Minute Maid Park: Open or Closed?

Minute Maid Park, Home Opening Day, April 8, 2011.

When the Astrodome opened in 1965, it was the first time in baseball history that we had any kind of answer to the cancellation of games from bad weather on the outside and, even more ordinarily, it was the first time that an enclosed ballpark could be air-conditioned for every day joy and comfort.

That was all well and good, but somewhere over the years of “acclimation” to the everyday sameness of the  Astrodome’s everyday indoor game feel and look, a lot of people got bored with the varied positive effects from nature that were now missing from the game experience. Forget the rain, humidity, and heat for a minute. We all get it on that score. That’s what sold the domed stadium in the first place as a good idea. A venue that was virtually bulletproof from rain checks, one that could provide constant shade, comfort, and coolness was everything we thought we wanted back in the early 1960s.

And it’s what we got too. Except for that game in the late 1970s that was wiped out by flooding rains in the Dome area, everything else that has ever been scheduled for the Eighth Wonder of the World has come off as planned, I think.

What we didn’t count on at the start was the dull sameness that came from watching every indoor game under the enclosed artificial light tones of an inside day that never varied. Over time, we began to miss the periwinkle blue skies that occasionally visit us in the springtime. We missed the always impressive sight of those churning white cotton candy clouds of summer. We missed the scent and taste of breezes blowing in from the gulf on an early June evening. We missed the nip of a late season norther as it brought its forecast to us of the impending autumn season that was coming. We sometimes, if not often, even missed the old Buff Stadium feel of what it was like to sit at the ballpark and down a hot dog and beer under the normal conditions of hot and humid. In short, those of us who were old enough to have known an earlier normal ballpark experience simply missed the variety of everyday life that had now been taken from us by the sterile presence of the Astrodome’s unyielding, invariably predictable sameness.

Minute Maid Park, also April 8, 2011. Same day. Different look at twilight.

The “Ballpark at Union Station,” Enron Field, as we knew it in 2001, and Minute Maid Park, as we know it now, came with a retractable roof. That fact was a direct response to our thirty-five year experience in the Astrodome. When that new ballpark was planned, it came to life with a statement. We Houstonians wanted to keep our air-conditioning, but we also wanted the option of keeping the roof open as weather permitted. In practice, even though the pre-game option always remains with the Astros to open or close the roof, it seems to happen most often in early spring and early fall, when there is less hue and cry from some for the AC to be on with the roof closed at all times.

If I remember correctly, the Astros wanted to open roof for Game Three of the 2005 World Series against the White Sox, but I think they were over-ruled by Commissioner Bud Selig, in response to those who protested that the Houston club was trying to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents from Chicago.

I found that argument to be spurious and with no basis in truth. If you’ve ever spent any time in Chicago during the summertime, you know that the place doesn’t exactly feel like the North Pole at that time of the year. Opening the roof for an evening World Series Game in October seemed like no big game-breaker advantage for the Astros to me. In retrospect, who knows? Maybe leaving the roof open in 2005 could have helped the Astros win the two games in Houston they quickly lost.

Ten years and counting into the Minute Maid Park era, we still have one of the most beautiful and unique ballparks in the majors serving us in Houston. The sliding roof is an important feature. By keeping the roof open during pleasant weather days, and by opening it up at fair times in the late innings, the variation helps to keep the everyday experience of a day at the park from taking on the same look as all others.

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12 Responses to “Minute Maid Park: Open or Closed?”

  1. D Stewart Says:

    I think the WS was the other way in that the Astros wanted to close the roof and MLB said no. The advantage would be gained with the roof closed. I think the big reason was though that MLB wanted aerial views on the stadium.

  2. Bob Hulsey Says:

    Actually, Bill, it was just the opposite. Some had noted the Astros had a better record with the roof closed and wanted to continue that mojo into the World Series but Bud Selig ordered the roof be open. And Houston lost both games with the roof open.

