Farewell to the Metrodome: Sweet and sour sorrow

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2013 - 12:11 PM

Parting with the Dome thrills baseball purists, but baseball fans hold tight to their memories.

Pete Redfern was the Opening Day starter when the Metrodome played host to its first regular-season baseball game in 1982. He still remembers his exact thoughts upon entering his new home: "The Vikings are going to love this."

Over the past 28 summers, Redfern has had plenty of company among baseball players feeling as if they were plying their trade in a football stadium. The Twins will begin their final series in the Dome tonight against Kansas City, bidding farewell to the stadium in front of an expected packed house Sunday before moving next season to outdoor Target Field.

The baseball purists certainly will celebrate. No longer will balls be lost against the gray Teflon ceiling or bounce off speakers; a giant baggie no longer will serve as the right-field fence. And that's not to mention the narrow concourses, the extra long rows of seats that make it so inconvenient to head for the cramped restrooms and the sight lines that were built for a rectangular field, not a baseball diamond.

As Justin Morneau said this month, the Metrodome is "not really a baseball field." He added, "Of course, when it was snowing outside, it was great."

That has been the most frequent praise for the building. Every day, there was no threat of a weather postponment -- save, of course, for the 1983 game when snow caved in the roof.

And yet, this building that was so routinely ridiculed as a baseball stadium will evoke a good deal of emotion this weekend. Quirky and outdated, certainly. But also a warehouse of baseball memories, more special ones, in fact, than any Minnesota sports arena has ever held.

The Metrodome was the place where the Twins won two Game 7s, in 1987 and 1991, the only world championships a recent major sports franchise in Minnesota has ever won. It was the place where, in 1987, after winning the American League Championship Series in Detroit, an overflow crowd showed up to welcome home the players who were headed toward the World Series. It was the place where thousands remained after the final game of the 2006 regular season to watch Detroit and Kansas City on the giant scoreboard, and then celebrated the Twins' division title when the Royals rallied to win. And the place where, earlier that year, thousands gathered for a memorial service to say goodbye to Kirby Puckett after the Twins great died prematurely of a stroke at age 45.

The need for a dome

The Twins and Vikings both began their Minnesota tenures in 1961 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. By the early 1970s, the stadium was found wanting by both teams, and when Twins attendance dipped to 662,401 in 1974, rumors began to circulate that owner Calvin Griffith was considering relocating his franchise.

The campaign for a new stadium began in earnest then. Griffith initially favored a remodeled Met Stadium that would include a retractable roof that he believed was a necessity.

The Vikings, as they so often have, set the agenda, and the decision was made in 1978 to build a downtown domed stadium to house both teams. But Calvin and his son, Clark Griffith, had aces up their sleeves when they balked at signing a 30-year Dome lease. After months of negotiations, the Twins did sign a lease, but it contained what would prove to be an important "out clause" that enabled them to leave if average attendance at the Dome failed to reach 1.4 million, or the team suffered net operating losses, in any of three consecutive seasons. The Griffiths essentially signed 10 three-year leases.

"It was the best out clause ever drafted," Clark Griffith said this month.

The out clause transferred to Carl Pohlad when the Griffiths sold the team in 1984, and it would set the stage for threats of relocation that ultimately would play a role in the Twins gaining legislative approval for funding Target Field.

If you thought the Dome was bad for baseball in its latter years, you should have seen it early. Or, as former Twins star Gary Gaetti said, "There's been so many improvements and changes over the years, they finally got it working the way they wanted, and now it's time to move on."

When the Dome opened in 1982, there was no 27-foot baggie in right field. There was no Plexiglas in left field, allowing line drives to sail -- or bounce if they hit the turf -- into the stands. And there was no air conditioning.

"I'd go pick up my wife after the game and look at her and say, 'What the hell happened to you?' " said Rick Stelmaszek, who began his tenure as Twins bullpen coach in 1981, their last year at Met Stadium. "She had mascara running down her face, her blouse was soaking wet. But she was a trouper. She stayed there through nine innings."

The Twins failed to attract even 1 million fans their first year in the building, partly, of course, because the team was composed largely of rookies such as Gaetti, Kent Hrbek and Tom Brunansky and lost 102 games. And as for the purists, they could barely watch.

It took weeks to perfect the glare from the ceiling lights, which led to repeated lost fly balls. The turf was rock hard, leading to hits such as Tim Teufel's 150-foot, three-run homer that bounced over the head of onrushing White Sox right fielder Harold Baines in the ninth inning and gave the Twins a 3-2 victory in 1984. And with no baggie or Plexiglas, line drives became home runs.

