The Star Tribune sports department shares its favorite Metrodome memories

  • Updated: December 29, 2013 - 1:53 AM

Star Tribune staff members write about their most vivid memories of the Metrodome.

Twins celebrate as Gomez scores winning run.

Certainly, the Twins' Game 163 victory over Detroit in the final regular-season game at the Metrodome stood out to many Star Tribune staffers as one of the stadium's brightest moments.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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2006, 2009 Twins had phenomenal finishes

As a Twins beat writer in 2010, the move from the Metrodome to Target Field was better than getting a new office. It was like getting a whole new job. I spent too many nice summer weekends stuck under the Teflon sky to feel overly nostalgic about the Dome. But my two most memorable days on the Twins beat were both Metrodome specials.

Game 163 against the Tigers in 2009 was unforgettable, with all those twists and turns through 12 innings before Alexi Casilla singled home Carlos Gomez with the winning run.

But Game 162 in 2006 stands out for me, too. Joe Mauer sealed his first batting title, the Twins defeated the White Sox 5-1 and then the players watched the Jumbotrons — along with about 35,000 fans — as Kansas City finished off Detroit, giving Minnesota the AL Central title.

The Twins were 12 games behind at one point and never led the division until that final day. They had Mauer, Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, MVP Justin Morneau — not to mention Joe Nathan (1.58 ERA), Torii Hunter (31 home runs) and Michael Cuddyer (109 RBI). They flopped against Oakland in the playoffs, so it’s easy to forget, but teams like that don’t come around very often.

Milton arrived early for his 1999 no-hitter

Twins players trudged to the Dome on September 11, 1999, for an 11 a.m. game against the Angels. The night before, they had lost their fourth consecutive game, a 4-2 defeat to Chuck Finley and the Angels.

They were right back at the Dome the next morning to prepare for the early-morning affair because the Dome was in multipurpose mode: The Gophers had a football game against the University of Louisiana at Monroe that evening. A reporter noted it was 7:50 a.m., turned to bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek and said, “just trying to grind through this one, Stelly.” Stelmaszek grunted and nodded.

Then Eric Milton took the mound and began chewing up the Angels lineup. Mo Vaughn, Jim Edmonds, Darin Erstad, Garret Anderson and other regulars received a veteran’s day off, and Milton made mincemeat of the replacements. No hits, two walks, 13 strikeouts. And he blew away Jeff DaVannon with a fastball to end the game in front of an announced crowd of 11,222. Milton hugged catcher Terry Steinbach as teammates sprinted toward the mound and workers began changing the diamond into a football field.

“I’m pretty numb,” the normally low-key Milton said. “It’s probably the greatest day in my life. There isn’t much else I can say.”

Some other items from the day: Midwest Sports Channel, the Fox Sports North of the time, did not televise the game. St. Paul’s Tim Tschida was the first base umpire that day. The third base umpire was Jim Joyce, who in 2010 blew a call in the ninth inning that cost the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

As for Milton, the date probably evokes a bittersweet memory. Exactly two years later, he lost a good friend, Jonas Panik, during the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Schatzeder keeps his identity on the hush-hush

Before the Star Tribune rescued me from a sordid life in retail sales, one of my paying gigs was at a sports collectibles store in St. Paul. One weekday in the fall of 1987, a guy with a bushy mustache stopped by to search for older baseball cards to fill out his collection. I couldn’t quite place his face as I handed him a box of commons to sift through while he sat at the counter, but shortly it came to me. I leaned over toward him when no other customers were nearby and half-whispered, “Are you Dan Schatzeder?”

The Twins reliever, only with the club since late June after a trade with the Phillies, said he was, but he’d appreciated it if I didn’t make a big deal about it. Over the next couple of hours — and in between waiting on other customers oblivious to this minor brush with fame I was having — we talked about collecting and favorite ballplayers and why lefthanders are often flaky (we’re both southpaws occasionally fitting the description). After having interviewed a sampling of privileged pro athletes by that time, I was reassured that Schatzeder acted, well, normal.

He wrapped up his card hunting and wanted to thank me for my help, so he said he’d hook me up with four tickets to the Twins’ last regular-season home game against the Royals. Over 53,000 fans coming down with playoff fever showed up at the Metrodome on Sept. 27 and were treated to one of the most entertaining first innings I’ve ever seen. The Royals put runners on first and third with nobody out, but the Twins turned a 5-4-2 double play — Al Newman made the unique choice of going home from second to gun down Willie Wilson — and kept Kansas City scoreless.

