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Target Field grounds crew member Tyler Carter helps prepare for opening day for the Minnesota Twins Wednesday at the ballpark in Minneapolis. (Associated Press)

Despite rough winter, Target Field ready to go

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sports Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- The grass at Target Field is growing, despite a long, snowy winter in Minnesota.

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After a pristine inaugural season outside, the Twins and their fans are prepared for -- but hoping against -- a law-of-averages increase in weather interruptions and discomforts this year. In 2010, they had only one game postponed and one game delayed.

The University of Minnesota baseball team is scheduled to host Purdue on Friday, an early first test for head groundskeeper Larry DiVito and his crew. The forecast is for rain or slushy snow overnight Thursday.

"We're expecting the worst, and we'll be happy with something better than that," DiVito said.

The Twins start the season on the road Friday, with their home opener set for April 8. What will 2011 bring? Well, the offseason brought more blizzards, and this month has been much colder than last March.

"We don't just let the snow pile up. We start getting rid of it in mid-January, hauling it to the warning track and then hauling it out," DiVito said. "So it was a lot more winter work than last winter, and March was a lot cooler so that was more of a challenge."

Though it didn't rain much at all while the Twins played at home in 2010, the crew got plenty of experience with the tarp rollout process when the team was on the road. DiVito, sounding a little bit like a manager in the dugout assessing his roster, said he's confident he has a "pretty cohesive" group to take care of the turf, the tarp, the dirt and everything else.

"It's stressful to a degree in that we're on TV all the time and we've got players who make a lot of money," DiVito said. "There's a lot on the line for our team and for our fans, so there's always that stress factor. But my crew and I all take a lot of pride in this. ... we would be that way in any major league facility but here it's just a more unique challenge with our northern latitude and our cool weather."

DiVito said Wednesday that the underground heating system has the turf currently between 58 and 62 degrees. By mid-February, all of the snow had been cleared from the field. Then came a blizzard on Feb. 20. The insulating blankets were removed again in mid-March, before another winter storm came on March 22.

"First it rained. Then the ice. Then snow," DiVito said as he stood in front on the field on a clear, sunny, 40-degree morning. "So we had to tarp the infield with the vinyl tarp and then put the blankets back on for the cold."

Workers were mowing the field Wednesday with the sounds of hammers for other improvement projects in the background. Fourteen black spruce trees have been removed from behind center field so batters aren't distracted by the shadows, and new panels of honeycomb-patterned black aluminum are being slapped on the wall to reduce the glare.

A new scoreboard has been erected above right field, next to a 100-foot video tower that will be aglow in LED lighting with ads, stats and animation to be shown during games, team spokesman Kevin Smith said.

There are also 130 more radiant heaters hanging from the ceiling on the various concourses, after 250 of them were initially installed on the main level. The second-year enhancements were paid for by the Twins at a cost of between $5 million and $6 million.

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