Twins settle into spruced-up spring training home

Publish date:

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) For the Minnesota Twins, spring training has become a much fancier place.

Renovations to Hammond Stadium at the CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers were ceremonially opened to the public on Sunday, as Twins standouts Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins, Brian Dozier and Torii Hunter posed for pictures and fans toured the spruced-up seating areas and added amenities.

Inside, the day before the team's first official workout for pitchers and catchers, a few players lounged in the expanded clubhouse dining area. There's new space for weight training and injury rehabilitation, too, which means no more golf-cart rides down the service road to pump iron at the minor league compound.

For the Twins organization, though, the centerpiece of the nearly $50 million project was the minor league player development academy. The gleaming three-story building was designed to house, feed, teach and train prospects year round. The Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates each have on-site dormitories for minor leaguers elsewhere in Florida, but what the Twins have now is unparalleled in the majors.

''There are going to be guys who are going to point to the academy as far as an important part of their development,'' President Dave St. Peter said.

The facility was the vision of long-time Twins official Bill Smith, who served as general manager from 2008-2011 and has since taken on a special assistant role with the club. The overall goal was to better prepare Twins prospects for the majors, from nutrition to education to equipment.

For the many Spanish-speaking players from Latin American countries, there are English lessons. For the drafted players who left college before graduation, there are spaces and resources for completing degrees online. For everyone, there are healthy meals professionally prepared on site.

''They don't even allow cookies over there,'' general manager Terry Ryan said, adding: ''They can go out and get what they want if they want to, but it's important to us that at least they have been educated about what we want them to put in their bodies.''

There's no soda, either, but comforts abound. The 54 double rooms have plush queen beds, refrigerators, desks, dressers and bathrooms, each unit decorated with photos of the Twins players who wore the number of the room. Justin Morneau and Mudcat Grant, for example, provide the backdrop for No. 33.

There's an auditorium seating more than 200 for organizational meetings or, if the players were to organize one, a movie night. In the entertainment space, foosball, pool and pingpong tables are flanked by video game consoles. Computer rooms provide a way for far-from-home teenagers to contact family and friends. There's even a barber's chair for aspiring hair-cutters to share their skills with teammates.

There is so much framed photography, blown-up magazine-cover art and encased memorabilia, the Twins could turn the place into a museum or a history-themed hotel and probably attract tourists year-round. That wasn't the point, though. In pro sports, every minute detail and competitive advantage counts.

''We're adding a lot of costs but hopefully in the right way to provide a good environment for our players,'' Smith said.

Roughly 15 percent of the project came from the Twins, earmarked for the minor league housing, and Lee County contributed the rest through tourist-related taxes.

The major leaguers benefited, too, of course with upgrades on their side of the sprawling facility in southwest Florida.

''It definitely makes it easier on the players,'' Mauer said. ''We have everything we need here, and I'm thankful for that for sure.''

Then there are the fans, who gained a boardwalk-style concourse around the entire outfield, bar-style seating on the edges and the food options, comfortable seats and gathering spaces of the modern ballpark. The stadium capacity was expanded to 9,300, part of a project completed three years after the Boston Red Sox opened a from-scratch facility a few miles to the west.

''Expectations of fans had changed over time and clearly expectations both of organizations and of players had changed around, what a complex like this can be, could be, should be,'' St. Peter said, ''around nutrition, around education, around year-round training.''


Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: