Sunday, August 26, 2007

Game #22: Domeball

Sometimes, you just get a stinker…

There have been some poor home team performances before, but a sequence in the top of the first of single, home run, single, home run, has a way of putting the game into a certain, not altogether enthusiastic, perspective. And while the crowd bore signs of being a good one under the right circumstances, and the final score was actually respectable, the combination of the way the game went, and the distinctly uninteresting surroundings of the Metrodome, had me really understanding why it is that they’re so uniquely focused upon their forthcoming new ballpark here in Minneapolis.

Seattle, on the other hand, look like world beaters right now. I’ve seen them play twice on this trip (vs. White Sox and Twins), and both times have been complete non-contests, right from the start. I’m just hoping they keep up this play when I’m in the Pacific Northwest.

The dome itself is really very much a multi-purpose stadium with little baseball charm, in a way even more disappointing than those in Brooklyn, Miami, and DC. All the Twins signs, even including retired numbers and player honors, were on temporary canvas signs literally velcroed to the stadium walls.

The air inside felt sterile and still, a point reinforced by the discernable pressure change when entering or exiting the stadium via air-sealed rotating doors. There were echoes everywhere, and the sound system was incomprehensible. Even the seats felt somehow more like football, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was.

To top off the whole effect, when seen in the right light, the plastic carpet still bore the unmistakable sign of yardage markings from football games, as if to emphasize to the crowd that the baseball team was just trespassing on Viking territory.

The concourse was very crowded, and worse, feels completely cut off from the play on the field. Immediately after leaving the main inner bowl, there is a strong sense that the game is far, far away. This may well be in my mind the most crucial consideration for new ballpark design, since those parks with concourses that feel somehow still in touch with the game itself do a far better job of providing a complete experience.

For the heck of it, I decided to go catch an inning from deep center field. DEEP center field. Anyone looking to teach their kids about the speed of sound need only bring them here, to a point where you could almost see Ichiro tagging 1st base before hearing the sound of bat hit ball.

The Twins’ solution to this has been to move forward with a publicly-funded new ballpark, meant to bring the baseball-only style and feel to the Twin cities. This decision, and the public monies going to this project, have brought about the usual series of complaints from local groups, with a definite added emphasis after the bridge collapse tragedy. In a classic PR-driven campaign, lacking in true relevance or logical thought, the ballpark funding has been contrasted with a stated lack of funding for infrastructure maintenance. Aie... Meanwhile, I have my own objection to the new ballpark: It’s open air, with no roof at all. If cities such as Milwaukee, Seattle, and Toronto are finding the cold and rain in early and late season unfeasible for baseball, how can Minnesota possibly believe they’ll be able to get away without any protection from the elements. While the compromise solutions in Milwaukee, Arizona and Houston, in particular, may not be ideal, they’ve definitely done a good job of providing the necessary protection from the elements while staying true to the essence of the ballpark. Future road-trippers beware – an April or October visit to a future Twins game simply does not appear to be a great idea.

The fans, to be fair, were great, to the extent they could be. Many of them were very enthusiastic, and you could tell that they really did love their team. Under the right circumstances, I can imagine the energy of the building to be a great positive.

While I’m at it, I found this interesting. On the left is an image of Ichiro preparing to receive a pitch at this game. To the right is an image of Phillies slugger Ryan Howard preparing to receive a pitch at a previous Nats – Phillies game. Whatever works, I guess.

The Twins’ performance was even more disappointing given the gem that had been pitched the previous night, when Johan Santana racked up 17 strikeouts over 8 innings. They’ll probably only have another year and a half of this guy in Minnesota before he gets offered the moon to go be a centerpiece attraction at the new Yankee Stadium.

Elsewhere on the drive

I was pleased to see that Google Maps was smart enough to route me around the collapsed I-35W bridge, a bridge I would have otherwise crossed 4 times during my stay in Minneapolis.

I was puzzled by the fact that I passed multiple indoor waterparks between Milwaukee and Minnesota. While I can understand that there might be a cold-weather rationale there, driving through on a rainy day in the middle of summer had me very much scratching my head. Is it really so important to avoid the rain when you’re in a waterpark?

The local accent – While this was rather tempered in the local big city of Minneapolis, a short stop at a gas station elsewhere in Minnesota demonstrated the true, raw, local accent. And I will say, this may very well be the most amusing accent in the entire country.

Finally, in the end I didn’t make it to Dyersville, IA, home of the film set for the movie Field of Dreams. They’ve apparently preserved this baseball diamond, as from the movie, in the midst of farmland and corn for tourists to come, visit, take a few swings, and shag a few fly balls. A true “If you build it, he will come”. While I’d toyed with the idea of dropping by somewhere around this point in the trip, the torrential rain rather dampened my enthusiasm. Ah well – next time I suppose.

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