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Minnesota Supreme Court refuses to hear Twins' appeal
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
February 5, 2002

The Minnesota Supreme Court has let stand a lower court ruling that binds the Minnesota Twins to the Metrodome for another season. The court order all but guarantees plans to eliminate the team will be put on hold for at least the coming year. The team is expressing some disappointment with the court's decision, but the team's landlord and the team's fans are embracing the news.

Listen to an interviewwith Twins President Jerry Bell and MPR editor Bill Wareham.

(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

In a two-paragraph order, Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz declined to consider an appeal sought by the Twins and Major League Baseball. That decision allows a November ruling by a Hennepin County district judge to remain in effect, forcing the team to play at the Metrodome through the 2002 season.

Team president Jerry Bell agreed the ruling makes it extremely difficult to move ahead with plans to contract - or eliminate - the team.

"nobody wants to lose their rights. But on the other hand, it does mean that we will play another season here. I think it's probably a short-term victory. But we had an exciting team last year and we expect to do well this year," he said.

Bell says the issue of contraction is likely to resurface next year, when the Twins will have no binding use agreement to enforce. A spokesman for Major League Baseball didn't return a phone call seeking comment. But an attorney for the team and the league said he was disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision and pledged to explore other legal avenues. That could include an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the dome, however, welcomed the ruling. Attorney Corey Ayling, who represents the commission, says it's unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case, and he called the decision a strong precedent for protecting the public interest.

"The public enters into these use agreements and spends a lot of time and resources, and, in fact, even subsidizes the use agreement, in return for an enforceable obligation to play games. And the commission, which is the steward of this Metrodome, will enforce obligations to play games," Ayling said.

Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, carried a stadium bill last year. Mares has often argued that a new stadium is crucial for the long-term survival of the franchise. He says the court decision offers more breathing room.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

The baseball players' union was also pleased by the court decision. In a written statement, players association director Donald Fehr called the ruling "good news for the fans." He says players and owners can now focus on labor negotiations.

Twins fans and employees are equally happy. Angel O'Neal, a concession stand manager at the Metrodome, says while contraction loomed overhead, he and others worried their livelihoods were on the line.

"A lot of people have lost their jobs now, and so it's a really scary job market. It's not like two years ago when everyone was looking for help. So we were very, very worried that we were all going to be unemployed and wouldn't be able to feed our families," O'Neal said.

The focus of the Twins debate is now likely to shift to the Legislature. Last month, a tripartisan stadium task force recommended the state assist in the construction of a Twins ballpark, as well as one for the Vikings and the University of Minnesota Gophers.

Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, carried a stadium bill last year. Mares has often argued that a new stadium is crucial for the long-term survival of the franchise. He says the court decision offers more breathing room, but he says it won't fundamentally alter stadium dynamics.

"It doesn't make our situation any different in the Legislature. We have to address it. I understand there's bigger issues than that right now, but I firmly believe that you'll see some action one way or another by the Legislature in the '02 session," Mares said.

Mares' bill - and a Senate companion - remain alive at the Legislature. Just last week an new proposal was introduced to build a St. Paul stadium, in part through an increase in that city's bar and restaurant tax. And Alabama businessman Donald Watkins is actively pursuing a stake in the team. Watkins has said if he acquires the Twins, he'll build a new ballpark entirely with private dollars.

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