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Monday, August 25, 2003
The Metrodome has its moments

By Jim Caple
Page 2 staff

Editor's Note: This is the 24th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.

MINNEAPOLIS -- I remember a banner that used to hang here in right field that read: "WE LIKE IT HERE."

REPORT CARD
The Metrodome
Capacity: 48,678
Opened: April 6, 1982
Surface: Astroturf

Our Ratings:
Seat comfort: 2
Hot dogs: 3
Concessions: 3.75
Signature food: 4
Beer: 4
Bathrooms: 3
Scoreboard: 2
P.A. system: 2
Fun stuff: 1.5
Souvenirs: 3
Tickets: 4.5
Exterior: 2.5
Interior: 2.5
Access: 3
Ushers: 4
Trading up: 4.5
Fan knowledge: 5
7th inning stretch: 2
Local scene: 2
Wild card: 8
Total: 66.25

I loved that sign. It was so appropriate, so defensive, so Minnesotan. Yeah, you people from New York, California and Florida might think our weather is cold and miserable and that our stadium sucks, but we don't care -- WE like it and that's all that matters. And is it loud enough in here for you, then?

That sign isn't there anymore, which isn't surprising. No one likes the Metrodome anymore, especially the Twins. The Dome was built in an era when communities foolishly thought it was a better use of public funds to build an affordable, efficient multi-purpose stadium for several sports and save the rest of the money for something frivolous like, oh, education or low-income housing.

Naturally, we're much more enlightened now.

Don't get me wrong. Compared to the new stadiums, the Metrodome is a lousy place to watch a baseball game, and it's going to score very low in our rankings. But I also feel the Dome gets a bad rap. Some of the happiest moments of my life happened there.

It might not have a retractable roof or a micro-brewery or expensive brickwork or a spectacular view or even comfortable seats, but no stadium has ever delivered more bang for the buck. The Dome has hosted two World Series, a Super Bowl, a Final Four, the Rolling Stones and monster truck shows. It fits the Midwestern work ethic -- it just quietly does its job. Heck, they play baseball and football games in here on the same day!

Besides, I don't remember anyone complaining about the Dome during the 1991 World Series.

Or if they did, no one could hear them above the roar of the crowd.

The ratings:

1. Access: I would love to write a series of stories on all the streets and thoroughfares named after athletes -- Lombardi Avenue, the Ted Williams Tunnel, the Roberto Clemente Bridge and hundreds of others. Of course, it's often best to wait until an athlete is no longer capable of scandal before thus honoring him or her.

Case in point: 34 Kirby Puckett Place, site of the Metrodome. It sure sounded like a good idea at the time -- the Twins named it for Puck shortly after glaucoma ended his career -- but after last year's trial, it doesn't have quite the same cachet anymore (though it's still a less notorious address than, say, No. 8 Kobe Bryant Lane would be).

Anyway, two major interstates exit conveniently close to the Dome, though the parking lots are too sparse for the effective tailgating that was a tradition at the Old Met (and remains a tradition in St. Paul for the minor-league Saints). Points: 3

Metrodome
Jim Caple has a soft spot in his heart for the Metrodome.
2. Exterior architecture: Well, it's a dome. There is nothing particularly ugly about the Metrodome, but there is nothing particularly attractive either. Mostly, it looks like a very large garden center. 2.5

3. Interior Architecture: What can you say about a place whose signature piece of architecture is a gigantic Hefty bag?

I do give the Twins credit for trying to dress up the interior with championship pennants, retired uniforms and banners of the best players in team history. It's just that their makeovers rarely work better than anything Doug designs on "Trading Spaces." (Getting Doug instead of Vern Yipp is the home improvement equivalent of signing Chan Ho Park instead of Roger Clemens). This year, the Twins added a gigantic milk carton in the right-field corner. I like it, but I wish they had put it in fair territory.

Hunter connects and drives the ball deep to right ... it's going, going and -- Torii's GOT MILK!

The weird thing about the dome is the teflon roof is so thin that you can tell when the sun goes behind a cloud during a day game. You can also hear the rain pelting on the roof during a thunderstorm. Take that, Fenway! 2.5

4. Ticket price/availability/location: You have to sit inside on uncomfortable seats and hand your hard-earned money to Carl Pohlad (the team's miserable old banker/owner who got his start delivering foreclosure notices during the Depression), but you can't beat the price. For awhile, the Twins offered $81 season tickets that came with a bat personally autographed by Kirby Puckett. That deal isn't available anymore, but a Twins game remains a great bargain. I paid $6 for a bleacher ticket, and kids can get in for $2 on Sundays, just one of the discount plans that are offered every day. 4.5

5. Seat comfort: The Dome has held about every type of sporting event possible -- including baseball and football games on the same day -- but it unquestionably was built for football. So, it goes without saying that the seats down the foul lines don't face home plate. But the seats behind home plate don't face home plate, either.

