History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dome fades, but remember Metropolitan Stadium?

Epochs in sports come and go.
The days of our Metrodome as a big-time sports facility appear numbered. I say "appear" because I feel some denial about it.
The departure of the Vikings from the Dome now seems certain. All we need are for loads of people to get suckered into "electronic pulltabs" and I guess the new shrine (stadium) will be built. Early reports on that seem not encouraging.
The Metrodome has been wonderfully practical. Never described as luxurious or opulent - heaven forbid - it was stretched to include all kinds of athletic action including the first season of the Timberwolves - remember that?
Speaking of remembering, how about old Metropolitan Stadium? Memories of that are a touchstone for boomers here. It was up and running for Twins baseball just as the big wave of boomers was getting interested and pestering their parents to come to games. The Twins seem such an essential part of the fabric of our lives now. Imagine pre-1961 when the Twin Cities were actually minor league. Dave Moore may have missed the old Nicollet Park which housed the old Triple-A Millers. His views weren't exactly shared by a chorus. But the Millers must have had their attributes for entertainment, even if housed in as humble a place as Nicollet Park (apparently was).
The imminent retirement of the Dome pushes the old "Met" back further in our collective memory. It was built before all the sophisticated engineering wizardry that was employed for Target Field, to minimize the effects of our Minnesota weather. Weather could be a bothersome issue for the Met. This became especially apparent when "the second tenant" of that facility, the Vikings, took the field. Bud Grant always emphasized with defensiveness that the Vikes were the second tenant. The Met was built to bring big league baseball here. It's accurate to say there was planned obsolescence. By the time of the Met's last season, it was sort of a nursing home candidate, having become a "bucket of rust," according to one account.
Remember those orange shirts?
We saw big league soccer at the Met. I acquired one of my own orange Minnesota Kicks T-shirts. The shirt was practically a "uniform" for boomers for whom it became fashionable to go to Kicks games, with the sport itself a secondary attraction. These were social spectacles for a restless and sometimes unruly generation. (I could use more pointed language.) Remember coach Freddie Goodwin?
The Met as a football venue had a mixed effect for us Minnesotans. It showed us as hardy folk. The snowmobile suit was common attire. We took some pride in the hardiness. However, PR-wise in the national picture, this image seemed negative. Who in heck would want to live in such a place? Construction of the Dome seemed almost a miracle in how it freed us from such issues. Whereas April baseball games were once problematic, all of a sudden "under the roof" we were in better shape than Baltimore where rain often cascades down in April. All of a sudden in December, we seemed in better shape for football than places like Chicago or Buffalo.
Hardy? We could now enter the Dome as if we were going to the theater. But of course we didn't stay satisfied. The Gophers left, hoping to become more competitive someplace else. Did that work out? The Twins left. Their new home seems quite fine. And the Vikings twisted arms well enough in the legislature and with a pliant Governor Mark Dayton to get the new palace planned. All while football is discussed daily with an increasingly grave and concerned tenor regarding the health issues (for players). If high school kids drop the sport en masse, what kind of future can we envision? It's not a drastic prediction.
But electronic pulltab gambling will evidently pull us through in terms of getting the new stadium. That's the projection anyway, but I wouldn't rule out the state's general fund coming to the rescue.
We might forget, but Metropolitan Stadium predated the Twins by several years. Let's go back to the spring of 1956 when "Ike" Eisenhower was planning a run for re-election. The man who led us on D-Day would serve two terms in the White House. These were the 1950s, a decade we tend to want to romanticize about. Jim Crow laws were going to be wiped out in the South. The Supreme Court demanded integrated seating in the Montgomery AL bus system. You could go to Downtown Chevrolet Co. and take advantage of a closeout sale on 1955 Chevys for - steady yourself - a little over a thousand dollars.
