If the new Vikings stadium can't accommodate local college baseball teams, the sport could take a major hit.
Time Magazine recently rated the Metrodome as the worst stadium in the United States, an unflattering honor that probably found little opposition around here.
The place has been ridiculed, cursed and mocked as a Teflon-coated dump. It's been spit on, spit in and had its roof collapse under the weight of snow. The Dome's demise upon construction of a new billion-dollar Vikings palace will be cheered in many quarters as something long overdue.
But not everyone espouses that opinion.
"It's going to be a sad day when it's gone," Gophers baseball coach John Anderson said.
The Metrodome has served as a lifeboat for amateur baseball in the Upper Midwest. A refuge from winter weather, the stadium is home to hundreds of baseball games each year, collegiate and high school. The Gophers played 37 games there this season and typically averaged 15 to 20 games at the Dome each season before their on-campus home, Siebert Field, became too dilapidated and unsafe.
The Gophers are scheduled to break ground on their new $7.5 million stadium in June and anticipate playing games there next spring. An artificial turf surface will help with inclement weather but "how do you schedule to play out there in March and then you have to cancel the games," Anderson said.
Their home away from home will become a pile of rubble before long, an inevitable outcome that leaves many in the baseball community with some anxiety. People routinely ask Anderson what he will do without the Dome.
"Retire," he says.
That's a joke, but his concern about what comes next is sincere. Vikings executive Jeff Anderson said the team "committed to a multi-purpose facility that will include continued opportunities for baseball," which is an appropriate gesture since this project was billed as the "People's Stadium."
John Anderson probably won't rest easy, however, until he sees the stadium's design and configuration to make sure it offers legitimate baseball dimensions and not some goofy setup that simply meets minimum standards of four bases and a pitcher's mound.
The Gophers lack any real leverage in this discussion, though. From a purely practical standpoint, it's the Vikings' stadium, and they can build it however they see fit. The team labored for more than a decade to win stadium approval, so one can safely assume a greater emphasis will be placed on luxury suites and wide concourses than the location of dugouts and bullpens.
But the importance of a domed stadium to the health of amateur baseball in this area cannot be ignored either. College baseball is a financial drain on athletic departments and the sport's viability remains a topic of debate in many places as schools grapple with its cost-benefit. Our harsh winters only complicate matters.
As the college baseball calendar continues to expand, northern teams remain hamstrung by weather restrictions. In its 124-year history, the Gophers baseball team has played an outdoor home game before April 1 only six times.
Without a domed stadium, the Gophers likely would reduce their home schedule by half -- probably 18 to 20 games total -- and spend the first six weekends of the season on the road. That's expensive and hardly conducive for a program trying to remain competitive on a national scale.
Teams at lower levels face similar issues. MIAC schools play an average of 80-90 games in the Dome every year. College teams from Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas rent the building, and the stadium's calendar is chock-full of doubleheaders, some starting as late as 10 p.m.
MIAC official Matt Higgins said the league has not heard from the Vikings yet, but members are "keeping their fingers crossed" that their relationship will continue in the new stadium.
"Northern schools are already at such a disadvantage because of the weather factor that we've been really fortunate to have this resource basically right in the backyard of most of our schools," Higgins said.
Those schools were forced to make other arrangements last year while the Dome's roof was being repaired. Some added extra games to their annual spring break trips. Others bused to warmer locations and crammed in as many games as possible over a weekend.
"There were a lot of different approaches, and I don't think that's something people want to go through again," Higgins said.
Hopefully that won't be the case. The Vikings sound willing to open their doors to baseball and that's a good thing. For all its warts and faults, the Metrodome served a valuable purpose, which proves that even a dive has some appeal.
Chip Scoggins • email@example.com
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