Ron Petrich, now an assistant professor of education at Augsburg, a small Minneapolis college, doubles as the scheduler and matchmaker for college baseball games at the Metrodome. Since 1984, he has kept the Dome humming with games, practices and scrimmages almost around the clock from February through April, when winter finally eases. The Metrodome may have said goodbye to major league baseball, but for now, it remains a Teflon-roofed lifesaver for more than 100 college, high school and other amateur teams throughout the upper Midwest.
And no more so than this winter. In February, Petrich said, he was receiving five or six calls a day from coaches with snow-covered fields as far away as Kansas and Illinois. That made for some creative scheduling.
Nebraska-Kearney, where the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain once pitched, played two doubleheaders in 17 hours over two days. Valley City State, an N.A.I.A. program from North Dakota, scheduled two doubleheaders on one day — at 7:30 a.m. and 9:45 p.m. Kansas and Eastern Michigan shifted their Feb. 22 doubleheader to the Metrodome from Lawrence, Kan., to avoid a snowstorm.
The Metrodome had more available dates than usual this year because two trade shows canceled and it will not host an N.C.A.A. men’s basketball regional. Even with the University of Minnesota playing 28 baseball games and 16 softball games at the dome, Petrich said he had enough slots to accommodate a record 240 college games and 420 over all without booking any between 2:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. That, he said, was a first.
“This year, everything broke right,” he said.
For more than two decades, the Metrodome — the home of the Twins until their move to Target Field this year and of the Vikings, who are still residents — has provided Midwest colleges a place to play early in the season.
Using the dome allows leagues like the Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to spread their regular seasons across four months instead of backloading games in April and May.
“It’s a very nice convenience for us,” said Chris Olean, the interim coach at St. Thomas, an M.I.A.C. member from St. Paul.
The field is used so much that the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, covers the dirt base cutouts with artificial turf to reduce wear and tear. Although the Dome’s future is in doubt, a proposed plan calls for tearing it down and building a retractable-roof stadium for the Vikings that could also accommodate baseball, said Bill Lester, the commission’s executive director.
Petrich books time in four-and-a-half-hour blocks, so teams usually play doubleheaders with seven-inning games. Rent ranges from $300 to $500 an hour for high schools and small colleges to $2,000 for a single University of Minnesota game. Admission for small-college games is $5 for adults and $3 for students. Concession stands are closed, so some fans bring coolers.
With so many teams wanting the field — 55 colleges used it last year, according to sports facilities commission records — not all the start times are prime. Olean said St. Thomas played a game last year at 5 a.m., and Augsburg Coach Keith Bateman remembers a 4 a.m. doubleheader.
Comment: Sad to think that some want to tear it down