- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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My mother used to say that if you grew up in hell, you would miss it when you left. I know what she means. I'm going to miss the Metrodome when the Twins finish playing there.
Cynics will point out that's because I haven't had to go to the Metrodome very often since moving from Minnesota nine years ago. And they're probably right. While interviewing people for a "Farewell, Dome" video, it became clear that I'm going to be among the few to miss the place. I asked Torii Hunter what he liked most about the Dome, and he gave it a good try before finally giving up and saying, "It's hard for me to say anything positive about the Metrodome. I never was a big fan of the Metrodome."
WALKING ON THE DOME
Not many were. Billy Martin once said it was a shame that a great guy like Hubert H. Humphrey had to have a place like it named after him. Dan Quisenberry said he didn't advocate nuclear weapons but would make an exception for the Dome. Opinions didn't change much over time. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen recently compared the Dome to a funeral home. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told me he dislikes playing inside the Dome so much that, although he parks in the south lot, he walks all the way around to the north entrance so he can be outside as long as possible.
No sunshine, fly balls lost against the ceiling, line drives lost in the lights, bad bounces, punishing turf, a cheap Hefty bag for an outfield fence, ear-piercing noise, swollen lines for concessions, bad seating I thought I had heard all the complaints about the Dome through the years. Then Hunter told me about the time he set himself on fire.
"In 2000, I dove for the ball to win the game against the Oakland A's and I started sliding across the turf, and when I stopped sliding, I smelled something," Hunter said. "I smelled a melting smell. And it was my buttons. They were all melted. And I had a goatee and it was all kind of shaved off because my face hit the turf and the carpet burned it off. It was kind of melted and skin was missing and everything was bad because I started a fire diving for a ball on the old turf."
OK, the Metrodome has some issues. But the place always deserved more respect than it got.
It was built in that era when communities had this quaint belief that function was more important than owners' revenue streams, when the primary goal was to provide a home for as many sports as possible for the least amount of public money (those were the days, huh?). And the Metrodome did that better than any other stadium. In addition to being home for the Twins, Vikings, Gophers and (briefly) Timberwolves, the Dome is the only stadium to host the World Series, Super Bowl and Final Four (it held all three in a spectacular six-month span from October 1991 to April 1992). Heck, at the Metrodome, you not only occasionally got two sports in one day (Twins game in the morning followed by Gophers football game at night) but sometimes got two sports at the same time (Kent Hrbek's WWE takedown of Ron Gant in the 1991 World Series).
And when was the last time Fenway hosted a tractor pull?
HELLO, GREAT OUTDOORS
There used to be a sign in the Metrodome that read: "We Like It Here." It was a classic Minnesota statement, both prideful and defensive. Sure, you might not think much of the place, but we like it, so there! That's the thing. The Metrodome isn't beloved, but for a generation of fans, it's been home to some of our fondest memories.
I asked my wife out on a date for the first time from the Metrodome press box phone. Tim and Julie Loken met at the Metrodome -- he noticed her while the wind, as it was prone to do, sucked her out an exit -- and they eventually married and had two sons, children who owe their very existence to the Dome's air-pressure system. Tiffany and Brandon Seifert, meanwhile, didn't meet at the Metrodome, but they did spend their honeymoon there. Or at least that's where they went the day after their wedding. "He's the biggest Twins fan in the world," Tiffany said. "But I was just as excited to go as he was. I wasn't dragging my feet."
Getting over the Hump Dome
Well, why not? The wind might have sucked people out, but the performances sucked us in.
Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, Mick Jagger and Billy Graham all played the Dome. This is where Kirby Puckett led the Twins to two World Series ("We'll see you tomorrow night!") while setting the world record for smiles produced. Where Frank Viola played his sweet music. Where 36-year-old Jack Morris pitched a 10-inning Game 7 shutout just miles from his boyhood home. Where Cal Ripken Jr. risked his playing streak several times a year with his Incredible Hamstring-Challenging Stairway Climb. Where Johan Santana won two Cy Youngs. Where Joe Mauer not only led the Twins to a division title but also quarterbacked his high school to the state football championship.
And where Dave Kingman defied gravity by hitting a popup that never came down. "I was playing first base," Angels coach Mickey Hatcher recalled. "I thought I had it, and it just disappeared."
The Dome isn't pretty. The lines for the crappy concession stands can clog the concourses. And if you have the misfortune of sitting in the middle of one its 34-seat rows, you'd better have a big bladder and a full stomach because you will not want to fight your way to the aisle. I know the new ballpark will be better in almost every way (in addition to being far more expensive). But on certain cold April nights or muggy July afternoons, fans are going to miss the Dome.
The Twins will play their final three scheduled games at the Dome this weekend, though I still hold out hope for a playoff with the Tigers. There would be no more fitting way for Dome baseball to go out than with a morning playoff followed by a field conversion for "Monday Night Football" (sadly, a playoff game would be held Tuesday, not Monday, but a person can always dream).
There are many better ballparks, no question. But ultimately we judge stadiums not on the garlic fries in the concession stands but on the athletic performances on the field. In that regard, at least, the new park will be hard-pressed to top the Dome, where a routine popup could turn into Cirque du Soleil, a pitcher from St. Paul could turn back time, a player could set himself on fire and a center fielder could turn the world on with his smile.
As Hunter said, "It wasn't a good place to play baseball, but there was great baseball played in that place."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
1dInterview by Buster Olney
1dDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com