The grass was freshly mowed, bunting flapped in a light breeze and the seats were washed and polished. Target Field on Tuesday looked ready for baseball.
But with plastic dividers hanging from concession stands, sanitizing stations and signs promoting physical distancing prominent throughout concourses and thousands of seats bound up with zip ties, the stadium was rife with changes as the Twins prepare to host their first home opener with fans of the pandemic era.
When the Twins face the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon, fans will need a digital ticket and a face mask to enter the stadium. They'll also need raincoats: Rain is in the forecast. Once inside, they'll be seated in groups of two or four. Vendors won't roam the aisles yelling "beer here!" Cleaners will wipe down hand railings and other surfaces frequently. Cash will not be accepted anywhere. No bags will be allowed. Fewer people will be allowed in restrooms at the same time.
Despite the safety protocols, the Twins say they are ready to welcome fans back and give them a red carpet experience. On Tuesday morning, Regnal Thomas did his part to prepare Target Field, clearing away dirt, food wrappers and moss that grew in the cracks between the seats. He wanted to make the place "shine," he said, as he power-washed every seat in section 104.
"This is an exciting time for our organization," said Matt Hoy, the team's senior vice president of operations. "It will be incredible to have the noise of the fans. It will be great for our players, and our players can't wait."
Even before fans arrive, they will notice changes. The team has arranged for discounted parking in ramps immediately adjacent to the stadium, and extra security will be deployed to allay fears of possible unrest related to the Derek Chauvin trial. "Directors," as Hoy called them, will meet fans and guide them to the gates, which will have only every other door open.
"We want fans to feel comfortable and feel safe," Hoy said. "And it will be safe."
The team is allowed to host up to 10,000 fans for Thursday's game and other home games as restrictions on large gatherings ease this week. That is in addition to about 1,000 employees who will be back on the job — everybody from ticket scanners to concession stand workers to ushers.
Smartphones will be fans' best friend, said Matt Hodson, the team's senior manager of business communications. Fans will need them to download tickets and to pay for concessions and merchandise, which they can then pick up from designated "grab-and-go" stations. "It will be a digital experience," he said.
For those without a credit card, the team has several Reverse ATMs throughout the stadium where customers can put in cash and receive a card for that amount. Money on the card that is not spent can be used at subsequent games but cannot be redeemed for cash or used outside Target Field.
To improve traffic flow inside the stadium, food and merchandise vendors will not be allowed to set up carts in the concourse. Vendors selling fan favorites such as Murray's steak sandwiches and Tony O's Cuban sandwich have shifted to the Gray Duck Deck, Jack Daniel's Bar, Summit Brewing Pub and the new Truly On Deck eateries, which will feature the first-ever Target Field appearance of the famed "Cease and Desist" burger from Blue Door Pub.
All the food items that fans expect will be available, said Peter Spike with Delaware North, the stadium's vending company. "They might just have to walk a bit farther than they are used to."
Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said baseball's return means a good summer ahead, an opportunity to breathe life into downtown.
"We invite everybody with open arms," Cramer said. "All of us can enjoy this and celebrate this great moment for downtown."
Superfan Cole Davis, 40, of Moorhead, said he plans to wear a mask and abide by social-distancing rules.
"When you're a true fan, you find a way to go," he said. "Even if it's not going to be exactly the same as when I remember it, there's still that love for the game there. That love can't be diminished."
Staff writer Alex Chhith contributed to this report.