Dome comes in handy for Twins

>MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – That big, dingy, weather-worn Teflon roof never looked so beautiful.

As an early spring storm dumped several inches of wet, heavy snow on the Twin Cities on Monday, Opening Day went on just as scheduled for the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Angels thanks to the oft-criticized Metrodome’s puffy white top.

“Hey everybody,” Angels center fielder and former Twin Torii Hunter said upon entering Minnesota’s clubhouse for his first game as a member of the enemy. “Merry Christmas!”

Yet despite temperatures in the low 30s and a fresh coat of snow that made for a messy, sloppy evening commute, Hunter and the eager Twins fans were plenty comfortable in the dry, 72-degree, climate-controlled Dome.

“It’s nice to be inside today,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We wouldn’t be playing in too many other places, that’s for sure.”

That includes the shiny new roofless park scheduled to open in 2010. The 40,000-seat stadium is just starting to take shape on the west side of downtown Minneapolis, and the Twins can’t wait to get out of the Metrodome, which has long been considered one of the worst parks for baseball in the big leagues.

Fans seated down the baselines get neck cramps from having to twist their heads to see home plate, even lazy fly balls have been known to give outfielders fits as they soar toward the baseball-colored roof, and this concrete monstrosity has all the charm and character of the New Jersey Turnpike.

For those reasons, and so many more, the Twins can’t wait to get out of there and into the new place.

A Hennepin County sales tax is helping to pay for the $522-million stadium, which promises to give fans and players a more enjoyable baseball experience.

Bigger concourses, more bathrooms, a state-of-the-art scoreboard and other amenities and a breathtaking view of the Minneapolis skyline, not to mention sitting outside on a warm July evening, all will be there two years from now.

“I’ll be happy once we get out of this place,” Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. “The benefits of the new stadium far outweigh having to deal with a little weather once in awhile.”

The Metrodome’s biggest selling point is that, since 1982, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow has kept the team from delivering a game for its fans, many of whom drive from all over a five-state area, to see them.

That will change once the new park opens.

“It’s just part of early-season baseball,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said. “They’re dealing with it in New York. They’re dealing with it in Detroit.”

Games in New York, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Chicago were delayed by the weather Monday, and the Twins know they will have to start getting used to that time-honored tradition.

St. Peter said research the team has done has shown that fans’ concerns about the ugly conditions in early April and late September may be a little bit overblown. He also said the Twins would lobby schedule makers to put them on the road to start the season in hopes of better weather a few weeks into April.

Plus, the Twins’ initial plans for a new park included a retractable roof.

“We fought a 10-plus year battle to get a retractable roof ballpark,” St. Peter said. “The reality is, nobody wanted to pay for it.”

Hunter, for one, thinks there should be a retractable roof for days such as these. He called it “a no-brainer.” There also is a concern the Twins will have trouble luring free agents to town to play in the cold weather.

“Not a lot of guys are going to be able to handle that,” Hunter said.