A Job, Well, Done
December 31, 2013 3:05 AM
Such promise. (Click to enlarge.)
Well, it's finally all over. Are we sad? Even a little? Really?
What is there left to say about one of the most maligned sports venues in the history of professional sports? That it served its purpose? That it was cost effective? That it was sufficiently warm/cool/dry on those too cold/hot/wet days? That some interesting things happened there? That some of our teams won? That a lot of people shouted, or roller-bladed, or even worshiped there? That the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney and U2 played there? That it could be converted from one sport to another in just a few hours?
Is this a moment for sentiment? Is this like when someone dies who you didn't like very much but you still say the nicest things you can think of because that's just what is right for the moment?
Boy, I sure don't know. (Well, actually, I do.)
Maybe this is a moment for a list. Those seem to be pretty popular when events like this crop up. So let's go with my personal top five Metrodome memories and see where it takes us. And mind you, these are not just things that happened there. These are things that happened to me while I was there, and only the ones where the facility played an actual role in the memory. (I'd love to hear yours. Unlike the ones regurgitated throughout the media, all of ours will be unique and, therefore, potentially interesting.)
#5 - Exit Twins (Yankees @ Twins, ALDS Game 3, October 11, 2009)
It's an elimination game. The score is close. It's anybody's game. The teams, despite being somewhat mismatched, are playing their hearts out. And the hometown crowd is completely getting into -- wait for it -- the wave. Could the Metrodome era have any better summary?
#4 - Enter Timberwolves (Lakers @ Timberwolves, Exhibition, October 18, 1989)
I'm not much of a basketball fan, and I have no idea how I got tickets to this event or why I went, but I sat in the upper deck and looked down at the most absurd site: an NBA basketball court set up where the infield ought to be. The Metrodome was nothing if not versatile, and here was a moment to be savored when it proved it could spoil sightlines for yet another sport. Many people around me were more prepared, and sported binoculars. (And how about the irony of playing the first game against a franchise which used to play here, but left town because it couldn't secure a permanent home! And with one of their problematic temporary homes -- the Armory -- still extant but vacant just up the street!)
#3 - The Contraction Gallows (Mariners @ Twins, August 29, 2002)
The game was over, and I don't remember whether the Twins won or lost. But I lingered at the front of the upper deck and watched as the grounds crew began converting the playing field from baseball to football. Within hours we would find out whether there would be a player strike, with the distinct possibility that the stately Senators/Twins franchise could be a casualty of such a thing as a result of the failure of this facility to generate sufficient revenue. (It's said that, in that era, the Vikings sometimes made more money from Twins games than the Twins did, due to the structure of the original deal.) It didn't happen, but I stood there for about half an hour lamenting that it had come to this, pondering what it would mean, and hating the place for all its bland uninspiredness.
#2 - Feting the Returning Heroes (October 12, 1987, very late)
Who goes to a stadium when there isn't a game? A lot of us did. We packed the place in order to welcome back our World Series-bound heroes. We filled that slightly-over-pressurized air with so much noise that I had ringing ears and a headache for days. But the facility reached the apex of its power that night, and was actually more palatable for the mere fact that no game would be played, and therefore no sensibilities could be offended. On that night, the Metrodome was just a big theater for one of the most magical baseball moments I've ever experienced.
#1 - First Sight (Spring 1982)
In the spring of 1982 a friend and I walked across the Washington Avenue bridge from the campus where I was a freshman, wended our way through Seven Corners and across the freeway (quite a trek, I might add), and entered the Dome's left field upper deck for the first time. As I looked around at the relentless sea of blue plastic against stone cold concrete and tried to get my bearings, I also tried to feel impressed (I had, after all, lobbied Calvin Griffith personally to support this facility). But my heart sank. It was horrible, and nothing like the grandiosity I had imagined after seeing pictures of the Astrodome. I came away with a pit in my stomach, asking myself, "What have we done?"
