May 03, 2019 05:03 PM
Just as he had so many times over the course of his baseball career, Minnesota Twins third baseman John Castino watched as the ball left the bat of Oakland Athletics slugger Dave Kingman and soared upward 35 years ago this week.
This time, though, it never came back down, leaving Castino and the other Twins fielders momentarily puzzled, while contributing greatly to the already-notorious lore surrounding baseball in the then-two-year-old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
The ball had actually disappeared into a seven-inch drainage hole in the Metrodome's roof. The play - which occurred in the fourth inning of a game on May 4, 1984 - was scored as a ground-ruled double, though there were no specific rules in place to cover such an odd event.
"At first, I thought it might have gotten stuck in the lights," Castino recalls. "Nobody really knew what happened. Other than the baseball went up and it didn't come back down."
"We lost so many balls in the lights back then, I figured that's probably what happened," added then up-and-coming pitcher Frank Viola, who was on the mound that night. "But after about five or 10 seconds, when the ball didn't come back down, everybody started ducking. We didn't know what was going on or what might be about to fall from that ceiling."
Kingman was a noted power hitter and three-time All-Star, who finished his career with 442 home runs and 1,210 RBI. Castino said only a player who swung the bat like he did could have pulled off such an unheard of feat.
"He was so powerful," he said. "His swing was always an uppercut. When he was at the plate, he was either going to hit a home run, strike out or hit one 500 feet straight up in the air. And he hit that one way up there."
Twins players didn't know how to react. Mickey Hatcher, playing first base that night, grabbed another baseball and tried to tag Kingman out. The umpires didn't buy it.
"That was Mickey," Castino said. "He did a lot of stuff like that. He was always trying to make people laugh."
However, plenty of players didn't find playing baseball in the Metrodome all that funny, especially in the stadium's early years. There had already been complaints from fielders who had trouble keeping track of the ball in the lights used to illuminate the Teflon ceiling.
There would be more to come.
The following year, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin sounded off, bemoaning the lighting and other unique aspects of baseball under the Metrodome roof.
"What takes place in the Metrodome is not a ballgame," Steinbrenner said. "It's a circus. If I wanted my players to be ping-pong players, I would send them to China to play the Chinese National Team. I am getting tired of situations which allow outcomes of games to be decided by anything other than the abilities of the players involved."
Kingman also homered in the game that May night, which proved Oakland's lone run in a 3-1 loss.
What actually happened to the baseball that went into the roof is a bit unclear. A story in the Minneapolis Tribune on May 6, 1984 said stadium superintendent Dick Ericson couldn't locate it, even after climbing high into the ceiling the following day. Instead, the newspaper reported, he dropped an extra ball he'd brought along for Hatcher to try and catch below.
Other accounts, though, state the ball was located. In any case, the team brought Kingman back to Minnesota in 2004 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his double that didn't drop.
Castino's own promising career would be cut short by lingering back injuries. His last appearance with the Twins, in fact, came just days later on May 7, 1984.
Looking back, he said no play he was involved with at any level of baseball was stranger than what happened at the Metrodome that night 35 years ago.
"That would have to be the weirdest, especially because it happened at the Major League level," he said. "Crazy things like that aren't supposed to happen in Major League Baseball. But they did that night."
Viola agreed with that assessment.
"You just don't expect to see a ball go up and not come down like that," he said. "That doesn't happen in baseball."
Updated: May 03, 2019 05:03 PM
Created: May 02, 2019 09:25 PM
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