Save Minute Maid Park

Tal's Hill Minute Maid Park Home of the Houston Astros

Tal’s Hill
Minute Maid Park
Home of the Houston Astros

Save Minute Maid Park

Tonight, The Pecan Park Eagle chooses to use this off-day on the Astros’ regular season AL schedule to tilt at a specific windmill, even if the effort amounts to little more than “pi**ing into the wind”. The subject deserves the support of anyone who cares about the preservation of the unique playing surface and fence distances of Houston’s Minute Maid Park – and the accurate history of Houston MLB level baseball. The Astros plan to proceed with the postponed plan to remove Tal’s Hill and the in-play flagpole it contains after the 2016 season, ostensibly for the safety of players, even though no center fielder has been injured beyond an occasional fall by either feature in the 17 seasons these features have been in play since the park first opened in 2000.

We safely presume that the real reason for this removal of what makes MMP unique among all big league parks is not player safety, but the club ownership’s desire to convert that 30 some odd deep and wide space in far center field into retail space and new revenue streams for the organization. We get that. And they have every right to look for new ways to streamline and expand their revenue avenue for the sake of a competitive and expensive MLB operation, but not if it cheapens the value of the game that is played on the team’s home ground – or the history of the franchise. “The Hill” was named for Tal Smith, the man who did more than any other administrative person over the first fifty years to raise and develop all that happened for Houston during our long tenure in the National League.

In brief, here’s what we think is important to the issues raised by the current plan for the removal of Tal’s Hill:

  1. The elimination of Tal’s Hill is matched, if not surpassed, by the damage of bringing those fences in from 436′ in deep center to about 405′ feet as the deepest depth reading. With the left field line already at 315 feet and right field set at 325 feet, MMP becomes a band box for a plethora of cheap and boring home runs. Anyone who tries to tell us differently hasn’t done a careful precise study of the actual home run percentage increase that shall occur as a result of this change. Neither have we. Do a one year study of ball flights and departure heights that is congruent with the actually proposed distance and fence heights of the new fences and prove us wrong.
  2.  All we know for sure is that the beautiful triple by Marwin Gonzales that scored George Springer from first base last night with the go-ahead run against the Angels was one of the most exciting plays one could ever hope to see on any baseball field. Since that ball landed high on the wall above Tal’s Hill, we know for sure that under the propose new shorter dimensions, it would have been simply another routine and uninspiring home run.
  3.  Converting the venue into a redundant homer park deprives smart pitchers like Dallas Keuchel from having the kind of season he experienced in 2015. Like others, Keuchel learned that getting hitters to loft those high flies to dead center’s death valley was his compensatory salvation for those short porches in left and right. Turn center field also into a “normal” MLB center field and the edge is lost for our pitchers’ developed home cooking style of keeping that ball in play through the center as much as possible. Visiting pitchers don’t have the time to wise up to this strategy. If we do not preserve the center field edge, we may as well forget about seeing any future Astros pitcher breaking Keuchel’s consecutive wins record at home without a loss.
  4. As for the Tal’s Hill features themselves, please leave them alone. The hill – the in-play flagpole – and the man that area is named for – Tal Smith. – He is part of our rich history.
  5. We shall presume that you shall find a spot for Tal Smith in that Astros Hall of Fame and Museum we understand you are planning to build at MMP. We also think you are doing a wonderful thing by that move, and that you are aware that leaving Tal Smith out of any Houston Baseball Hall would be on the oversight level of leaving Alexander Cartwright out of the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.
  6. We also hope the Astros will consider locating their Astros Hall of Fame and Museum in that area behind home plate that is accessible to the Texas Avenue entrance, one block east of its intersection with Crawford Avenue. The fans will love it – and history will remember all of you who acted to preserve and respect our rich Houston baseball history in an accurate manner.
  7. Thank you for your time here. Your attention to these important specific issues is imperative to the job of helping the preservation movement that now is alive and well in Houston in so many ways. We are no longer the city that simply tears down or throws away viable continuity and  history when its time to make money in some new way – and without regard for all the still practical viability (the deep center fences, for example) and history that we take to the trash in the process of serving short term cash needs.
  8. Readers, please make your opinion known – here and to the Astros.
  9. In summary, the Tal’s Hill issue is a two-headed snake. (a) it’s about preserving the integrity of our unique stadium history; and (b) it’s about keeping the distances in center field that make MMP unique and extremely important to our Astros pitchers.

