Goodbye Tal’s Hill

Tal’s Hill, Minute Maid Park, Houston.

The closing paragraph of today.s “Astros Report” on page C8 of the Friday, August 17, 2012 Houston Chronicle sports section pretty much says it all. Astros owner Jim Crane is reported saying that the club has been busy soliciting fans’ opinions on the future of Tal’s Hill in center field.

According to the article, Crane reports that fans have said “they don’t see a lot of sense in having that 436 (-foot fence) in center. We”re looking at a design that would incorporate some other things out there. We would use that space for a lot of different things.”

Other things like what, Mr. Crane? More seats that are too small to sit in without getting married to the two people on either side of you? Two or three more aisles that are so narrow that everyone has to stand when one person in the middle leaves to buy a hot dog? Another over-priced restaurant that everyone quickly learns to avoid? More advertising space, or perhaps, a center field corral of Chick Filet cattle? And, hey, bringing center field back to something like 390 feet and a better match for the short porches in left and right?

OK, I’ll back off this much to say: Please take anything i say on this subject with a huge grain of salt, Mr. Crane. It’s your ball club and money at risk here, not mine. I’m just one of those people who like liked the idea of Tal’s Hill in the first place and also the fact that it is one of the traditional and characteristic quirky  features of our unique venue in Houston. I also liked the guy it was named for. Tal Smith will always be the real father of Houston major league baseball and I will always believe that he and the Hill are both very much deserving of more respect than they have been getting from this transitional period.

Boston Fenway has the Green Monster. Chicago Wrigley has the ivy wall. Both are traditions – something that rarely, if ever, gets fed in Houston, but we had the makings of it in Tal’s Hill and that deep center field dimension. Those fans who haven’t been around baseball long enough to see it need to take another look at the rationale for that deep and spacious middle pasture. The “436” in center takes away almost all of the band box taunts we get from out-of-towners because of the Crawford Boxes – or the almost as short wall in right. The current distances make MMP like a modern-day Polo Grounds – one that just awaits only time and circumstance some day to bring us a play that will stand up in history as a memory rival to Willie’s famous “The Catch” in the World Series of 1954.

Just don’t tell us that Tal’s Hill will be coming out because most of the real Houston fans want it out. You either haven’t talked to enough fans, or you’ve been talking to fans who are ready to tell you what they think you already want to hear. It’s easy to see that happening.

If Tal’s Hill comes out, as it now appears you have already decided it will, just say it’s because that’s the way you want it. We can handle the truth. We just don’t have to like it.

As Tal’s Hill goes, a lot of us will grieve over the latest lost opportunity to preserve a little tradition in Houston.  Call off the demolition of Tal’s Hill and give tradition a chance in Houston. If you can’t do that much, then give us the space to grieve its loss and, while you’re at it, if you could give us more comfortable seating room and aisle space in the nosebleed section now, you might even win the eventual battle with HD home TV viewing comfort that is now totally lost to the currently overwhelming attractions of the latter option.


17 Responses to “Goodbye Tal’s Hill”

  1. Robert Rodriguez Says:

    Mr. McCurdy,
    This is Robert Rodriguez I lost my cell phone with your contact info. Could you please contact me directly, I wanted to share some sad news with you.

    Robert Rodriguez
    District Sales Coordinator-TXSC

  2. shaun bijani Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. People that want certain things or think and believe certain things are going to gravitate towards people they know will share same opinions. However that’s not to say crane has concerned himself with that, its “his” team and certainly his and the other 50 some odd owners money. Tals hill seperates MMP from the other parks…it is apart of its history and tradition, its always been there. No one I can think of more importantly has been injured because of the hill. Forget about the great plays and catches that have been made by the opposition, but there have been some terrific, memorable catches by biggio, berkman, bourn and others on that hill. Doing away with it would be a mistake. Doing away with train is a bad idea as well…for what to add more space for advertising. As ozzie guillen would say….pssssh please!

  3. Patrick Lopez Says:

    I agree , keep Tal’s hill , I still remember Cincinnati’s Crosely’s Field back in 1948 , Joe Adcock climing up the terrace to spear a Del Ennis shot to left field , perseving a rare win over Robin Roberts and the Phillies ,A tough feature for the players , “the hill” wrapped totally around the outfield ,2 Days earlier , Duke Snider robbed the Reds with two over the head catches in the same inning climing that terrace , a leaping catch , holding on , than falling to the turf it was a vision to see, an unforgerable experience for a eleven year old kid from Texas.
    Some of the great outfielders of the 1940’s studdied and knew the demands on that unique terrace ,It added spice and interest to a long summer everyday grind of a baseball season in Cincinnati .
    Do not destroy Tal’s Hill , celebrate it .

