Well, maybe it's best if this subject not die quite so quickly. I mean, it will die -- eventually -- but right now it's clinging to life like a September dandelion (or Rondell White).
The subject of retractable roofs remains in my mind because interleague play has taken the Twins to two very different climates in cities (Pittsburgh and Houston) which made very different decisions about how to protect the playing field.
PNC Park is sort of the current poster child for how to build a good ballpark, and it sure looked beautiful on TV. There aren't many more spectacular views in Major League cities than the Roberto Clemente Bridge. The weather looked pretty good, too.
Well as it happens, Pittsburgh is nearly a clone of Minnesota from April through September (even October, for that matter). In the winter it gets a bit colder here, but during the baseball season these are about as close as two cities can get (this data comes from Weather.com, which also includes a somewhat curious page about what kind of weather to expect for future Twins games at the Metrodome -- it's expected to be 66 degrees for the season-ending match-up between the Twins and White Sox on October 1).
Still, after checking some resources on the political and financial arrangements for building the park, I can find no mention of anyone ever considering or even suggesting that PNC Park have a roof. In fact, the only mention of the subject that I could find is from a Post-Gazette feature which ran at the time of the park's opening:
...when the old-timey facades are covered with modern retractable roofs, as in Milwaukee's Miller Park, also opening this spring, it's like topping off an Edith Wharton dress with a Jane Jetson hat.
From the start, they set out to resurrect the experience people lovingly remembered from Forbes Field. In fact, the project was called Forbes II at the start. And it appears that adding a roof was never on their radar simply because it would have detracted from this vision.
I have an old friend who was born in Pittsburgh but has lived here all his adult life. He swears that Pittsburgh will always take a classier approach to such projects than Minneapolis. He offers no real theory of why -- something about the people, he'd claim -- but lots of examples (one of his favorites being the preservation of portions of Forbes Field, as compared to the rather paltry memorial to the Met at the Mall of America). I'm not qualified to comment on his ravings (and just listened to him and nodded for a decade or so), but I'm sure he might add this decision to his list. (I hope he keeps up with the Pirates' box scores.)
For what it's worth, travel guides all seem to list the lack of a roof as something to be aware of and prepared for, but the park's sheer beauty gets most of the attention.
From the glory of Pittsburgh, the Twins traveled to the oppressive sweatiness of Houston. There, for entirely practical reasons, there was never a question that a new park would be covered. In the birthplace of indoor baseball, it's heat and not rain which drives such decisions.
Or is it? Tonight's game featured this exchange between the radio announcers (thick with winks and nods):
Gladden: On a gorgeous evening, they have elected to keep the roof closed.
Gordon: They say the pitchers like to have it closed. The ball doesn't travel as far in the closed environment. You wouldn't know that tonight, though.
DG: It does look like, John, looking outside, that it has cleared up, the clouds have moved on and it's pretty clear outside...
JG: But they say if there's any threat of rain -- ANY threat of rain, they're gonna close the roof.
DG: And when they do open it, it's usually around the 7th inning.
That "any threat of rain" must reasonably be heard as "any threat of power." I remember a couple of controversial decisions to keep the roof closed during last year's World Series. And this suggests another aspect to the roof not yet discussed: it gives greater control of the playing conditions to the home team.
Personally, I think that's just another really lousy reason to put on a roof, but to highly-competitive baseball executives, one might think of it as non-negotiable. Perhaps this is what's behind the persistent rumor that the roof is not completely dead.
But there is a trade-off, which gnaws at me. It's put into words very well by Graham over at BaseballPilgrimages.com:
With the roof open, Minute Maid Park is one of the premier ballparks in baseball, featuring unobstructed downtown views of the nation’s fourth largest city. From the upper deck you can watch traffic lights changing in a timed sequence on Prairie Street, which is the road behind the left field wall leading away from the ballpark.
When the retractable roof is closed, Minute Maid Park loses much of its appeal. Although 50,000 square feet of glass running the length of the ballpark’s west wall still gives fans a view of the Houston skyline, the feel of the ballpark is quite different. Imagine swimming in an indoor pool opposed to an outdoor pool and you’ll have an idea of the change in atmosphere.
Frankly, it's a depressing thought. I've gone out to the ballpark on a beautiful 80-degree afternoon, only to find that the starting pitcher has declared that the roof should be closed because there's a 5% chance of rain (and a 100% chance of a power hitter in the other team's line-up).
Would they do it? Perhaps not at first, but it sounds like it's grown into a pretty standard practice in Houston (and perhaps other places). Not having a roof would certainly avoid that temptation.
"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 3037 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
The Puckett atrium fireplace is just barely visible at the far left.
Plaza extension reaches toward First Avenue
Bassett Creek's path through the ballpark site (Source: Minneapolis Public Library)
The Carew gate ticket windows have grown a small awning.
The first passengers are about to arrive, but the switch is set for the wrong track (those guys walked all the way out to correct it)
The proposed wooden screen covering the circulation ramp on Fifth Street (at left is the equivalent screen on Seventh Street).
Comerica Park main entrance: Tigers, bats, and much (maybe too much) more (Source: LP)
The scoreboard also towers over the LRT tracks, which now are functional (though not open) all the way to the park -- and beyond!
These are the footings for the staircase which will connect the plaza to the skyway.
The view out Gate 6 "Oliva".
Looking down what was Third Avenue, and will be a freeway entrance ramp beneath the outfield stands.
Looking across the top of the B parking ramp. Notice that signage will block any attempts at seeing the game from up there. Also take note of the glassed in area which is part club and part office space for the Ballpark Authority.
Here we are waiting for the first train to arrive at the station (Nov 14).
I had to hold the camera as far over my head as I could to get this shot, in which the infield is finally visible. It's a spot made for your average Timberwolves player.
Fan number 3,030,673 came through this gate a few moments after I took this picture.
The spruced up triangle really doesn't show much connection with the ballpark.
A truck is leaving the HERC plant. Here you can see the proximity to the promenade. For the record, the truck drove right by me and I smelled nothing...
Mound from the other side
The gate has grown a row of sponsorship
I never think of Ron Jackson at all.
Detail of the train tunnels (click to view the entire drawing)
The old flour Gold Medal Flour Mill, located next to the new Guthrie theater (Source: RP)
Walkway sneak peek
Town Ball Tavern balcony
The heretofore unseen north facade (click to enlarge). Does it look like a ballpark? And what's with the bamboo?