Chiropractors must love this place. 2

6. Trading-up factor: Not surprisingly, it's very easy to move up. You just have to wait until the ushers are distracted, which is usually about the sixth inning when they begin helping the other fans into neck braces. 4.5

METRODOME BUDGET
Here's what Page 2's Jim Caple spent during his day at The Metrodome:

Ticket: $6

Beer: $5

Corn: $2

Hot dog: $3

Fajita: $5

Total: $21

7. Quality/selection of concession-stand fare: Like the Twins themselves, this is an area that has improved considerably in recent years. There used to be only the standard burgers, dogs and pizza, but now you can get everything from barbecue at Famous Dave's (a local restaurant) to fajitas. Just be sure to buy the barbecue at the Famous Dave's shack that's set up outside the stadium before games. The stand inside charges an extra dollar per sandwich, and ordering can be like being trapped in a scene from "Five Easy Pieces."

ME: I'd like a pulled pork sandwich.

VENDOR: Sorry, we're out of buns. But you can have a hot dog.

ME: I don't want a hot dog. But how about if you put the pork in the hot dog bun?

VENDOR: Can't do it.

ME: Why not?

VENDOR: Because.

ME: It would be easy. Just put the pork in the hot dog bun instead of the sandwich bun.

VENDOR: I'm sorry, we can't.

ME: Well, why don't you ask your manager?

VENDOR: [GRUDGINGLY] All right.

[A MINUTE OR TWO PASSES]

VENDOR: Sorry, we can't do that. But you can have the hot dog.

ME: I don't want a hot dog, just the bun.

VENDOR: We have hot dogs.

ME: And I'm sure they're delicious, but a hot dog isn't the same thing as a pork sandwich. I don't want a hot dog. So I'll make it easy for you. Bring me the hot dog and hold the wiener.

VENDOR: You want me to hold the wiener?

At this point, I held back what I really wanted to say. 3.75

8. Quality of hot dogs: Evidently, they have them. 3

9. Signature concession item: If you can order before they run out of buns, anything from Famous Dave's is great. And fans are partial to the walk-away ice cream sundaes in the requisite miniature helmets. But I'll go with the fresh roasted sweet corn available at a table outside by the Famous Dave's sign. They sell it all season long, but it's best in August when the corn is from Minnesota, which is the equivalent of getting salmon from the Copper River, chocolate from Belgium and hot dogs from Coney Island. It's the best corn in the world no matter what those jealous little people in Iowa and Nebraska will try to tell you. 4

Metrodome
Jim Caple also has a soft spot in his heart for T.C. Bear.
10. Beer: You have to hunt for it, but the Beers of the World stand behind the center-field bleachers sells Newcastle Brown Ale for $5 a bottle and 16-oz cups of Heinekin for $6.

Of course, you haven't really been to the Dome until you've bought a beer from Wally the Beerman, the vendor who is so popular he has his own baseball card and has done celebrity endorsements for a local liquor store.

Take that, Wrigley! 4

11. Bathrooms: My first day covering the Twins too many years ago, I was eating dinner in the press room just before the game and worrying whether I was up to the considerable challenge of my new assignment. The former owner, Calvin Griffith, was sitting at the table next to me, eating his meal and watching the TV. At about 6:55, his dining partner turned to him and said, "Well, Calvin, I guess we better get going if we're going to see the first pitch." And Calvin didn't move a muscle. "No, I'm going to stay here. 'Hogan's Island' comes on in five minutes."

That had nothing to do with anything, but it's one of my favorite stories about Calvin. And besides, I'm getting tired of writing about bathrooms, which are fine here except the place needs more facilities for women. 3

12. Scoreboard: The video screen is fine, but this is the worst out-of-town scoreboard in the majors. They show only two or three scores at a time; and no matter when you look, the score you want is never there. It's like waiting for your stock symbol to show up on MSNBC. 2

13. Quality of public address system: P.A. announcer Bob Casey doesn't get the publicity that Bob Sheppard does, but he's a Minnesota legend. He has been introducing players here -- and mispronouncing their names -- since Willie Mays played for the old Minneapolis Millers. And his signature "Noooooo smoooking in the Metrodome" produces the same tingle in Twins fans that "Now batting, No. 2, Derek Jeter, shortstop. No. 2, Jeter" does in Yankees fans.

