MINNEAPOLIS — I get on the shuttle bus. I take my seat. My colleague from a National League city sits next to me. He has never been where we are going. I look at him sadly. Nothing I can say will prepare him. Nothing.
“You look a little pale,” he notices.
“Just wait,” I say.
The bus turns on a downtown street. The people of Minneapolis are swarming, as if on pilgrimage. And here is their mecca: the huge, round shape. The pastry-puff roof. The ramps like octopus tentacles. We are entering the Metrodome.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” says my colleague, as I instinctively put my hands over my ears and squeeze up my face in mock pain. “Are you sick? Are you having an attack?”
“Practicing,” I say.
Practicing. I have been here before. I had been here 10 days ago. I had sat inside the tidal wave of noise, had been surrounded by countless waving hankies, had had my nerves thumped by rock music.
The World Series has gone indoors. It is something new for history, but not for me. I am from Detroit. I was here for the playoffs. I am returning to the house of horrors.
“AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!” I scream.
“What? WHAT!” says my colleague.
“Just practicing,” I say. Inside the drum, beat goes on
I know where I stand. I know this place. This is the place where Doyle Alexander was stripped of immortality. This is where Jack Morris was humbled before 55,000 delirious fans. This is where Willie Hernandez . . . well. I can’t bring myself to tell that story again. But this is where it happened.
This is where we will be. Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, and maybe Games 6 and 7, if we live that long. The Metrodome. Cards versus Twins.
“Here we go,” I say. We enter a concrete corridor. We walk though a concrete tunnel. We step onto the artificial turf behind home plate.
“Drop your pencil,” I tell my colleague.
He drops his pencil. It bounces back.
“Interesting, huh?” I say.
I know where I stand. I know this crunchy plastic grass. This is the field where Don Baylor hit that single with the bases loaded. This is where Gary Gaetti sent two home runs special delivery. This is where Randy Bush hit a ball into the right field shower curtain for a triple.
“The shower curtain?” asks my colleague.
“See it?” I say, pointing.
“Yeah. . . . EEEK!”
Look out. My colleague has jumped six feet in the air. When he lands he is rubbing his ears like a crazed rabbit.
The music has started.
“You’ll get used to that,” I say, as I listen the the 100,000 mega-watts of loudspeaker sound echoing off the Teflon roof. Boom goes the bass. Screech goes the guitar. I am not sure of the song. Something light and appropriate.
“In a Gadda Da Vida,” I think it’s called. Bad bounce? Turf luck!
We find our seats in the press area. The stands fill with people. Soon there is not an empty seat in sight. The crowd begins to sway and holler. It rises to a crescendo and explodes like a breaking wave. Again and again.
“WHAT ARE THEY YELLING FOR?” asks my colleague. “NOTHING’S HAPPENING.”
“BATTING PRACTICE,” I say.
I try to explain. I try to tell him what we in Detroit know far too well: This is not an ordinary place. This is a place where baseball success has suddenly become religious fervor, where a team with only 85 wins in the regular season has grown hair like Samson and is knocking people over.
This is a crazy place where the home field is not merely home, but a dome. A place the ball once disappeared into the roof, and the batter was given a double; a place where a 150- foot pop-up bounced so high on the turf — and over the fielder’s head — that the batter scored an inside-the-park home run.
The Tigers, arguably the best team in baseball, lost here twice in the playoffs. More teams who visited here this season went home losers than in any other park in the league. I try to explain this to my colleague. But he cannot hear me.
I sigh. The St. Louis Cardinals are on their dugout steps, looking up into the sea of humanity that has come to bury them. The Minnesota Twins are in their dugout, slapping hands, as pumped up as if they swallowed a carton of No-Doz.
Outside it is in the ’40s, with cold wind smacking of winter. Inside it is a thermo-controlled 70 degrees. The Twins take the artificial field, in artificial light, to yet another maddening standing ovation. The scoreboard flashes. The music blares. Louder. Louder. We are locked inside a jet engine.
“HAVING FUN?” I ask my colleague, whose face is ghostly white and whose hair is sticking up like a porcupine’s quills.
“WHHHAAA . . . ?” he says.
The summer game. We love it.