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home : columns : columns June 29, 2016

1/30/2013 1:25:00 PM
'People's Stadium?' Not to college and amateur baseball programs

Joel Alvstad
Sports Editor

Back when the State Legislature was debating the merits of whether or not to spend millions of dollars on a new Vikings stadium, Gov. Mark Dayton made a bold proclamation.
Dayton noted that the new stadium would be "The People's Stadium." It would be suitable to the needs of numerous groups and organizations and would ensure the viability of the Vikings franchise and downtown Minneapolis for years to come.
But less than a year after the stadium bill passed, new questions are coming up about the makeup of the stadium.
You see, lost in the wash of the "people's stadium" talk was the fact that the current stadium, the Metrodome, isn't just used for football.
Even though the Metrodome no longer has a Major League Baseball team as a primary tenant, the stadium is still used for upwards of 500 baseball games each year. Teams that use the Metrodome as a home away from home range from the Gopher baseball team to virtually every small college team in the state. Numerous high school teams play games in the Dome every spring. And handful of amateur teams raise funds to rent the facility to play during the summer.
Even without the presence of the Twins, baseball still is played often at the Dome.
But that's all going to change. And that change could set baseball backward for years in Minnesota.
You see, the new Vikings stadium is being constructed on the site of the current Metrodome, meaning that the Dome will be razed after the 2013 Vikings season is complete.
And the new plans and specs for the Vikings stadium are, shall we say, not exactly baseball friendly.
Baseball people - from the Gophers coaching staff, to amateur groups, to the high school coaches that use the Dome - have expressed concern about proposed dimensions for baseball. Among those is a right field foul pole that sits just 285 feet from home plate.
By comparison, I believe the shortest high school outfield fences in the region - Redwood Falls and Luverne - are both at 290 down the right field line. The right field fence at the old Butterfield ballfield is about 280.
The Vikings have proposed an obstacle to prevent easy home runs: a temporary 65-foot high wall, similar to Boston's Green Monster. But that won't prevent the routine fly ball, which is an out in most parks, from clearing that wall.
I can see the argument from some. The Gopher baseball team is getting major (and needed) renovations to Siebert Field. The St. Paul Saints are in the process of getting a new stadium. Teams can use Target Field. And on and on.
But it comes down to one simple fact. If collegiate baseball teams want to get games played in February (when most college programs start playing games), they either need a dome or they need a southern climate. After 2013, Minnesota will have neither after the Dome is razed, which could potentially cripple a Gopher program that has a rich history of success.
So what can be done? Part of the problem is the Vikings want to put as many seats closer to the field as possible. But why can't those seats be moved, which would help make the field suitable for baseball?
I know, it's supposed to be a football stadium and the sightlines for baseball will be terrible. That's not the point. In all honesty, very few people go to Gopher baseball games at the Dome now. For high school and small college teams, you're looking at parents, girlfriends and a few casual fans. We're not talking about tens of thousands of people here.
There has to be a better way than to put up a 65-foot wall at the 285-foot sign and call it good.
If the new Vikings stadium is truly "the people's stadium," then the stadium planners will find a way to make this work. Otherwise, it could potentially cripple the sport of baseball in our state. And nobody really wants to see that happen.

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