In December of 2013, when construction crews began the process of demolishing the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, dozens of schools, youth groups and community organizations had already signed up to buy the Dome’s familiar cobalt blue, plastic seats. There was just one hitch: Albrecht Signs, the Fridley-based company that handled seat removal and distribution, refused to ship the seats, so anybody that wanted them had to show up at the demolition site and cart them away.
Thanks to that stipulation, most of the seats tended to stay in the Upper Midwest. Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, for example, bagged 510 seats for its baseball and softball complex. United South Central School District in Wells, Minn. bought 840 for its football stadium. Woodbury High purchased 400, as did Central Minnesota Christian Schools. Non-profit youth baseball associations in Willmar, Waconia and Prior Lake bought seats as well.
But not all the seats stayed so close to home. Which is why, on March 16, when fans of the Newport High Cubs, in Newport, Oregon, settle into their seats at Frank Wade Field for a preseason jamboree, they’ll be sitting in the same seats that once held spectators at two World Series, two Final Fours, an All-Star Game, a couple of Rolling Stones concerts and countless monster truck jams.
The best part, according to Newport baseball coach Ken Riley: The seats match the school’s blue-and-white color scheme. “What else can you ask for?”
A piece of Minnesota
Roughly 1,800 miles separate Newport, a Pacific Coast city of about 10,000 people, from the former site of the Metrodome, but the distance isn’t the only reason why the story of how 240 Dome seats found their way to Oregon is unlikely. For one thing, Riley never saw a game at the Metrodome — and isn’t a Twins fan.
The seat saga started in the summer of 2013, when Jon Crowe, a Grand Rapids, Minnesota native who’s the father of two former Newport baseball players, called Riley and asked which project was next on his agenda. Riley mentioned installing chair-back seats at Frank Wade Field, where the boys team plays, as well as at the girl’s varsity softball field.
The program had some money, though nowhere near enough to pay for the project. But Crowe had an idea. He’d heard that the Metrodome’s seats would be sold off before the building came down, and decided to contact the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority to ask for 100. His name was put on a list with other interested parties.
At the time, though, Riley didn’t think anything of it. “It went in one ear and out the other,” he said.
That December, Albrecht contacted Crowe and offered him 100 seats at the non-profit rate, $40 per seat plus tax. That was a bargain compared to teardown prices at the old Yankee Stadium ($750 each), Candlestick Park ($795 a pair) and Shea Stadium ($869 for a pair). Crowe’s brother Jody, who lives in the Twin Cities, offered to pick up the seats and store them, which left Riley with just a couple of problems.
The first was figuring out how to pay for the seats. He hadn’t raised a nickel. “(Crowe) called me shortly after Christmas and said they offered us our seats, but we had to tell them by Jan. 1,” Riley said.
The second: they needed more seats. Riley’s assistant coaches, estimating the scope of the project, told him 100 seats weren’t enough. They probably needed 250. “I was like, `Holy crap, we’ve got to raise $10,000 in four days,’” Riley said.
Incredibly, Riley said, they did it, thanks to the generosity of parents and boosters. That just left the small matter of getting the seats across the country. Enter Richard Fink, co-founder of a Portland, Ore. transportation services company whose wife used to teach at Newport. Fink’s company acts as a broker for 7,000 trucking carriers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. “Somehow he remembered I was in transportation,” Fink said of Riley. “I went to our operations people and said, `How can we help them?’”
Within a day or so, they located a truck bound for Minneapolis. Jody Crowe couldn’t bring his 100 seats back to the Dome — “They were under 3 ½ feet of snow,” Jon Crowe said — but Albrecht allowed them to take 250 seats from the Dome by promising to return the original 100 to Albrecht’s headquarters. (Albrecht tossed on four more seats ordered by a Twins season ticket holder who lives in Oregon.) The truck added cargo at other sites before heading west.
“We were just a small part of it, getting it from Point A to Point B, which we do every day,” Fink said. The cost? “Not free, but we didn’t charge our normal fee,” he said.
Over the next few months, the baseball booster club raised $45,000 for the concrete and materials to anchor the seats in place. The seats came in groups of three, four and five, and without assembly instructions. Riley credited junior varsity coach Kyle Langeliers as the “visionary” for making everything fit. Volunteers installed 170 seats at Frank Wade and 70 at the softball field, finishing in January. Riley retained most of the unused seats for spare parts.
“It was an act of God almost that we ended up with the right number of seats,” Riley said. “I thought I was going to have to call and get more.”
Yet the happiest people in town might be Newport assistant coach John Voorhies and his wife, Martha, who bought three seats from Riley for their deck. Martha grew up in Minneapolis — her parents still live in Edina — and the couple returns every summer to a cabin on the St. Croix River near Pine City. Voorhies won 433 games and 16 league championships in 26 seasons as Newport’s head baseball coach before retiring in 2001; Riley played for him.
Now, when the Voorhieses visit Frank Wade Field, they think of Minnesota.
“We used to go to the Metrodome and sit out in the (outfield),” Martha Voorhies said. “I hope these seats are from an area where you could bring the family to a game really cheap. It’s quite an addition to our town.”