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Dome sweet dome? Twins, opponents eager for an end

September 20, 2009|Dave Campbell

MINNEAPOLIS — Terry Francona was asked during Boston's last trip to the Metrodome what he'll remember about playing in Minnesota's puffy, climate-controlled, multipurpose stadium.

Addressing reporters in a dingy hallway, the Red Sox manager briefly pondered the question. Then he joked about using profanity to answer it before getting around to the point.

"I think this place stinks," he said. "Balls hitting the roof, the speakers, it's awful."

No, opponents sure aren't going to mind when the Twins move to Target Field next spring after 28 seasons inside.

"One of the worst stadiums in the game. Thank God they're going to move to a real ballpark," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said.

Minnesota's only two major sports titles since the NBA's Lakers left for Los Angeles in 1960 came courtesy of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which was built on time in 1982 and under budget at $55 million and named in honor of the former Minneapolis mayor and U.S. senator and vice president.

The Twins won it all in 1987 and 1991 and then rebounded from a dismal stretch to win four division titles this decade, success fueled in part by a distinct home-field advantage.

"You kind of complain about it at the time . . . but now that it's almost at an end you kind of look at it like, 'Man, it's going to be missed,' " former Twins and current Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said.

Behind crowd noise like no other stadium, matching the decibel level of a jet engine, the Twins went 8-0 at the Dome and 0-6 on the road during those two World Series.

"We were the outdoor world champions in 1991, and they were the indoor world champions," said John Smoltz, who pitched for Atlanta in what's considered one of the most dramatic World Series in history. "It closing doesn't bring a tear to my eye."

Late Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett, whose career regular-season batting average was .344 at the Metrodome and .291 on the road, had the famous hit-saving catch and extra-inning homer to send the series to a seventh game that year.

"There's been a lot of good moments in here, a lot of fun moments. A lot of crazy moments, losing the balls and all those things," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, the third-base coach on the 1991 team. "But I'm excited to get outdoors. Absolutely."

That about sums it up for the Twins, Hunter's sentiment aside.

They used the quirks to their benefit, hitting balls hard on the bouncy turf to capitalize on their speed against frustrated foes. They thrived on the roaring fans. They were even accused a few times of having the air conditioning blow toward the field while opponents batted, supposedly to make it more difficult for the other team to hit home runs.

The Dome, however, just wasn't built for baseball.

Most seats don't face home plate. The unused stacks of football seats and the tall wall -- resembling a trash bag -- in right field were more eyesores than charming features. Once September came, the Twins often played on Saturday mornings to finish in time for college football games later that day. One game in 2004 was suspended in the 11th inning to allow time for the conversion.

Despite the daily guarantee of playing a game -- except once in 1983 when an April snowstorm caused the roof to cave -- and all the advantages they enjoyed inside, the Twins are eager to play baseball in fresh air on grass under an open sky.

"It's meant to be played outside and not under a white roof," said former catcher A.J. Pierzynski, now with the rival White Sox.

That roof caused many problems for opponents, particularly those who didn't play there often. Pittsburgh's Nyjer Morgan had an especially tough time tracking balls in the outfield during a series this summer.

"They need to take that thing off," Morgan said. "Take it off. I don't want to see this place no more."

Pirates teammate Adam LaRoche remarked about the roof to Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer after reaching first base.

"Wait until tomorrow. Day game. It gets worse," Cuddyer told him.

The roof even claimed a ball once in 1984. Oakland's Dave Kingman hit a soaring pop-up that went through a drainage hole to nestle in the inner cover.

"Disappeared. The son of gun never came down," said former Twins infielder Ron Washington, now the manager in Texas.

When the Twins end their season, it won't quite be the end of big-time sports under the big Teflon-coated fiberglass top. Though the Minnesota college team left after last year for a new Gophers-only stadium on campus, the Vikings are obligated to play there through 2011. They can't wait to complete their lease, though, and want to raze the Dome for a fancier place on the same site.

The Twins haven't played very well this year, minimizing whatever sentiment and vibe there might be during their last days in the Dome, but the AL Central is still undecided.

They're hosting first-place Detroit this weekend, a chance for another late charge that would make the final series against Kansas City on Oct. 2-4 as meaningful in the race as in the record books.

"Might as well finish this thing off with entertainment. Why not?" Gardenhire said.

--

Campbell writes for the Associated Press.

Associated Press writers Ronald Blum in New York, R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis and Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed.

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