MINNEAPOLIS -- A lot of folks insist that baseball isn't baseball when it's played indoors on a rug. It's an outdoor game, a pastoral game, a grass game. You take it out of the open air and can it like a tomato, and you've tampered with its tradition. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for tradition. I'm just not sure it's worth frostbite surgery to see a World Series game. Saturday noon, the temperature here was 42 degrees. By 10 p.m., around the sixth inning, it was expected to be in the mid-30s. If baseball was intended to be seen in that weather they wouldn't fill those cups with Miller, they'd be pouring Prestone.
So what do you say we go through the revolving doors into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, take our coats off and have a look around?
You'll notice none of the seats face home plate. That's because "The Hump-Dome" as it's sometimes called was built primarily as a football stadium, and the seats were designed to face the rectangular football field. To get a true angle on baseball here you have to be somewhat tilted, like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pat Buchanan.
You'll notice the billowy roof is canvas-colored, an off-white, "the same color as the ball," Gary Gaetti points out. This can be big trouble on fly balls. "Take your eye off the ball for a second, and you'll lose it," warns Gaetti. After dropping a game to the Twins in which four runs were attributed to misjudged fly balls, the serene, contemplative Billy Martin called the Metrodome "Little League" and demanded it be "barred from baseball." The plight brings to mind Charles O. Finley. Finley was first with colorful uniforms and night baseball in the World Series. Laugh if you will, but one of his other goofy brainstorms -- orange baseballs -- might be appropriate here.
Equally big trouble are the holes in the roof, which indeed look like the craters on the moon. Not only can you lose the ball in the roof, you can lose the ball in the roof.
On May 4, 1984, Dave Kingman hit a towering pop, and the baseball went through a hole in the roof and disappeared for a roof-rule double. Tim Teufel, the Twins' second baseman at the time, said, "We were all standing around like it was 'Candid Camera.' " A few days later, workmen went up to retrieve the ball. Mickey Hatcher, flaky enough to think he could appeal Kingman's double if he caught the ball before it hit the turf, stationed himself under the villainous black hole. The ball dropped like a knuckler and hit Hatcher in the leg.
There are more roof stories. Jay Weiner, writing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, notes the roof has collapsed three times, the most terrifying on April 26, 1986. In the bottom of the eighth of a Twins-Angels game, outside winds conveying a thunderstorm suddenly and frantically increased from 10 to almost 80 miles per hour. Light standards rocked. A portion of the roof in right-center tore, and The Dome sagged. Water plunged onto the field. The Angels ran for the dugout. Ray Miller, then managing the Twins, looked at his troops and said, "It's every man for himself." Pitcher Frank Pastore, soon to be signed by the Twins, watched from the press box and asked, "Does this happen often?"
(Now, a brief musical interlude. For old times' sake sing along with me: "Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?" Okay, back to the column.)
You'll notice the chaotic interior landscape. The walls in left and right were remodeled in response to charges that home runs were too cheaply hit here. Now in left it's like sitting in a hockey penalty box; there are glass panels above the original wall. Every time a Twin hits a homer there, Ozzie Smith should be sent to the dugout for two minutes.
In right, there's a large, blue plastic sheet that forms a wall 23 feet high. It covers a section of portable bleacher seats that have been pushed back flush and are now usable only by vampire bats, or anyone else who can watch a game hanging upside down by his toes. Wrigley has its ivy. Fenway has its Green Monster. (It takes a helluva shot in China to clear the Great Wall.) Minneapolis has what is alternately called "The Glad Bag," "The Hefty Bag" and "The Shower Curtain." Personally, I like the last one. It conjures an image of Monty Hall asking Norman Bates if he wants the money, or what's behind the curtain.
You'll notice the new rug. It's not nearly as lively as the one it replaced. The bounces off that one were so high the game was like atomic-powered snooker. After a game on the original carpet, the geopolitical George Steinbrenner brayed, "If I wanted my players to learn Ping-Pong, I'd send them to China."
You'll notice the "Homer Hankies." When the crowd gets going, the place looks like the inside of a psychologically disturbed Kleenex box.
You'll notice the speakers. They're in play. Catch a fly off the speakers, you're out. Happens about once a year, Gaetti says.
You'll notice the noise. Believe me, you will. It was loud even in the old days when almost nobody came. Third baseman Gaetti remembers: "You'd always hear this one idiot screaming. 'Hey, third, coming at you! Third, don't screw it up!' You want to yell back that one time, 'Thanks for coming. Why don't you go back home and beat your wife?' "
Now Gaetti hears the noise of 55,000 at decibel levels measured as louder than a chain saw, louder than a rivet gun, louder even than an airplane jet engine. You know how Springsteen says, ". . . a freight train running through the middle of my head . . ." Forget it. You could drop the A-bomb in here and nobody would notice. "You can feel it all over your body," Gaetti says. "The noise bounces off you, player to player. Your ears are ringing. You can't hear a thing." Gaetti pauses and grins. "It's a pretty good feeling physically."
The Cardinals, as you might imagine, hate it here. Whitey Herzog, who must see himself as the last purist left, surveys the Metrodome and snorts, "At least part of the Series will be played where baseball should be played."
As in, Busch Stadium. St. Louis.
On artificial turf.