Doug Grow: The early Metrodome returns are in: Pity the poor pitchers

  • Article by: DOUG GROW , Star Tribuner
  • Updated: December 28, 2013 - 8:46 AM

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome: Throughout spring training, Twins pitchers and hitters constantly were wondering if it would be like Seattle’s Kingdome or Houston’s Astrodome.

Former Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow wrote this soon after the Twins started playing at the Metrodome in 1982.

The Minnesota Twins pitching staff sat sullen. Battle fatigue, which normally overwhelms in the dog days of August, had set in before the spring thaw had come to Minnesota.

Some of the pitchers appeared on the verge of checking the help-wanted listing. Others were checking their bruised bodies and egos.

“Looks like my arm’s still here. … Hey, I’ve still got all my fingers. … My mother says I’m really a very good pitcher.”

Doug Corbett, the Twins’ best pitcher, looked around at his beleaguered brethren, shook his head and sadly announced, “This is going to be a hard place for a pitcher to make a living.”

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome: Throughout spring training, Twins pitchers and hitters constantly were wondering if it would be like Seattle’s Kingdome, a place where pitchers need a psychiatrist, or like Houston’s Astrodome, a building that makes any pitcher a Cy Young candidate.

The early dome returns are in. Plumbers and hitters are smiling. Pitchers and rich folks who have private boxes under second-deck toilets are ducking.

“I got an ERA of about 99 now,” relief pitcher Bobby Castillo said after Tuesday night’s game, “and that may be one of the better ones on the team before this season is over. I tell you what. I don’t think the Vikings are going to be the only ones getting football scores in this place. The thing we got to remember is to hang tough. We can win some games by a field goal.”

Castillo sighed a long sigh. He once was a famous man. Famous for teaching Fernando Valenzuela how to throw the screwball. Suddenly, the knowledge has been hammered home to Castillo that a screwball won’t be enough for Minnesota pitchers.

“You’re going to need a calculator and a sense of humor too,” he said. “If you don’t have a sense of humor, you’re going to go nuts. You get beat by a home run, you got to leave it at the park or you’re going to drive your wife or your girlfriend nuts.”

“Hey, Bobby,” a cruel voice said. “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait’ll you see the Kingdome.”

Castillo, who came to the Twins in an offseason trade with the Dodgers, threw up his hands in mock despair.

“Hey look,” he said, “I’m already depressed. Who can figure these places [domed stadiums] out? Over there [in the National League], you go to the Astrodome and the baseball don’t go anywhere. Here, it’s gonna do weird things.

“But I love it. We’re gonna have to keep believing in ourselves. You can’t worry about how far the ball carries, how quick the carpet is.”

As he spoke, his once thick, black hair started thinning. The hairs that remained, began turning gray. By August, the Twins will lead the league in gray-haired pitchers.

Consider the stats: The Twins hit only 47 home runs all last season. After one game in the Dome, they had three, a total they didn’t reach until the fifth game of last season when they got three in the Kingdome.

But what appears to be bad news for Minnesota pitchers may be the best news to come Calvin Griffith’s way in a long time.

The Twins front office has banked what’s left of its credibility on such young home run hitters as Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Tim Laudner, who is almost certain to get a quick call-up from Toledo if the Metrodome is the home run haven it appears to be.

“This is great,” Calvin said Wednesday. “The ball travels here. We didn’t know what the ball would do, but it’s gonna travel. The fans are gonna love it. Now all we got to do is learn how to catch it.”

Calvin may be smiling now. But Chicago White Sox pitcher Jerry Koosman said Calvin’s grin may collapse come negotiating time next year.

“Calvin’s going to have to pay out more money next year with all those home runs and ribbies,” Koosman said Wednesday before a practice game with the Toronto Blue Jays. “Of course he can take it away from the pitchers with the ERAs they’re going to have.”

The pitchers. Pity the poor pitchers.

It will be the job of pitching coach Johnny Podres to hold the shaking hands of the Twins pitchers. He’s the man who’s going to have to say, “Son, I know you don’t want to go out there and pitch, but you’ve got to. Don’t worry, you probably won’t be out there long.”

Podres, though, never has been the hand-holding sort. And ever since the Twins got their first look at the Dome, he’s had a bemused look on his face. In the flush of spring in Florida, his pitchers were cocky. They tended to be amused by the old Pod. Now they are looking to him for advice and friendship.

“Tell you what,” said Podres, “these guys are going to learn that they got to be low-ball pitchers. They’re also gonna have to learn that they can’t get discouraged. Earned-run average isn’t going to mean much in here. It’s wins and losses that count. They’re gonna have to learn that just because they give up three or four runs, they can’t give up. We might come back and get seven.”

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