Closing of the Metrodome: A lot of great Twins memories

Kirby Puckett celebrates after hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series against the Atlanta Braves to tie the series at three games apiece.

Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Note: This is the first in a 10-part series on the

closing of the Metrodome.

MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn’t a baseball stadium, but they

played baseball there anyway.

No, nothing about the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome screamed

baseball. The artificial turf didn’t fool anyone for real grass. The plexiglass

wall in left field and the baggie in right were certainly unorthodox. And then

there was that iconic Teflon roof, the same dingy white color as the baseball

that was hit and caught underneath it, that indicated that this building was

not designed for baseball. The locker rooms were small and cramped, and the

workout facilities were virtually nonexistent.

Yet for 28 years, the Minnesota Twins called the Dome their

home — and they made plenty of great memories under that roof during that

time.

This was where the organization’s two World Series titles

were won in 1987 and 1991, and where many more division titles were later

claimed. It’s where a generation of Twins fans watched baseball. This is where

the late Kirby Puckett cemented his legacy and where two of the five no-hitters

in Twins history were thrown. Three different Hall of Famers — Dave Winfield,

Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. — collected their 3,000th hits in the Dome.

And of course, it was also where those ubiquitous white Homer Hankies were

waved by thousands of screaming fans who created a real Dome-field advantage.

In a matter of a few weeks, though, the Metrodome will be

torn down to make way for a new football stadium. The site of so many great

moments in Twins history will soon be gone.

“It was a lot of good memories for me,” said

former manager Tom Kelly, who led Minnesota to those two World Series titles.

“I’m going to miss it.”

***

Ask any Twins fan what his or her favorite memory from the

Metrodome was and you’ll hear a variety of answers. The same goes for those who

played for Minnesota at the Dome. While there were plenty of lows through the

years and a number of drawbacks to playing there, the Twins also experienced

the highest of highs in that building.

None were greater, of course, than the pair of World Series

championships that concluded at the Metrodome in 1987 and 1991. Before the

Twins ever began the 1987 World Series, though, another unforgettable moment

took place.

After beating Detroit on the road to claim the American

League for its first trip to the World Series since 1965, Minnesota flew home

to the Twin Cities. As the exhausted Twins looked forward to getting home and

resting, a pit stop at the Dome was first scheduled.

Kent Hrbek, a Minnesota native and the team’s first baseman,

recalls initially hearing a report that around 5,000 fans were waiting to greet

the team at the Metrodome. That number soon grew to 10,000. By the time the

Twins arrived at the Dome via a police escort, the building was almost entirely

full of 60,000 adoring fans.

“It pretty much tugged at your heart when you walked in

that door,” Hrbek said. “There were a lot of tears shed.”

Those tears were shed by players and fans alike as the Twins

were on their way to their first World Series in more than 20 years. The pure

emotion of that night still sticks with those who witnessed it first-hand.

“The night that we came back from Detroit and greeted

60,000 people at 10:30 on a Monday night still stands as one of my all-time

favorite moments,” said Tim Laudner, the catcher on that 1987 team.

“To be greeted by a crowd like that, to show their appreciation and

affection for 25-plus guys that gave the Minnesota Twins an opportunity to

participate in a World Series, that night was unbelievably special. … The

emotion that you saw on those players’ faces that night was truly

genuine.”

For some, that night was almost more memorable than the

World Series itself, which the Twins won in seven games by defeating the St.

Louis Cardinals. Each team won all of its home games, with Minnesota having

home-field advantage in the series. Few of the games were particularly close —

the Twins won Game 1 by a 10-1 final and forced a Game 7 with an 11-5 win at

the Dome — but the 4-2 victory that sealed the franchise’s first World Series

title was still a special one. Players such as Dan Gladden and Greg Gagne and

Kirby Puckett and Frank Viola and Hrbek and Laudner combined to finally bring

Minnesota its first baseball championship.

Four years later, many of those same names were on the Twins

team that once again were crowned the champions of baseball in what has stood

the test of time as one of the more entertaining World Series in the game’s

history. It was Puckett who provided the Game 6 heroics, robbing Atlanta’s Ron

Gant of an extra-base hit by leaping up in front of that infamous plexiglass

wall in left-center field.