Some Honorable Mentions
1. A few years ago, Twinsfest was held not long after new turf had been installed. I'll never forget chasing a toddler around on that new turf, and then, after he decided to drop-and-roll, spending the better part of an hour removing fake dirt particles stuck fast to his clothing by static electricity. Good times (truly).
2. A couple of years before that, the model of Target Field was the star of Twinsfest, and I managed to arrange a sneak preview before the event opened to the public. Most notable was meeting Kevin Smith in the Twins offices, and then following him down a series of bewildering stairways and passageways that had a distinctive M. C. Escher quality to them. Suffice it to say that I saw a side of the Metrodome that most fans never saw, and there was no chance in hell I could ever have found my way out by the route I was led in.
3. On two occasions I was part of a choir which sang the Star Spangled Banner before the annual "Lutheran Night" Twins game. And this wasn't just a collection of friends, but a real choir, and a very good one. I'll never forget the great difficulty of hearing each other out behind the pitcher's mound. It was an extraordinarily difficult place to make music. That says something, I think.
4. In the mid-80s, my best friend was the flag instructor for the U of M marching band. As a result, I got to tag along a couple of times for their Dome rehearsals, and watch the proceedings from a tiny platform on the 50-yard line at the very top of the upper deck (directly above and behind the football press box). It was an unmatched view, a little unnerving, but also a distinct thrill.
5. And then there's Chuck Knoblauch Hot Dog Night, when that same best friend and I inadvertently managed to snag the perfect seats to watch all of the depressing action. We sat halfway up the lower deck right behind the Twins bullpen. These seats, as many of you know, were terrible for baseball because they faced directly toward the left fielder -- which actually made them ideal for watching the most interesting action on that particular night. (Unreported by the media was that it was Yankee fans behind us that were throwing stuff onto the field in the hopes of forcing a forfeit.)
Finally, over the years my friends and I developed this little ritual which will (happily) never again be necessary. We would all laugh dryly while entering the Dome on a sunny day, saying to one another with an ironic glance toward the sky, "What a great day for indoor baseball!"
Make no mistake, the Metrodome was certainly not the source of all sporting ills in the region for the past 31 years. I'd even go as far as to say that it wasn't really responsible for any of the significant ills (except, maybe, Carl Pohlad's strategies in the mid-90s). In fact, as has now been pointed out in every corner of the local media, it was the site for some truly amazing moments. And its versatility has been really off the charts. If you were to rate it compared to other multi-purpose facilities on how many different types of activities it could host, it might very well be near the top of the second wave of such stadiums (the first ones, the "concrete donuts", were never this versatile).
But was there even one of those activities where it truly excelled? (Most memorable thing about the Paul McCartney concert? The horrible acoustics.) Despite being designed primarily as a football facility, the Metrodome will likely be remembered as the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none champion. Every group that ever hosted an event there had to import and attach their own identity to the aggressively generic facility, and then return it to a neutral state afterward. By being "home" to so many different things, it was actually a true home to none. This is the macro lesson of the multi-purpose stadium era: They don't work at least in part because no one is really, truly at home in them.
But I think that what I have deplored most about the Metrodome is the utter lack of imagination with which it was built, and the utter lack of inspiration it provided to the teams (and fans) which gathered there. The word "utilitarian" is thrown around a lot, but this isn't necessarily a sin. Dullness, on the other hand, most definitely is.
If your house is like ours, there's a utilitarian set of dishes in the kitchen cupboards which gets used for most meals, and a separate set of fancy dishes stored away for special occasions. The Metrodome was a set of plain dishes at all times, when every event should have been treated as special, and therefore worthy of the china you'd use on Christmas day.
When I wrote to Calvin Griffith, I was imagining the second coming of the Astrodome. I was imagining that Minneapolis would build a facility which could be called a "wonder" when it opened -- a true successor to that original, ground-breaking dome.
For all its eventual faults, the Astrodome truly did look like a wonder at first, and even for many years afterward. It was multi-purpose (one of the aforementioned "concrete donut" class, to be specific), but did it with style and boldness. It aspired to inspire.