  4. Doug S. Says:

    The Astros are my second favorite team and I like the late Jose Lima thought “Oh my God” when I saw LF at MMP. That was a mistake to make the Crawford Boxes that large I think they should have been about half the size they are. I can handle the short Homers down the line but simply cringe at the cheapies to the Left-Center side. I learned to understand though that the CF dimensions with the addition of skillful pitching (ala Oswalt) could help alleviate the joke of the oversized Crawford Boxes.

    I personally have never liked the hill due to the possibility of injury (maybe it hasn’t occured but I think that is more luck than the fact the hill is safe). I also always had thought it was gimmick that would someday be removed.

    IMO the tradition of Houston’s ballpark was lost when they moved out of the Dome. I loved the Dome – the seats were padded / wider / the AC was awesome whereas at MMP in the upper deck it always seems to feel about 80 and with two others people right against you even warmer at times.

    The Train I have always felt was a nice touch as it tied directly to Union Station.

    Maybe they could have built the retracable roof to more resemble the old Dome design to keep that tradition alive and not try steal ideas that Crosley Field (terraced OF) / Fenway Park (high wall in LF) / Tiger Stadium (with Flag Pole in play) were all known for.

    Lastly I don’t take it as a swipe at Mr. Smith but rather that Mr. Crane is making his own choices and at least he is supposedly taking input from the fan groups.

  5. Mark Says:

    Here’s how it works: first you dismantle long-standing traditions, (which as you astutely note, are hard to come by in the newish city of Houston). For example, you talk about re-naming the team. Then you unload all the players with any kind of link to the past, fan appeal, and of course talent, like Michael Bourn, Lance Berkman, and Hunter Pence. Then you take a team with a 112 year history in the National League – that has NO offense and very little pitching – and you move it to the DHing American League. Then you remove a central identifying feature like Tal’s Hill or the train or Larry Dierker’s restaurant. Maybe you pull down all the retired numbers and put them on a wall near a restroom. Finally, you have a much easier time moving the team to another city due to lack of fan support, because no one’s around who cares anymore.

    This is a prime example for the argument I’ve been making for the past 15 years that there should be federal legislation decalring all existing major league franchises historical landmarks and prohibiting their private re-sale. Current owners would be grandfathered, but all future sales would be restricted to offering the communities in which the team is located the right of first refusal to purchase the franchise. The, like Green Bay owns the Packers, Houston could – if the voters approve – own the Astros, and they would truly be ours.

  6. Patrick Lopez Says:

    Mark just hit a home run ,The Team is being groomed for sale , no fan interest it’s gold . , The right of first refusal a must have for our city aganist the move of our Houston Astros,

  7. Tommy Says:

    I never liked the hill and thought it gimmicky, along with the silly flagpole in regulation field modeled after some other ballpark. The whole Tal’s Hill thing seemed very contrived to me from the get-go. No offense to Tal Hill — I do not tie his legacy to that hill.

    Nothing in that park has been around long enough to make it a “tradition.” As for the long CF dimension, I am ambivalent.

    I think doing away with the train is a mistake; the kids love it, and that is more important, for several reasons, than most people seem to appreciate.

    Winning consistently is the only meaningful “tradition” that can be brought to this franchise. If that happens, then all the bells and whistles of the stadium at that time will start to mean something. Without it, nothing will be meaningful as a tradition.

    Oh, and I do hate the move to the AL.

  8. Bob Hulsey Says:

    Rarely do balls reach the Hill on the fly so whether it is there or not doesn’t factor into too many games. I’ve never liked the idea, though, that the warning track is there and then more field. The track is supposed to clue the fielder that a wall or barrier is fast approaching and to slow down.

    Because it is in dead center, there isn’t much you can replace the Hill with without it affecting the “batter’s eye” so you can forget about advertising or a swimming pool or a see-through fence. It will need to be dark green and not moving, whatever it is.

    So, I’m not really pro or anti-Hill. I think putting a fence in front of it doesn’t change all that much because there won’t be many options one can do with that space (launch fireworks from behind it, perhaps?) It’s mostly just a conversation piece. And so is the train. Useless, but irrelevent.

  9. Bob Hulsey Says:

    p.s. – you wouldn’t want patrons back behind an opaque fence because of the possibility that a home run ball could hit someone who wasn’t able to see it coming. Can you say “law suit”? So, honesty, the space just doesn’t have a whole lot of funtionality.

  10. John Watkins Says:

    Many of the quirks at old ballparks, such as the Green Monster at Fenway, were necessary because the playing fields were shoehorned into the surrounding neighborhoods.

    By contrast, the features at the Astros’ ball yard are wholly artificial. And like the name of the park itself, these features can hardly be called “traditions.”

    In my view, Taj’s Hill is simply an affectation, not to mention a potential danger to all centerfielders. The Crawford Boxes are little more than a device for cheap-shot home runs, much like Charles O. Finley’s “pennant porch” back in Kansas City before he moved the A’s to Oakland. (Old-timers may recall that the Commissioner’s Office made Finley tear down the “porch,” which moved in the right field wall to match the dimensions of Yankee Stadium.)

