Ex-superintendent wanted to give Twins advantage

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sometimes a home run sails so sweetly past
the outfield, the ball seems to have the wind behind it.

At Minnesota Twins games at the Metrodome, maybe it did.

Dick Ericson, the former superintendent of the Metrodome, told
the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he tried to manipulate the trajectory of
baseballs by turning on more electric fans behind home plate and
adjusting the air conditioning in late innings of close games.

A current Metrodome employee confirmed that he saw Ericson
manipulate the fans and that Ericson talked about doing it.

Ericson, who has been retired for eight years, told the
newspaper: "If they (the Twins) were down two runs and you're
still hoping for them to have the advantage, you'd want to be
blowing all the air out and up as much as you can."

He added, "I don't feel guilty. ... It's your home-field
advantage. Every stadium has got one."

The Twins won World Series in 1987 and 1991. In one memorable
game -- Game Six of the 1991 series against Atlanta -- Hall-of-Famer
Kirby Puckett drove a game-winning, eleventh-inning home run over
the left field wall.

Ericson said the fans were blowing out when Puckett knocked the
ball out of the park. Still, he said he believes the Twins won
their games on their own ability, and he also believes that Puckett
hit his famous homer hard enough to knock it out without an extra
push from the ventilation system.

Ericson said manipulating the air flow was his idea and that he
was never asked to do it by Twins officials or by the sports
commission. Nor did Twins or Dome officials ever ask him whether he
manipulated air flow, he said.

Speculation about favorable air currents in the Metrodome was
widespread among opposing players and coaches and became a source
of media conjecture, deepening the mystique of the Metrodome.

Bobby Valentine and his players had begun to suspect that
someone was manipulating the ventilation system in the Metrodome in

Valentine, then managing the Texas Rangers manager, said his
suspicions initially came from his players, who told him that in
the late innings they often felt a breeze against their faces when
they were on the field, as though the air was blowing toward the

But when they took their turn at the plate, the Rangers felt the
breeze against their faces, as though the currents were blowing
inward to keep balls from leaving the park.

"I became very suspicious, maybe paranoid," said Valentine,
now a commentator for ESPN. "They had such an uncanny way of

Whether Ericson and his electric fans truly affected the outcome
of Twins games is debatable; independent tests conducted this year
by a University of Minnesota professor were inconclusive.

Twins and Metrodome officials said they had no knowledge of
Ericson or anyone else attempting to manipulate the air currents,
and they have doubts it ever happened.

"It's kind of romantic to speculate about it," said Matt Hoy,
Twins vice president of operations. "But in a practical sense, I
don't know if it holds a lot of water."

Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports
Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, said Ericson
was "a wonderful employee, a wonderful elderly man," but he
called his claim "a bunch of hooey."

Steve Maki, director of facilities and engineering at the
Metrodome, said that while it is possible to turn on mechanical
fans in the area between first and third base behind home plate, he
has never seen any operator attempt to manipulate the air currents.

In the Metrodome -- the only major league stadium with an
inflatable roof -- air pressure to keep the roof inflated is
generated from fans that blow air through a special corridor and
over the field. The fans are controlled through the dome's
operations center.

Virgil Ophus, who worked under Ericson and is still employed at
the Dome, said he recalls being in the operations center and
watching Ericson come in and turn on various fans in hopes of
affecting the game. "He'd start the fans and he thought it'd
help," Ophus said. "He did it when he felt like doing it."

Ophus said he was in no position to question Ericson, his
supervisor. Ophus insisted that he himself had not manipulated the
fans to the Twins' advantage.

Ivan Marusic, a professor of fluid dynamics with expertise in
aerodynamics at the University of Minnesota, was intrigued by the
idea of whether the air currents could affect the path of a
baseball after the Star Tribune told him about the allegations.

In January, he offered a special class on the effect of air
currents on the trajectory of baseballs inside an indoor stadium.
His students built an air cannon with enough power to launch
baseballs into the upper deck.

One morning in April, Marusic assembled his class on the
Metrodome turf and set up the air cannon to the right of home
plate. Students in the operations center monitored the fan controls
being run by the Dome field crew. Marusic periodically asked that
operators turn various fans on or off.

After firing 83 baseballs at a 50-degree angle, Marusic analyzed
the results and concluded that the balls went, on average, about 3
feet farther when the fans behind home plate were blowing. He also
tested the opposite scenario and discovered that balls landed about
3 feet shorter when the outfield fans were turned on, blowing air
inward, and the home plate fans were turned off.

But Marusic got very different results when he ran the
experiment again in May. This time he fired 64 balls at angles of
36, 42 and 50 degrees.

Sanford Weisberg, director of the Statistical Consulting Service
at the University of Minnesota, examined the test results and found
that the air currents had no impact on the distance the ball

Weisberg concluded that on the basis of the two tests "it seems
unlikely" that manipulating the fans could affect the game. His
only caveat was that air currents "potentially" might affect a
baseball's distance.

Marusic counseled caution about concluding whether air blown out
of the ducts could affect the ball's trajectory.

"I'm saying it's possible," he said. "I am not saying it's