"It was a pitcher's nightmare," Redfern said. "I walked in, looked at the building and went, 'Oh, no.' Roy Smalley looked at it and was, 'All right.' "

Slowly, the stadium was improved. Air conditioning, Plexiglas and the baggie all came in 1983. The turf was softened several times, the last time when FieldTurf was added in 2004.

And yet, there were some things that could not be fixed. You have a gray ceiling, and speakers attached, you're going to have adventures. Or rather, misadventures.

The most memorable fly ball came on May 4, 1984, when Oakland's Dave Kingman hit a pop-up that went through one of the roof air holes along the left-field line. The ball never came down, and Kingman was awarded a roof-rule double.

There are other fly balls almost as memorable/comical. David Ortiz, after moving from the Twins to Boston, hit a monstrous shot to right field in 2006 that appeared a certain home run, only to hit a speaker and drop to the turf. Ortiz got only a single out of what appeared to be a 450-foot blast.

"It's like playing putt-putt golf, you've got to go around the windmill," Boston manager Terry Francona said then. "... This is major league baseball. That's embarrassing."

In 2002, Twins reliever Eddie Guardado dived for and caught a foul ball that had caromed off a speaker along the third-base line. "He did a bellyflop in front of our dugout," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said in September, laughing at the memory. "You just don't see that sort of thing."

Not everyone had a sense of humor about the Dome. As manager of the Yankees in 1985, Billy Martin let loose with a profanity-laced tirade against the building after his team lost 8-6, with half of the Twins' runs attributable to balls being lost in the lights of the roof.

"This park should be barred from baseball" was among the mildest of Martin's comments.

Twins closer Joe Nathan wasn't laughing on the June 2007 day against Milwaukee when outfielder Lew Ford lost Prince Fielder's seemingly harmless fly. The ball landed 50 feet behind the befuddled Ford, enabling the 260-pound Fielder to circle the bases with an inside-the-park home run.

"It wasn't his fault he lost the ball in the roof of a football stadium," Nathan said after the game.

Thanks for the memories

And yet, for all of its comical moments, there will be tears when the Metrodome pushes its baseball spectators out with a gust of air for the final time.

"There's nothing but great memories for me during the time I played there," said Hrbek, the Bloomington native who became a two-time world champion with his hometown team. "It's kind of bittersweet. It's nice to see the Twins get their own ballpark instead of playing in a football stadium, but you're pushing out [a part of history]. That's the sad part.

"The guys I'm going to be sitting with, it's going to be like moving out of an old house where you shared tons of memories, and there's probably going to be tears shed because of it."

Gaetti agreed, saying Sunday would be "a sad day." So many memories, he said, perhaps none as emotional as the welcome home after the ALCS-clinching victory at Detroit in 1987.

"That night was really, really special, really emotional," Gaetti said. "We thought there were going to be a few thousand people at the Dome, and it was packed. It was unbelievable."

Said Hrbek: "I still get chills whenever I walk down the runway [behind the right-field fence that players entered the field from that night]. ... There'll never be another moment like that, for sure."

No, and there might never be another baseball stadium quite like the Metrodome, where the home team was 8-0 in two World Series and 0-6 on the road. Where the home team had a .528 regular-season winning percentage (1,210-1,082), compared to .441 on the road (982-1,244-1).

The Twins, quite simply, got to know the nooks and crannies of their building, and took full advantage. In the early years, for example, Tom Brunansky said whenever it rained there was a wet spot from a leak in the roof just beyond second base. Any baserunner taking a wide turn at second was in danger.

"[Shortstop Greg] Gagne and I had a play on any time a guy looked like he was going to third and held up," Brunansky said. "I would throw back to second and sure enough, boom-boom, the runner would hit the wet spot and we'd have an easy out. The building was a huge home-field advantage. Kind of quirky and a lot of oddities to it."

Clark Griffith, so instrumental in the move to the Dome, said he will be sad as he watches the Twins play their final Dome game Sunday. The new building is beautiful and all that, but he predicts the lack of a retractable roof will soon be cause for lament.

And no matter how beautiful Target Field is, Griffith predicts it won't be able to do for the club what the Metrodome did.

