Sunday, July 19, 2009

Place No. 65: Mall of America/Metropolitan Stadium

Josh Pahigian takes us back to Texas for spot No. 64 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out,” and I’m going to set that destination aside for a bit and head north to Minnesota.

Josh heads to the Mall of America, built on the site of Metropolitan Stadium for No. 65. There are precious few remnants of the yard on display, and I was able to check them out on a trip to Minneapolis for an education writers’ conference in 1996.

The visit is worth a trip to the archives, because the Met might have had a sweet name, but that’s about the best thing you could have said about it.

Imagine a ballpark so bad that a domed, plastic-grassed multipurpose barn was an improvement.

Picture a ballpark so woebegone that tearing it down and replacing it with a mall was actually a pretty good idea.

We can only be talking about Metropolitan Stadium, home to the Minnesota Twins from 1961 to 1981.

Metropolitan Stadium was built for the Minneapolis Millers of the minor leagues in 1956, but it was clear it was intended to lure a major league team. It had a curved, triple-decked grandstand stretching from first base to third, and some temporary bleachers.

The Washington Senators arrived and were renamed the Twins in time for the 1961 season, and the first and second decks of the grandstand on the first base side were extended down the left field line. But for some reason, only better bleachers were added along the right field line, creating what I’m assuming were some horrible sight lines.

What was already a hodgepodge became even worse when the Vikings football team added a double-decked pavilion in left field, kind of an early version of the disaster in Oakland where the Athletics and Raiders share a stadium.

Given all these issues, it wasn’t long before there was talk of leveling the stadium, with the usual debate about who would be picking up the tab. Apparently maintenance was scaled back to accelerate the pace, and it got so bad that in the ballpark’s final season the third deck was considered a safety hazard because of broken railings.

But a bad setting doesn’t always make for bad baseball. The Twins went to the World Series in 1965 and took the division crown in 1969 and 1970. Zolio Versalles earned an MVP and Jim Perry a Cy Young. Hall-of-Famers Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew played at the Met, along with Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva and Bert Blyleven, players who still get strong Cooperstown consideration.

Metropolitan Stadium was leveled in the early 1980s to make way for the Mall of America, which I learned is only a $1 bus ride away from downtown Minneapolis. I had some time after to conference ended and caught the bus, curious to see if anything remained of the stadium.

The mall itself is not especially exciting. It’s pretty much the same stores you see in every other mall — just more of them — with a small theme park in the middle.
A Camp Snoopy employee pointed me to a plaque in the floor that rests in the approximate location of home plate.

And high on a wall sits a stadium seat — with no way to get to it. That’s the spot where Killebrew hit the longest home run in Metropolitan Stadium history, a 520-foot blast on June 3, 1967.

The Twins escaped to the Metrodome, and I had a pretty neat adventure there, but we’ll save that for spot No. 70.

1 comment:

csd said...

I am with you. The only good things about the mall you have pictured in your post.