La Velle E. Neal III's Sunday Insider: Three decades have passed since Dome ball disappeared

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2014 - 12:04 AM

Dave Kingman's ball went up, and never came down, on May 4, 1984.

Twins third baseman John Castino, left, and shortstop Houston Jimenez waited for — and worried about — the pop-up off the bat of Oakland’s Dave Kingman that never came down from the Metrodome roof.

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Even now, a player will hit a sky-high pop-up at Target Field, and Kent Hrbek will think, “That would have hit the roof of the Dome.”

And that’s because it happened.

It was 30 years ago Sunday when one of quirkiest moments in Metrodome history occurred. Oakland’s Dave Kingman — one of baseball’s all-time feast-or-famine hackers — hit a pop-up off lefthander Frank Viola that was so high that it went through a hole in the roof of the Dome and never came down.

Hrbek was out because of an injury but watched as his replacement, Mickey Hatcher, and other Twins players looked up at the Teflon roof in befuddlement.

“Literally, we had lost the ball,” Hrbek said.

The Dome was known for its quirks. There was a blind spot down the left-field line, so outfielders had to keep running until they picked up the ball again. Home runs were thwarted by the baggie in right. And plenty of pop flies clanged off the speakers that were attached to the roof. The most famous speaker-ball was in 2000, when the Angels’ Mo Vaughn thought he had hit a long two-run homer, only to see the ball hit a speaker and carom to the field for a no-run single.

Many felt it was a matter of time before a ball would disappear into one of the holes in the Dome’s roof. The holes were part of a drainage system that, by design, would keep the Dome from collapsing under heavy snow (I know, I know).

Hrbek remembers being mildly surprised by the Kingman play.

“We were like, ‘It finally happened … so what happens now?’ ” Hrbek said.

Kingman was given a ground-rule double on the play. Viola eventually pitched the Twins to a 3-1 victory. Hatcher joked afterward that he spent the rest of the game looking up at the roof with his hands held out, because “you knew it was going to come down and hit you in the head sometime.”

Before the next day’s game, a worker went up to the roof, got the ball and dropped it as Hatcher stood below and tried, unsuccessfully, to catch it.

“We were just talking about that,” Hrbek said. “We were at fantasy camp, and Hatch was there for the first time. He said, ‘Everyone was laughing at me. I couldn’t see the darn thing when they dropped it and it almost hit me in the head.’ ”

Ten years ago, the Twins brought Kingman in to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the play. The Angels were in town, and Hatcher was their hitting coach. So there was an re-enactment. Hatcher dressed up in catcher’s gear, went out between first and second, and a Dome staffer went to the roof and dropped a ball. Hatcher stumbled and fell as the ball bounced off him.

“He said he tried to catch it,” Kingman joked.

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