The place won't die.
That's how it should be, I suppose. That's how it goes in horror movies. The killer gets burned, drowned, chopped in half, run over by a car, crushed by a tree, shot 12 times in the chest ... but the killer keeps coming back, more and more ticked off with each near-death experience.
That's the Metrodome. You think you've killed it, but no, it will not die. It will keep coming back, again and again, shoving itself into the limelight like a frustrated chorus girl. The last baseball game in the Metrodome was supposed to be on Sunday. The touching eulogies were written -- yes, even the villains get touching eulogies. But the old barn had one more glorious day -- deafening noise, twirling hankies, a big home victory. Now, today, we get a one-game playoff -- Twins vs. Tigers -- and once again it could be the last day of baggie baseball. But don't bet on it. The creepy music plays. The phone lines have been disconnected. The Metrodome is looking like it might stick around for a while.
There have been other grim ballparks, of course. Grim ballparks are a part of baseball. Jarry Park Stadium in Montreal -- Stade Parc Jarry -- was by all accounts a dismal place where the sun would blind first basemen and a cold wind would pour in from all directions. Ron Hunt got hit by 54 pitches there. Cleveland Municipal Stadium was famously awful for baseball -- metal beams blocked the field from every vantage point, and the infield featured mounds that suggested hastily buried bodies. Shea Stadium had the look and feel of a long-abandoned amusement park that wasn't all that great in the first place. The Kingdome had its charms, but it never felt entirely sturdy. Tropicana Field feels plenty sturdy, but it has never had many charms. The multi-use stadiums in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, especially at the end, seemed a lot like really big eight-track tapes.
But it's probably fair to say that no park in a half century has been quite as despised as the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. I suspect the Metrodome itself would consider that a point of honor. Even people who love it, hate it. Well, how else can you feel about playing baseball in a football stadium with plastic grass, a baseball-colored roof, an echo and a giant glad trash bag just beyond the fence? How else can you feel about going to the ballpark on a beautiful July day in Minneapolis -- there aren't many seasons in America as beautiful as Minnesota summers -- and then finding yourself watching something resembling baseball in this dank building with all the romance of a bank vault? It's like playing Monopoly in your friend's basement when it's 70 degrees and sunny outside.
"What's wrong with you kids," our mothers would yell. "Go play outside!"
And that's what I always wanted to yell -- I sensed that's what EVERYBODY wanted to yell -- while watching games in the Metrodome. You know what Dan Quisenberry said about the place when he first saw it, right? "I don't think there are any good uses for nuclear weapons, but, then, this might be one." He said that about the Dome back in the mid 1980s. John Schuerholz, when he was GM of the Royals, said something similar -- something about nuclear weapons and blowing the place up. The Metrodome did bring out violent wishes. Billy Martin, who knew a little something about violent wishes, was direct: "This place stinks," he said. "It's a shame a great guy like HHH had to be named after it."
And so on. There never has been a shortage of people willing to bash the Metrodome. Torii Hunter played center field beautifully there. He hated it. Kent Hrbek became a Minnesota baseball legend in the Dome. He thinks it is an oddly lovable but grisly place for ball.
Well, you can ask anybody. Even someone writing a story under the headline "A Case for the Metrodome" sums up its baseball powers like so: "It's a terrible place to watch a baseball game." There does not seem to be many opposing opinions, even in Minnesota, where the Dome played a key role -- maybe even the starring role -- in 1987 and 1991 World Series championships. The Twins have played .541 baseball in the Dome* and .441 baseball on the road. Baseball in the Dome can be such a dispiriting thing that even winning doesn't always feel worth it. In Kansas City, when there are 11,000 people in the stands, it still feels pleasant -- the fountains are going, the grass is crayon-green, it's just nice. In Minnesota, when 11,000 people are in the Dome, you feel like you are at an especially depressing demolition derby.
Believe it or not ... only one team in baseball has played sub-.500 baseball at home since 1982, the first year of the Dome. And even that isn't exactly right -- the team is Tampa Bay, and the Rays have only played since 1998. Conversely, two teams have played better than .500 baseball on the road over the last 28 seasons -- and you probably can guess those: The Yankees and Atlanta.
But that doesn't mean the place lacks magic. Haunted houses have magic. When the Dome is filled, it's the loudest park in baseball. And when it's loud, crazy stuff happens. Infielders drop fly balls. Baseballs bounce over outfielders' heads. High line drives get caught in the air conditioning and ride the air stream over the fence. Hard ground balls scoot around fielders like Barry Sanders, bounce off walls and turn singles into triples. Center fielders leap high against the wall and make remarkable catches.
It had to go, of course. But while everyone wanted it to go year after year -- everybody from players to writers to announcers to fans -- the Metrodome endured. There was history there -- Kirby and Hrbek and Jack Morris in Game 7. There was shelter from the cold in those April games. There was the certainty of baseball, come rain, snow, hail, locusts, whatever. There was the impossible cost of building a new stadium. There was all that it brought to Minnesota -- the Dome was always a good pro football stadium, it brought in Final Fours and various huge events. It made the Twin Cities matter, in some ways.
Finally, there was inertia. Are you going to fix your drive or drive around the pothole? Truth is, after a while, you might even kind of learn to love that pothole. After all, it's yours. And the Dome belonged to the Twins, belonged to Minnesota baseball fans. It was theirs: The worst stadium in baseball. Sure, that means something. It was something to COMPLAIN about. And stuff to complain about brings people together. In the South, it's the humidity. Hot enough for you? In Buffalo, it's the snow. In St. Louis, it's the construction. In New York, maybe it's the tourists, in Los Angeles the traffic, in Cleveland the Browns. In Miami, it's the drivers. In Chicago, it's the Bears' quarterback. In Kansas City, it was for many years Carl Peterson ... and I think people around Kansas City can't help but miss him because it's just not as much fun to complain about Scott Pioli.
The Metrodome would bring everyone together during baseball season. It was so dreadful, so indefensible, so anti-baseball that in a weird way it became the opposite of those things. My suspicion was always that Twins fans could take some pride in it.
How many games did you sit through at the Dome?
Oh man. Probably. Fifty?
Wow. You're a stronger man than I am.
Of course, now the Twins will move into a new stadium, a beautiful new place where the grass will be green, and the food will be varied and the atmosphere will be alive and, yes, Opening Day may feel like the freezer car in Goodfellas. Well, you always have to endure something to get something else. It's an exciting new time. But the future isn't here yet. First, they have to close the Dome down. And the truth is, the Dome doesn't want to close down. The Dome is like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey -- it just ain't ready to get disconnected. And so the Twins played fierce baseball the last three weeks of the season, and forced the playoff. If the Twins win on Tuesday, they will force the Yankees to come back in one more time. If they somehow win that series ...
Well, let's not get ahead of the time. Horror movies end, too. For now, for today at least, the creepy music plays and the Metrodome still has that killer's gleam in the eye. It never was a thing of beauty. But it sure is damn hard to beat the Twins there on a day like today.