P.J.R.: Twins' updated spring home is real and it's spectacular
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FORT MYERS, FLA. - The Boston Red Sox went 86 years without winning a World Series. They now have won three in a decade.
Back in 2004, as the celebration took place in New England, I wondered if the hardcore followers of those American League originals might miss the suffering.
They have not.
What takes place here in Fort Myers in March is the closest you will see for madness over a team in spring training.
The Red Sox played at the Twins' Hammond Stadium on Thursday. The largest exhibition game crowd in the Twins' 24 seasons in Fort Myers was in attendance. There were thousands wearing Red Sox hats, T-shirts and jerseys.
"We love having the Twins right here,'' a Red Sox fan said. "We can get tickets for the games here. They are tough to find at Jet Blue.''
Jet Blue Park is the $78 million spring training ballpark and complex that was fully-funded by Lee County to keep the Red Sox in Fort Myers. It is located seven minutes (without traffic and if you hit the lights) to the east on Daniels Parkway from Hammond Stadium.
The Red Sox' ability to get this sweet deal from the county was a benefit to the Twins. They made a deal with the county for $45 million in improvements to the Lee County Sports Complex.
The first phase of work inside the stadium has turned out to be spectacular. It will be completed and even better next spring, when the entrance and main grandstand get some changes.
What won't be duplicated is the atmosphere that now surrounds a Red Sox game at Jet Blue. The Phillies were in town on Saturday night.
Two hours before the first pitch, the parking lots were filling, the huge food and beer tents were drawing customers, a rock group was blasting away, a young woman was drawing a crowd walking on stilts and wearing with a Red Sox jersey bearing No. 3 (Babe Ruth?) ... a pregame setting of which our guy Judd Zulgad said:
"This reminds me of a college football game.''
The Red Sox built the ballpark in the fashion of Fenway Park, with a modified version of the Green Monster in left field, and with similar dimensions. The formal name for the complex is Jet Blue Park at Fenway South.
The Twins' agreement with Lee County includes the right to have a corporate sponsor attached to the stadium. For now, it's named in honor of Bill Hammond, a county official who was instrumental in negotiating the deal with the Twins to move to Fort Myers in 1991.
The city had been without a team in spring training starting in 1988, when the Royals left for what would become the failed Baseball City project in central Florida.
Target Field South? That might be a possibility when the remodeling of the ballpark is complete next season.
The Red Sox are the kings of southwest Florida in the spring, no question of that. And there's an ongoing effort to get a third team - the Nationals, the Mets, maybe the Marlins - to move into the Red Sox' previous ballpark, City of Palms, along with a revamped minor league complex.
This matters not to the Twins. The Lee County Sports Complex has served them very well and when that next wave of stars - Buxton and Sano, Santana and Polanco in the middle of the infield, maybe Meyer as a power pitcher and Vargas as a power hitter - arrives, Minnesota fans will return here in big numbers with their hats and jerseys and feel as if they have landed in a baseball heaven.
--PATRICK JAMES REUSSE