    Open-air baseball is nice in April and maybe October but give me AC the rest of the year. It’s great that we now have a choice but, frankly, Houston summers are best compatible with indoor baseball.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      “Open-air baseball is nice in April and maybe October but give me AC the rest of the year. It’s great that we now have a choice but, frankly, Houston summers are best compatible with indoor baseball.” – Bob Hulsey

      Bob:

      I couldn’t agree more. I’m just glad we have those early and late season times that we can open the roof to the heavens.

  3. mike Says:

    As a FORMER and longtime Astros season ticket holder, I noticed the last few years that they severely curtailed the practice of opening the roof in late innings. If not eliminated it altogether. I, along with most everyone else, loved the roof opening at the start of the 7th or so. Is this nickle-and-dime Drayton trying to save another few pennies somehow?

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Mike:

      Thanks for bringing up the subject of those less frequent roof rollbacks in the late innings. I can only imagine the extra cost at our house if we opened the windows every summer night and left the AC running. Are the Astros trying to save money by leaving the roof closed? I’m reminded of the classic response of Joaquin Andujar to a question about baseball in general. Remember? Andujar said something like: “I can explain baseball in two words. – ‘You never know.'”

  4. Darrell Pittman Says:

    I think it they have the roof closed too darned much at MMP, even for night games.

    They start closing it too early in the season, and start having it open later in the season than they should.

    That said, I have no argument closing the roof for June-July-August games, but they should open it up after dark if it’s not raining.

    I think they had the roof closed for one or both of the Saturday-Sunday games this past weekend, which is criminal!

    We should be able to enjoy our Spring and Fall more.

  5. Mike McCroskey Says:

    Bud Selig ruled we could not keep the roof closed because the noise level gave Houston an unfair advantage. (He, also, in another great ruling decided we should play our home games in Milwaukee the days after Hurricane Ike; so our players could concentrate on baseball instead of their destroyed homes and distressed families in Houston……we were no hit).

    The opening of the roof in the seventh inning was an early ploy to save money. Numerous complaints stemming from this practice by both fans and players led its discontinuation. (It is actually more expensive to keep the roof closed the entire game). I can remember how quickly ice in the soft drinks would melt and how fast a beer would get hot, when the roof opened and the temperature would soar from the 70’s into the 90’s.

    Billy Wagner would complain regularly about having to pitch in the late inning heat. One game I remember clearly was with the somewhat portly Chris Holt pitching a masterful 2 hitter, and then being shelled in the later innings as the roof was opened and the heat got to him. The change was almost immediate. It was often in the low to middle 90’s when the roof was pulled back in the 7th. I am a major fan of air conditioned baseball and I believe the Sugar Land Skeeters will help Houstonians remember why we invented the domed stadium come the summer months of 2012.

  6. bob copus Says:

    I was at game 3 of the world series and the roof was closed a majority of the game….it wasn’t until about the 8th inning that the roof was opened.

  7. Blake Says:

    I was at Game 5 as well, but I do recall the roof being open. I remember this well, as there was light rain coming down. With the roof being opened, this was the first time I’ve been rained on during an ‘Stros game. It was a light rain, and it was brief. Thus, I am not sure if this would of warranted the roof being closed during normal games.

    But we wanted to close the roof, not for the rain, but to allow MM to get a loud, increasing the “home field” effects. In a tight game as it was, it could distracted a pitcher and pumped up one of our hitters. The world may never know, but we wanted the roof closed.

    I believe that the MLB and Selig dictates that the World Series remains as traditional as possible. With the roof being opened at Minute Maid, following tradition of playing with the weather elements. I know that the Diamondbacks weren’t allowed to use their swimming pool in the outfield. As this wasn’t seen as being “traditional”.

  8. Michael McCroskey Says:

    Sorry, Bob Copus, but I think your memory is a bit cloudy. I was, also, at game 3 of the World Series and the roof was definitely opened. Here’s a link to a website that describes the day and recounts Bud Selig’s ruling:

    http://www.baseballparks.com/ws2005-1.asp

    And, hey, my memory’s cloudy about a lot of things.

    Mike

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