul pole to foul pole behind the outfield wall.
"One of our initial goals was to enhance the fan experience," said Peter Hayden, project director for Manhattan Construction. "The boardwalk is going to do that in the first phase. It is going to give the building a lot more room to breathe, a lot more crowd room, a lot more room space for people to spread out and really experience the game from different points of view and different vantage points."
The boardwalk will take fans to a new berm in left field, concessions behind the batter's eye in center field, seating in right center, drink rails near the right field foul pole and a bar behind the drink rails. About 1,200 seats have been added, making Hammond Stadium's capacity around 9,300. There's also more standing room space available.
The tour revealed great views of the field from both left and right field. Yes, there's little relief from the sun on hot days - except in right field, where a structure just to provide shade has been created that just happens to be next to the bar.
"I do expect fans to walk through the facility," Twins President Dave St. Peter said. "Maybe watch for a few innings in right, then view a few innings in left field, then come back to their normal seats behind home plate."
Phase Two will begin during the summer, when the concourses behind home plate will be renovated, along with clubhouses, the weight room, restrooms, offices and the press box. The Class A Fort Myers Miracle will play its final nine home games at JetBlue Park - Boston's spring training home a few miles down the road - so workers can begin that phase.
Fans who visit the Twins this spring will notice construction over at the minor league facility. The club is building a dormitory for prospects that will be connected to a theater large enough to hold every minor leaguer in the system. The minor league headquarters is undergoing an extensive renovation, with the addition of hydrotherapy room, video room, and expansion of the clubhouse and meeting rooms.
Right outside minor league headquarters, where two rows of parking spots used to be, an 8-foot-high hill and sandpit are being built as part of an agility field.
To cap it off, the Twins will attach a huge picture of the late Kirby Puckett on the wall of the minor league building. The image will extend over the roof. From ground level, it will look as if Puckett is rising over the hill. That might not be in place until 2015.
"In general, our focus from a player development perspective was to make this the premier player development facility in baseball," St. Peter said. "We've taken a significant step toward that on the minor league side with Phase One, and that will carry over into Phase Two with a completely renovated major league clubhouse.''