"Strangest thing I ever saw in the Dome was Herbie and Gant in
the World Series," says Dan Gladden, who still wears the mud flap
of hair that fluttered behind him as he scored the winning run
for the Minnesota Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
Herbie is ex-Twin Kent Hrbek, who in Game 2 pulled Ron Gant of
the Atlanta Braves off first as he attempted to get back to the
bag, then tagged him out in front of an ump as oblivious as any
wrestling referee. Which was appropriate, as it was Hrbek's
stated aspiration, throughout his baseball career, to one day
wrestle under the name T. Rex.
Eleven years later the toughest place to play baseball in October
is still not the House that Ruth Built but the House that Ruth
Buzzi Built--the Metrodome in Minneapolis--where every spectator
waves a white handkerchief, in the manner of 56,000 old ladies
saying goodbye at a train station. "Just look," said T. Rex
himself while watching the Oakland A's look exceedingly
disoriented in losing to the Twins 11-2 last Saturday in Game 4
of their American League Division Series. "It's still a mystery
That victory gave the Twins a 12-2 postseason record in the
Metrodome. (They were trying to improve on that mark in this
week's American League Championship Series against the Anaheim
Angels, with Games 1 and 2 and, if necessary, 6 and 7 scheduled
at the Dome.) Minnesota's fans are harder to kill than time in
Provo. With 56,000 voices shrieking under a lumpen dome, it's
like playing baseball inside Tom Arnold's head. The decibel
meter employed by ESPN last week quantified the crowd noise just
beneath "chainsaw" and "rocket launch," so that the ambient
sound is sometimes physically painful to endure. "I came in with
a headache," said A's lefthander Barry Zito after winning in the
Metrodome 6-3 last Friday, "and this place didn't help it." His
ears still ringing like a Salvation Army Santa, Zito then said
of the contraction survivors: "I have tremendous respect for the
people of Minnesota," each of whom becomes, between playoff
games, the Hoarse Whisperer.
Then there is the Metrodome ceiling. "A white ball and a white
roof," says Twins lefthander Eric Milton of the worst wedding of
two white things since Lisa Marie married Michael. Oakland first
baseman Scott Hatteberg camped beneath a lazy pop foul last
Friday, pounded a fist into his glove and waited for a baseball
that never arrived. "I was staring at the ceiling with
everything I had," said Hatteberg, "and heard a thud behind me."
The ball, which he never saw, landed 20 feet away. "Don't know
how they did it," he said of the cloth sections that comprise
the Metrodome roof, "but they got those sheets exactly the color
of a dirty baseball."
The very next inning a pitch popped out of Zito's hand
mid-delivery, in a sad arc, like a misfired cannon, and the
pitcher lost sight of that ball, though it never traveled more
than five feet from his hand. "With all the white hankies," says
Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, "you just can't see, I
don't care who you are." The Metrodome, as the Angels will be
reminded, is a white-on-white crime.
Anaheim's Edison Field has grass as green and flawless as a
baize poker table. The Metrodome has the worst rug in baseball,
excluding Joe Pepitone's. "There are wet spots on the turf you
can slip on," says Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter, giving a
tour of the Metrodome and sounding like the world's worst real
estate agent. "I lost five balls in the roof today. I was scared
out there. There are seams in the turf, and if the ball hits one
of those, you're done. It can take a big hop or a dead hop.
There are poles behind the wall"--the pillars that support the
drapery in rightfield--"and you don't know where they are. So a
ball can hit the wall and just drop, or it can hit the wall [at
a pole] and take off. You don't know."
A's manager Art Howe allowed, diplomatically, that the Metrodome
is not what he thinks of as "major league." But it is a major
league pain in the ass. And that's the whole point. "Ask
Oakland," says Twins third base coach Al Newman. "If they're
really honest, they might say it rattled them. People don't want
to admit that, but it does."
Visitors to the Metrodome will admit anything in their cramped
clubhouse. Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez stood inside his
floor-to-ceiling locker last week, penned in by reporters, when a
writer was forced to squeeze into the next locker and ask a
question through the wire mesh. Chavez looked momentarily alarmed
and said, "I feel like I'm in a confessional."
There is good news for Anaheim. "Things happen here, but they
happen to us, too," says Hunter, the All-Star centerfielder who
misplayed a Ray Durham single into a leadoff, inside-the-park
home run against Oakland. (For comic brilliance it lacked only
the closing theme music from The Benny Hill Show.)
But be warned, Anaheim. The undead Twins fans are clever. (rock
hudson read one sign on Saturday, when the A's pitcher of that
surname started.) They're Celine-Dion-on-a-cellphone loud. And
they'll wave more white flags than were seen in Paris in 1940.
So, good luck. And if all else fails, take the advice of Milton
(John, not Eric): Look homeward, Angel.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE
With 56,000 voices shrieking under a lumpen dome, it's like
playing baseball inside Tom Arnold's head.