This is a weekly feature in which I (and maybe you, too, readers) detail the various reasons for hating your ballpark. This week: The Minnesota Twins' Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
A shot to the Dome: The Metrodome opened in 1982 and now lies hideously on the Minneapolis skyline like some discarded and infested curbside mattress. The stadium has nevertheless served its purpose well, offering Minnesotans an exquisite venue for the enjoyment of monster-truck rallies. As a ballpark, its deformities have always been plain to see. The trash-bag outfield. The trampoline turf. Kirby Puckett. Whenever someone draws up a list of baseball's worst stadiums, the Metrodome always makes the cut. Billy Martin is said to have once wondered aloud how anyone "could name someone like Hubert Humphrey after such a dump." And the absolute worst thing about the Metrodome? It won't be around much longer.
For all its faults, the Metrodome has one distinct advantage over every other ballpark in America: It's actually a good deal. "An old-fashioned lease in a newish stadium," is how Judith Grant Long, an urban planner, put it. That's not to say there weren't plenty of unsavory aspects to the stadium deal, which was struck more or less by a cabal of civic-minded old rich guys who styled themselves an urban growth coalition and treated the Twin Cities like their own personal Monopoly board. (Among them was the publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who in the 1970s was so deeply in the tank for the Metrodome deal that a handful of the newspaper's staffers took out a full-page ad distancing themselves from their own paper's coverage.) It was a baseball urban-renewal project before baseball urban-renewal projects meant dropping a cutesy brick ballpark next to a downtown Banana Republic; if it fell short of actually renewing anything, it at least did so at relatively little cost to the public purse. For one thing, the stadium was strictly a utilitarian undertaking, built on time and (shockingly) under budget. "Get fans in, let 'em see a game, and let 'em go home," a team official once said, long before the advent of the stadium-as-department-store. "That's all we want from a stadium." Today, according to Long's research, it's the cheapest ballpark around, with the government more than recouping the initial outlay for construction through the most favorable lease in sports. The public gets a large chunk of concessions revenues, a quarter of stadium ad revenue and 100 percent of parking fees. (All this comes from a Baseball Prospectus story, which subscribers can read here.) As of 2005, the Metrodome had actually turned a $100 million profit for Minnesotans.
Next year, the Twins move into Populous-designed Target Field. It is everything the Metrodome is not. Open-air. Clean sight lines. Unimposing. Pretty. The word that gets thrown around by the Twins and their architects is "intimate," which, as we've noted before, is really just a new-age con whereby owners pump up ticket prices by slashing seating capacity and then pretend they just did fans a favor. One early review describes Target Field as a "family-oriented entertainment destination," which suggests that the Twins will now be playing in a Chuck E. Cheese. Get wealthy fans in, let 'em do everything but watch a game, and let 'em go home only after buying a bunch of officially licensed merchandise.
The view from the stands (everything sic'd):
A couple of years ago I was watching the beloved local nine at the Dome with my brother, and apparently this was the day the home plate umpire decided not to sesh before the game and alleviate his advanced-stage glaucoma. After calling the third consecutive six-strike walk to load the bases, my brother and I screamed in (profanity-free, mind you-we know our audience) unison, "OH COME ON!!!"
And at that G-rated outburst, every single person-every man, woman and child alike sitting below us in our section-turned their heads in synchronous, counterclockwise, Hitchcockian slow motion to stare at us in their silent, furious, six-hundred eyed judgment. All because we had apparently ruined the tranquil atmosphere of the ballpark by being, well, fairly well behaved baseball fans.
It's emblematic of Beyond Metrodome: two parts of the psychic apparatus enter, one part leaves. Here, you are entering the id-versus-superego crucible, and in the Land of 10,000 Manifestations of Passive Aggressive Behavior, the don't act out/don't rock the boat/don't have fun superego has a scandalous Dome-field advantage. For every Twins fan who exhibits certain actions that fall under the rubric of demonstrative, totally acceptable public displays of emotion-you know: arguing obviously shitty calls, cheering for the home team, laughter and, uh, joy, etc.-they will inevitably encounter the legion of moralizing goons bent on transforming an afternoon at the game into the largest Lutheran Bible camp in Western Civilization. And for the Legion, any outburst that rises above the decibel level of the mild susurrations typically reserved for one's local library is regarded as a rank crime of passion and met with shame-inducing scorn. There's a code of conduct here, people. You better observe it.
And you wonder why you hear such an echo in there. Good times, indeed.