Respectfully Submitted,

The Pecan Park Eagle


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas




14 Responses to “Save Minute Maid Park”

  1. Michael McCroskey Says:

    One of my most vivid memories of hundreds of games I have seen at Minute Maid was a game against the Dodgers. Eric Gagne was well into the latter portion of his record 84 consecutive converted saves streak. It was a hot day with the roof open. Lance Berkman hits one over the fence into the dining area just right of dead center for what would have been a walk off homerun; but the Dodger center fielder runs up Tal’s Hill and leaps and reaches over the fence to makes a spectacular catch above the fence line just in front of a startled dining patron. Newspapers commented the next day that if that play had occurred in New York, the center fielder would have come down without his arm!
    Andruw Jones of the Braves misplayed a fly ball because of the hill, into a triple. The next batter, who I believe was Caminiti, hit one in almost the exact same spot. Jones fell down on this one, but made the catch while sitting. Run scored on the sac fly. Berkman, also, made a falling down catch at a game I was at. That one was replayed often on the scoreboard highlight films.
    Point being, like Gonzales triple, the deep center field and Tal’s Hill have provided many memorable plays over the years. Home runs are fun, but unless they’re akin to Billy Hatcher’s 14th inning
    playoff homer at the Dome, they don’t stick with you as long.
    I hope the powers that be change their mind about the proposed changes.

  2. gregclucas Says:

    Like Bill I am MOST concerned about taking away the part of the park pitchers can try to “pitch to”. With CF being a routine 405 or so and more importantly some of LCF also reduced MMP will be a true “band box.” Any discussion about the hill is as Bill indicated just an excuse. It is not and never had been a threat to injure anyone. Removing it or not is the Astros call, just don’t try to justify it for “safety” reasons. However, I am much more concerned with the effect shorter distances overall would have on the play of the games themselves. Perhaps a trade off by shaving off at least the first two or three rows of the Crawford boxes to help counter balance the loss of CF? Haven’t heard that suggested, but it would allow the park to play at least a little bigger. They could put some of those seats into a special section on the track level (there is room) to make up for what is lost lower. And it would be a unique spot.

  3. gregclucas Says:

    By the way, the Dodgers play that Mike was referring featured their current manager. He made the catches which impressed me so much I sought him out after the game since they were the best I had ever (and still have ever) seen in CF at MMP.

  4. jeff share Says:

    I want to see it removed. It serves no viable purpose other than being a novelty and depriving hitters of a well-earned home run.

  5. shinerbock80 Says:

    What makes baseball different from other games (as much as the sometimes idiots in the MLB offices try to be just like the NFL and NBA) is that most playing areas have unique attributes that will affect the action of the game. It is what separates baseball from the rest. It’s what creates a home field advantage in many cases, including this.

    And anyone who fails to realize that a triple is much more interesting and exciting than a home run definitely hasn’t watched much baseball.

  6. Tom Hunter Says:

    Who is responsible for making the final decision about razing Tal’s Hill and moving the center field wall in closer to home plate. Is there someone we could write to register our objections. The club listened to complaints about the outfield advertising that obscured the view and moved the signs to the wall. Maybe they would listen if enough of us mounted a campaign to keep the distance to the center field wall the same.

  7. Anthnony Cavender Says:

    The Houston Sports Association may still have a say in this. However, the Astros’ lease may give the team the right to make these changes, subject to league approval. Do you think that these playing conditions would satisfy OSHA?

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  9. Bob Hulsey Says:

    I’m not particularly swayed in either direction because I don’t see the Hill brought into play that often. I will say, however, that if they shorten CF, they should compensate elsewhere such as removing the Astros bullpen and putting it next to the Visitors bullpen then removing the first few outfield rows in right field.

    Also, making the yellow home run line high off the batters backdrop would allow CF to “play deep” even if the fielder can’t run under it, he would have to play the carom which can sometimes be exciting.

    Putting a Hall of Fame and community activity center behind/under the backdrop is also a good idea.

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