Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Wednesday, September 10, 2003
From The Met to The Mall

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- There used to be a stadium here.

There used to be a stadium where Minnesotans drank beer and swatted mosquitoes in the summer heat while they rooted for their beloved Twins, and where they drank beer and shivered in the frigid winter while they rooted for their even-more-beloved Vikings.

The teams are gone from Bloomington, but the fans are still here. And they still watch and root (and drink), only now they watch from inside. On television. At Minnesota's Mall of America, the country's largest shopping mall, built on the site of old Metropolitan Stadium.

Mississippi River map
Jim's steady trip down the mighty Mississipp'.
On any given fall Sunday, you can find hundreds of football fans packing the America's Original Sports Bar on the Mall's third floor. The bar is so large and sprawling that it would take the Vikings offense at least six plays to cover it, even with a fully motivated Randy Moss.

Every NFL game plays on at least one of the several dozen TV monitors while fans watch from tables and bleachers. It isn't always easy to tell which game they're watching, but you can tell who they're rooting for because almost everyone wears a replica jersey. There was Michael Vick at one table, Brett Favre at another, Kurt Warner at yet another, and Daunte Culpepper and Keyshawn Johnson and Rod Woodson and Brian Urlacher and Donovan McNabb and Jay Fiedler and Warren Sapp -- and on and on, including multiple Randy Mosses. It was like being at the Pro Bowl.

And to think, real players used to wear real jerseys just a Fran Tarkenton scramble away.

But in some ways, this landscape is a better reflection of modern sports than any stadium could be. Met Stadium is dead, but sports are still very much alive here. Not necessarily alive and well, but indisputably alive.


If one of my goals in this Mississippi tour is to check the pulse of American sports along the country's main artery, the Mall is as good a place as any to take a reading. Calvin Coolidge said the business of America is business, but that isn't accurate anymore. Now, more and more, the business of America is sports. And everything is for sale. Nowhere is that more true than at the Mall of America, the 4.2-million square-foot monument to excess.

MIGHTY MISSISSIP TRIP
Here's a breakown of Jim Caple's journey down the Mighty Mississipp

Miles: 130 (Collegeville to Bloomington to Minneapolis and back to Bloomington)
Total Miles: 300
Moving violations: 0
Hours driving:
Diet Pepsi: 2 units
Road kill: Several raccoons
Huckleberry Finn tape: Huck and Jim accidentally pass the mouth of the Ohio River, forcing them to raft deeper into the south. Forced to choose between reporting Jim as a runaway slave or staying loyal to his friend, Huck picks the latter
Miles to go: 2,000 (approximate)
I once counted 85 stores at the Mall selling sports merchandise or memorabilia of some sort; and if anything, that number has grown over the years.

The Kevin Garnett store is gone, but the Vikings team store and the Wild team store are here. There is Sports Factory and the College Shop (not to be confused with the College Football Factory, which is, of course, located in Norman, Oklahoma). There is SportMart sporting goods. There is Oshman's sporting goods. There is Past Times. There is a Hat Zone. There are two Lids stores. There are two Goldy's Locker Rooms. There are two Champs. Not only is there a Foot Locker, there is a Ladies Foot Locker and a Kids Foot Locker. And, for all I know, there might also be a Fetus Foot Locker in there somewhere.

Fall special: Free amniocentesis with every Pro Era cap purchase.

All of these stores sell caps and replica jerseys. They're sold so in many places, in fact, that you can even buy them at a cheese shop, which must stock two Packers souvenirs for every brick of Havarti.

I'm just glad the Victoria's Secret, which is located approximately where the Twins' old locker room was, does not sell Harmon Killebrew replica underwear.

The top selling jersey, naturally, is that of LeBron James, who signed a $90 million shoe contract before his senior prom. Champs has several James jerseys for $70 each, but most stores were already sold out and the kid still hasn't played a game. The Kobe Bryant rape trial, meanwhile, has had no effect one way or the other on sales of his replica jerseys, one clerk told me. What did substantially decrease his sales was the Lakers' failure to win another championship.