April is "play ball!" time to usher in spring, of course. And April of 1956 saw something shiny and new on the Bloomington MN prairie, set to replace ancient Nicollet Park. It was a whole new ballgame, yes. But it wasn't the Twins. It was still those Minneapolis Millers. It might have been the best Triple-A team around. Willie Mays had a stint there. But we weren't in "the majors" yet. Met Stadium was built to induce a major league owner to come here.
Minneapolis played Wichita in the first game to be played at the Met. Oh my, there was quite the "open" feeling around the Met, especially then. Roger Angell would eventually describe the stadium as an "airy Cyclotron" in a bit of pretentious writing that we might associate with the New Yorker, for which he wrote.
Newspaper scribe Charlie Johnson was important in the efforts to get big league ball. He was prodded by Jerry Moore, president of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. The construction of "Metropolitan Area Stadium," its name at the start, was step 1 in a process that was going to take time. Moore appointed a baseball committee. The St. Paul Association of Commerce set up a committee to enhance efforts in 1953.
What location for the ballpark? Candidates were weighed and dismissed. The St. Paul interests arranged for an engineering firm, based in Cleveland, to really roll up its sleeves and get this settled. It was their engineer who identified 160 acres of land in the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington. The site was seen as neutral. Despite St. Paul's involvement, St. Paul-ites grew resistant. They seemed "out of the action." St. Paul wasn't mollified for a long time, or so I've read. The Minneapolis-St. Paul rivalry has always seemed alien to me.
An organization called the Minute Men went after money - private capital. Baseball was restless. The Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee in the early '50s. The St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. New York City was rife with rumors about its Giants and Dodgers pulling up stakes. Ah, "the west" beckoned.
The Minneapolis committee appeared to have a chance to land the Philadelphia Athletics in the fall of 1954. Efforts toward the new stadium hadn't progressed far enough yet. The Minute Men had trouble reaching their monetary benchmark. What it all came down to, was city leaders with deep pockets just doing what they had to. We heard the name "Cowles" a lot.
The Bloomington land was bought with still no guarantee of landing a team. What quaint times - we're talking pure farmland where the "cyclotron" was going to be built. The groundbreaking occurred when I was six months old. Concrete was first poured in September of 1955. When it became clear the Giants were going to be heading way out to the Pacific Coast, to San Francisco, we began to realize that Washington's Senators were going to be our team. Calvin Griffith, who would be labeled by us boomers as a fossil of a man, culturally anyway, would bring his crusty and curmudgeonly presence here. Calvin wasn't cutting it financially in the nation's capital. Amazing how Minneapolis was able to present more attributes than the east coast power corridor. Amazing.
It was on October 26 of 1960 when the historic vote came by the American League to do three things: establish an expansion team in Los Angeles, move the Senators here, and oddly, to replace the Senators with a new expansion team in D.C. The nation was about to elect JFK president.
The Met's history, pre-Twins
In 1955 we had this "orphan" ballpark materialize on farmland. It was like the Little Engine that Could, not so certain at the start. The Met opened for the Minneapolis Millers in April of '56. Left behind was Nicollet Park which was built in 1896. Nicollet had a right field fence just 279 feet away!
The Met was truly fledgling on that day 1, capable of handling only 20,000 fans, and apparently even that was a stretch. Look toward left field and you still saw farmland. The first fan customers were warned through the media of possible hazards like tools, unfinished steps and randomly positioned machinery. The Millers greeted a record crowd for opening day of 18,366, despite a nip in the air with the temperature at 45 degrees. Many fans wanted to just wander and observe the place. Jerry Moore threw out the first ball. The leadoff hitter for the Millers was Billy Wells, center fielder. Oh, and the national anthem was sung by Robert Rounseville, in town with the New York Apollo Club. My late father Ralph E. Williams - he died just recently at age 96 - was director of the Minneapolis Apollo Club in the 1950s.
Our family would end up visiting Met Stadium several times to enjoy the Twins. Let's always embrace the memories of the "old Met."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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