Casey can be a curmudgeon. This is the best anecdote about him. Back when the Twins were playing at old Metropolitan Stadium, the team got a bomb threat before the game. "Bob," a team official told Casey, "there's a bomb threat, and we need to clear the stadium. So could you make some sort of announcement for people to calmly leave the stadium." Casey assured them that it would be no problem. Moments later, he grabbed the microphone and shouted, "Ladies and gentlemen, please don't panic but there's going to be an EXPLOSION in 15 minutes!"

I'm giving the Dome two extra points for Casey, but subtracting three points for having the worst sound system in baseball. Forget how the Rolling Stones sounded in the Dome -- even the sound quality for a monster truck pull is bad in here. 2

Metrodome
Jim was able to squeeze the dual bobblehead dolls into his suitcase.

14. Fun stuff to do besides the game: Other than counting the names Casey mispronounces, there isn't much, unless your idea of a fun time is signing up for those cheesy team credit cards or signing petitions for a new stadium. The youth groups usually start folding their giveaway posters into paper airplanes by the fourth inning. 1.5

15. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: Unable to find a Sausage Race T-shirt in my size in Milwaukee, I figured I would go the entire tour without buying a souvenir. Which doesn't surprise me because I never buy souvenirs at the ballpark. Anyone who does is either a fool or rich or both. They're just way too expensive to ever seriously consider.

And then I saw the dual bobblehead dolls depicting the old Twins logo of the guys from Minneapolis and St. Paul shaking hands across the Mississippi. And it was only $32! The only question was whether I could fit two of them into my suitcase or whether I would have to throw out my pants to make room.

The rest of the stuff, however, was just the usual overpriced junk. 3

16. Friendliness and helpfulness of usher staff: It's like an entire staff of Marge Gunderson's. 4

THE GRADES
Grades for ballpark we've visited so far on our summer tour:

Pac Bell (Giants): 93
Camden Yards (Orioles): 92
Coors Field (Rockies): 85
Edison Field (Angels): 84
Kauffman Stadium (Royals): 84
Wrigley Field (Cubs): 84
Dodger Stadium (Dodgers): 82.5
Comerica Park (Tigers): 82
Fenway Park (Red Sox): 81.5
Safeco Field (Mariners): 81.5
Jacobs Field (Indians): 81
Turner Field (Braves): 81
Busch Stadium (Cardinals): 78
Pro Player Stadium (Marlins): 78
U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox): 74
Yankee Stadium (Yankees): 73.5
Bank One Ballpark (D-Backs): 72
SkyDome (Blue Jays): 67
Metrodome (Twins): 66.25
Qualcomm Stadium (Padres): 58
Tropicana Field (Devil Rays): 56
Veterans Stadium (Phillies): 53.5
Olympic Stadium (Expos): 49

Complete rankings by category

17. Knowledge of local fans: It has always amazed me that a state that is covered by snow so much of the year can have such a vibrant baseball scene. Whether you're talking about the Twins, the minor-league Saints or Minnesota Townball, these people know their baseball. 5

18. "Take Me out to the Ballgame" moment: The Twins have this tradition where they hand a random fan a microphone and stand him up in front of the crowd so he can lead the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Some people find it endearing, but they're also the same sort of people who love listening to little girls sing the national anthem. I find it unbearable, though I'll give the Twins an extra point for having their own tradition. 2

19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: Whenever stadium boosters talk about how a new park will spur economic development in the area, I always shake my head. The Metrodome has been open for 21 years, and there still is only one bar or restaurant within a block or two. Hubert's is an excellent sports bar, but it's the ONLY one.

On the other hand, Minnesota did just recently change its last-call drinking hours from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Take that, New York! 2

20. Wild Card: The Metrodome gets an extra point for hosting the World Series, an extra point for hosting a Super Bowl, an extra point for hosting a Final Four, an extra point for hosting an NBA season, an extra point for hosting a college football team, an extra point for providing a stage for Mick Jagger and Billy Graham, an extra point for the kitschy "We're Gonna Win Twins" jingle the team plays before each game and a point for remaining as a monument to the idea that what happens on the field is more important than what type of paneling is in the luxury suites. 8

TOTAL SCORE FOR THE METRODOME: 66.25