As children we want everything. We want sledding in the summertime, hot fudge on cold ice cream, and tall dogs that talk and tell us neat things. When the Astros’ new ballpark broke ground back in 1997, then owner Drayton McClean not only oversaw the construction of a cutting-edge new stadium that would pump life into Houston baseball for years to come, he also watched as the whims of his childhood came to fruition.
Minute Maid Ballpark (which actually took years to complete,) is not quite inside, yet not quite outside. The grass is also turf but the turf is also grass– and the Astros are the first organization to use this revolutionary product, known as “turfgrass.” Right field takes on the look of a grand baseball cathedral with two full decks of stadium seating along with a modern jumbo screen. In contrast, left field, a mere 315-foot-pop-up away, features limestone arches paying homage to Houston’s old Union Station, with a quaint choo-choo train that chugs on to the tracks every time the home team goes deep. Also the stadium can be fully air conditioned, but nobody asks them to close their windows.
The stadium, however, was not yet complete without a ridiculous hill in center field; a hill to use as a launching pad for the most spectacular home run-robbing catch you’ve ever seen, a hill to run up whilst making a basket catch, or a hill to plop a fly ball on top of while rounding the bases for a memorable inside-the-parker. But watch out, there is a flag pole sitting atop the hill; a flag pole to end the career of the center fielder going for that most spectacular catch, a flag pole that can rob you of a 435-foot home run, a flag pole that, if you haven’t already, makes you say what – the – fuck.
It was all there for McClean– the grand paradox of the everything stadium, the nothing team, and The Hill. All he had to do was sit and watch the spectacle from his left-field luxury box, and watch he did. He watched the Cubs and Reds fly out to shallow center, coming up 150 feet short of The Hill. He watched the Rockies walk-off on a squeeze play, the Marlins slap the ball the other way, and Bobby Cox make so many double-switches in a row it made him nauseous. At one point Lance Berkman made a play that was reminiscent of when your slightly overweight uncle made a surprising catch during a fun family get-together, but also almost got hurt, so everybody decided they should call it a day. The Hill just wasn’t quite happening as he had planned.
“Do I have any regrets?” McClean mused while speaking with reporters following the sale of the team to Houston businessman Jim Crane. “I saw the club go to it’s first World Series, broke attendance records in the new ballpark, and profited almost $500 million dollars on the sale… but no, I never witnessed a center fielder leap off The Hill, catch a would-be home run, fly into the flagpole, break his neck yet hang on to the ball to win the game, so yes, today I am full of profound regret.”
While McClean fades into obscurity apparently full of profound regret, Astros’ new owner Crane looks towards the future with nothing but high hopes. “Moving The Hill along with the Astros to the AL West is sure to provide us all with years and years of hill action in the land of the DH,” said Crane, beaming with satisfaction. “To further liven up the outfield experience we have set in motion a plan to replace the warning tracks with moats and the basepaths with tar sands. This is truly a great day for Houston baseball.”