- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS

The stadium revolution, that modern-era retrofitting of baseball through a series of new, yet classic-looking ballparks, has left the game looking entirely different than it did when Camden Yards opened in Baltimore in 1992.

And frankly, it’s a little bit boring.

Yes, the run of modern-day jewels springing up around the country has left fans with an immensely improved ballpark experience and baseball’s coffers the better for it. But the 18 ballparks that have followed Camden Yards in the last 17 years are, more or less, built from the same template: tiered decks in the infield, an open walkway through the outfield and a complement of plush seating options behind home plate.

Not here.

Here, the right-field wall is affectionately known as the Hefty Bag. The white roof has little holes in it that look just close enough in size to a baseball to leave outfielders second-guessing a pop fly’s trajectory.

There are horror stories - some true, some apocryphal - about jet-engine volume, low-hanging speakers, balls that get lost in the roof, fans that blow selectively and even the occasional gremlin.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome doesn’t have many of baseball’s modern charms. But when it’s gone in a few short weeks, baseball will be a lot less quirky and a little less interesting.

When the Minnesota Twins finish this season, they’ll move to the western edge of downtown Minneapolis into Target Field, a nice-looking ballpark that won’t be much different from all the other ones. They’ll finally escape a home clubhouse that’s smaller than the visiting clubhouse in most parks, and for the first time in 27 years, fans will be able to watch baseball in Minnesota’s elements - good or bad.

But that quirky, get-the-ball-bouncing-and-hope-for-the-best style of baseball that propelled the Twins to four AL Central titles from 2002 to 2006 and a pair of World Series wins in 1987 and 1991 will have to evolve into something else.

“Everybody has some sort of home-field advantage, so it’s hard to say what it’s going to be for us,” catcher Mike Redmond said about the new park. “It gets loud in here. It just does. That’s a big advantage for us. A lot of teams don’t like coming here, because it’s dark, it’s gloomy and, you know, it’s a dome. There’s not a whole lot that’s uplifting in here.”

There’s no denying the Teflon-topped stadium has been good to the Twins over the years.

In two World Series here, Minnesota went undefeated in the Metrodome, losing every game it played on the road and winning both series 4-3. It was the dome, with its quirks, bounces and sea of fans waving white hankies, that pushed the Twins over the edge.

They went 54-27 at home in 2006, the year they won their last division title, and 56 of their 85 wins came at home in 1987.

In its early days, pundits nicknamed it the “Homerdome” for all the shots that seemed to fly out of the park. And even though it has become something of a pitcher’s park in recent years, partially because the small-ball Twins play 81 games a year there, opponents still have a tough time getting used to the ballpark.

“Seeing other clubs come in here and hate this place because of all the funny things that happen, that’s always entertaining - other managers coming in, saying we turned the fans on when it’s blowing out for us and in for them,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was a coach for both the Twins’ World Series wins. “All these years we’ve led the league in home runs, that’s entertaining.”

To be sure, the dome is lacking most, if not all, of the creature comforts in modern stadiums. And it’s not much better on the field level.

“Look at this clubhouse. It’s tiny,” Redmond said. “The coaches, everybody’s in one locker room. The training room’s tiny. We’re still using a cold tub from probably the ‘60s. Harmon Killebrew probably sat in that cold tub.”

But the building, which will be used only for the Minnesota Vikings as the Twins and the University of Minnesota’s football team move into new stadiums, still has its legacy. It’s the only building to have hosted an MLB All-Star Game, World Series, NCAA Final Four and Super Bowl.

And even Orioles manager Dave Trembley has a soft spot for baseball’s funhouse.

“Those banners and those players up on these walls and ceilings, they’ve earned all the respect in the world,” Trembley said. “To me, what it signifies is this organization is taking another step forward in going in a positive direction. But there’s a history and tradition that lives on in all these stadiums because of those guys who played here. So from that standpoint, I think you have to feel a certain sense of privilege that you were here to play the few games that you were.”

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