Twins bid farewell to Metrodome this week during AL Central raceMinnesota Sports - The first game of the decisive Tigers-Twins series was rained out Monday, a problem that would not have occurred if the game was held back in Minneapolis under the Teflon roof of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. But the Twins will take their chances with the weather next year as they move into their new stadium and say good-bye to the 'Dome this week.
By: Mel Antonen - USA Today, Pierce County Herald
By Mel Antonen - USA TODAY
MINNEAPOLIS — The Metrodome is only major league ballpark to see three players reach the 3,000-hit milestone.
It was the first American League home field to draw 3 million fans in a season, the Minnesota Twins beating big-market teams on the East and West coasts.
It's been the site of two no-hitters and two World Series, one that's arguably the best ever played. It's been home to three AL batting titles, three Cy Young Award seasons, an MVP season and a 17-strikeout game.
But when the era of indoor baseball in the Upper Midwest comes to an end this season after 28 seasons, the legacy of the billowy-roofed home of the Twins will be the endless number of quirks that helped the Twins win two World Series and give them one of the best home-field advantages in the history of the sport.
How quirky did it get?
Go back to a game May 4, 1984, when the Oakland Athletics' Dave Kingman hit a ball that disappeared through a drainage hole in the Teflon roof. The ball never came down, and Kingman was given a ground-rule double.
The next day, the Twins devised a plan in which, before Kingman's first at-bat, a ball would drop from the roof so that Twins first baseman Mickey Hatcher could make the catch. As Kingman stepped into the batter's box, the ball knuckled its way down, bounced and hit Hatcher in the groin, sending him to the turf.
"Kingman looked at me and said, 'What's wrong with you?' " says Hatcher, now the Los Angeles Angels batting coach.
The Metrodome's final scheduled regular-season Twins games are Oct. 2-4 against the Kansas City Royals, the team the Twins played in their final game at Metropolitan Stadium in 1981. Thanks in part to its infamous shadowy roof, which makes batted balls difficult to see, especially in the daylight, the dome is tormenting opponents one final time and giving the Twins a chance to make the postseason the grand finale in the building named for former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey.
The latest victim is the Detroit Tigers' Don Kelly, a defensive replacement who Saturday lost Orlando Cabrera's fly ball in the dome's roof, allowing the Twins to rally in the eighth inning of a 6-2 win against the Tigers and move to within two games of the Tigers in the AL Central. Detroit won Sunday to increase its lead back to three games.
"That's the unfortunate part about the dome: It does play a part in the game," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire says. "We've seen it a lot of times. That's why people hate coming here."
But opponents aren't the only victims. "We've lost more balls than anyone," Gardenhire says. "It doesn't happen just to the teams we play.
"Maybe it's intimidating for the teams we play. It's been irritating for them, and it's kind of fun."
And it's legendary in Minnesota.
The Twins, who opened the "Humpty Dome" in 1982 at a cost of $55 million, beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1987 World Series and the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 Series, winning all four games each time at the Metrodome.
Since 2002, when Gardenhire took over as the manager, the Twins have gone 389-256 (.603) at home.
"I think it's the biggest home-field advantage ever in baseball," says former major league manager Whitey Herzog, who coached the '87 Cardinals. "Fenway Park (in Boston) had the Green Monster for right-handed batters and San Francisco had the wind, but the dome's is bigger. I think they are going to miss it.
"It's hard to play baseball when you can't see and can't hear. Mike Ditka (the former Chicago Bears coach) once said that the Metrodome is best for roller-skating, and that's one of the greatest statements of all time. No truer words were ever spoken."
Jack Morris, who pitched 10 shutout innings on three days of rest for the Twins in a 1-0 win against the Braves in the 1991 World Series at the dome, says he could not have done it playing outdoors.
"It would have been hard to pitch on three days of rest when it was 45 degrees," Morris says. "I wouldn't have had the same success, command and grip. It gave me time to rebound.
"I don't think we would have even been in it (the World Series) without playing indoors. It was a health issue. It prevented injuries."
Former Minnesota outfielder Dan Gladden, who scored the winning run in Game 7 vs. Atlanta, says the turf and the roof have always benefited the Twins: "When some teams go in there, they are psychologically already beaten before the game starts. Many games have been decided by teams losing the ball in the roof."
Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer says the roof has gotten easier to read in the last few years. "It's getting dirtier, and that makes it easier to see the ball," Cuddyer says. "It still can play tricks on an outfielder, but the fact that it is so dirty makes it easier."
Next season, that's not going to be the case.
The Twins will move to Target Field, 12 blocks away from the dome, and will play their first official outdoor home game since 1981. That's scheduled to come April 12 vs. the Boston Red Sox, starting a homestand that has series against the Royals and Cleveland Indians.
The move to Target Field is a love-hate issue for fans, considering a good chunk of the Twins fan base drives several hours to see a game.
They will give up the comfort of a 70-degree indoor temperature, guaranteed games and a home-field advantage in exchange for mosquitoes and rain delays in the summer and freezing temperatures and snow early and late in the season.
"It's a wonderful place because of convenience," says fan Gene Person, a real estate agent who drives three hours from Charles City, Iowa, to see the Twins. "It's a huge commitment, so it's nice to know there will be a game.
"I'm going to miss the dome. I don't think there's anything wrong with indoor baseball."
But Terry Pulling, a comptroller who drives about 140 miles from Duluth, Minn., to see the Twins, says he's eager to see outdoor baseball in Minnesota.
"For as long as I've been able to afford a ticket, I've never seen an outdoor game," Pulling says. "The only thing we can do is bring an umbrella. I've sat in a snow bank watching my son play hockey, so a little rain won't be bad. Weather is part of sports."