"My real thought is that we're leaving the best home-field advantage in sport -- for any team, anywhere," Griffith said. "It will be sad to leave such a magnificent advantage. I sit there and watch visiting teams screw up because of the Dome, and I say, 'Wonderful.' I think the Metrodome has caused five to 10 screw-ups a year that resulted in a Twins victory."

  • related content

  • Twins bid farewell to the Dome

    Monday October 5, 2009

    The Twins will play their final regular season series at the Metrodome this weekend before moving to Target Field next spring.

  • Video: Dome memories with Sid Hartman (2009)

    Sunday December 29, 2013

    Chris Miller hosts as Sid recalls some memorable Dome moments and wonders how long Minnesotans can last with no...

  • Video: Dome memories: Witnessing Kirby's Game 6 catch

    Thursday October 1, 2009

    Star Tribune business reporter Matt McKinney and his brother Paul attended Game 6 of the 1991 World Series and...

  • Photo gallery: Twins' Dome Top 10

    Thursday October 1, 2009

    The voters were Sid Hartman, Pat Reusse, Jim Souhan, Howard Sinker, Dennis Brackin, La Velle E. Neal III and...

  • Top 10 Twins Metrodome moments

    Thursday October 1, 2009

    The Star Tribune staff members who covered the team in the Dome years voted these as the top 10 Dome moments:

  • Star Tribune's all-Metrodome team

    Thursday October 1, 2009

    The Star Tribune staff selected its own all-Metrodome team.

  • Fan says 'Hi' and 'Bye' to Metrodome

    Friday October 2, 2009

    Richard Haag attended the first Twins game at the Metrodome, and he will attend the last. But he didn't attend any of the games in between.

  • Joe Mauer leads a victory lap around the Metrodome.

