Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Dome That Wouldn't Die [Jeff Neuman]

Jeff Neuman of Real Clear Sports writes:

Don't put the Hefty Bag out by the curb just yet. Rinse out the Homer Hankies, and don't toss the ear plugs. The most ill-conceived park in major-league baseball lives for another few days.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis opened for business the year after the 1981 strike shut down baseball for fifty-eight days. Its last baseball game was supposed to be three days ago, but like Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Rasputin, and Tom DeLay, it refuses to go away.

A month ago, the Twins were seven games behind the Detroit Tigers. A week ago, they were two games back, beginning a vital four-game set in Detroit - their last realistic chance to make up ground. They split the four games, losing vital calendar pages while getting nowhere. The Tigers' magic number was two, with three to play. It never reached zero.

The Metrodome has long been the Twins' loud secret weapon. When they won the championship in 1987, their record at home was twenty-seven games better than on the road. In League Championship Series and World Series play, the Twins have gone 12-2 at the Metrodome while losing ten of fifteen on the road. They've been in three World Series, including one in 1965; each Series went seven games, the Twins won two of them, and they have yet to win a World Series game on the road.

Down the stretch this season, Minnesota won nine of their last ten at home leading up to yesterday's one-game playoff. It's the second year in a row that the Twins played a 163rd game to determine the Central Division champion. Last year, they lost to the Chicago White Sox. This year, they defeated the Tigers.

Care to guess where each of those games was played?

Its baseball diamond is shoehorned into a basically rectangular structure intended for football. The outfield dimensions are irregular, proving that asymmetry is not synonymous with charm. The large sheet of vinyl beyond the right-field boundary (it's difficult to call it a wall) covers the seats that extend outward for Vikings games. The roof is Teflon, the ceiling a shade of whitish gray, with intermittent holes that accommodate lighting and do a wonderful job of mimicking balls in flight. Fielders are urged to keep a constant eye on what would be routine pop flies anywhere else; if you lose sight of the ball, you'll have to choose among the many small round options in your range of vision. As with any enclosed arena, it holds sound very well; crowd noise at games can reach levels associated more with fighter jet engines than baseball's bucolic roots.

Worst of all, the dome forced Minnesotans to make a choice no fan should face: Do I want to spend a beautiful day outside, or do I want to go to a baseball game? If you live in Minnesota, chances are you love the outdoors; summers there are too short to waste much time watching others play, especially inside.

The passing of the Metrodome from the major leagues will reduce the number of artificial surfaces in baseball to two: Toronto's Rogers Centre and St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field. Perhaps it's true that, as the bumper-sticker has it, Nature Bats Last.

The dome isn't going away; the Vikings will continue to play games there, squandering the home-field advantage they enjoyed when they played outdoors in the cold. Young twin-cities fans will discover a new baseball sensation: the smell of fresh-cut grass on a summer evening, one that's been denied them for nearly 30 years. The great bubble will still be around, a reminder of futuristic visions from someone else's past. And, for at least another week, it will cast its inflated shadow on the game that fits it so poorly. The Yankees will be overwhelming favorites to eliminate the Twins and quickly, but no one's gotten rich yet betting against the monster in the night.

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