A piece — or rather, 400 pieces — of Minnesota baseball history now gleam in the summer sunshine at Royals Stadium after being salvaged in February.
The Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis has vanished, replaced by a massive crater filled with construction cranes and cement trucks and steel-helmeted workers in a commotion of hyperintense building activity.
But vestiges of the old stadium live on inside the eight-year-old Royals Stadium at Woodbury High School.
When it became apparent that the new Vikings stadium would be built, Royals baseball coach Kevin McDermott had his eyes on securing the Dome’s old seats for his field.
“It really came about a couple of years before they actually started to tear down the Metrodome,” said McDermott, adding he might well have been the first in line.
“I was kind of proactive about it, so when they became available, I jumped on it. I thought it would be a cool addition to our stadium.”
From rough-edged towns of the Iron Range to farm communities amid the cornfields of southern Minnesota to the prairies of South Dakota, many of the approximately 60,000 plastic seats sheltered in the Dome for more than 30 seasons have assumed second lives as repurposed bits of useful memorabilia.
At Woodbury High, the 400 royal-blue seats are a perfect match for the team’s colors. Before they were installed this spring, the fans had only bare concrete of the bleachers to sit on; most would bring their lawn chairs or blankets.
The school’s athletic department and team boosters bought the seats at $40 apiece, and are offering sponsorships to recoup some of those costs.
Adding the seats, McDermott said, is just part of an ongoing effort to improve Royals Stadium. A significant project has been part of that effort each year since 2010, including the addition of a new scoreboard, windscreen, press box and turf.
McDermott, who has been head coach for five years and part of the Royals’ baseball program for 11 years, also said those improvements are an extension of the “Reece’s Bleachers” program that raised the money to build the stadium in the first place.
The program was begun by the parents of Reece Meikle, a 15-year-old Woodbury boy who had dreamed of playing ball for the school but died of a mysterious blood disease in April 2004, a few months short of his freshman year.
“Whenever we do something here, it’s in his honor,” McDermott said.
That kind of community spirit helped the herculean task of getting the seats from Minneapolis to Woodbury.
A trucking company hauled the seats, which had to be put in storage under the football stadium stands for the winter. The coach, players, parents, even Woodbury High’s athletic director were pressed into service to unload them.
“It was one of those February days when it was really cold — well below zero,” McDermott said. “It was not a fun day, let’s put it that way.”
They then waited for spring to come for the final installation. And waited. And waited.
When the weather broke, the volunteers were again summoned. McDermott’s players are required to complete five hours of community service each year, and hauling the seats to the baseball stadium helped many fill that obligation.
A crew from Century College’s 916 program, in which high school students can earn college credit in areas like construction, also pitched in. The work was overseen by Custom Craft Builders of Stillwater, which did the work at a discount, McDermott said.