It had that impossibly high, but geometrically beautiful roof, which looked strong and durable and awe-inspiring even after its windows were covered. More than that, it housed a genuine baseball field, without compromises (beyond, ultimately, the playing surface). Its lower deck even had great baseball sightlines (see photo above). It also had classic lines and symmetry and style in its facade, and what was de rigueur for its time: a signature massive parking lot surrounding it (the lack of which was widely lamented when the Metrodome opened; after all those years out at the Met, it was all anyone could imagine).
By contrast, the Metrodome roof was soft and lumpy, looking much more like an uncomfortable pillow than anything classical. Disappointingly, it didn't even look much like the concept drawings we'd been shown (such as the one at the top of this post). It had been sold to us as something refined, but never was. Throughout its entire life, even after the new roof was installed, various panels puffed out here and there unevenly.
OK, it kept out the cold and the rain, and it was a marvel of modern engineering, but why did it have to be so damned ugly?
The concrete facade had repetition and rhythm, but no detail or texture whatsoever to break up its true monotony. It was (probably intentionally) a blank slate, and would remain so until only one major tenant was left. It cannot be denied that the place never looked better than after the Vikings were allowed to paint a few things purple. (You may remember that the struts on the exterior were originally about the same color as the cement, until the MSFC painted them red in an attempt to liven up the look. Boing.)
Even the graceful lines of the exterior walkways, an elegant method of ingress/egress if ever there was one, failed because they refused to acknowledge any part of the city beyond their boundaries. (A cautionary tale if ever there was one.)
When Met Stadium was replaced, we, as a community, had the opportunity to build a building which inspired -- both fans and teams. But we completely failed. That it also failed to inspire even the tiniest amount of urban renewal really shouldn't have been a surprise.
Despite all of my misgivings about the stadium which will replace it, one thing is for certain: It aspires to inspire. It will be a notable improvement in that regard. (But forget about honoring the Metrodome's past. Both the site of home plate and the location of the golden seat marking Kirby's famous homer will be buried in the new stadium's concrete, with seating above them.)
Maybe it seems callous to kick the old place even as its seats are being dismantled and its facade awaits an appointment with the wrecking ball. But thankfully, the Metrodome is not a person, and today is not a funeral. It's just a building -- a public works building at that -- which has provided just over three decades of undistinguished service at a reasonable price. Thus, I don't think there's any responsibility to look back with overly sentimental eyes.
Were it a ballpark, I'd probably see it differently. But it never was. Were it iconic or beautiful or inspiring, my reaction would be completely different. (I'll probably shed a tear the day they knock down the Astrodome.) The Metrodome was just a place where Major League Baseball was played, but it was never a ballpark in any sense of the word. And that's the most damning thing of all.
Yes, wonderful things happened there. In addition to all of the things I listed above, I'll never forget taking my then-fiance-now-wife to her first Twins game at the Metrodome. It was a most sweet occasion that was essentially unaffected by the building.
I'll never forget walking my preschooler through the concourse during games when he got antsy, and showing him those perplexing troughs, and then later bumping into TC.
I'll remember all of those opening days when I went to the game with my mom, who had stood in line at a Target store somewhere to score free tickets.
I'll always remember the day in the fall of 2001 when we stood outside the Dome in the rain, rallying to get a new facility instead of being contracted out of existence.
I'll never forget being invited into one of those retro-fitted clubs for a drink with a friend of this web site, or attending a corporate event in one of the suites.
I'll never forget watching a playoff game from the dead last row at the top of the upper deck, with the roof looming seemingly within reach right above my head.
I'll never forget trudging up and down those circulation ramps looking for my gate (because you couldn't just go in anywhere, you know), and discovering that I'd gone the wrong way -- again.
I'll always hold close the memory of the snowy night that we said goodbye to our fallen hero, whose name supplanted that of the city of his birth in the address of the stadium.
