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Monday, February 4
Minnesota breathes sigh of relief after ruling

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Denny Hocking was convinced the Minnesota Twins weren't going to be eliminated before this season, and everyone else seemed to agree.

If they didn't, they must now.

The Twins' long-term future still teeters on the state's -- or someone else's -- success in building them a new stadium, but on Monday the final barrier blocking the team from American League Central title contention in 2002 was removed.

"I'm sure this is not going to be the last question I'm going to field on this topic, but hopefully this gives the guys a sense of security to go out and play baseball," said Hocking, the Twins' players union rep.

Unless players or owners do something drastic and a work stoppage is invoked, the Minnesota Supreme Court's refusal to consider an appeal of an injunction that forces the Twins to fulfill their lease at the Metrodome in 2002 all but killed baseball's plan to eliminate the team before the season starts.

As of now, the Twins will open their 42nd season April 1 in Kansas City to take on the Royals. Near-zero temperatures in Minnesota Monday meant that Opening Day is still a ways away and the sighs of relief around the state were actually visible.

Helen Hanson, part of a group of avid fans who sit near first base for nearly every home game, had just finished renewing her season ticket for 2002 when she learned of the court's decision.

Dressed in a Twins jacket and dozens of buttons bearing the team's logo, Hanson beamed about the promising Twins' chances of making a postseason run this year.

"This is great," said Hanson, of Eden Prairie. "I think a lot of people are going to come out and watch them this year. I don't remember another winter when everyone was talking about the Twins every day."

Steve Rinde, wearing a Twins cap, was waiting to get in the Metrodome for a University of Minnesota alumni baseball game.

"I'm excited for the season," Rinde said. "I wasn't really worried about anything happening this year. I guess now we're going to have to get a new stadium built."

But for now, everyone can prepare for another Twins season in the Dome without worry.

Across the street from the Metrodome, manager Bill Sverkerson smiled and pointed to waitresses inside Hubert's Bar and Restaurant.

"If it wouldn't have happened, all these lovely girls would have had to look for jobs somewhere else," Sverkerson said. "I'm glad. That's 81 dates for us. It's a very big part of our business."

Ray Cook is a security guard who has sat in front of the Twins' clubhouse door in the bowels of the Metrodome for a decade.

"That's half my year I spend down there," Cook said. "I definitely would've missed it a lot."

Dave St. Peter, executive vice president for business affairs, said the team is anticipating as many as 2 million fans this season.

"The fans really reconnected with this team last year," St. Peter said. "I think today's announcement will only fuel that optimism. The last six weeks have really been business as usual. Today's announcement was really just the icing on the cake."

After an extremely unsettling offseason, the Twins' front office staff rejoiced at a meeting Monday afternoon.

"It was a great moment to see our employees sharing in the joy," St. Peter said. "People left knowing they could go home and not be faced with contraction again, at least for the short term."

Hocking and most of his teammates had scattered Monday after spending the weekend at the Dome for TwinsFest -- an annual preseason party for fans that was held just after Winter Caravan, four separate week-long goodwill tours of the state taken by select players, coaches and staff.

They felt the buzz.

"This weekend all the guys were just excited to see each other," Hocking said. "There was no talk of contraction at all."

A large chunk of the Twins' roster is already in Fort Myers, Fla., where the team officially begins spring training Feb. 16 when pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report.

"We all wanted to play in Minnesota again," Hocking said. "We have a very good possibility of having success this year."

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