Minnesota’s new ballparks: Then and Now

The USA Today has a story about just how gosh darn nice the new ballpark in Minnesota is shaping up to be. And I’m sure it will be great. But you can never tell how things are truly going to play. With that in mind, I went searching for an article — any article — from the last time the Twins opened a new ballpark. I don’t have a link because this ain’t on the common interwebs, but here are some choice quotes from an April 26, 1982 Toronto Globe and Mail article about the debut of the Metrodome:

For the 4,000 fans sitting in the right-field bleachers of Minnesota’s new domed stadium, baseball is an eight-man game. That’s because the seats jut out in such a way the right fielder disappears if he is anywhere near the fence. But that’s one of the few bad things in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, named for the former U.S. vice-president and senator from Minnesota. The early days of the season provided a shakedown for the $52-million structure and if anything didn’t work, it was soon corrected.

The USA Today article talks about all of the glitches and inefficiencies of the old place. I wonder when, exactly, they stopped correcting them?

The stadium has the world’s largest retractable seating system. When folded back, the seats form a 47-foot wall in right and centre field, protected by a seven-foot fence for baseball. When the football Vikings move in, the system comes out from the wall, providing 7,600 choice sideline seats in addition to the 54,711 baseball seats that are available.

The whole bit about the seating and convertability was played up as a positive in the article. No mention of the baggy. Industrial design has improved dramatically since 1982, but every time a new park opens, I wonder if there will be some unexpected delight. I think they’re going to have a big fire pit on an outfield part deck at the new place. Maybe Joe Mauer will launch one into the flames and get a snappy new nickname or something. Like “third degree burn” or “The arsonist.”

The Twins drew 52,279 for their home opener with Seattle Mariners, the largest crowd to see a sports event in Minnesota. The team hopes to pass the record season total of 1,483,547 set in 1979. But the second day the Twins were down to 5,213. “The people came here for the opening of the baseball season just to check on their football seats,” suggested one critic.

For the record, the Twins drew 921,186 in 1982. Of course, losing 102 games will do that to you. 858,000 in 1983. After that they were never under a million again. Since 1983, they’ve finished above that record attendance 18 of 26 seasons.

The temperature outside on opening day was – 7 Celsius, while inside it was a balmy 21. “Games are being cancelled all over the country,” said executive vice-president Clark Griffith, pointing to the scoreboard where all out of town games were marked ‘ppd’. “We could have never opened here if we didn’t have the dome. It would have been too cold.”

Contrast this with Joe Nathan’s quote in the USA Today story: “Although the weather will be unpredictable, the Twins can’t wait to move. ‘The weather is no big deal,’ Twins closer Joe Nathan says. ‘It doesn’t get any colder here than it does in Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago or New York in April.'”

The stadium also houses 115 private, glass-enclosed boxes that are operated by the Vikings. They seat up to 12 people each. The boxes include heating, air conditioning, an ice maker, refrigerator, wet bar, microwave oven and closed-circuit television. All you need is $30,000 a year.

Renting a 12-person suite in Target Field for 81 games will cost roughly $2,000-$4,000 a game, depending on whether it’s a premium opponent or not. More if you actually want food. I’m guessing there’s a discount for getting one for the whole season, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it will cost more than $30K.

But while wet-bar facilities are available, even the $30,000-a-year patrons are not allowed to bring their own liquor into the building. They can buy liquor from the stadium authority at somewhat inflated prices. “They’re asking $18 a bottle for most of their liquor,” Griffith said. “And if you want a good bottle of Scotch, it will cost $30.” But will people pay that kind of money? “Of course not,” Griffith said. “They’ll sneak their own bottles in.” Griffith isn’t much of a fan of the reserved boxes. “Who needs the glass in an indoor stadium?” he asked. “It’s like watching a game on television.”

