The Minnesota Twins on Tuesday unveiled their suite-level sensory room for fans with autism, Down syndrome or dementia in advance of the home opener, expected to happen either Thursday or Friday depending on the iffy weather.
In addition to a bevy of new menu items from Twin Cities vendors, the team also showed off the grab-and-go market inside Gate 6, featuring a self-serve, walk-in beer cooler that team President Dave St. Peter believes to be the largest in the major leagues.
The in-person sampling and preview was the first for the Twins since 2019, before COVID-19 broke out in 2020. Baseball that season started in midsummer and fans weren't allowed at the ballpark; last year the Twins allowed only 10,000 fans for opening day. But this year the gates are wide open.
The Twins expected to open their home season Thursday afternoon against the Seattle Mariners. But team officials were considering moving the opener to the open day on Friday, owing to Thursday's soggy forecast. Team officials said they would make a decision about the game and notify fans no later than Wednesday.
Under a persistent, chilly rain Tuesday morning, team officials showcased their new indoor space and partnership with Brett Edelson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Minnesota.
The new sensory space has a dozen suite-level seats looking out over the first base line for people with autism, Down syndrome or dementia who have special sensory needs. That's unique. Many sensory suites at stadiums and ballparks do not include seats facing the action on the field. Behind the seats is an enclosed space and two separate rooms with comfortable seating, noise-canceling headsets and various light configurations.
"It's literally a space to be in the game," Edelson said, "a way to make everyone feel good at Target Field."
St. Peter said the suite is in line with the Twins' belief that "everyone should be able to come out and enjoy a ballgame."
Edelson said UnitedHealthcare created the space with advice from its own employees who have family members with sensory considerations. Through Richfield-based Fraser, the state's largest provider of autism and early childhood mental heath services, UnitedHealthcare also is offering free training to all guest services staff on how to help fans with such concerns.
To create the space, the Twins converted a suite that sells for $200,000 per season, St. Peter said. But fans don't need a special ticket to get to the suite, he said; visitors can seek it out regardless of where their seat is located in the ballpark.
While it won't be apparent to most fans this season, the Twins are midway through the most expensive upgrade to Target Field since it opened in 2010.
During the offseason, the team ripped out and replaced every piece of audiovisual equipment from the back-of-the-house production room. Next season every monitor — including the giant one in center field — will be replaced with something newer and sharper.
The $29.5 million production project is funded by the Twins and the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the state agency that oversees the ballpark on behalf of taxpayers.
At the media event Tuesday, much of the talk was about food. New offerings from Twin Cities-based vendors include chicken tacos from La Tapatia, featuring its freshly made green and red sauces; Bub's Aussie Gourmet Pies, which come plump, doughy and warm in wild rice-and-chicken or sloppy joe versions; and chicken tikka masala from Hot Indian.
"We're so excited to be here," said La Tapatia owner Martha Ponce, whose sons Armando and Abe were serving up samples of their tacos from their prime cart space above home plate on the main concourse.