  • 1987: Debby and Gary Gaetti

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Milwaukee 115 FINAL
Orlando 100
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 103
Denver 69 FINAL
Memphis 99
Chicago 118 FINAL
LA Lakers 123
Montreal 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 0
Winnipeg 2 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Boston 5 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Arizona 3 FINAL
Toronto 1
Dallas 6 FINAL
Ottawa 3
Detroit 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 5
Columbus 2 FINAL
Florida 3
Nashville 4 FINAL(SO)
St. Louis 5
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Calgary 0
Buffalo 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Anaheim 3 FINAL
San Jose 6
DePaul 72 FINAL
Providence 83
Michigan State 71 FINAL
Rutgers 51
Boston Univ 67 FINAL
Army 71
Fla Atlantic 61 FINAL
Charlotte 86
Youngstown St 87 FINAL
Detroit 93
East Tenn St 55 FINAL
Furman 59
Saint Louis 60 FINAL
George Mason 68
USC Upstate 78 FINAL
Jacksonville 65
High Point 72 FINAL
Liberty 53
Central Conn St 55 FINAL
Long Island 67
Western Ky 56 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 69
Dayton 64 FINAL
Massachusetts 66
Chattanooga 72 FINAL
Mercer 75
Wofford 58 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 42
Maryland 56 FINAL
Ohio State 80
FIU 56 FINAL
Old Dominion 71
Fair-Dickinson 65 FINAL
Robert Morris 87
Mount St Marys 67 FINAL
St Francis-NY 73
Bryant 68 FINAL
St Francis-PA 75
Northern Ky 75 FINAL
Stetson 85
Coll of Charleston 70 FINAL
Towson 74
Western Carolina 85 FINAL
Va Military 70
Sacred Heart 64 FINAL
Wagner 75
Lipscomb 62 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 78
Kennesaw St 67 FINAL
North Florida 86
Appalachian St 46 FINAL
Ga Southern 83
Holy Cross 54 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 64
Eastern Ill 51 FINAL
UT Martin 81
Jacksonville St 82 FINAL
Belmont 103
Connecticut 58 FINAL
Cincinnati 70
Rider 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 49
SIU Edwardsville 75 FINAL
SE Missouri St 61
Marshall 69 FINAL
Southern Miss 54
Tenn Tech 56 FINAL
Tennessee St 64
Middle Tennessee 58 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
Ill-Chicago 65 FINAL
Milwaukee 71
Weber State 67 FINAL
North Dakota 60
Denver 54 FINAL
North Dakota St 61
IUPU-Ft Wayne 66 FINAL
South Dakota 55
Louisiana 85 FINAL
South Alabama 89
Ark-Little Rock 75 FINAL
Arkansas State 65
Georgia State 88 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 74
ULM 58 FINAL
Troy 55
Portland 46 FINAL
Gonzaga 64
Kentucky 69 FINAL
Missouri 53
Eastern Ky 78 FINAL
Murray State 85
UAB 69 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 71
Idaho State 76 FINAL
Northern Colorado 79
UMKC 57 FINAL
Grand Canyon 78
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Utah Valley U 78
Colorado 98 FINAL
USC 94
Cal Poly 57 FINAL
UC Irvine 67
Hawaii 84 FINAL
CS-Northridge 73
Pepperdine 50 FINAL
Pacific 43
Santa Clara 64 FINAL
San Diego 69
Utah 59 FINAL
UCLA 69
UC Santa Barbara 64 FINAL
UC Davis 70
Montana 73 FINAL
Portland State 54
Montana State 59 FINAL
Sacramento St 75
Long Beach State 91 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 85
Loyola Marymount 54 FINAL
St Marys-CA 68
San Francisco 74 FINAL
BYU 78
California 76 FINAL
Washington St 67
Louisiana 47 FINAL
South Alabama 57
Saint Josephs 51 FINAL
Saint Louis 52
Appalachian St 77 FINAL
Georgia Southern 74
Niagara 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 65
Old Dominion 80 FINAL
FIU 67
Southern Miss 65 FINAL
Marshall 67
Georgia State 45 FINAL
TX-Arlington 57
Ark-Little Rock 69 FINAL
Arkansas State 70
ULM 51 FINAL
Troy 90
Pittsburgh 45 FINAL
(17) Duke 62
(6) Tennessee 73 FINAL
(10) Kentucky 72
(24) Oklahoma 81 FINAL
(14) Texas 84
Nebraska Omaha 59 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 70
UC-Riverside 68 FINAL
CS-Northridge 56
Army 65 FINAL
Boston U 40
New Orleans 40 FINAL
Nicholls 56
Charlotte 68 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 71
Towson 54 FINAL
Delaware 72
Hofstra 66 FINAL
Northeastern 45
New Hampshire 56 FINAL
Maine 87
Albany 89 FINAL
Vermont 48
Hartford 60 FINAL
Stony Brook 58
UNC-Wilmington 62 FINAL
William & Mary 67
Clemson 62 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Alabama 54 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 85
(23) Syracuse 58 FINAL
(8) Louisville 78
Missouri 68 FINAL
Florida 52
Iona 66 FINAL
Fairfield 77
Manhattan 38 FINAL
Marist 77
NC State 63 FINAL
Virginia 71
(4) Notre Dame 74 FINAL
Virginia Tech 50
(22) Rutgers 58 FINAL
Purdue 49
(5) Maryland 91 FINAL
Michigan 65
Milwaukee 58 FINAL
Cleveland State 67
Wright State 108 FINAL
Oakland 89
Jacksonville 64 FINAL
USC Upstate 66
North Florida 40 FINAL
Kennesaw St 46
Stetson 62 FINAL
Northern Ky 68
Loyola-Maryland 57 FINAL
Holy Cross 51
Lamar 87 FINAL
Sam Houston St 68
Fla Gulf Coast 71 FINAL
Lipscomb 49
Vanderbilt 44 FINAL
(18) Miss State 69
IUPUI 62 FINAL
Western Ill 73
Abilene Christian 53 FINAL
Houston Baptist 50
Incarnate Word 54 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 63
McNeese State 78 FINAL
SE Louisiana 57
Oral Roberts 46 FINAL
South Dakota St 71
Louisiana Tech 66 FINAL
Western Ky 82
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 73
Texas-El Paso 52 FINAL
UAB 67
Auburn 47 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Grand Canyon 65 FINAL
UMKC 59
Illinois 57 FINAL
(15) Nebraska 59
(20) Iowa 102 FINAL
Northwestern 99
Utah Valley U 55 FINAL
Chicago State 60
Green Bay 67 FINAL
Valparaiso 52
Ole Miss 41 FINAL
LSU 70
Portland State 31 FINAL
Montana 72
Sacramento St 64 FINAL
Montana State 91
North Dakota 55 FINAL
Weber State 48
Ohio State 85 FINAL
Wisconsin 73
Northern Colorado 61 FINAL
Idaho State 70
BYU 68 FINAL
San Francisco 63
St Marys-CA 56 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 49
Pacific 63 FINAL
Pepperdine 59
Cal-Irvine 61 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 58
San Diego 64 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
UC Davis 64 FINAL
Cal Poly 72
Long Beach St 64 FINAL
Hawaii 72
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How optimistic are you about the 2015 Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close