of fair territory: 109,000 sq. ft.
of foul territory: Large
Houston, Texas 77504
Who Played Here:
Houston Astros (NL); Houston
Oilers (NFL, 1965-96)
Opened: April 12, 1965
Last Astros game: October 9, 1999
Surface: Tifway 419 Bermuda grass (1965); Astroturf (1966 to date)
Architects: Hermon Lloyd & W.B.
Morgan and Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson
Construction: H.A. Lott, Inc.
Owner: Harris County
Cost: $35 million (1965); $60 million (1989 expansion).
First-season attendance: 2,151,470
Worst-season attendance: 858,002 (1976)
Best-season attendance: 2,450,451 (1998)
The summers in Houston, Texas, are grotesquely hot and sticky - too hot to
play or watch baseball. But an entrepreneur named Judge Roy Hofheinz
- the owner of the Houston Astros - conceived of a way to do the
impossible: play baseball in the summer in air-conditioned comfort.
It was Hofheinz's idea to build a gigantic dome, large enough to cover a
baseball field and grandstands for 50,000 people without a single column
obstructing the players' or the spectators' view.
Dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened in 1965 as the Harris
County Domed Stadium, Houston's Astrodome must indeed seemed to have come
from the Space Age. Not only was it the first sports stadium to have
a roof over a playing field, but it also boasted cushioned orange and red
seats, 53 futuristic "Sky Boxes," and a $2-million scoreboard
featuring home run extravaganzas, cartoons, and helpful instructions to
fans. It is the world's first air-conditioned domed stadium for
baseball and football, and also accommodates basketball, boxing,
conventions, rodeos, and almost any other entertainment or sporting event.
Hofheinz lived in a luxuriously furnished apartment inside. His
sports palace featured a natural grass playing field in its first year; the
dome, constructed from 4,796 clear plastic roof panes, allowed direct
sunlight for grass to grow. But during day games the bright Texas
sun blinded fielders trying to catch fly balls, so many of the roof panels
were painted white to soften the glare.
But the reduced light was insufficient to keep the grass alive, and at one
point the dead brown turf was sprayed with green dye. The
Astros were resigned to play the 1966 season on an all-dirt field, until
the Monsanto chemical company proposed using an experimental playing
surface of nylon grass. It was installed and named AstroTurf.
On April 8, 1966 the Astros and Dodgers played baseball's first game on
synthetic grass; the durability and ease of drainage of the new material
made it advantageous even in outdoor venues, and it quickly swept the
sports world, football even more than baseball. A number of the
ballparks that followed used artificial turf - Royals Stadium, Riverfront
Stadium, Three Rivers, Busch Stadium, Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, the
SkyDome, Montreal's Olympic Stadium, and others.
Indeed, the Astrodome is a technological marvel. Its 660-foot-wide
circular roof was the world’s largest self-supporting dome when built,
and its many large restaurants and lounges were unmatched in existing
stadiums. Air-conditioning keeps the Dome’s temperature at a dry
72 degrees and over 90 percent of its seats are upholstered in fabric.
So large is this stadium that an
18-story building would fit inside - it is 710 feet in diameter, and
occupies 9˝ acres of real estate. The playing field is 25 feet
below street level. Lighting up the field requires more electricity
than is used by a city of 9,000 people, and the central air-conditioning
has to circulate 2.5 million cubic feet of air a minute.
The roof is 208' above the playing field at its highest point, high enough
to be beyond the reach of fly balls, although a loudspeaker suspended over
center field was once hit by Mike Schmidt for
the longest single of his career. Over the outfield wall, a huge
American flag hung in dead center field and baseball's largest scoreboard
once ran 474' across the back wall. Both were displaced when seating
decks were added (primarily for football games) in center field in the
1980s. This expansion brought the baseball capacity to nearly
55,000. On June 15, 1976, the Astrodome suffered its only rainout
when torrential storms flooded the nearby streets and made it impossible
to get to the stadium.
In the fall of 1989, a $60
million expansion project enlarged seating capacity in the
Astrodome by extending the upper decks into the outfield and
adding 66 new Sky Boxes on the Club Level. Two external
pedestrian ramps were added to the structure. The floor, which had
been dirt since the stadium first opened in 1965 was concreted and
the Astroturf was replaced with a new Monsanto "Magic
Carpet" system. The Astrodome scoreboard and home run
spectacular were replaced by two Diamond Vision screens, a large
matrix board, two auxiliary matrix boards and a game-in-progress
board. Two manually operated, out-of-town scoreboards giving
inning by inning scores of games in progress, were incorporated
into the outfield wall in 1993.
Most Memorable moments:
Game 6, NLCS - October 15, 1986:
The Astros were down 3-2 in their best of seven series, just two
wins away from reaching their first World Series. Bob
Knepper spun a beat, allowing just 2 hits over 8 innings, but the
Mets rallied to tie it in the 9th. Wally Backman's RBI
single put the Mets ahead 4-3 in the 14th, but Billy Hatcher kept
the Astros alive with a solo homer off the left-field foul pole to
tie the game. In the 16th, the Mets scored three runs and
appeared to have wrapped up a victory, but the Astros rallied
again. Houston scored two runs on RBI hits from Hatcher and
Glenn Davis and had runners at first and third with two outs and
Kevin Bass at the plate. Mets closer Jesse Orosco struck out
Bass to give the Mets a 7-6 a win and wrap up what some consider
the most exciting game in postseason history.
Game 5, NLCS - October 12, 1980:
The first four games on the Phillies-Astros best-of five series
had been nail-biters with the last three games being decided in
extra innings. Game 5 would be no different. The
Astros took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and had Nolan Ryan on
the mound. The Phillies scored twice in the second, but
Houston scored once in the sixth and three times in the seventh to
take a 5-2 lead. The Phillies hit Ryan hard in the eighth
and rallied for a 7-5 lead. Houston came back with two runs
in the eighth, and the Phillies and Astros were back in familiar
territory - extra innings. The Phillies scored a run in the
10th and held on for a thrilling 8-7 win.
Mike Scott No-Hitter to clinch NL West - September 25, 1986:
After going 5-11 for the
Astros in 1984, Mike Scott sought some pitching advice from Roger
Craig, who had just resigned as pitching coach of the Detroit
Tigers. Craig taught Scott how to throw a split-fingered
The pitch helped turn around
Scott's career and along with it the Astros' success. Scott
won the NL Cy Young Award in 1986, and his best game came on this
date - he took the mound with a chance to clinch the NL West title
against the Giants, now managed by Craig. Scott did more
than help the Astros clinch the NL West title; he became the first
pitcher to do so by throwing a no-hitter. The Giants managed
to hit only three of Scott's 103 pitches out of the infield, and
no great defensive plays were needed. Only three batters
reached base - Scott's first pitch struck Dan Gladden in the back,
Chili Davis walked in the second and Phil Oullette walked in the
eighth. Rookie Will Clark grounded out to first for the
final out, and the Astros celebrated a division title and
no-hitter all in the same moment.
Houston vs. UCLA - January 20, 1968: Elvin Hayes scored 39
points, and No. 2 Houston beat No. 1 UCLA 71-69 before a record
crowd of 52,693 in the first nationally televised college
basketball game. Houston never trailed after the first few minutes
of the game and ended the Bruins' 47-game winning streak.
Battle of the Sexes - September 20, 1973:
In one of the most bizarre events staged in sports, 30,472 people
- a world record for attendance for a tennis match - watched
Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 with an
estimated 50 million watching on TV. Riggs, whose
championship days were in 1939, was less a gladiator in a Battle
of the Sexes than he was a a sidekick, a clown prince in a
Evil Knievel (January 9, 1971): More than 41,000 people
watched Knievel set a world indoor motorcycle record by jumping
over 13 cars.
Astros beat Mets in 24 - April 15, 1968: The
Astros beat the Mets 1-0 in 24 innings in one of baseball's
longest games. With the bases loaded and one out in the 24th
inning, Bob Aspromonte hit a groundball that went through the legs
of Mets shortstop Al Weis for an error that scored Norm
Miller. Weis was filling in for Buddy Harrelson, the Mets
regular shortstop, who was out with a sore arm. The game
still is the longest 1-0 game in history and last six hours and
six minutes. Tom Seaver started for the Mets and Don Wilson
for the Astros. Each team had 79 at-bats and 11 hits.
The dimensions of the Astrodome used to
terrify hitters. The power alleys used to stand a frightful
390 feet away, and the fences were originally 16 feet high.
This made the Dome an extreme pitcher's park - this suited fans of
Nolan Ryan just fine, and mediocre pitchers like Bob Knepper in
the mid-1980s and Jose Lima more recently were transformed into Cy
Young candidates. On the other hand, the park kept hitters
like Jose Cruz, Sr., Cesar Cedeno and Glenn Davis, off the radar
screens fans everywhere.
In recent years, the Astrodome still hurt hitters. Although the dimensions of the park were
no longer egregious after 1977, when the power alleys were reduced
from 390 feet to 375 feet (the 16-foot fences were reduced to 10
feet), hitters continued to complain that
the ball didn't seem to carry well at all. This is particularly true
when the air conditioning system was off, because poor air
circulation didn't help hitters at all. Hitters also
complain that visibility here is poor, and that they have trouble
picking up the rotation of the baseball once it is released from
the pitcher's hand. Of course, facing Nolan Ryan, J.R.
Richards, Mike Scott, Jose Lima or Mike Hampton doesn't help your
ability to see the ball, but the generally high number of
strikeouts here relative to other parks backs up the claim.
Any hitter with power had a
very tough time in this ballpark. Perhaps the major casualty
was Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, whose 1999 splits follow:
Batting Average Home
field (E), Fannin Street; third base (N), Old Spanish Trail; home plate
(W), Kirby Drive; first base (S), South Loop Freeway/Interstate 610.
About 15 min. from Enron Field.
Dimensions - History
lines: 340 (1965), 330 (1972), 340 (1977), 330 (1985), 325 (1992), 330
(1993), 325 (1994)
alleys: 375 (1965), 390 (1966), 378 (1972), 390 (1977), 378 (1985),
375 (1992), 380 (1993), 375 (1994)
field: 406 (1965), 400 (1972), 406 (1977), 400 (1985)
of dome: 208
60.5 (1965), 67 (1990), 52 (1993).
and right field: 16 ft (9 concrete below 3 wire, 2 concrete, and 2
wire plus railing, 1965); 12 ft (concrete, 1969); 10 ft (concrete, 1977);
10 ft (canvas, 1990); 19.5 ft (concrete, 1991); 10 ft (canvas, 1992)
foul poles and scoreboards: 8 ft (canvas, 1994)
16 ft (canvas, 1994)
field: 12 ft (concrete, 1965); 10 ft (concrete, 1977); 10 ft (padded,
54,816 (baseball); 62,439 (football).
HR factor in majors from 1996 to 1998
strikeouts more than any other major league park, suggesting that
lighting and hitting backdrop are the most important reasons why it is
a pitcher's park.
June 10, 1974, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Mike Schmidt hit a
public-address speaker 117 feet above and 329 feet distant from home
plate-what would have been a 500-plus-foot homer ended up a single as
the ball dropped in center field.