I'll cherish these memories always, but will be dry-eyed at the disappearance of the place where they happened.
As a postscript, let me say that, even though I was not at the Dome for any of the games, I remember well those exceedingly tense nights when the Twins played the Braves in the fall of 1991. They were wonderful, at least in part, because they were largely free and clear of ill-effects from the Dome.
In 1987, on the other hand, the event and the facility are harder to separate, and the conjunction is not necessarily good. The Twins were masters of those conditions by then, while visiting teams remained flummoxed. That particular set of home field advantages has always felt to me like it came at the expense of the honor of the game. Every ball lost in the roof or careening off a speaker or dropping dead from the baggie to the track caused a little wince across the baseball world. And winning the World Series under those conditions, well it was great, but not as great as it might have been.
And that's the Metrodome to me. No, I'll not miss the place. If anything, I'll miss having it as an easy target of derision. It wasn't Ebbets, or the Polo Grounds, or even the Met. It was Generic Municipal Stadium. A pole barn. A plain face. It was just good enough to get the job done, and nothing more.
Time to clear the site, and give something else a shot.
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This page was last modified on December 31, 2013.
"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."
– Bernie Williams
Explore the Site
Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3045 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
The Pro Shop.
B ramp at left, ballpark at right (and visible far away through the tiny crack)
Town Ball Tavern balcony
The view out Gate 6 "Oliva".
The Ballpark Authority at work (Source: RP)
This is what passes for imagination at Miller Park -- they didn't even get the shape right! (Source: LP)
Wind veil install from across Seventh
Sometime in the late 1980s: B ramp is under construction. Not yet built: Target Center, I-394 and the A ramp.
One half of those windows are well-used.
Fun with section counting!
Look familiar? Unfortunately, just adding little balconies with cool angles will not offset the pervading ugliness.
The top of a warehouse visible beyond a parking ramp.
Before the team came out to warm up, Kirby Puckett, Jr. was playing Frisbee out in center.
Gate 29 "Carew" is at right.
The old flour Gold Medal Flour Mill, located next to the new Guthrie theater (Source: RP)
Here we are waiting for the first train to arrive at the station (Nov 14).
Some baseball legends (and Ron Coomer)
Bassett Creek's original path (Source: Metropolitan Design Center)
Stepping inside the circulation building
Emergency access viewed in context
Hubert's remains the only sports bar within site of the Dome after 28 years of its existence. It's a cautionary tale.
Mussina's first pitch. (Playing 3rd: Not A-Rod)
This is very early in the day.
The outfield stands as viewed through the unnumbered gate
I'm too short to see over that wall. How about a little platform or something?
In March, we were still only imagining baseball through those windows.
BPM - Ballpark Magic
BRT - Bus Rapid Transit
DSP - Dave St. Peter
FSE - Full Season Equivalent
FYS - Fake Yankee Stadium (see also: NYS)
HERC - Hennepin Energy Resource Company (aka the Garbage Burner)
HPB - Home Plate Box
HRP - Home Run Porch
LC - Legends Club
LRT - Light Rail Transit
MBA - Minnesota Ballpark Authority (will own Target Field)
MOA - Mall of America
MSFC - Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission (owns the Metrodome)
NYS - New Yankee Stadium
SRO - Standing Room Only
STH - Season Ticket Holder
TCFBS - TCF Bank Stadium
TF - Target Field
Selected Bibliography - Analysis
First Edition (1992)
Second Edition (2006)
Selected Bibliography - Surveys
Second Edition (1987)
Not a "Third Edition" exactly,
but it replaced the above title
(2000, large coffee table)
Original edition (2000, round)
Revised edition (2006, round)
(2001, medium coffee table)
(2002, small coffee table)
(2003, medium coffee table)
(2004, very large coffee table)
(2006, very large coffee table)
Combines the previous two titles
(2007, medium coffee table)
Selected Bibliography - Nostalgia
Book and six ballpark miniatures