Early in the 1982 season — the Twins’ first in the Metrodome — outfielder Dave Engle was benched for losing two fly balls. Engle originally worried there might be something wrong with his eyes, but that fear was abated as he watched a succession of outfielders and the occasional infielder lose flies against the off-white Teflon ceiling.
“It proves that my eyes are OK, and there is something wrong with the roof,” a relieved Engle said at the time.
He was right. Players and fans learned almost as soon as the doors to the Dome opened for the Twins that there was a lot wrong with the facility.
Lost fly balls led to some of the most memorable quotes in baseball’s colorful vernacular history. In addition, the turf was rock hard. There were holes in the ceiling that resulted in fans getting wet. And the 1982 seasons for the Twins, Vikings and Gophers were played without air conditioning, a cost-saving move during construction.
Kent Hrbek, a rookie on the 1982 team, said that awareness of the Dome’s uniqueness “sank in pretty quickly.” The Twins realized right away that the hard turf could be an advantage, and Hrbek said the players added a new battle cry to baseball’s vocabulary: “Bounce!”
“We learned that every now and then a routine one-hop single would bounce over the outfielder’s head, and we realized that could be a home-field advantage for us if we could somehow anticipate it,” Hrbek told me in our book, “Tales from the Minnesota Twins Dugout.”
The most memorable bounce was Tim Teufel’s 150-foot Texas leaguer that bounced over the head of Chicago’s Harold Baines, resulting in a three-run, inside-the-park homer for a 3-2 Twins victory.
Said Hrbek: “I don’t think ‘bounce’ is a term that would have ever been used at any other ballpark, but it became part of our vocabulary.”
The Dome never really did have a honeymoon period with baseball fans, who saw immediately that the facility was built for football — that evidence being sight lines that were not directed toward home plate. Neither was there a honeymoon period for pitchers.
After watching one regular-season game in the Dome, Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow wrote a column, “The early Metrodome returns are in: Pity the poor pitchers.”
“This is going to be a hard place for a pitcher to make a living,” said reliever Doug Corbett, the team’s best pitcher.
And it was.
One game. That’s all it took.
And not many more than that for Engle to realize that his eyes were just fine.