It is a shame that the long histories of St. Louis and Houston baseball will diverge even further when the Astros are moved to the American League West starting next season. Though the current Houston club is one of their worst ever, the city has a proud history, including a long stint hosting Cardinals farm teams.
That doesn’t mean I like everything about Houston baseball. Their playing facility, Minute Maid Park, is one aspect I will not miss in the least. Rather than being quirky, it seems overly contrived. Here are some of the reasons why.
The Crawford Boxes in left field provide one of the shortest porches in the game and therefore allow some of the cheapest home runs anywhere in baseball. They are only 315 feet away from home plate down the line to hit a home run, with a 19 foot tall wall. As a result, the bullpens are indoors – even when the roof is open!
The Home Run Porch is located on a concourse in left-center field that actually juts over the playing field in fair territory. Why should outfielders have to play under the stands?
Building a retractable roof in humid Houston made a lot of sense, but the old regime used to play games with the decision of whether to open or close it for any given contest. The umpires, who should make the call, are not involved. Instead, management kept the roof closed even on beautiful days when they wanted to try to intimidate their opponent by the ridiculous piped-in noise.
The choo-choo train sits across the top of the left and left-center field wall. Any train way up there, let alone one that is filled with fake oranges instead of coal, is a pretty weak marketing attempt. Oh yeah, the train moves when the good guys hit a home run. As hard as it is to believe, this is even lamer than Bernie Brewer’s slide.
In what I considered a positive move, back in June, new Astros owner Jim Crane floated the idea of moving or removing the train. Less exciting is the alternative of more signage, even if to honor charity work rather than sell product.
This 90-foot-wide grassy incline rises at a 30-degree slope from the outfield warning track to the wall in center field, 436-feet away from home plate. A flag pole adorns the hill – in fair territory. This oddity was devised by former team president Tal Smith in homage to Cincinnati’s old Crosley Field.
It is worthy of noting that the fine city of Cincinnati has built two new ballparks since Crosley and didn’t see any reason to keep their hill. It isn’t a cool landmark like Boston’s Green Monster or Wrigley Field’s ivy. It is just stupid, contrived and potentially dangerous to the centerfielders.
Why doesn’t Houston develop its own traditions instead of picking one out of Cincinnati’s reject pile? If their intent is to honor Smith, there are other better ways to do so.
Earlier, some intelligent Houston fans disliked Tal’s Hill badly enough they initiated a petition drive to try to get it removed. Not surprisingly, the ownership that put it there in the first place ignored the movement.
Now, Crane is re-thinking Tal’s Hill, as well. The Houston Chronicle is seeking reader feedback on how to reuse the space. Their initial proposal is a monument park to honor past Astros heroes. That could include Smith if they so choose.
Houston baseball historian Bill McCurdy is dead set against a change. The friend of Smith (and a friend of mine, as well) is worried that a reconfigured Minute Maid would become a band box and Astros pitchers would lose all their learning about how to pitch in the ballpark as it has been.
Really? It seems like they might try something different as the current approach certainly hasn’t worked out very well for them.
Change is difficult, but Crane seems to be on the right trajectory. Fewer gimmicks and better baseball should be his aim.
Here’s hoping that when the Cardinals return to Houston in 2013 as their new interleague rival that a cleaner Minute Maid Park will be ready to greet them.
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