Like a killer in a horror movie, the Metrodome just refuses to die
No park in a half century has been quite as despised as the Metrodome
But that doesn't mean the place lacks magic
It was so dreadful, so indefensible that ... Twins fans could take some pride in it
The place won't die.
That's how it should be, I suppose. That's how it goes in horror movies. The killer gets burned, drowned, chopped in half, run over by a car, crushed by a tree, shot 12 times in the chest ... but the killer keeps coming back, more and more ticked off with each near-death experience.
That's the Metrodome. You think you've killed it, but no, it will not die. It will keep coming back, again and again, shoving itself into the limelight like a frustrated chorus girl. The last baseball game in the Metrodome was supposed to be on Sunday. The touching eulogies were written -- yes, even the villains get touching eulogies. But the old barn had one more glorious day -- deafening noise, twirling hankies, a big home victory. Now, today, we get a one-game playoff -- Twins vs. Tigers -- and once again it could be the last day of baggie baseball. But don't bet on it. The creepy music plays. The phone lines have been disconnected. The Metrodome is looking like it might stick around for a while.
There have been other grim ballparks, of course. Grim ballparks are a part of baseball. Jarry Park Stadium in Montreal -- Stade Parc Jarry -- was by all accounts a dismal place where the sun would blind first basemen and a cold wind would pour in from all directions. Ron Hunt got hit by 54 pitches there. Cleveland Municipal Stadium was famously awful for baseball -- metal beams blocked the field from every vantage point, and the infield featured mounds that suggested hastily buried bodies. Shea Stadium had the look and feel of a long-abandoned amusement park that wasn't all that great in the first place. The Kingdome had its charms, but it never felt entirely sturdy. Tropicana Field feels plenty sturdy, but it has never had many charms. The multi-use stadiums in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, especially at the end, seemed a lot like really big eight-track tapes.
But it's probably fair to say that no park in a half century has been quite as despised as the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. I suspect the Metrodome itself would consider that a point of honor. Even people who love it, hate it. Well, how else can you feel about playing baseball in a football stadium with plastic grass, a baseball-colored roof, an echo and a giant glad trash bag just beyond the fence? How else can you feel about going to the ballpark on a beautiful July day in Minneapolis -- there aren't many seasons in America as beautiful as Minnesota summers -- and then finding yourself watching something resembling baseball in this dank building with all the romance of a bank vault? It's like playing Monopoly in your friend's basement when it's 70 degrees and sunny outside.
"What's wrong with you kids," our mothers would yell. "Go play outside!"
And that's what I always wanted to yell -- I sensed that's what EVERYBODY wanted to yell -- while watching games in the Metrodome. You know what Dan Quisenberry said about the place when he first saw it, right? "I don't think there are any good uses for nuclear weapons, but, then, this might be one." He said that about the Dome back in the mid 1980s. John Schuerholz, when he was GM of the Royals, said something similar -- something about nuclear weapons and blowing the place up. The Metrodome did bring out violent wishes. Billy Martin, who knew a little something about violent wishes, was direct: "This place stinks," he said. "It's a shame a great guy like HHH had to be named after it."
And so on. There never has been a shortage of people willing to bash the Metrodome. Torii Hunter played center field beautifully there. He hated it. Kent Hrbek became a Minnesota baseball legend in the Dome. He thinks it is an oddly lovable but grisly place for ball.
Well, you can ask anybody. Even someone writing a story under the headline "A Case for the Metrodome" sums up its baseball powers like so: "It's a terrible place to watch a baseball game." There does not seem to be many opposing opinions, even in Minnesota, where the Dome played a key role -- maybe even the starring role -- in 1987 and 1991 World Series championships. The Twins have played .541 baseball in the Dome* and .441 baseball on the road. Baseball in the Dome can be such a dispiriting thing that even winning doesn't always feel worth it. In Kansas City, when there are 11,000 people in the stands, it still feels pleasant -- the fountains are going, the grass is crayon-green, it's just nice. In Minnesota, when 11,000 people are in the Dome, you feel like you are at an especially depressing demolition derby.
Believe it or not ... only one team in baseball has played sub-.500 baseball at home since 1982, the first year of the Dome. And even that isn't exactly right -- the team is Tampa Bay, and the Rays have only played since 1998. Conversely, two teams have played better than .500 baseball on the road over the last 28 seasons -- and you probably can guess those: The Yankees and Atlanta.
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