A goodbye to the Metrodome, from a different perspective

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The highlight video ended, the fireworks erupted, and the lights shut off for the very last time.

With many of the 64,000 that filed into the Metrodome Sunday to watch Minnesota beat Detroit still in attendance, the last vestige of life the 31-year-old stadium had was extinguished with a select group of greats still on the field.

It was a surreal moment.

Though admittedly, not as surreal as I envisioned it.

Having grown up in Minneapolis a small boy with a built-in obsession with the Twins, Vikings, and Gophers, the Dome was always a mythical, almost other-worldly place to go for me.

It was a place where heroes played, a place where history was made, a place much larger than any life I could dream of living.

I was tiny, the stage was big, and like many others, I dreamed of one day stepping on that bright green turf pedestal to be the center of admiration and attention as the players were to me.

Did I have the resources? The teachers? The God-given gifts? No, but that didn't stop the dreams.

I attended the University of Minnesota's baseball camp as a youngster, one of thousands upon thousands of kids to do so in hopes of bettering his game and honing his skills.

Was I good? Meh, I was fine, never something a scout would bat an eyelash at. I was small with talent to match my stature, didn't do anything great, just worked hard because that's how small, average athletes get by.

As I continued to go to the camps over the years, it became clear I was getting no better. Why? Could've been the competition level of city baseball, the lack of round-the-clock attention to the diamond, or the fact that I simply wasn't good enough. Whatever it was, the writing was on the wall, my talent was maxed out.

But that didn't stop me from working year after year and getting by on trying hard, which was enough for Minneapolis South, where I attended high school.

While my talent was middling, I was good enough to start my senior season in center field, and as we prepared for that year, our head coach brought us aside one day and told us the news.

"We're playing at the Dome."

Nobody wanted to be the lame kid that got excited, so we all acted too cool to care.

Inside, I think I burst three blood vessels with excitement.

When the day arrived, my energy could've blown the Teflon off the stadium. Instead, the Teflon blew me away when I lost a ball in the beige in the third inning. I felt like the roof collapsed right on top of me.

Despite that life altering experience, I somehow pulled it together and had a good enough year to make it to college ball at Augsburg.

Once there, I learned that each and every year, the Auggies played six games in the Dome at the beginning of March.

Not only that, but when we needed it, we would go to the Dome and practice. Sometimes run-throughs would be at midnight, other times games would be at 6 a.m. If we had the field after the University of Minnesota played, we would watch the stadium manager cut half the lights, leaving us to play on a dimmed field. Sounds like second rate stuff, right? Nope, it was the Dome, that's all that mattered.

Four years of that and HHH became second nature. It became another home field for us, just a half-mile away from campus, a three-minute van or car ride (no, we didn't have a team bus) from where we slept. OK, so there weren't 64,000 people there cheering us on (take away the zeros and we're in the ballpark) and none of us were going 450 to right center, but we were Division III athletes, we were just happy to have what we did when we walked into the loading dock at whatever time of day we played.

We were baseball players. At the Metrodome. What else could you ask for?

So when the lights turned off for the last time Sunday at what was once a second home for my athletic life, silence filled the venue, and fans filed out, I wondered why I felt nothing for a place I once idolized and aspired to play at. This was the same place I dreamed would be my home field, a place I planned on playing in while 64,000 looked on and cheered, a place where the only thing bigger than the stage were my dreams to one day be on it.

Why wasn't this the most surreal of all the moments I've seen in Minnesota sports?

It sounds crazy, but maybe it was, just spread out over my life.

Walking out of the Dome today made me realize something about myself. My Metrodome dreams were fulfilled.

Were they lived out in front of 64,000 people? No. But from the moment I stepped foot on that field as a senior in high school until the last time I left it as a senior in college, my lifelong dreams of roaming the same outfield Torii Hunter did, stepping in the same box Joe Mauer did, throwing off the same mound Johan Santana did, were reality.

For thousands of Minnesota athletes, they can say the same. The Metrodome has been home to hundreds of baseball and football games not involving the Twins or Vikings every year since 1984, from high school to college and every level within those classes.

The MIAC, the MSHSL, the WIAC, the NSIC, the Dairy Queen Classic, the Big Ten, odds are if you have been around this state for more than a cup of coffee, you know someone that knows someone that has been able to call the Dome home, if only for a few hours.

Bud Grant said in his closing speech Sunday that a complaint he often hears about the Dome is the "concourses are to small." Bud, those people may be right.

But what has made the Metrodome special over 31 years isn't the 64,000 that fill the stadium to watch the Twins and Vikings, its what 99 percent of Minnesotans never see.

The midnight practices, the 6 a.m. games, the dimmed lights, the empty seats, the times memories have been made for thousands of kids. At those momwnts, the concourses are plenty big.

So does the Dome have its problems? Sure, it isn't perfect. But when you're saying good riddance to it, just try and remember that while it hasn't fulfilled all your wants and desires in a venue, it has fulfilled plenty of hopes and dreams while you've been going about your day.

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