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North Dakota State will host Butler University in football at Target Field on Aug. 31, 2019, in Minneapolis. Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter, left, former Bison head coach Chris Klieman, center, and NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen announced the game Monday, Oct. 24. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

Twins president, a UND grad, is bracing for the Bison stampede

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- When the snow is blowing and the temperature has a minus sign in front of it, it’s not uncommon for sports fans in the Dakotas and Minnesota to dream a few months ahead, to a sunny green diamond, the scent of fresh popcorn and the crack of the baseball bat.

Minnesota Twins president and CEO Dave St. Peter, while noting that pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Florida less than three weeks, admits he’s looking even further ahead. He’s got a Saturday in August on his mind.

St. Peter, in his 29th season with the team he started working for as an intern, has been a Twin Citian for three decades. But he says his heart is always in his home state of North Dakota.

He speaks with pride of a childhood in Bismarck and college at the University of North Dakota. Speaking to members of the Minnesota Newspaper Association at a suburban hotel on Thursday, St. Peter recalled with pride the time he spent on the copy desk at the Grand Forks Herald, and mentioned the Aug. 31 football game between NDSU and Butler to be played at Target Field. He feels the Twins and the community are ready for the enthusiastic and thirsty herd of Bison fans sure to descend.

“I’m a UND guy through and through, but even a UND guy can find a lot of respect for what NDSU has accomplished on a lot of levels, particularly in football,” he said. “For a UND guy to admit that we had to bring NDSU in to play football was tough, but it was the right decision.”

There was a slight murmur of surprise among the audience for St. Peter’s keynote address at the conference when he noted that 2019 will be the 10th season that the Twins have played in seemingly new Target Field. In an effort to ensure the ballpark experience still feels fresh, the Twins announced an overhaul of the two most-used entry points to the stadium.

And the pine trees that were in centerfield for the stadium’s inaugural season aren’t coming back, but there will be a different look slightly more than 404 feet from home plate.

“For playability reasons, the trees which were there originally in 2010 were removed, but we found a new solution with a living wall featuring 5,700 juniper plants which will be inserted there before opening day,” he said. “I think our fans will find that to be a great improvement.”

Of course, those amenities and special events are ancillary to what happens between the white lines. In the first nine seasons of the new ballpark, the Twins have had four playoff games -- all of them with the Yankees, all of them losses. The executives from this franchise, which once set a Major League Baseball attendance record while winning in the baseball-unfriendly Metrodome, know that scoring more runs than the visitors is the cure for all ailments.

“Where we haven’t done well is we haven’t put the type of team on the diamond that our fans can be proud of and that can consistently challenge not just for a division title but hopefully a world championship,” St. Peter said, rattling off the names of the team’s new manager (Rocco Baldelli), the new baseball operations staff and on-field additions like slugger Nelson Cruz and right-side infielders C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. “That’s the area of our business that continues to be the most important and our fans care most about. That’s been elusive and it’s on us to get it fixed.”

When his remarks were done, St. Peter bundled up against the winter chill and headed outside, knowing that another baseball season, and the hope that comes with springtime is just a few months away. And beyond that, the Bison are coming.