"Strangest thing I ever saw in the Dome was Herbie and Gant in the World Series," says Dan Gladden, who still wears the mud flap of hair that fluttered behind him as he scored the winning run for the Minnesota Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Herbie is ex-Twin Kent Hrbek, who in Game 2 pulled Ron Gant of the Atlanta Braves off first as he attempted to get back to the bag, then tagged him out in front of an ump as oblivious as any wrestling referee. Which was appropriate, as it was Hrbek's stated aspiration, throughout his baseball career, to one day wrestle under the name T. Rex.
Eleven years later the toughest place to play baseball in October is still not the House that Ruth Built but the House that Ruth Buzzi Built—the Metrodome in Minneapolis—where every spectator waves a white handkerchief, in the manner of 56,000 old ladies saying goodbye at a train station. "Just look," said T. Rex himself while watching the Oakland A's look exceedingly disoriented in losing to the Twins 11-2 last Saturday in Game 4 of their American League Division Series. "It's still a mystery out there."
That victory gave the Twins a 12-2 postseason record in the Metrodome. (They were trying to improve on that mark in this week's American League Championship Series against the Anaheim Angels, with Games 1 and 2 and, if necessary, 6 and 7 scheduled at the Dome.) Minnesota's fans are harder to kill than time in Provo. With 56,000 voices shrieking under a lumpen dome, it's like playing baseball inside Tom Arnold's head. The decibel meter employed by ESPN last week quantified the crowd noise just beneath "chainsaw" and "rocket launch," so that the ambient sound is sometimes physically painful to endure. "I came in with a headache," said A's lefthander Barry Zito after winning in the Metrodome 6-3 last Friday, "and this place didn't help it." His ears still ringing like a Salvation Army Santa, Zito then said of the contraction survivors: "I have tremendous respect for the people of Minnesota," each of whom becomes, between playoff games, the Hoarse Whisperer.
Then there is the Metrodome ceiling. "A white ball and a white roof," says Twins lefthander Eric Milton of the worst wedding of two white things since Lisa Marie married Michael. Oakland first baseman Scott Hatteberg camped beneath a lazy pop foul last Friday, pounded a fist into his glove and waited for a baseball that never arrived. "I was staring at the ceiling with everything I had," said Hatteberg, "and heard a thud behind me." The ball, which he never saw, landed 20 feet away. "Don't know how they did it," he said of the cloth sections that comprise the Metrodome roof, "but they got those sheets exactly the color of a dirty baseball."
The very next inning a pitch popped out of Zito's hand mid-delivery, in a sad arc, like a misfired cannon, and the pitcher lost sight of that ball, though it never traveled more than five feet from his hand. "With all the white hankies," says Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, "you just can't see, I don't care who you are." The Metrodome, as the Angels will be reminded, is a white-on-white crime.
Anaheim's Edison Field has grass as green and flawless as a baize poker table. The Metrodome has the worst rug in baseball, excluding Joe Pepitone's. "There are wet spots on the turf you can slip on," says Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter, giving a tour of the Metrodome and sounding like the world's worst real estate agent. "I lost five balls in the roof today. I was scared out there. There are seams in the turf, and if the ball hits one of those, you're done. It can take a big hop or a dead hop. There are poles behind the wall"—the pillars that support the drapery in rightfield—"and you don't know where they are. So a ball can hit the wall and just drop, or it can hit the wall [at a pole] and take off. You don't know."
A's manager Art Howe allowed, diplomatically, that the Metrodome is not what he thinks of as "major league." But it is a major league pain in the ass. And that's the whole point. "Ask Oakland," says Twins third base coach Al Newman. "If they're really honest, they might say it rattled them. People don't want to admit that, but it does."
Visitors to the Metrodome will admit anything in their cramped clubhouse. Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez stood inside his floor-to-ceiling locker last week, penned in by reporters, when a writer was forced to squeeze into the next locker and ask a question through the wire mesh. Chavez looked momentarily alarmed and said, "I feel like I'm in a confessional."
There is good news for Anaheim. "Things happen here, but they happen to us, too," says Hunter, the All-Star centerfielder who misplayed a Ray Durham single into a leadoff, inside-the-park home run against Oakland. (For comic brilliance it lacked only the closing theme music from The Benny Hill Show.)
But be warned, Anaheim. The undead Twins fans are clever. (ROCK HUDSON read one sign on Saturday, when the A's pitcher of that surname started.) They're Celine-Dion-on-a-cellphone loud. And they'll wave more white flags than were seen in Paris in 1940. So, good luck. And if all else fails, take the advice of Milton (John, not Eric): Look homeward, Angel.