ON DECK: Local baseball teams affected by deflated dome’Jackets lose four games, Saints eight; Spartans scrimmage with Esko on April 4 still scheduled
By: Ken Olson, Superior Telegram
Many collegiate baseball programs in the upper Midwest rely on the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis to get games in before the snow disappears and the temperatures rise. However, that won’t be an option this season as coaches recently received an e-mail stating that there would be no college baseball in the Metrodome this year.
The Dome’s Teflon-coated Fiberglas roof deflated Dec. 12 when 17 inches of snow fell on the Twin Cities.
At least nine of its 106 roof panels must be replaced, and several others are being tested to determine their condition said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Dome.
Four panels burst from the weight of built-up snow and ice after the storm. Other panels were damaged by the snow load that persisted for days until the Dome could be heated and snow could be melted off.
With additional testing needed on roof panels damaged by the, the Dome’s operators aren’t taking any chances.
The lengthy repair means that TwinsFest, hundreds of baseball games and other events are looking for new venues.
“The objective remains to get (the Dome) up and operating as soon as possible,” Lester said. “But we’re only going to do that in a way that guarantees the safety of users and spectators at events here.”
Pieces of some questionable panels have been sent to Birdair, the firm that designed the roof, for evaluation. A consulting firm working inside the Metrodome is examining other panels to see if they need further analysis, Lester said.
Asked if the entire roof may need to be replaced, Lester said the scope of the restoration work was being determined. Once that’s done, panels must be fabricated, shipped to the Metrodome and installed, he said.
While the Dome is best known as the home of the Minnesota Vikings, thousands use the facility year-round, with a steady schedule of events in the winter months.
The Metrodome hosts an average of five baseball games a day in winter months, from high school to college level.
“There’s about 200 games played in that time frame in February and March,” said Steve Geller, a spokesman for the University of Minnesota Gophers athletics.
The U men’s baseball team was scheduled to play its first Metrodome game of the season March 3 against Washington State, followed by the Dairy Queen Classic — a three-day invitational that will include Oklahoma State and the University of South Alabama.
From there, the Gophers had games scheduled about three or four times per week, including a tournament March 11-13.
Locally, the University of Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets and St. Scholastica Saints will also have to do some schedule shuffling.
UWS had four games cancelled, while CSS had eight.
“Fortunately, four games isn’t that difficult to replace,” UWS coach Eddie Morgan said. “We’ve already adjusted our schedule around, but teams like the Gophers and St. Cloud State, which had 12 games scheduled in the Dome, making changes will be much more difficult.”
The Yellowjackets were scheduled to play Dome doubleheaders with Bethel University on March 9 and St. Mary’s University on March 15. Those games were going to be a tune-up for two games March 18-19 at Division I Chicago-Illinois.
“I would have preferred to play a couple of games before playing Chicago,” Morgan said. “But there’s not much we can do. Playing them right off the bat will be a real test for us.”
After playing Chicago, UWS will participate in the Tuscon (Arizona) Classic March 21-27.
The Yellowjackets have picked up two more games in Arizona and have replaced the Dome doubleheaders with a four-game set against Macalester the weekend of April 9-10.
In the meantime, St. Scholastica coach Corey Kemp is trying to get his eight Dome dates re-scheduled for later in the season at campus sites. The Saints have already talked with St. Thomas and plan on playing on the Tommies’ campus field March 31, weather permitting.
CSS is also looking to add another game to its Florida schedule. The Saints are currently scheduled to play eight games in Ft. Pierce, Fla.
Kemp would prefer to play some games prior to the team’s Florida trip, which as of right now are the team’s first games.
“Our guys will go stir crazy if they have to practice in the Wellness Center for six weeks before actually playing a game,” Kemp said.
Kemp has reached out to Iowa schools and is even looking at Missouri and Illinois schools to see if they can get games for the first weekend in March. Kemp is optimistic that the Dome games can be made up at a later date at campus sites.
Morgan also noted that if the Dome does ever close for good, local teams would have to take secondary southern trips yearly to places like Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.
His hope in the future is to be able to schedule a couple of games at Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers.
“This is a great opportunity for the Brewers to open their arms and make their field available to Wisconsin college baseball teams,” Morgan said. “Our conference has asked to use their field in the past and they’ve turned us down. The problem they have there is that it’s a grass field and it’s harder to maintain than the artificial turf at the Dome.”
The Superior High School baseball team may also be affected by the Dome’s collapse.
The Spartans are scheduled to scrimmage Esko from 6:30-10 p.m. on April 4.
“I’ve had e-mail communications with Dome personnel this week and they’ve only cancelled events through March, but we’ll know more in the next few weeks,” SHS baseball coach Don Dembroski said. “They’re waiting to hear from the engineers on the project and will keep us informed. At this time we can only keep our fingers crossed.”
NOTES: UMD also had six games scheduled in the dome. The Bulldogs have canceled a doubleheader with Mount Marty, originally scheduled as the season opener on Feb. 21, and pushed back a four-game series with St. Josephs of Indiana. ... While the Dome is losing events, Lester said the facility has business-interruption insurance.
John Welbes and Frederick Melo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this story.