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Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome / Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Metrodome

Hailed as an engineering marvel when it opened in 1982 and abandoned by the Minnesota Twins for a spiffier Target Field, the Metrodome is still a functioning ballpark, hosting Golden Gopher baseball as well as a slew of small-college and high-school games every winter and spring.

FAST FACTS

Address: 34 Kirby Puckett Place, Minneapolis.
First Game: April 6, 1982.
Cost: $55 million.
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Owner: Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
Capacity: 48,678.
Dimensions: 343L, 385LC, 408C, 367RC, 327R.
Playing Surface: Sports Turf (1982-1987) Astroturf (1987-2003), AstroPlay (2004-present)
Other Tenants: Minnesota Vikings (NFL). The Metrodome was formerly home to the Minnesota Twins (MLB) and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA football). The Metrodome was also inaugural home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
First Game: On April 6, 1982, the Twins drew 52,279 fans for the first regular-season game at the Metrodome. The Seattle Mariners defeated the Twins 11-7 despite a 4-for-4 effort from rookie Twins 3B Gary Gaetti, who slammed two homers and almost had a third when he tried to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park homer. The Twins played two exhibition games against the Philadelphia Phillies before this opener, however; Pete Rose has the distinction of the first hit in the Dome.
Landmark Events: 1985 All-Star Game (won by the National League 6-1), 1987 World Series (won by the Twins over the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-3), and the 1991 World Series (won by the Twins over the Atlanta Braves, 4-3). Also, the Metrodome is the only facility to play host to the World Series, All-Star Game, Super Bowl (1992), and NCAA Final Four Basketball Tournament (1992 and 2001).

This article was written when the Minnesota Twins were a tenant of the Metrodome, well before the opening of Target Field. Take it with a historical perspective.

Metrodome: Coasting on Memories
When it first opened, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was hailed by many as a ballpark of the future, a refinement on earlier domes that allowed for more flexibility and a better atmosphere. With a slightly translucent roof, you could sorta tell when the sun was out. With retractable seats and a pitching mound that lowered underground, the Metrodome can host a Twins game beginning in the late morning and have the field converted in time for an evening Vikings or Gophers football game. And since it is climate-controlled, those farmers from North Dakota making their yearly pilgrimage to Minneapolis would be assured of a Twins game no matter how bad the weather is outside.

Why, it even came in under budget.

Today the Metrodome is reviled by almost everyone involved with it; the only variance seems to be how much people hate it. (Confession time: we complain incessantly about the Hump, yet we manage to fork over our bucks for partial season tickets each year.) It’s sterile, say longtime Twins fans, especially on one of those glorious June Minnesota nights. In fact, many Twins fans actively avoid going to games at the Dome, preferring instead to follow their Twinkies on the road in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Kansas City.

Is the Metrodome that unlovable? For the most part, yes. The concourses are cramped, monotonous in their sterile concrete sheen, and poorly lit. The concessions are limited and the amenities are few. Since a bureaucratic sports commission owns and runs the place, there’s little stress on customer service and little thought given to fan comfort. You have no spots to stand around and just watch the game, making it impossible moving around during a game to view the action from a few different viewpoints. Unless your seat is between the bases or in the outfield bleachers, be prepared to crane your neck for most of a game.

Metrodome

It’s just not a very good place to view a game unless you’re in the ballpark’s few sweet spots; the Metrodome was designed was football, and the sightlines show it. Overall the Metrodome has a rectangular configuration ideal for football, and one side of the seats retract to provide enough space for a baseball diamond and full outfield. It’s a pretty compact playing field: the right-field foul pole is only 327 feet from home plate, and the 23-foot-high “baggie” out in right field makes the Metrodome semi-respectable as a baseball facility while also covering up most of the 7,600 retracted seats. (It also gives opposing outfielders fits: while Fenway Park’s Green Monster is solid, the baggie has a lot of slack, so many balls bounce directly down to the warning track.)

