Real Grass and Some Fun in the Sun? Debate Over Proposed Twins Stadium

"First they said they wanted to play indoors. Now they want to play outside again." Jane Haas, an employment counselor in St. Paul, has qualms about the Minnesota Twins' proposal to build a new, outdoor stadium along the Mississippi riverfront. And she's not alone.

Newspapers across the state are filled with white-hot debates over the stadium, which would cost more than $400 million if it's built with a retractable roof. Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson has called a special session of the state legislature in September to decide whether public funds will pay 49 percent of construction costs in return for the state receiving 49 percent of the Twins' revenues.

At first glance, the plan seems similar to controversies around the United States - a last-ditch effort to hold onto a major league franchise before it moves. Carlson has declared, "There is no doubt in my mind that the Twins will be sold and will leave the state of Minnesota" if public funding is not approved.

But there's a unique element in the Minnesota dilemma. Presently, the Twins share an indoor stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, with the Minnesota Vikings.

When the Metrodome was put up in 1982 at a cost of $68 million, it replaced an outdoor stadium that had been built only 26 years before. The theory was that the fans would turn out in greater force if they were assured protection from the elements. Now, however, the reverse argument is holding sway. Twins' marketing manager Pat Forciea notes, "Summer is short in Minnesota and people like to cram in all kinds of outdoor activities: boating, camping, fishing. They love to be outdoors. And they don't want to burn up a summer's day under the Metrodome."

Lately, the same argument is even heard for football, even though the Vikings' seasons can end in bitter blizzards. Former Vikings' general manager Mike Lynn recently told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that if it were up to him, he'd strip the roof off the Metrodome and plant natural grass. "A dome team has never gone to the Super Bowl," he observes.

But for baseball fans, it may come down to aesthetics. Indoor baseball has always had its detractors, but a game in the Metrodome can feel especially unreal.

In a June 27th game against the Chicago White Sox, a crowd of 15,000 Twins' fans seemed to rattle around in the stadium, dwarfed by a gigantic gray canvas roof and banks of glossy blue plastic seats.

The outfield walls are made of stacked football bleachers encased in a plastic sheath. When an outfielder runs up against the wall, it flutters like a garbage bag.

The pale green AstroTurf playing surface lies flat and pallid, nothing like the textured grass or uncertain weather that baseball fans seem to thrive on. "It's 93 degrees outside," the public address announcer reported, "but 71 in the Metrodome." As always, the temperature inside never varies. And some say that's the problem.

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