    We’re not talking about the ivy at Wrigley Field here.

  11. mike Says:

    Level the ground if you like, but Bill is spot on with regards to the dimensions of the playing field. Leave that 436. It’s part of what balances out the other fences. And being reminiscent of the other old parks is the precise point here. That was the entire wonderful movement started with Camden yards. It gets us away from those God awful multi purpose, burtalist concrete, entirely symmetrical parks. Keep the deep center field fence. And personally, I like the hill.

    For all the good will that was felt when we finally got rid of Drayton, are we dealing with someone who again must put money first every time? I certainly hope not. I know Jim Crane understands baseball better than that. Right?

  12. Tom Trimble Says:

    I like Mike. I don’t need the hill itself, although I was proud of Lance Berkman making a catch while prone about half-way up the hill in a game I attended. But I like the deep fence in center, and the first fence dimension I would want changed is in left field. Every time I go to the park I wonder what kind of architectural challenge it would be to get rid of the Crawford boxes. Let’s talk about that, Mr. Crane.
    I realize I’m in the minority, but I miss the dome because it played ‘big.’

  13. Doug S. Says:

    Sorry as this is a little off topic and a conspiracy theory but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bud S. and Nolan R. aren’t doing a feasiblity study of whether OK City can support a MLB team and if it would hurt the Rangers attendance. Would be interesting to know which team has the most fans in the state of OK – Astros / Rangers / Royals / Cardinals? Maybe Cubs or Braves because of early superstations. Even the Yankees from the Mantle or the Reds from the Bench years.

    Back on topic leave the hill behind a new CF wall and put up flagpoles with the retired players numbers who go into the HOF. Which is another topic – I think the Astros have too many retired numbers. IMO retired numbers s/b closely tied to Hall of Fame status. For a quick example excluding Jackie Robinson, Managers or Owners the following teams have this many retired numbers: Cubs 6, Red Sox 7, Cardinals 11, Reds 6 and the Mets (who joined the NL with the Astros) have one (Tom Seaver) unless you want to really stretch it and count Gil Hodges as a player . Sometimes history can be forced a little too fast but to each his own.

  14. Tommy Says:

    +1 Doug. Can’t resist contributing to this particular topic drift. You hit my nerve. The Astros have too many retired numbers (by far) for a team that has not yet won a World Series. It is embarrassing. The Red Sox for instance have 7 retired numbers (excl. J. Robinson) over a 111-year (or so) history that includes 12 penants and 7 World Series titles (there is some tradition for you). The Astros have 9 retired numbers (excl. Robinson) — two more than the Red Sox. Seriously. The Bosox standards are: election to the HOF and at least 10 years as a member of the team (according to their website). Sounds like a reasonable standard to me. Cy Young, who had 8 years with the Red Sox, is NOT a retired number for them. What is the Astros standard? This has a distinct whiff of the “everyone that plays gets a trophy” mentality to me. It is also notable that, of the 7 players who played for the Astros or Colt .45s who have been named to the Hall of Fame, not a single one of them appears on thier HOF plaque in an Astros cap.

    I am an Astros fan, season ticket holder, and hater of the designated hitter. I will always remember the thrill of the second half of the 2005 season, Burke’s home run, and all the rest. Because of this, I would like to see the Astros begin to start acting like something other than an also-ran. This means winning baseball games–not parading a bunch of retired jerseys, and not playing gimmick-ball with the playing field.

  15. Mark Says:

    >>Cy Young, who had 8 years with the Red Sox, is NOT a retired number for them.<<

    Tommy, the first team to regularly use uniform numbers was the New York Yankees in 1929. Cy Young's number never was retired because he never had a uniform number, and neither did such Red Sox Hall of Famers and stand-out players as Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, Duffy Lewis, Larry Gardner, Babe Ruth, Bill Carrigan, Dutch Leonard, Wally Schang, Stuffy McInnis, or Smokey Joe Wood. Add those likely 10, and the Red Sox actually would have 17 retired numbers. The Astros have at least one too few retired numbers: J.R. Richard's number also should be retired.

  16. Michael McCroskey Says:

    I’m on 100% agreement with you on this one, Bill. I feel the same way about the locomotive on the left field wall which I hear may be removed. Makes no sense to me to design a park aprond a railroad theme which was the previous occupant of the site, and then take away it’s most entertaining feature. Also, I know the new signs in left are helping to fund a worthwhile project now, but sure hope they go away once the job is done, and not become a permanent eyesore at the ballpark

  17. Glen Krajca-Radcliffe Says:

    Take down the stupid signage that is blocking the view above left center and blocking the view of the tracks/train/window. I’m all for corporate partners doing good things but the sign looks tacky and like most of the advertising in the park too big cheapening the appeal of a nice stadium.

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