The advice being offered to Twin Cities residents through the week was that the first day of baseball in the new dome would offer protection from elements similar to the first day of baseball in the previous dome.
As it turned out, the snowstorm embarrassed our meteorological giants by staying south, and the first ballgames played in the $1.1 billion shrine to the Vikings needed protection only from the cold.
Baseball had made its debut at the Metrodome with an exhibition game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Twins on April 3, 1982. There was light snow and gusts of wind reaching 70 miles per hour on the Minnesota prairie.
A headline in the Minneapolis Tribune the next morning lamented the outbreak of cold had caused flocks of robins to turn around and return to whence they had arrived.
That was so long ago there still were enough robins to serve their traditional role as our “first sign of spring.”
Pete Rose had the first hit and rookie Kent Hrbek hit two home runs in the Twins’ 5-0 victory. This did not make Big Herbie the happiest man in the ballpark. That honor fell to Sid Hartman, the Tribune’s pro-Dome columnist.
“Five years from now, it will be hard to find anybody who was ever against building the Metrodome,” read Sid’s first paragraph in the April 4 edition.
The Metrodome had its issues with fly balls lost in the Teflon sky, ridiculous bounces and a Hefty bag for a fence, but two World Series were won with an 8-0 record in there, and it would be hard to find anybody who would be against those.
Another person who greatly enjoyed the big blue baseball room was John Anderson, who was entering his first season as the Gophers head coach in 1982.
By 1984, the Gophers were playing a healthy schedule of early-season March games in the Dome.
“It was a major league facility,” Anderson said. “The Metrodome was great for us, and for all levels of baseball in the Upper Midwest.”
This was late Friday afternoon and Anderson, now in season No. 36, was watching his players take batting practice in the Taj Ma Zygi (also known as U.S. Bank Stadium).
The Metrodome was built for the Twins as a co-tenant and had an open-door policy for baseball. The Zygi was built for the Vikings, and the team’s preference was not to have a reasonable baseball configuration that could interfere however modestly with its wonderful money grab.
Only the vow of Gov. Mark Dayton that this would be the People’s Stadium, and the baseball zealots insisting that they were people, too, made possible what the Gophers were cavorting on for their first February home game since Feb. 27, 2013.
“There are challenges, but we have no complaints about the effort of the stadium people to make it feasible for baseball,” Anderson said.
One thing the operators were not going to do was fail to remind baseball that it’s squatting in Vikings territory. As in the Metrodome, the right-field barrier is a huge baggy, but this one is Purple and there are 16 Vikings logos on the temporary fencing from center to right field.
The surface is all turf other than a narrow cutout on the mound, allowing a pitcher to land with his front foot on dirt. The bullpen mounds are all turf with prominent seams and look dangerous for an outfielder chasing a fly ball.
As it turned out, the field played well, other than the dirt portion of the mound. It’s simply a large hunk on top of a six-part contraption that makes up the mound. The dirt started coming apart, which might have contributed to 11 walks issued by the Gophers and four by Seattle.
The Gophers were down 3-0 early, then scored four runs in three different innings for a 13-4 victory. The official time of game was 3:45, and the crowd was announced at 1,288.
Catcher Matt Stemper had three hits, including the first Gophers home run in this yard. It hit the fabric foul pole in left, exactly 330 feet.
“I was running hard because I lost the ball,” he said. “I didn’t know it was a home run until I saw the umpire signaling.”
Center fielder Ben Mezzenga made a terrific throw in the first to get an important out for struggling starter Lucas Gilbreath.
“I was impressed with the way the field plays,” he said. “The roof is so high that light stays on the ball. It might be tougher in the day, when sun comes through the glass part of the roof, but it wasn’t hard at all to track the ball tonight.”