I like the cut of young Griffith’s jib, but I can see why he had some financial troubles before selling the team. Dude: you’re supposed to charge for everything and make it sound so exclusive that everyone will want to give you their money. I’ll cut Griffith some slack here, though. The Reagan years really weren’t humming yet when he gave these quotes and people weren’t yet hip to the glories of conspicuous consumption.

But the $30,000 crowd has another perk. Patrons in the private boxes will be allowed to smoke.

Funny how none of today’s gleaming new ballparks offer such a “perk.” I thought they had everything.

Concessions are expensive. Draught beer costs up to $2.75; soft drinks go up to $1.25; popcorn to $1.75; hot dogs to $1.60. Tickets are expensive, too. Bleacher seats sell for $4, double the price in Toronto, and all other seats are $8.

And I’m sure there were lots of people complaining about it then too. If I had more time to dig around on LEXIS today I’m sure I could find the 1982 press release from whatever consumer group it is who puts out that “study” every year complaining that “a family of four can’t buy tickets, hot dogs, popcorn, sodas, beers, big foam fingers, jerseys, pennants, commemorative plates, and bullpen cars for less than $17.”

When the Jays played two exhibition games there before the start of the season, John Mayberry reached the upper deck with fly balls three times during one batting practice shift. “It feels good,” he said. “A pitcher could have a heart attack here,” Seattle veteran Gaylord Perry said, and others agree . . . Minnesota pitching coach Johnny Podres: “This is like pitching in a shooting gallery. There’s going to be some four-hour games here.

It was the homer dome, but really, it’s played a lot straighter than expected for most of its history. Indeed, in the past couple of years it has looked like a pitchers’ park in a lot of ways.

Oh well, just having fun here. Keep this page bookmarked, as we’ll revisit this in 2036.

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  1. Jake said...

    Industrial design has improved dramatically since 1982, but every time a new park opens, I wonder if there will be some unexpected delight.

    ask Jerry Jones!

  2. Hojo said...

    I’d kill for $8 tickets, $1.60 dogs, and a good bottle of scotch at $30…

    The review seems similar to a review of today’s new stadiums. The whole dome thing was new back then so it’s no surprise that it got favorable responses from players and executives.

    I happen to like Griffith’s old school style of running a team, sadly it doesn’t work. No owner today would openly expect patrons to sneak stuff into a game.

  3. Rob² said...

    In Griffith’s defense, those luxury boxes were operated by the Vikings.  I wouldn’t be surprised if none of the $30 that bought a bottle of scotch went to the Twins.

  4. Faber College Alum said...

    There’s no mention of the baggy in right field in those early reviews because they didn’t put that monstrosity in until the next season after so many home runs were banged against the retractable seats the first year.

  5. Travis M. Nelson said...

    There’s an article in Sports Illustrated’s Vault about the Metrodome:

    Oh, Give them a Dome…

    Here’s one of the more poignant quotes:

    If the Metrodome isn’t an ideal baseball stadium, neither is Minnesota an ideal baseball team. The Twins have finished below .500 each of the last two years, and since 1976 they have lost 18 free agents and signed one. “We don’t have the population or the radio-TV contract to pay those salaries,” Calvin Griffith says, ignoring the fact that the Twins have baseball’s highest average ticket price ($7.50) and lowest average salary ($90,000).

    “If he doesn’t pay, he’ll lose all the young guys with potential,” said a Twin last week. And Metrodome or not, the team would be out in the cold again.”

    Some things never change.

  6. lar said...

    Thanks, Craig, now what the heck am I supposed to write next week about the Twins final home game? Way to screw that one up for me.

    Just kidding. Good stuff. And, as long as we’re on the topic, here’s a look back at what people were writing at the dawn of the era of the superstadium. It focuses more on the Astrodome and Superdome, but it’s still interesting, if I do say so myself: Football, Baseball, and the era of the “Superstadium”.

  7. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Sorry lar. As I was writing that I thought “hmm, this is something lar would do a much better job of covering.”

    But you know what Eliot said: mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal. wink

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