Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dome As You Are

We have seen baseball in some low-rent places—most recently Orem, where the Owlz share the field with Utah Valley State undergraduates. We have also seen the lap of baseball luxury, more or less, in Arlington and Denver. We’ve been to several of the “retro”-style parks that have come to typify the major-league parks since Camden Yards started the trend; we’ve been to classics like Fenway and Wrigley; we’ve been to fairgrounds (Tulsa, Boise, and the old Toledo stadium) and to cavernous relics like Portland. We’ve also made it to some of the multipurpose concrete bowls that were the rage in the 1960s and 1970s. Those are nearly all gone now, either demolished (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia) or abandoned (Montreal).

And yet, for a few more weeks anyway, the Metrodome remains.

Baseball Byways is deeply split over the Metrodome—though the schism is conceptual rather than aesthetic. This is as it has to be, I think, as it is almost impossible to imagine anyone actually liking the Dome’s look, feel, smell, and overall gestalt. This distinguishes it from Olympic Stadium, where the Expos used to play—that place was also a sterile, plastic-wrapped, cold, concrete bowl, but it had a certain Modernist style and remaining whiff, however stale, of the utopian vision that gave birth to it at the world’s fair in Montreal in 1967.

The Dome has its own logic, to be sure—it is quite cold in Minnesota much of the year, after all—and the team was prescient in moving back downtown from a suburban location. But these virtues are easy to overlook on a beautiful July evening near the end (for me) of a long road trip.

So if it’s not completism—Rob had already seen one game at the Metrodome, and I had seen about a dozen--or aesthetic preference, why did Rob insist that we make a several hundred mile detour to go to the Dome? The reason is valedictory. Rob has a strong feeling that it is important to see stadiums not only in their first years but in their last ones: he also played recording angel for the Ottawa Lynx at the end of the 2007, for example. Few people understand this urge, and I am one of them. We tried to line up some people to go with us to the Dome, and each of them said, “Why bother? Wait till next year!”

Nevertheless, we went, and I tried to see the best of it. I failed, but I tried. The dinginess, I decided I could overlook. The cold (70 degrees inside; 77 outside) I could live with. The artificial turf—well, as long as I’m not making the diving catches and whatnot, what do I care? The lousy acoustics were no worse than listening to someone shout through a cheap cellphone from the bilge level of a U-Boat. But what I still could not forgive was the Baggie: the plastic sheeting that is used for about two thirds of the outfield “fence.” That is just demeaning, flimsy, and silly-looking. If those were qualities I was interested in, I’d read a David Sedaris book.

The game itself straddled and then erased the line between competent and comically grotesque. Twins starter Nick Blackburn (whom we saw last year in Arlington, too) got off to a rough start, giving up two quick runs in the first to an Angels team lacking both Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter. He settled down after that, mostly, and Joe Mauer put the Twins ahead in the third inning with a three-run shot off Ervin Santana. The Twins, however, like the Casper Ghosts, are notably lacking in bullpen consistency this year, apart from Joe Nathan, who pitched a stellar tenth. We headed into extra innings—because what could be better than more innings in the Dome?—only to watch Jesse Crain and Bobby Keppel give away the store, the livestock, the seed corn, and half the grandchildren in the top of the eleventh. The Angels scored five in that inning before Crain even got an out, and fans, booing, streamed for the pressurized exits.

Which made me wonder: when the last game of the season comes, and it’s truly time to say goodbye to baseball in the Dome, will there be a wet eye in the house?

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