The many quirks lead to the most interesting thing about the Metrodome: it is the MLB ballpark where ground rules and odd dimensions impact a game the most, giving the Twins a definite home-field advantage. If you look at the stats, there were years when a lot of home runs were hit in the Metrodome, attributed by many to the cozy dimensions of the Dome. This lead the Twins to install Plexiglas windows on top of the left-field wall. Today, the windows are gone and fewer homers hit.

The ballpark hasn't changed, so what’s the deal? In the Homerdome days, the Twins had plenty of players (Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky, Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti) capable of hitting 30+ homers in a season, while the pitching staffs were fairly weak. In 1999-2001, the Dome became the fifth-stingiest ballpark for homers (behind Oakland, Seattle, Boston, and Detroit), and the Twins hit more homers on the road than in the Dome. Today, the Twins have strong pitching staffs (Johann Santana won the 2004 American League Cy Young Award) and a roster made up mostly of utility infielders, and the homer rate is down dramatically. The stats may be a little misleading in this instance.

Still, the Twins do use the Metrodome to their advantage. For instance, much of the outfield “wall” has a good amount of give, which allowed Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter to wow crowds with their leaping grabs of balls seemingly destined to be hit beyond their reach. The center field fence technically is 408 feet from home plate, but realistically it’s at least three or four more feet more than that when you consider the give. Puckett and Hunter used that give to their advantage, being two of the best outfielders ever to use a defensive play to turn a game around.

The backstop is oddly offset in the corner of the rectangle, making seats in the immediate ball diamond corner pretty decent for baseball but leaving almost every other seat in the place awkwardly situated for baseball. The angled backstop also leads to some weird caroms on wild pitches and passed balls.

And then there’s the roof. Opposing players hate the roof, especially on a summer afternoon when the sun is high and enough light comes through to brighten it. You can count on five or six visiting players per season losing fly balls, which is pretty entertaining. Sadly, the lives of opposing outfielders became easier when AstroPlay was installed at the Dome: it’s less bouncy than AstroTurf, so it’s pretty rare now for a ball to bounce over the head of a rapidly charging outfielder.

Even though we mock the Metrodome roof, it actually was an engineering marvel when first constructed. Despite the appearance, it’s not a cloth-based roof: instead, it’s 10 acres of Teflon-coated fiberglass in two layers. And it’s not as light as it appears: it weighs 580,000 pounds. The air in the Metrodome must be constantly pressurized in order to keep the roof inflated, which accounts for the constant breezes flowing through the Dome.

It also accounts for the stories of the Metrodome fans being turned on and off to supposedly benefit the home team. Yes, the air movement is usually pronounced at the end of a game.  That’s also the time when fans are leaving the Dome, causing a drop in air pressure. Have the Twins manipulated the air conditioning? We don’t know. Do rumors of air-conditioning shenanigans play mind games on opposing players? That’s for sure.

TRIVIA
Before the collapse of the Metrodome roof in the fall of 2010, the roof held up pretty well, never totally collapsing -- though it’s come close a few times. The most memorable time came during the seventh inning of an April 26, 1986 game between the Twins and the California Angels. A heavy storm tore a hole in the outer skin of the roof, causing it to sag and leak rainwater onto the playing surface. The roof was designed to be self-healing in such an instance, however, and although the roof sagged enough to lower the lights almost to the upper-deck seats, the healing mechanism kicked in and the roof reinflated. Two of the authors of this book were at this game and had the indescribable pleasure of hearing longtime Twins announcer Bob Casey ask folks -- in an agitated voice -- to calmly evacuate to the concourses. Nine minutes after the roof started sagging, the turf was vacuumed and the game resumed. By the way, the home team was deflated far more than the roof that day. The Twins lost 7-6 after the Angels rallied for six runs in the ninth inning.

On April 14, 1983, a scheduled game against the California Angels was postponed after the roof was torn by the weight of heavy snow. It is the only postponed baseball game in Metrodome history.

