Amid the thousands of Twins fans who will be gawking at the new Target Field on opening day April 12, a few faces in the crowd might look a little sad.
Those will be the people who have called the new baseball stadium home for the past three years. They are the construction workers who have labored many hours to make the project a reality.
Several of the key leaders on the project have local ties.
Dan Mehls, Mortenson Construction's construction executive for the Minnesota Twins Ballpark Project, was born and raised in New Richmond. His parents, Chuck and Anne Mehls, still live here. His brother Dave is park manager for the city.
"It's been such an incredible ride over the past three years," Mehls said during an interview Friday. "It's been a whirlwind. It was the fastest three years of my life."
Even though Mortenson turned over the keys to Twins officials in January, Mehls said his construction team has remained close at hand to address any issues that pop up as opening day approaches.
Saturday's baseball game between the Minnesota Gophers and Louisiana Tech served as a good dry-run for everyone. The exhibition games slated for this weekend between the Twins and the St. Louis Cardinals will also give officials one final crack at tweaking the stadium prior to the start of the regular season.
"The Twins organization is scrambling now," Mehls said. "There's a lot of fine tuning that is taking place."
On opening night, Mortenson officials will be on-site to address any additional issues that pop up.
"For us, opening night is kind of a grand finale," Mehls said. "It marks the end of an era for us. It's a grand opening for the rest of the community."
A few weeks after the start of the season, Mortenson will pack up their nearby offices and leave the stadium's operations to the Minnesota Twins.
"It's sad in a way," Mehls said. "Everybody has put so much of their heart and soul into this building. Now we're a guest. Now I'm just like everybody else in the community."
Even so, Mehls said the opening of Target Field is a moment of triumph for the 3,500 laborers who worked on the project.
"The project started three years ago when the (construction) market was still hot," Mehls said. "But it became a stimulus project. It kept construction companies in business and many people employed during down times."
Target Field was constructed on a tight eight-acre site, bounded by two streets, a railroad line, a freeway and existing commercial development. The building had be constructed "from the inside out" as cranes could not be situated on the outside of the structure to complete their work.
Also, much of the building site was an old river bed.
"All the slop and muck we had to work through was a challenge," he said, adding that steel pilings had to be pounded 100 feet down to help stabilize the project.
As the project wraps up, Mehls said every worker deserves credit for the part he or she played in the effort.
"This project is not about any one individual," he said. "It's about teamwork."
The employees all worked hard and stayed on schedule, he said. As a result, Mortenson was able to hand over Target Field to the Twins two months earlier than projected.
A family affair
Two of the key construction supervisors on the Target Field project were Dave and Kelly Mansell of Roberts.
Dave was the the general superintendent for the project, leading the construction crew through the entire process.
"If anyone deserves extra credit for the work they did, it's Dave," Mehls said. "He was the field general. He was always able to get the best out of everybody."
In fact, Dave Mansell will enjoy a big honor when the Twins' opening day arrives. He will toss out the first pitch prior to the team's game against the Boston Red Sox.
"That's kind of cool," Dave Mansell admitted.
Now that the work is done, Dave said he's pleased with the results.
"It turned out very nice," he said. "It's the best project I've ever been on."
But, not one to let grass grow under his feet, Dave said he's already trying to secure his next big project.
"I did my job," he joked. "Now the Twins need to do theirs."
Kelly Mansell, who was an assistant project manager, said the Target Field project was ideal because her family was able to stay in one place for three years and be close to "home." Kelly is originally from New Richmond.
She's now quietly hoping that the Minnesota Vikings stadium becomes a reality and Mortenson is chosen to build it so the couple and their two kids -- Grace, 5, and Lacy, 3 -- don't have to move.
The couple has previously worked on stadiums in Kansas City and Memphis, as well as the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minn.
"This (Target Field) was our biggest project," she noted. "And the most complex. There was a pretty big sigh of relief when we were done."
Kelly said she was thrilled that the project was completed early and under budget.
The Mansell family is excited about the approaching opening day festivities. Both of the Mansell kids have new Twins jerseys to wear for the day.
"It's exciting," Kelly said. "But at the same time, it's bittersweet. We've been driving to work here for three years."
The new Twins stadium has been getting rave reviews so far. It's easy to see why.
A tour of the complex reveals a main concourse that is 40 feet wide (compared to the tight 20-foot concourse confines of the Metrodome). And fans can still watch the action from the concourse area thanks to an open-air design, unlike the Metrodome set-up.
There are wonderful sightlines from all of the stadium seats, and fans get the feeling like they're close to the action no matter where they are seated.
Concessions choices have been expanded at Target Field, and transportation options for fans coming to a game are numerous thanks to a new light rail and commuter rail station next to the stadium.
The grass on the field is lush, thanks to an in-ground heating system that will assure the highest quality turf.
Fans are obviously pumped up to experience a game at Target Field. More than 2.6 million of the 3 million tickets available for the season have already been sold.