Charlie Leibrandt took the mound for the Royals in the bottom of the first, destined to remain there for only two-thirds of an inning. Kirby Puckett homered with one runner on; Gary Gaetti immediately followed with a solo shot. Three batters later, Kent Hrbek hit another two-run homer and it was 5-0 in an eventual 8-1 rout before the foam settled on our first beers.

You know what happened the rest of that year. The Twins went on to beat St. Louis in the World Series in seven games, and my ticket provider became the answer to a trivia question: Who was the only Twins pitcher to win a World Series game in 1987 not named Frank Viola or Bert Blyleven? Dan Schatzeder won Game 6, but I’ll remember him more for a quiet afternoon in a Grand Avenue store, sharing our love of baseball and those fabulous old cards still retaining the faint aroma of that nasty pink chewing gum.

To step on the turf … and to get on TV wearing a paper bag

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in attendance for some historic moments at the Metrodome. I went to Game 2 of the 1991 World Series and Game 163 in 2009. I saw Brett Favre’s record TD pass and the Badgers’ blocked-punt victory (Wisconsin alum here, sorry Gophers fans). NCAA tournament basketball, Division III baseball, high school soccer … I’ve looked at the Teflon sky more times than I care to count.

But when it comes to my top memories, I have to go back to my senior year at John Marshall High School in Rochester, in 1993-94. Two stand out. The first came in high school football. JM played Osseo in the big-school semifinals, and it seemed as though the entire high school was in attendance. I was a so-so trombone player in the marching band, and remember thinking what a BIG DEAL it was to be able to march on the sacred Metrodome turf.

As for the game itself, it was one it appeared we were destined to lose, trailing 8-0 most of the way. But we scored two TDs in the final four minutes, the first on a Jeff Mieras fumble return to make it 8-6, the second when Brent Solheim lofted a pass to the end zone that Chad Westberg outjumped two Osseo defenders for to pull down for a go-ahead, 38-yard touchdown with 48 seconds to go. I had slipped away from the band to sit with friends in the stands at the time, and we went delirious. Everybody. JM 13, Osseo 7. Sure, we went on to a 29-7 loss to Apple Valley in the Prep Bowl, but that semifinal victory was a moment of joy in my life that was really only rivaled by the Twins’ two World Series victories.

The other memory I have from that time came the summer after graduation, the summer of 1994, where my friends and I didn’t seem to have a care in the world. In August, college loomed — as did the baseball strike. I was working my grocery store job Aug. 10 when six friends showed up and pried me out of work to drive up to the Dome for what proved to be the final game of the Twins’ season. On the drive up we had two genius ideas: 1. We would all wear paper bags on our heads (six of us with unhappy faces drawn on, one with a happy face because he didn’t like baseball); 2. We would hold up a sign in an effort to get on TV. On one side, we wrote “HRBEK’S LAST HURRAH?” because of the rumors of Kent Hrbek’s pending retirement, and on the other, we had “STRIKE THIS.” It was a success — Midwest Sports Channel showed seven goofballs wearing paper bags and holding the Hrbek side of the sign up in the left-field seats during its broadcast.

The game, a 17-7 Twins victory over the Red Sox, proved to be wild. Kirby Puckett hit two homers and drove in seven runs to give him 112 for the season, his only RBI crown; had the Twins played a full season, he might have driven in nearly 170 runs. Hrbek came up with the bases loaded four times in his first five plate appearances; his first time he was hit by a pitch, his second and third time he was retired for the final out of the inning. In the seventh with the Twins’ lead down to 9-7 and the modest crowd restless, Hrbek again came up with the bases loaded, this time with no one out. He finally came through with a hit, a two-run single, sending the crowd into a frenzy and starting an eight-run inning that put the game away. And the season, and Hrbek’s career. Thanks to glaucoma, Puckett would play only one more season, so this game signifies to me a farewell to the cornerstones of the Twins’ two championship teams.

Seeing Ripken’s historic moment on the cheap

My college roommate, Jeff, and I took advantage of the Twins’ subpar record late in Tom Kelly’s tenure while living on the U of M campus. It was not uncommon to decide on a whim to part with a dollar for a ride on the 16 bus into downtown and find a ticket for only a few bucks more. We had plans to do this on Sept. 11, 1999, but a driving rainstorm kept us inside our dorm at Pioneer Hall. That turned out to be Eric Milton’s no hitter and we’ve kicked ourselves ever since.

