Vikings, Stadium Authority at odds over baseball at new stadium

10:32 PM, Jan 29, 2013   |    comments
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Baseball configuration in Vikings stadium

MINNEAPOLIS - Professional football and amateur baseball have peacefully coexisted at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for 30 years.

But squeezing a baseball field into the new Vikings stadium, designed with a modern NFL experience in mind, is proving to be a somewhat of a trickier proposition.

"We certainly want to have the best experience we can, but we need to balance that with other activities," Michele Kelm Helgen, the chairperson of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, told KARE.

As Kelm spoke, members of the Golden Gophers baseball team were playing an intra squad scrimmage on the Metrodome turf, which has now been configured for spring baseball.

The Gophers will play at least 17 games indoors this season before moving outdoors to the team's new ball field on the University of Minnesota campus.

"Countless numbers of colleges, universities, two-year educational institutions, high schools, play all their spring games here at the Dome so that they don't have to travel out of state," Kelm Helgen explained.

There's an unresolved conflict between the Vikings and members of the stadium authority over the dimensions of the amateur baseball field that will reside within the new stadium, particularly the distance from home plate to right field.

In the Metrodome, the right field wall is 327 feet. The U of M asked for almost that much in the new Vikings stadium.

"The university started with a request to have the right field line be at 320 feet. We told them, absolutely, that's not going to work," Helm Kelgen said.

HKS, the stadium architect, drew up two options. One places the right field wall at 305 feet, something the stadium authority and the University can live with, according to Helgen.

The second option would place the right field wall at 285 feet. That would allow a tighter oblong bowl for the football stadium.

"We've been told by coaches, primarily from colleges and universities, that it would make it 'unfit for baseball,' because the right field line would be too short," Helgen said.

Gophers coaches say it would translate to too many homeruns and require pitchers to change the way they throw to those hitters prone to poke fly balls over that wall.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for public affairs, pointed out that the team agreed to invest $477 million in the project because they're attempting to build a state of the art facility that will deliver a first-class experience to pro football fans.

"We're competing with HD television now, so we've got to find ways to get people to get out of their homes on football Sundays and participate in an outstanding fan experience," Bagley said.

Bagley said it's not just a matter of how to configure temporary seating, whether removable seats or retractable seats. That right field line decision will affect the cost of the stadium.

The more expensive the basic elements are the fewer extras will be affordable under the $975 million cap agreed to by the Legislature, the Vikings and the city of Minneapolis.

"If you move that line a dozen feet farther out, you're changing the dimensions of the stadium, and that affects seating on all levels."

Originally the Golden Gophers football and baseball teams both shared the Metrodome with the Vikings and the Minnesota Twins.

The legislature approved new stadiums for both the Twins and the University of Minnesota football team, but those two stadiums -- Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium -- are both outdoor facilities.

That left amateur baseball still reliant on the Dome for home games played before April.  And that is how the Vikings, an NFL team, ended up with amateur baseball as a roommate at the new Vikings stadium.

The architects are trying to reach a compromise that will suit everyone's needs. Gov. Mark Dayton, who appointed Kelm Helgen to chair the stadium authority, said he is hopeful for a solution.

"There's got to be a resolution there. I mean we're talking about seven yards," Dayton told KARE Tuesday.

"I mean, if all I had to do here at the Capitol was resolve seven yards over the couple of months I'd be dancing in the street!"

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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