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DOWN THE LINE

Minnesota's Target: Blue sky, green grass

The Twins return to outdoor baseball this week with the opening of Target Field.

April 10, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

No snow in the forecast for Minneapolis this week. In fact, as the Twins move into Target Field and play outdoor baseball for the first time since 1981, the temperatures are expected to reach the 70s.

The Twins don't much buy the theory that bitter cold could give them a home-field advantage.

"We've got to play in it too," catcher Joe Mauer said.

They're leaving their home-field advantage behind at the Metrodome, with its cavernous and dingy interior, its dangerously loud crowd noise and the roof pretty much the same color as the baseball.

"The Metrodome mystique," Manager Ron Gardenhire said. "People just hated coming in there to play. That was half the battle."

The Twins were 49-33 in the Metrodome last season, 38-43 on the road.

"If we lost a ball [in the roof], we knew how to pick it up," said the Angels' Torii Hunter, who played a decade in the Metrodome.

Hunter laughed at the long-held suspicion that the Twins would turn on an air conditioner late in the game, with the home team at bat, the better to carry balls over the fence.

"We knew, when they opened the doors, all the pressure went out to right-center field, so we would swing for right-center field," he said. "They thought it was an air conditioner. But the doors were let open in the seventh inning to let everybody leave."

He'll plug Leake

in Reds' rotation

In 1993, Darren Dreifort jumped directly from college to the major leagues, with the Dodgers. The first pitcher to make that jump since then starts today, for the Cincinnati Reds.

He's Mike Leake, selected seventh in last year's draft -- that is, six picks after Stephen Strasburg. The Reds gave him a $2.27-million bonus, then signed Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman for $30 million, giving them two 22-year-old building blocks for their starting rotation.

Chapman makes his first start on U.S. soil today, for triple-A Louisville, and he could join the Reds within weeks.

"They're building back up instead of going out and spending that money on a fourth starter in the free-agent market," Angels scouting director Eddie Bane said.

Bane has a bit of alumni pride at stake, since he and Leake are the only pitchers to jump directly from Arizona State to the majors. Bane was 40-4 at ASU (from 1971-73) and 7-13 in the majors -- but not, he said, because he was rushed and irreparably harmed.

"I didn't hurt my arm," Bane said. "Once I lost my curveball, I wasn't the same pitcher. That didn't have to do with whether I should have been there."

Atlanta's cry:

Say J-Hey!

Not that the Atlanta Braves would put any pressure on touted rookie outfielder Jason Heyward -- the hometown kid who jumped from double A into the majors at 20 -- but they had him catch the ceremonial first pitch on opening day.

Hank Aaron threw it.

On his first swing in the major leagues, Heyward hit a home run that traveled 476 feet.

Turner Field went nuts, and fans flocked to buy Heyward gear. One problem: You can't get your name on licensed baseball merchandise until you have spent one day in the majors.

Braves officials, after a spring of hype, sensed the pent-up demand and got permission from the players' union to keep the Heyward gear stored at the ballpark. In the fifth inning -- as soon as the game became official -- the gear was unpacked and rushed onto the shelves.

In four innings, the Braves sold more than 500 Heyward items, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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