Later in that game, Puckett delivered a walk-off winner in

the bottom of the 11th inning to send it to a Game 7. As Puckett’s solo homer

landed in a blue plastic seat in left field — a seat which is still painted

gold in honor of that moment — TV announcer Jack Buck recited his famous line

that will forever be associated with Puckett and that Game 6: “And we’ll see

you tomorrow night.”

The night Buck referenced turned into one of the all-time

great World Series games. Jack Morris dazzled on the mound for the Twins,

pitching a shutout as Minnesota pinch-hitter Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden

for the lone run of the game to give the Twins their second World Series title

in five years.

During both World Series, the Metrodome was rocking and

became one of the loudest stadiums in baseball. Opponents often dreaded playing

at the Dome, and some even wore ear plugs to combat the deafening roars of the

crowd.

“People were intimidated when they came in to play us

in that building,” said Twins general manager Terry Ryan, who spent the

better part of two decades at the Dome. “Sometimes it was because of our

talent, and sometimes it was because of the fans, sometimes it was because of

the roof, the fast turf, the baggy in right field. It was an intimidating place

for visitors to come. … Whatever you think of the Metrodome, it served the

Twins well.”

***

During an otherwise nondescript game on May 4, 1984, one of

the most quirky moments in Metrodome history took place when the Twins hosted

the Oakland Athletics. To this day, what happened in the fourth inning of that

game epitomizes the strange nature of playing baseball indoors.

Oakland designated hitter Dave Kingman came to bat with two

outs and the bases empty. As Viola delivered a pitch toward home plate, Kingman

hit a towering fly ball — and it never came down.

The ball found its way into a hole in the Teflon roof and

stayed up there. Everyone on the field was confused, including the umpires, who

awarded Kingman with a ground-rule double. Twins players had seen fly balls

graze the roof or hit off the bulky speakers that hung from it, but this was a

first.

“When it finally did happen, everybody looked at each

other and said, ‘Well, we knew it was going to happen sooner or later,’ and it

finally did,” Hrbek said. “It was pretty wild.”

That same off-white roof would give trouble to many a

fielder throughout the Twins’ 28 years at the Dome. Depending on the time of

day and the amount of sunlight, a routine fly ball easily turned into an

outfielder’s worst nightmare as they scrambled to try to find the ball amid a

background of a similar color.

When a ball was lost in the roof and came crashing back down

to earth, it would often bounce high off the rock-hard Astroturf. What would

have been a fly ball out in most parks became what could only be coined as a

Dome double.

It was one of the distinct home-field advantages of playing

at the Metrodome as opponents had to familiarize themselves with locating

baseballs in the Teflon roof. Kelly couldn’t even begin to tally up the number

of fly balls lost in the roof during his years as a coach and later as a

manager.

“That’s probably impossible,” he said. “There

would probably be one a series you would see. … You had to be careful out

there. We just implored out guys not to try to take your eye off the ball.

Sometimes that’s not an easy thing to do.”

***

The Twins finally said goodbye to the Metrodome after the

2009 season, during which they won another American League Central title by

playing possibly the most memorable regular-season game in the Dome’s history.

Minnesota and Detroit battled for 12 innings before a sliding Carlos Gomez

scored the winning run in a one-game tiebreaker to determine the division

winner.

Not long after that game, the Twins played — and lost —

their last-ever game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, falling to the New

York Yankees to end the American League Division Series. After the game, the

home plate was dug up, closer Joe Nathan saved some dirt from the pitcher’s

mound, and the Twins said their final goodbyes to the odd yet lovable

Metrodome.

In 2010, Minnesota move to Target Field, a beautiful outdoor

ballpark downtown Minneapolis that bears zero resemblance to the Metrodome. The

new stadium was long overdue, as the team couldn’t generate the type of revenue

at the outdated Dome that it now does at Target Field. That move from one park

to another was bittersweet in some ways, yet few — if any — complained about

leaving the Metrodome behind for a shiny new park.

Now in just a few short weeks, the Metrodome will be

demolished and gone forever. The Twins haven’t called it home for four years,

but the thought of losing their unique stadium forever won’t be an easy pill to

swallow.

“My daughter won’t be able to drive by the place and

say, ‘There’s the Dome where grandpa played.’ It’s going to be a weird

deal,” Hrbek said. “My house I’m living in, my car I’m driving and

the clothes I’m wearing is because of getting to play baseball at the Dome.

“It’s pretty much everything to me. It’s going to be a

sad day.”

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter

Closing the Metrodome Series