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San Francisco - R. Vogelsong
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Buffalo 2 FINAL
San Jose 1
Boston 6:00 PM
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
New Jersey 6:00 PM
Dallas 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Detroit 0 1st Prd 20:00
Philadelphia 0
Chicago 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Pittsburgh 7:00 PM
Tampa Bay 7:00 PM
Florida 8:00 PM
Washington 9:00 PM
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 21 FINAL
Rice 41
Arkansas 45
Rutgers 24 FINAL
(16) Nebraska 42
Maryland 7 FINAL
Wisconsin 52
Texas 0 FINAL
(11) Kansas State 23
Minnesota 24 FINAL
Illinois 28
Memphis 48 FINAL
SMU 10
North Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia 27
San Jose St 31 FINAL
Navy 41
Northern Ill 28 FINAL
Eastern Mich 17
(25) UCLA 40 FINAL
Colorado 37
Akron 21 FINAL
Ball State 35
Massachusetts 35 FINAL
Toledo 42
Ohio U 21 FINAL
Western Mich 42
Ga Southern 69 FINAL
Georgia State 31
Kent State 3 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 10
Oregon State 14 FINAL
Stanford 38
Fla Atlantic 16 FINAL
(23) Marshall 35
Louisiana Tech 31 FINAL
Southern Miss 20
Georgia Tech 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 28
(22) West Virginia 34 FINAL
Oklahoma State 10
Michigan 11 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 35
Boston College 23 FINAL
Wake Forest 17
Central Mich 20 FINAL
Buffalo 14
(1) Miss State 38 4th Qtr 2:31
Kentucky 31
Texas Tech 27 4th Qtr 10:09
(10) TCU 75
Vanderbilt 14 4th Qtr 2:15
Missouri 17
Old Dominion 51 4th Qtr 7:24
Western Ky 63
UNLV 13 4th Qtr 8:50
Utah State 34
Temple 14 3rd Qtr
UCF 27
(15) Arizona 24 2nd Qtr 9:01
Washington St 0
Wyoming 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Texas-El Paso 0 1st Qtr 13:45
TX-San Antonio 0
Syracuse 0 1st Qtr 14:55
(21) Clemson 0
Texas State 0 1st Qtr 13:50
(3) Ole Miss 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 6:30 PM
So Carolina 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 9:45 PM
Nevada 10:59 PM
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Air Force 11/1/14 10:30 AM
ULM 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Texas A&M
Duke 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Rice 11/1/14 11:00 AM
(18) East Carolina 11/1/14 11:00 AM
UCF 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Boston College 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
North Carolina 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Washington 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Central Mich 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Western Mich 11/1/14 1:30 PM
Western Ky 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
NC State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Texas State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
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Virginia 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech
BYU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee
Indiana 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Florida 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(9) Georgia
Georgia State 11/1/14 2:30 PM
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Kentucky 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Kansas 11/1/14 3:00 PM
(12) Baylor
Houston 11/1/14 3:00 PM
So Florida
(20) USC 11/1/14 3:30 PM
Washington St
Arkansas State 11/1/14 4:00 PM
South Alabama 11/1/14 4:00 PM
New Mexico 11/1/14 4:30 PM
UAB 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
(5) Auburn 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss
Arkansas 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(1) Miss State
Old Dominion 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State 11/1/14 6:00 PM
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Stanford 11/1/14 6:30 PM
(6) Oregon
Tennessee 11/1/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina
Southern Miss 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
(7) Notre Dame 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Illinois 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(13) Ohio State
(15) Arizona 11/1/14 9:30 PM
(25) UCLA
California 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
San Diego St 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Wyoming 11/1/14 9:45 PM
Fresno State
(19) Utah 11/1/14 10:00 PM
(14) Arizona State
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Los Angeles 0 FINAL
Seattle 2
Montreal 1
Toronto FC 6:30 PM
New England
Portland 7:30 PM
FC Dallas
Colorado 9:00 PM
Vancouver FC
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 24 FINAL
Toronto 26
Brt Columbia 6:00 PM
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Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
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Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
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Twins celebrate as Gomez scores winning run.