Tear the Roof off This Sucker

Slugging first-baseman Justin Morneau has "touched 'em all" 15 times since the All-star break

Slugging first-baseman Justin Morneau has "touched 'em all" 15 times since the All-star break

Every year about this time I find myself thinking that the old white folks who crammed the Metrodome down our throats should be kicked into a dusty ravine to be eaten by dogs. That thought never really goes very far away, actually. It's festered for almost 25 years, but every September for the last decade or so it has become so persistent as to be truly harrowing.

It should pain me more than it does to admit that I can recite from memory the names of most of those culprits--or varmints, as I sometimes like to think of them when I'm channeling my inner Jed Clampett. And varmints are what they assuredly were and are, every last one of them.

The whole ridiculous idea for a domed stadium was considered "futuristic" in some circles once upon a time, and as such was of course irresistible to the bumpkin power burghers who lorded over the desolate local landscape at the time. Nothing said progress to the moneyed denizens of the 1960s and '70s like the term futuristic, and there was nothing they desired more fiercely in their fierce civic insecurity than to be seen as making progress.

The original vision for the Dome belonged to an architect named Robert Cerny, but as he was likely just a pipe dreamer who had read too many issues of Popular Mechanics and Analog, we can probably cut him some slack. No, I can't fault Cerny for his ridiculous doodle of a dream; that's just what guys like him do. It's the people who put so much time, energy, and money into making that wretched vision a reality that I hold accountable. People like John Cowles Jr., then president of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, who stuck his nose in where it didn't belong and was instrumental in choosing the present site of the Dome. And Harvey Mackay and Charles Krusell, the brawn behind the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce Stadium Task Force. I could go on and on; in fact, could name virtually all of the members of the nascent Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the people who eventually signed off on the deal. I could even tell you that the original vision for the Dome was for an "austere but a quality and aesthetically pleasing structure."

They got that about 30 percent right, I suppose, just so long as you allow for the most negative possible interpretation of the term "austere," but my point is this: Where are those people now? And how many of them have seen a September game in the Metrodome over the last decade or so?

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing not many. They're not alone in their avoidance of the place, obviously, judging by the now routinely disgraceful attendance at Twins games (this despite the fact that the team is cruising toward its third straight division title).

I can't really blame anyone else for staying away. For even the most zealous Twins fan, the Dome remains a dicey proposition at best. While it's admittedly now associated with all sorts of marvelous memories and history, it's also taken on the hangdog vibe of the perpetually neglected and unloved. It's an almost wholly inhospitable facility, and, the new field turf aside, I can't understand why more of an attempt hasn't been made to jazz up the place as a baseball venue. Granted, it's never going to be a ballpark, but as it's been apparent for years that the Twins were going to be stuck there for the near future, you'd think they could have done some things to make the dump more visually interesting or aesthetically pleasing for baseball fans. You know, like get rid of all that plastic sheeting and put up some real walls. Do something creative with that mess in right field, maybe replace it with something daunting and sturdy like Fenway Park's Green Monster. Gussy up the void beyond the center-field fence somehow. Monkey around a little bit and find more ways to carry over some of the decent pre-game atmosphere on the Plaza into the Dome. I'm talking about relatively small touches that would give the place a little class and character, and there's no reason such improvements couldn't be as easily disassembled as the current setup.

I've been thinking about all this lately precisely because this has been a pretty damn good team for going on four years now, and they're about to do something no Twins club has done in the history of the organization. Yet despite all that, too often lately an evening at the Dome, even in the midst of a pennant race, has reminded me of those meaningless late September games that I sat through with such regularity in the mid- to late '90s.

Those flashbacks were never more acute than during the last home stand, when Kansas City came into the Dome for a Saturday-night tilt with the Twins. It was a severely disorienting night. The announced attendance was 23,735, and Minnesota fielded a starting lineup that featured two recent Triple-A call-ups (Jason Kubel and Terry Tiffee), two guys who didn't make the roster out of spring training (Lew Ford and Justin Morneau), a journeyman designated hitter (Jose Offerman), and a 41-year-old catcher (Pat Borders) whose recent acquisition was born of equal parts necessity and desperation. Only two of the players who took the field in the top of the first against KC were in Ron Gardenhire's opening day lineup--Jacque Jones and Cristian Guzman--and the future of both had been the subject of off-and-on speculation throughout the season (speculation that is likely to continue well into the off-season).

Kubel got his first major league hit leading off the first, Morneau followed later that inning with a three-run bomb (his 15th home run since the All Star break), and Tiffee belted his first big league homer, a walk-off shot that gave the Twins a 4-3 win. Jessie Crain, another late addition from Triple-A, pitched a scoreless inning in relief of starter Carlos Silva, a guy who had started one major league game prior to this season. Toss in the fact that the Royals were 47-86, and the game felt strangely like 1999 all over again.

Yet all those small details--and most of those players--actually meant something that night, for the team's present as well as its future. The Twins were not simply fielding a Triple-A lineup and playing out the string. They were, in fact, holding down a nine-and-a-half game lead in the Central and breezing toward their third consecutive division title.

That's going to be a pretty special and, frankly, surprising accomplishment for a team that deserves to be drawing more than 23,405 fans a game (24th in the major leagues). It's also a testament to the amazing resurrection of a franchise that has gone from dead in the water to absolutely loaded in a span of four years.

It's been a great run, and the marvel of this year's team is not just that they've won, but how they've won, and how this team has been assembled. I'll address that in a couple of weeks as I recap the season and--shit, I suppose I should knock wood--take a look forward to October, which is still the only month in the baseball calendar that has the potential to rid the Dome of its stale, hopelessly permeated atmosphere of September malaise.