Off Target: the misnaming of our new ballpark

On Monday, it was revealed that the name of the Twins new ballpark, set for play in 2010, will be “Target Field.” I can already see the tag-lines donning the outfield walls, “Hit it HERE Justin and win . . . a gift certificate to the pharmacy.”

The announcement represents a feverish trend in stadiums and arenas that has really caught fire in the last decade. According to a New York Times report from a few years back, in 1988 there were just three naming-rights deals in pro sports. Today, by my count, come 2010, the Twins’ home will be the 21st MLB park out of 30 to have some form of corporate sponsorship.

Off Target: the misnaming of our new ballpark

Target’s sturdiness will likely spare our community the threat of either being represented by an embarrassing entity (i.e., “Enron Field” in Houston, now “Minute Maid Park), or taking a name-changing chill ride about the ebb-and-flow rails of cooperate mergers and/or failures. Without looking it up: can you name the place the San Fran Giants play?

I’ve got nothing against Target. I buy my shampoo there. And furthermore, it’s companies like Target, 3M, General Mills, etc., that allow the Twin Cities to jockey alongside the likes of Denver for the smallest metro areas with pro teams in the four major sports. Yet, was next door Target Center not enough? Did the company, with their stock nearly the highest its’ been all year, truly feel the need to further itself via more marketing of such ilk, with returns on said sponsorship wholly unquantifiable? Do the suits there believe people may walk about the North Loop and Warehouse district and imperceptibly state to their party, “I need to go to Target,” and then stroll another city block before saying again, “I really need to go to Target.”

Of course, come April, 2010, top of the 9th, with Nathan closing it out before a packed house -- the name won’t affect performance, make coaching decisions, or affect initial attendance numbers. But I don’t believe I stand alone in having held out that the park might don a name that beheld something of the spirit of our Cities, the tradition of our organization, and the pluck of our club.

There is no doubt in my mind that the stadium should have been called “Kirby Puckett Field.” Of course there’s no money in that, and, on average, sponsor’s pay about $4 million a year for these deals. Furthermore, given the untoward details of Puckett’s life away from the Metrodome, surely there would be some nightmarish P.R. spin and explanation attached to such a moniker.

But when people talk about baseball in, say, Boston -- it’s Fenway. When people talk about baseball in NYC -- it’s old/new Yankee Stadium. For Chicago, Wrigley. For us: discount picture frames?

The spirit of Kirby Puckett -- our on-field memory of him -- evokes feelings of enthusiasm, memory of victory and images of hustle. He was, and is, something of a folk hero, and the brevity of his life only echoed such lore. His play is what’s best about our game, and what’s best about we as Minnesotans.

“Kirby Puckett Field” says Soul. “Target Field” says Sold Out.

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