The People's Skybox

A few innings in the Metrodome's Rally Room

Perhaps Latenville's favorite story is about getting to know Willie Mays when Mays played for the now-defunct Minneapolis Millers. In the mid-Sixties, after Mays went on to a legendary big-league career, Latenville went to the Met Stadium with his father-in-law to see a pre-game home-run exhibition contest between Mays and Twins great Harmon Killebrew. After the game, he caught Mays's attention from the stands. Soon he was in the dugout getting an autographed ball to pass along.

"I come back to the seat with a baseball that says, 'Best regards, Willie Mays,'" Latenville says. "My father-in-law's eyes literally popped out of his head, like he was a little kid. And by then he was in his 60s."

Just then Wally the Beerman, or "Walter," as he's known around here, enters the Rally Room. "Hey pally," Freddy says. "How are ya?"

Wally is perhaps the world's most famous beer vendor, a true local legend with his own baseball card and T-shirt. Profiled in Sports Illustrated and USA Today, he became a national media darling during the Twins' two championship seasons. He is quite possibly the most popular fixture at seemingly every sporting event in the Dome (and at St. Paul Saints games at Midway Stadium).

In the post-game Rally Room, though, he's just Walter McNeil, thirsty patron. Wally orders a Captain Morgan and Coke and banters with two women lingering at the bar. A paunchy, bearded man wearing a black Harley-Davidson T-shirt with the slogan "Life is full of choices" orders one more Coors Light.

Edwall comes over and high-fives Wally. Wally asks him if he's "with those farm kids from Freeport in Section 118." No, Edwall says, but he was Fan of the Day. "Hey, that's terrific, kid," Wally says, offering another high-five.

Satisfied with the exchange, Edwall turns toward his buddies and heads out through a large glass door into the parking lot. Several Twins players, including Torii Hunter and Corey Koskie, are signing autographs.

"Have we rallied long enough?" Edwall asks rhetorically, looking up into the sun. "Now what we really need is an outdoor stadium."

 

Sure, it's dreadful to watch a line drive bounce off the curtain that functions as a right-field wall. And the hallways and concession stands have a tacky prefab feel. And it sucks to sit inside on a sunny, 80-degree summer afternoon. But be honest: The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is not without its charms. There's something oddly comforting in the Dome's garish Eighties splendor, something that is so identifiably Minneapolis. Remember the two World Series played here? Or the glory years of Herbie and Kirby? Or even the hardworking low-budget Twins of the last two seasons? It is, after all, Dome sweet Dome.

Half an hour before game time on a Friday evening in late May, about 20 regulars have taken up seats in the Rally Room and are razzing each other with mock surprise that they've found themselves at the bar again. Freddy pops tops while the NBA playoffs blare from the two televisions behind the bar.

As the game gets under way, Latenville changes the channel to the Twins-Angels broadcast. Todd Montgomery puts a tray of hamburger patties on the buffet server. By the second inning, a young blond waitress is scurrying to deliver two-for-ones to several tables. Some 50 people have one eye trained on the game, and the din is rising. Suddenly the place feels full.

By the fourth inning, it's clear the contest is a dud, one of those excruciatingly dull games where everyone, especially the players, seems to have barely awakened from a nap. Letecia Ivy and Brad Reynolds are chatting at a table, taking a break from watching the game in the stands and staring out the Rally Room windows as dusk sets in. She sips a Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler; he swigs from a can of Heineken.

Reynolds is a Rally Room veteran. He has a season-ticket package good for 20 Twins games this season, and he'll drop by the Rally Room for each one. Ivy is a native of Chicago and has never been to the Dome before. Though neither will come right out and say it, the two are on a Friday-night date.

"I don't want her to think I'm obnoxiously sports-oriented," Reynolds says with an uneasy chuckle.

Too late, Ivy quips: "If there was Twins underwear, he'd buy it."

If ever there was a case of opposites attracting, these two are it: He sports a black TaylorMade golf shirt and a graying mullet; she wears a faded plain T-shirt and mid-length dreadlocks. She's divorced; he's never married. At 41, Reynolds is the older of the two by a year.

The good-natured banter continues. Reynolds proclaims that the Twins need a new stadium, strictly outdoors. Ivy counters that she actually prefers the Dome to Chicago's fabled Wrigley Field, because "there's no mosquitoes and it's temperature-controlled." Reynolds rolls his eyes ever so slightly.

For Reynolds, what's the thrill of the Rally Room?

"Nobody knows it's here," he says. "There's the thrill of bringing someone in here during a game and just hanging out for a while. Real Twins fans want to feel like they're watching in their living room." He pauses for a moment. "That and the two-for-ones."

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