The View From the Cheap Seats
The left field stands were the cheap seats, of course. To get there you entered not so much through a gate as through an opening in the fence
which surrounded the park (visible on the right edge of this postcard). Then there was a little path leading to the entry for the grandstand. Talk about low-tech!
Underneath the pavilion was a complete jumble. I remember that the rest rooms were there, but I do not recall any fixed concession stands (the park is said to have contained a total of 24). What I remember most is one of the greatest amenities I have ever experienced at a major league park: a standing room, field-level view of the action. The left field fence was made of chain link all the way from the foul pole to nearly straight-away center, and you could stand there just a few yards behind the outfielders and watch the game.
Many people did this, and it was always crowded. To the best of my knowledge, no major league park today has anything quite like this
(I do not count the obscenely expensive modern version which sits right behind home plate). Of course, padded outfield fences prevent this to a certain extent. But there's something special about watching the action from the vantage point of an outfielder. That's how I saw a lot of action when I played the game as a kid, so it always felt familiar.
Up above, there were lots of vendors, and great food that was cheap. My favorite treat was always the Frosty Malt. Our family had a pattern which I still follow today. Hot dogs are for the early innings, and Frosty Malts are for the late innings. The best part of this strategy was that by the 7th inning, the Frosty Malts were all just a little bit melted, so it was like a really thick chocolate shake which you had to eat with a flat wooden spoon. (These days, modern technology ensures that all ice cream treats stay frozen solid throughout the game. * Sigh *)
Even though we were far away from the infield, there was a distinct thrill just being in the presence of big-leaguers, and I didn't want to miss a second of the action. But I remember one time leaving about half way through the second game of a double-header. The Twins were trailing the White Sox 3-0 after losing the first game 2-1. After a long, hot day of baseball, we were not the only people who decided to leave early, and we faced a long line of cars trying to exit. Listening to the game on the radio as we waited, we heard the Twins, only a few hundred yards away but now completely out of our sight, rally to win the game 4-3. Since then I've never left a major league game early -- a lesson learned directly from the extremely bad traffic conditions around the Met. I don't remember exactly how it was set up, but it always seemed like 15,000 cars and one exit.
Such Great Days
But my greatest memories of the Met have to be of bat day and photo day. On bat day, every single kid got a bat -- and plenty of adults too. These weren't cheap bats, and they weren't kid-sized, and with the help of a little tape on the handle, I used mine well into my teenage years.
But photo day may have been the most magical of all. Unlike today's more formal and controlled version, in 1974 the fans gathered on the warning track all around the field, and the players wandered around on the grass.
Fans could stand with players if invited, and everyone could take as many pictures of as many players as they wanted. It was leisurely and extremely informal, and probably went on for 45 minutes or so. The day we went I got to see Tony Oliva and Bert Blyleven up close (and get great shots of each), and take my brother's picture with Harmon Killebrew. (My mom tried to convince me to get my picture taken with him, but I was not interested. I was learning to be a photographer and had no interest in being a subject. Oh yeah, I was also pretty nervous about being in the presence of such greatness.)
My clumsy photos did capture nicely the casual spirit of the event, and the gloriously sunny nature of this day at the park. I also got a shot of some of the seating in the left field grandstand.
The photo shows that it was not individual seats out there like in the main grandstand, but bleacher seats with backs. It only matters because on June 3, 1967, Killebrew launched a home run that landed in the upper deck of the bleachers some 530 feet from the plate! The mammoth shot is memorialized on the wall of Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America -- except they used a seat from the main grandstand to stand in for the bleachers that were actually hit. (They certainly get points for getting the spirit of the event, if not quite the detail.)
Memory vs. Reality
Nothing in my memory can explain why they abandoned Metropolitan Stadium. Of course, I remember it being very hot -- and very cold. But, hey, this is Minnesota! I remember being a long way from the action -- but I always thought it was just because the cheap seats were all we could consider. Come to think of it, I do remember that the third deck of the main grandstand was closed because it was too dangerous.
And everything was pretty rusty. And it took forever to get out of the parking lot after games. And there were only a handful of concession stands, and not very many rest rooms. Hmm, it's starting to come back to me now...
The final word, however, should probably come from a player. Killebrew, speaking at TwinsFest 2004, said this when asked about his reaction when he heard the Met was coming down: "It was time," he said. "It was a good park for a while, but we played under some pretty bad conditions there... There were times when it was more like a test of endurance than a baseball game." He went on to describe how winds sometimes helped or hurt him as a hitter, but said that the cold was the real problem. He clearly thinks that indoor baseball is a must in the Minnesota climate.
I must admit that I was deeply in favor of replacing the Met and wrote to Calvin to express my views (see sidebar). It seems a bit sacrilegious in hindsight, but I really loved the idea of a new stadium, especially a domed one. Because of my letter, I've always felt just a tiny bit responsible for the Met's demise and its replacement by the accursed concrete oval...
But let's be realistic: the Met probably wouldn't have lasted much longer without some major structural repair. It probably would have had to be torn
down and reconstructed section by section over a decade or more. Better maintenance would have helped, but the place was put up hastily and it wasn't exactly built to last forever. And protecting it from the elements was simply not an option (though it was proposed). That park was built to lure a team. In that sense at least Met Stadium was a complete success. And compared to what we've had ever since, it looks in my memory like a baseball Taj Mahal.
When I recall those afternoons baking in the sun out in left field, I realize how the experience shaped my love of the game, and some significant portions of my life. For that I'm grateful to that place and to the men who played there.
Our family only went to games once or twice a season, so it was a big deal. I was always excited, and just a little bit nervous. Of course, I always had my glove! (Nope, never caught a single thing.)
Since the bleachers faced due west, we got an amazing treat during midsummer night games. As we watched the sun set over the more expensive seats, there would be that great moment when a pop-up would go high enough to take my eyes into a sky which suddenly contained stars. Twilight over the Met was an awesome experience (see the photo at the top of this page).
This was the place where I grew to love the arc of a baseball in flight -- that perfect shape which sums up the laws of physics and represents so many truths of nature. In later years I would learn that the same shape fills all great and good works of art, and pervades our lives (if we let it). But I first saw it at the Met, and it was simply a pure and beautiful sight, especially when set against a new night sky.
Occasionally I go out to the Mall of America, and every so often I seek out the plaque which marks the spot where home plate used to be. Then I peer through the foliage of Camp Snoopy to get a glimpse of the red seat mounted high up on the far wall. Then I meander down what used to be the third base line and think about that day I strolled up and down that line taking pictures of my favorite players.
Sure, the Twins have played some great ball since leaving the Met. But when I remember some of my greatest baseball moments, I'm back there: seven years old, glove on one hand, Frosty Malt in the other. Dad is explaining the game, Mom is keeping score. Blyleven and Kaat are the pitchers. Killebrew, Carew and Oliva are the hitters. And the place is -- and always will be -- Metropolitan Stadium.