Sports Factory employees
Two employees of the Sports Factory in Minnesota's Mall of America.
I'm not sure whether to find that very disturbing or very reassuring.

While I walked through the Mall and shook my head at all the memorabilia available -- a miniature Cadillac Escalade in Vikings colors -- I couldn't help but wonder one thing: What happens to all these stores when everyone finally has a replica jersey?

"Jersey dresses are very hot with women right now," says Keith Alexander, a salesman at the Mall's Underground Station fashion store. "The 76ers dress is our best seller."

Even if the corporate sports world succeeds in dressing every man, woman and child in a replica jersey, it won't be the end. After all, they can always sell you your own memories. Consider the memorabilia-rich Field of Dreams shop, which once sold Carlos Baerga an $89 autographed photo of himself.

I didn't see a Baerga photo, but there was a framed, autographed photo of Tiger Woods pumping his fist. Tiger has an exclusive memorabilia contract with Upper Deck, which keeps the price of his autographs so high that, like Baerga, only he can afford them. This one cost $2,000, and included a certificate, hologram and computer images of the golfer signing the photo. It is so authentic, in fact, that Tiger personally yells at you if your friend tries to take a picture.

You can also buy a pair of boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali for $1,499. You can buy a used John Andretti tire for $100. You can buy a life-sized, standup cardboard cutout of Richard Petty, though you'll have to ask to see it because the shop keeps it in the storeroom due to all the people who want to touch it.

Of course, they sell some weird things, too. Like the framed photo and script from "Scarface," which comes with fake bullets.

"Down in our Orlando store, they have one with a razor blade, a mirror and two white lines," manager Mike Caruso says. "They love gangster stuff there."


Enough. After two hours, I was overwhelmed and couldn't take anymore. After all that exposure to so much replica memorabilia, I needed to see the real thing. So I left the Mall and drove 20 minutes north to the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, where the Twins were playing a tense game against the Texas Rangers and American sports' highest-salaried player, Alex Rodriguez.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad and Vikings owner Red McCombs have been bitching for years that they need new stadiums to replace the Dome, trying every possible avenue of persuasion except, of course, actually paying for them. Both are scandalously rich -- Pohlad is a banker who got his start delivering foreclosure notices to farms during the Depression -- and so far, Minnesota has been one of the few communities able to resist the threats and demands of its sports franchise owners.

So the Dome remains -- unloved and unappreciated, but paid-for and admirably utilitarian. Last weekend, it hosted two major league games and a Big Ten football game in a little over 24 hours. In fact, the stadium crew had been forced to change over the field so many times and so quickly that the gridiron markings were clearly visible with the foul and base lines during Sunday's Twins game.

Jim Caple
Jim Caple next to the plaque indicating the original location of Metropolitan Stadium's home plate.
I joked with center fielder Torii Hunter about how he keeps both feet inbounds during his jaw-dropping catches, and asked catcher A.J. Pierzynski whether he ever felt like spiking the ball after a strikeout.

"No, but I think home plate is in the end zone. I'm sure we're in the red zone,'' Pierzynski says. "But it's our home and we love it."

It's good someone does.

The Twins won on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th inning to remain in a first-place tie with the hated White Sox, and the clubhouse atmosphere was festive as they prepared to fly to Chicago for a crucial four-game series. It was rookie-hazing day for the Twins, so the veterans made all the rookies wear Hooters' costumes (the jersey dresses must have been beyond the team's budget) out of the clubhouse and onto the flight. The rookies took the embarrassment in good spirits and compared their figures as they yanked the skimpy shorts and tanktops over their bodies.

"What are you complaining about?" one rookie groused to another. "At least you've got (breasts)."

So it's all connected. At the Twins old home, there is a Hooters bar. At the Twins current home, the rookies dress like Hooters waitresses.

Watching the players walk out in their costumes seemed like a fitting end to the day. It was time to go back to the hotel, begin writing and then get some sleep before continuing the Mississippi tour at the Field of Dreams movie site in Iowa the next morning.

Oh, but before I forget. The Field of Dreams store at the Mall sells a photo of the last game ever played at old Met Stadium.

And you can buy it for $389.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.