Winds of change
When the Twins vacate, they'll leave behind a roof with various shades of white, gray and yellow that make fly balls an adventure; in-play speakers; bouncy turf; cramped clubhouses; crowd noises that have reached jet-plane decibels; wind-current conspiracies; and a trash-bag-like wall that partially covers football seats that hang in right field.
"It wasn't anything close to baseball," former AL All-Star outfielder Fred Lynn says of playing at the Metrodome.
The turf, which gave batted balls a Superball-like bounce in the early days, has been changed several times to make the field more normal, but the dome's roof always has given outfielders fits.
In the outdoors, players are taught to see the ball, run and refocus on making the catch. At the Metrodome, players have to adjust by keeping an eye on the ball and running at the same time. The light bothers corner outfielders. During day games, sunshine causes the ball to disappear into the white roof.
"You could never get used to playing there," New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon says.
"The only thing I'll miss about it was that we knew the game would start on time and there would be nice weather. It is always the perfect temperature."
Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, who won seven Gold Gloves for the Twins, says 50% of the reason he left Minnesota after 2007 was because of his dislike for the dome.
Hunter still knew how to play there. In the seventh inning, he says, the gates opened to let fans leave and that would create a draft toward right-center field.
"So starting in the seventh inning, I would always hit to right-center," he says. "You'd hit a pop-up and — boom — it would hit the wall or go over the fence. It wasn't cheating. It was knowing the elements."
Kingman's batted ball into the roof was hardly the only bizarre on-field moment at the dome.
In 1982, Twins outfielder Tom Brunansky hit the Metrodome's first inside-the-park home run. Yankees left fielder Lou Piniella waved his arms while trying to find Brunansky's fly ball.
In 1984, pitcher Richard Dotson of the Chicago White Sox lost a 2-0 lead when Tim Teufel hit an inside-the-park homer on a bloop that bounced over outfielder Harold Baines' head.
In a 1992 game, the Tigers' Rob Deer popped up to shortstop Greg Gagne twice on balls that ricocheted off the ceiling.
In 1992, Minnesota's Chili Davis hit a fly to right, a sure home run, that hit a speaker and was caught by Baltimore Orioles second baseman Mark McLemore.
And the Red Sox's David Ortiz had the hardest-hit single in dome history in 2006 when he hit a ball that was heading for a home run in center field and slammed into a speaker.
"I caught a handful of balls off the speakers that were heading way into foul territory," former Twins infielder Ron Coomer says.
"I think I've seen 12 home runs lost to balls hitting the speakers. That's a lot of home runs lost."
The two giant intake ducts behind home plate had opponents believing the Twins were turning on fans when the team came to the plate. As Texas Rangers manager, Bobby Valentine put up streamers on one of them to try to prove the Twins were fixing the blowers to help their batters.
Former Metrodome superintendent Dick Ericson admitted to Minneapolis' Star Tribune that, when the Twins were behind in the bottom of the eighth inning or later, he would adjust the ventilation to be blowing up and out to try to get balls to carry further. Ericson said he didn't do this at the request of the Twins.
'A lot of fun'
Despite the never-ending bizarre plays, the Twins are attached to the dome.
"You develop fondness for places (where) you have been successful," former Twins pitcher Frank Viola says. "We had a lot of fun in the Metrodome. Fans are going to like going to outdoor games, but they'll never forget the memories of what the Twins accomplished inside."
And there have been plenty of historic moments in the place, including the 1985 All-Star Game, won 6-1 by the National League behind MVP La Marr Hoyt.
Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr. and Dave Winfield (who is from St. Paul) each recorded their 3,000th career hits at the Metrodome. Another St. Paul native, Paul Molitor, got his in Kansas City a night after he and the Twins closed a homestand.
The Twins' Justin Morneau won the 2006 AL MVP, while teammate Joe Mauer has two batting titles. Johan Santana won two Cy Youngs and Viola one with the Twins.
In '87, the 85-win Twins beat the 95-win Cardinals, outscoring St. Louis 33-12 in their four games at the dome. The Cardinals led in Game 6 5-2, but Don Baylor's home run tied it for the Twins, and Kent Hrbek's sixth-inning grand slam led the way to an 11-5 win.
"The run around the bases didn't last long enough," Hrbek says. "I wanted to do it a couple of more times. The noise was incredible."
Viola pitched eight innings and won Game 7 4-2, picking up his second World Series win and the Series MVP. Viola and Hrbek remember that every seat was filled when the Twins returned from Detroit to celebrate the franchise's first AL pennant since 1965.
The 1991 Twins-Braves World Series had five one-run games, none more dramatic than the final two games at the Metrodome. The Twins won Game 6 4-3 on Kirby Puckett's walk-off, 11th-inning home run. In Game 7, Morris pitched 10 shutout innings and escaped a bases-loaded jam when the Braves' Sid Bream hit into a 3-2-3 double play.
"We prided ourselves on defense," Hrbek says.
Says Morris, "I could have gone five or six more innings."
But he didn't have to. Gladden led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a double and went to third on Chuck Knoblauch's sacrifice bunt. Puckett and Hrbek were walked intentionally to load the bases, and Gladden came home with the winning run on Gene Larkin's fly-ball single to left.
It was pandemonium.
"When Larkin made contact, my first thought was, 'We are out of here, cold beverage time,' " Gladden says. "I could actually hear Jack Morris yelling, 'Come on, Danny,' as I was coming home from third base."
That night, Gardenhire was the Twins third-base coach.
"There are a lot of great memories in this place," he says. "But we are ready to move. We want our own ballpark."
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz