Posts Tagged ‘domed stadiums’

Minute Maid Park: Open or Closed?

April 11, 2011

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.