The fact is that, for all the Homer Hankie-waving, bloody eardrum-screaming fervent fan myths of yore, a typical Twins game at the Dome will yield more reprimands of "Down in front!" if you dare to stand during the 2-out, full count, possibly final at bat of a tense, hella exciting Joe Nathan save situation than should ever, ever actually happen. That's not the acrid odor of stale hotdogs and cheap beer you're inhaling in the Dome. That's "Minnesota Nice." And if you're not careful, you just might suffocate from it. To wit, too many Minnesotans keep it all inside a double-walled, Teflon-coated monstrosity that is completely unnatural and ugly as hell. And their baseball is no exception. (Brad Failor)
The second job I ever had was as an usher at the Metrodome. This was during the latter half of high school between 1988-1990.
One day, I was one of the guys working in the lower level center field section. Somebody gets a beach ball going in the section.
As the work rule goes, if you see a beach ball being batted around, confiscate it.
As MY rule goes, don't even bother. I can't tell you how many times I would be working, say, along the first baseline seats and see a hapless usher get caught up in a big game of keep away. It's you vs. a few thousand drunks and, if it's a slow game, you can bet the whole stadium is going to watch and laugh.
Since I'm the fat kid, I should also be able to be lazy and have no one question it. Look at Tubby not chasing the ball. But of course, the dickhead supervisor with a moustache tells me to get the ball, and soon enough it's keep away time. I'm up the steps, down the steps, jogging down rows of seats, being taunted by assholes loaded on 3.2 beer. And sure enough, the Twins are either winning or losing big so I'm the fun of the 7th inning.
Eventually, the ball ends up in some empty seats. Two six year olds chase it down to launch it back into play. I, panting and sweaty, point and bellow with all of my authority "DON'T TOUCH THAT BALL!"
The kids are the only folks in the entire stadium scared of a minimum-wage earning fat boy in a lousy red blazer, leaving me to grab the ball and take it away.
And then, the inevitable happens.
The sound starts in the outfield, but eventually consumes most of the stadium save for the outfield upper deck which was blind to the whole keep away. It's a low, but loud register of disgust.
Either that or I have now changed my name to BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
I've had enough, so I ham it up. "Thank you!" I yell, thrusting my hands above my head. I've got the ball. It's my trophy. I think I pop it right there but I don't remember. I do wave and blow kisses, that much is sure.
I hate people. (Jason Josephes)
It's basically like watching a baseball game in a broken refrigerator. Covered in urine. (Derek G.)
Why does my neck hurt? It's because I just attended a game at the Metrodome. Since it is a football stadium, all of the seats face forward. That's great if you are seated behind home plate. Not great if you are seated along the 3rd baseline. In order to see home plate, you have to crank your neck to some ungodly 110% angle. (Tracy T.)
This one involves the return of Chuck Knoblauch. Upon his return to the great state of Minnesota and the "Dome" Knoblauch entered the game as the left fielder and had no clue what was about to happen. There were no cheers given out to this poor man who has since forgotten how to throw from second to first base. He was received with an abundance of boos and showered with garbage. I was in college at the time, so for that reason I was in the cheap seats ($5 a pop) and with a couple buddies. Even though we paid more for the beer than the ticket we decided to indulge in a few brews and enjoy ourselves a little too much. After the debris had been cleared from the field and Tom Kelly made his appearance on the field to calm the fans down Mr. Gordon (PA announcer) made a statement with regards to the game being called if this behavior continued. Not more than 10 seconds after that a hot dog left the hand of my buddy and landed just short of Mr. Knoblauch's feet. Being inebriated, we thought this was the funniest thing ever and high fives were passed around from fans all around until we were kindly escorted out of the building. After some time with the cops no charges were filed and we were free to go. (Brad)
If you can find video of the game played in the spring of 2001 between the Yankees and the Twins you don't even need to write a column, it was the greatest baseball game ever played. It was student night, $1 dog night, $3 beer night, and Chuck Knoblachs first game playing left field after almost impaling Keith Olbermans mom on a routine throw from second to first. It was a conflagration waiting to happen. I was in high school and I remember every person I talked to was going to this game. Two innings in people started tossing hot dogs at Knobby, and soon after the flood gates opened and the teflon sky was filled with flying dogs. The game had to stop, Torre and Gardenhire came out to plead with the fans to stop...the tossing continued. The late great Bob Casey came over the PA and channeled the anger of a 75 year old man who didn't get his warm milk before bed "This is a championship game, if fans do not refrain from throwing garbage on the field the Minnesota Twins will have to forfeit the game." The game was halted for about 45 minutes total. To this day every person I know from Minneapolis when asked what was the greatest game played at the dome will reference this this game in the same breath as Game 7 of the '91 World Series...I'm proud to say I attended both. (Andy S.)
There's a swastika in the middle of the dome. This cannot be stressed enough. (Steve M.)
Next up: The Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field. Got any horrible experiences to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.