Saturday, January 18, 2014

As Metrodome dome deflates for farewell, a magical memory remains

Kind of a sad day in Minneapolis, as the roof on the famed dome on the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome was deflated for the final time as the last remaining tenant is moving on to a new stadium.

The Metrodome was, of course, the home of the Minnesota Twins for a long time, and provided the setting for one of my favorite baseball adventures -- filled with mischief and risk.

Let's head to the archives for today's story

"Are you here for the tour?" the Metrodome employee asked me.

Sometimes baseball adventures happen with no advance notice, and a fan must think on his feet.

I was in the Twin Cities for an education writers’ conference in 1996, and such trips sometimes allow for some limited sightseeing.

With a break one day, I walked down to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which is located on the fringe of downtown Minneapolis. There was a fun and ancient memorabilia store across the street. The stores surrounding Wrigley, Fenway and even Tiger Stadium had more of the fun, old things that I liked.

And the Metrodome itself will never be confused with those ballparks. It’s pretty dull looking, virtually the same from any angle. There were some stylized cutouts of athletes and musicians in an area outside, a tribute to the multi-use nature of the facility.

I walked around snapping photos and noticed some people in the lobby, so I pushed through the revolving glass door, thinking maybe a gift store was open.

An employee approached as soon as I stepped inside.

“Are you here for the tour?”

There is, of course, only one answer.

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

“Oh, good, your group just started. Go down this hallway and you can catch up with them.”

I could scarcely believe my good fortune. I also proceed with caution. If this was some senior citizens club or some folks who did not appreciate a late-arriving imposter, I’d be outed – and ousted – immediately.

Turning the corner, I found what appeared to be a group of Cub Scouts with dad chaperones.

I stood at the end of the group. A couple people of looked over. I waved and smiled – one of those awkward “Sorry I’m late” waves, at them as well as the group of kids.

I suspect they figured I was the father of one of the kids in the group, one of those dads who does not get too involved and chaperones only cool sporting activities.

The tour guide continued talking as if nothing was amiss and everyone’s attention quickly turned back to her.


It was a pretty good tour, starting in one of the inner tunnels of the stadium, which looked more like the inside of something like the Nassau Coliseum than a baseball stadium.

We went up into the press box, and looked down at the field for the first time. A college football team was practicing down one end of the field, but the infamous “Hefty Bag” outfield wall was there for all to see.

It looked like there were giant curtains in the upper deck in the outfield covering some of the seats, and massive banners of players hung in front of the curtains.

Still, it looked like a pretty sterile place.

We peeked into a luxury box, and then back down to the lower level.

Moving around with the group, I engaged in careful small talk with the dads. “Pretty neat, huh?” “The kids sure are having a good time.” “We should do this again sometime.”

No one asked which kid was mine. I worried about this.

We paused in front of a door that led to the Twins clubhouse, but were not allowed inside. Then we took the tunnel out to the field and on to the artificial turf.

The guide pointed out the luxury boxes again from the field, noting one in particular. She said that Rick Aguilera was ticked off at something that season and threw a ball so hard that it broke one of the windows. Manager Tom Kelly, she said, was not pleased and made Aguilera pay to replace the glass.

Aggie seemed pretty mild-mannered as a Met, so I figured something about Minneapolis must have got to him. Probably Prince.

Then the guide told us we’d have some time to ourselves to run around the field as long as we didn’t go too close to the football players or go on the mound and dirt sliding places around the bases.


I headed straight to the Hefty Bag because A) I didn’t want to linger near the other dads in case one started to get chatty and ask questions, and B) It’s the Hefty Bag in the Metrodome!

I remember a Dodge ad stretched from the right field foul pole all the way into far right-centerfield. Simply massive.

And I was surprised there was little effort to conceal all the seats in the outfield sections that were sideways because they were folded up. It seemed kind of like the kind of thing you’d see in a high school gymnasium.

Before long, some of the kids joined me and we were all making pretend Kirby-like catches up against the wall. Kids don’t ask questions.

I also paused to look up at the inflatable gray ceiling and imagine what it’s like to follow the flight of a fly ball, a notoriously difficult act in the Dome.

After a while, the guide waved us back in and the tour was done. I stuck with the group through the lobby then drifted away outside, quickly making it back to the hotel and the conference.

The Twins this year also bid farewell to the Metrodome, with the Division Series defeat against the vile Yankees likely to be the final baseball game there.

The field opened on April 3, 1982, baseball’s third domed stadium -- behind the Astrodome and Kingdome -- and first with an inflatable roof. It cost $68 million, and, as the guide proudly told us, was $2 million under budget.

It remains the only venue to host an MLB All-Star Game, a World Series – twice – an NCAA Final Four and a Super Bowl.

And, apparently, it allows tours for Cub Scout groups – and their friends.

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