October 02, 2009
Last season, our good friend Tim Snips beautifully eulogized the passing of New York's Shea Stadium. Since he enjoys remembering ballparks that most won't miss, Tim returns this year to wax eloquent on his hometown Metrodome, which is playing host to its final regular season Twins games this weekend. Mr. Snips? The floor is yours ...
On May 4, 1984, Dave Kingman, the all-or-nothing slugger of the Oakland Athletics, hit a pop-up toward the roof of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The ball got caught up in the roof, did not come down, and Kingman was awarded a ground rule double.
Prior to the next day's game, Twins first baseman/jokester Mickey Hatcher took the field to play a prank. A ball would be dropped from the roof into Hatcher's glove, the long-awaited "out" could be recorded, and a good laugh would be had by all. However, Hatcher didn't catch the ball. It instead bounced off the turf and into Hatcher's groin. Both the ball and the first baseman fell to the ground.
That is literally the only story you need to know about the Metrodome.
On Sunday, the Twins will play their last regular season game at the Metrodome against the Royals. In 2010, after 28 seasons under the roof, the Twins will move into beautiful Target Field in Minneapolis' trendy Warehouse District. No more baggied outfield fences, no more weird vestibule area where the pressurized air nearly shoots you through the exit door, and no more aptly-named Dome Dogs (though there definitely should be.)
While nearly everyone is genuinely excited about moving baseball back outside in Minnesota — except perhaps for those people who remember what the weather is like in April — there have been more than a few mumblings about the fact that the Twins' 10th Man will no longer be tipping the odds in their favor. Home field advantage is generally universal, but the Metrodome's was always a bit more substantial than most. The White Sox alone haven't won in Minnesota since the Reagan Administration.
Hey, you want to talk about a stadium helping a team out? The Twins won two World Series during their tenure in the Dome. Both the 1987 and 1991 teams won Games 1 and 2 at home, lost the next three games on the road, and then came back to win the Series by taking games 6 and 7 in Minneapolis. While the ‘87 Series seems to hold a dearer place in Minnesotans' hearts ( there's something about never forgetting your first), the ‘91 Series seems to hold a bigger place in the collective baseball world's memory, what with Kirby Puckett's "And We'll See You Tomorrow Night!" heroics in Game 6, and the epic Jack Morris 10-inning shutout in Game 7.
What both Series have in common was the boost that the raucous crowd of Homer Hanky-waving Lutherans gave the Twins on those cold autumn nights. Both the Cardinals and Braves were driven absolutely bonkers by the Dome's combination of ear-splitting noise and the roof's disorienting white backdrop. Somewhere, Lonnie Smith is still wondering whether Terry Pendleton's smash made it to the outfield.
Aside from the two titles, there were plenty of other Twins memories during the Dome Era to savor. Puckett and Kent Hrbek breaking in. Three of Saint Paul's native sons — Morris, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield — closing out their twilight years back home. Another neighbor, Joe "The Baby Jesus" Mauer, reinventing what it means to be a catcher. The coulda-woulda-shoulda Justin Morneau(notes)/Torii Hunter/Johan Santana(notes)/Joe Nathan teams of just a few years ago. A couple no-hitters. The Berenguer Boogie. TC Bear's mildly entertaining antics.
But, really, it all comes back to Mickey Hatcher. It goes without saying that no team would allow their first baseman to try to catch a ball traveling at its terminal velocity as some sort of pregame goof anymore. Such silliness is the relic of a simpler time in baseball's history. The Metrodome is such an anachronism, as well. Teams no longer want no-frills, utilitarian domes to share with the town's NFL and college football teams (yes, the Gophers played there, though you'd never know it). Nowadays, teams want to play in the sunshine, with manufactured nostalgia and designer snacks. Everyone loves this stuff, and rightfully so; cool ballparks are fun, and baseball should be played in the open air.
So no, they don't build them like they used to, and no, Target Field will be nothing like the Metrodome. But while we in the Twin Cities may not miss the old building itself, it remains quite possible that we will miss the tremendous spirit inside.