TRIVIA
Only one batter has hit the ball out of the Metrodome. On May 4, 1984, Dave Kingman, then with the Oakland A’s, hit a popup through one of the many ventilation holes in the Metrodome roof. He was awarded a ground-rule double for his troubles, despite loud complaints from the A’s coaching staff.

Outfielders may hate the roof, but batters aren’t always thrilled with the ground rules at the Metrodome, either. There’s a lot of stuff hanging from the Metrodome roof – lights, speakers, a catwalk, some lighting grids for concerts – and occasionally a home run will turn into a double, a foul ball, or an out after striking a cable or another fixture. Several players have hit balls off the roof: the Twins’ Randy Bush did so in 1983 (it was caught in foul ground by the Blue Jays’ Buck Martinez for an out), while the Tigers’ Rob Deer bounced two off the roof on May 30, 1992, with Twins shortstop Greg Gagne catching both. That same season Chili Davis hit a blast to right field that struck a speaker and caromed to Orioles second baseman Mark McLemore, who caught it for an out.  (The ground rules are not very clear. If a ball hits a speaker or roof in fair territory, the final landing point for the ball determines whether it’s fair or foul. So let’s say Joe Mauer really gets his back into one and launches a mammoth shot down the right-field line, but it hits a speaker. If the ball heads into the stands, it’s a foul ball. If it lands somewhere in center field, it’s a fair ball. If it’s caught by a fielder, it’s an out. However, if Mauer pops one and it hits a speaker in foul territory, it will forever be a foul ball – and an out if caught by a fielder.)

Despite all the quirks, the Metrodome has been home to many of the most memorable World Series games in history. The Twins never lost a World Series game at the Metrodome, winning all eight home games in the 1987 and 1991 series without garnering a single road victory either year. Nary will a Twins fan forget Dan Gladden’s dramatic grand-slam homer against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987, in the first World Series game played indoors. The 1991 World Series against the Atlanta Braves was even more memorable for its dramatics. Wrestling fan Kent Hrbek put a hold on Atlanta outfield Ron Gant and forced him off first base while tagging him out, preserving a Twins victory in Game 2. Kirby Puckett single-handedly willed the Twins to a seventh game with a 3-for-4 performance in Game Six, including a dramatic 11th-inning homer that won the game. And then there was one of the greatest games in World Series history: Game Seven, where local hero Jack Morris threw a shutout over 10 innings before Gene Larkin’s single drove in the winning run in a 1-0 win.

Today, attending a Minnesota Twins baseball game is sort of an oddball experience. A taped announcement from the late Bob Casey telling fans there’s no smoking in the Metrodome (smoking was once allowed in the underventilated concourses; Lord, that was nasty) gets a round of cheers from many in the Minnesota sporting audience. The big between-innings entertainment is watching someone in the second deck try to throw a baseball into the bed of a truck. And you never really get used to the smell of the place; think plastic and you get an approximate scent. A ballpark should smell like a ballpark with hamburgers on the grille and popcorn in the popper. None of the sensual pleasures of baseball – mown grass, a cool breeze, that gentle transition from day to night – are present in the Metrodome. And we are all the worse for it.

Ballpark Quirks
There are a slew of them, most of which we’ve already discussed. Also notable: the curtain in center/right-center field, added prior to the 1996 season. It does give the Metrodome a cozier feel while giving the Twins space to display banners celebrating retired greats Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett, and Kent Hrbek.

When the Metrodome opened it lacked air conditioning; the thinking was that the air constantly moving throughout the stadium would keep indoor temperatures cool, but put 30,000+ fans into a confined space and there’s no way circulating air would be enough. Metrodome management finally relented and installed air conditioning in the midst of the 1983 season.

Today a Gophers baseball game is a sedate affair; a crowd of 3,000 or so is a big one, and the focus of the event is almost totally on the playing field, with limited concessions and little hoopla.

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