Minute Maid Park in Houston

Photo of Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
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Photo of Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz

Minute Maid Park
Formerly:Astros Field
Formerly:Enron Field
Formerly:The Ballpark at Union Station

501 Crawford, Houston, Texas, Downtown 77002
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In the last ten years of the 20th century, many American cities replaced their baseball stadia with new ball parks. Often the new designs looked to the past for inspiration. In cities like Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Dallas, and San Francisco eclectic projects were started to re-ignite enthusiasm for the local teams by bringing the flavor of baseball's history to life through ballpark architecture.

Astros Field is the result of the building frenzy that in the best Disney-esque tradition quantified, encapsulated, and sterilized those memories and served them up in a profitable manner. Some have long complained that these "retroparks" were built not for the fans, but for the team owners to help them line their pockets. Either way, the public responded with increased attendance.

Many were built with domes or retractable roofs to keep the weather delays at a minimum and the profits at a maximum. But in the case of Astros Field, the roof is a necessity. If it wasn't for the world's first domed stadium, the Astrodome, Houston wouldn't have a baseball team at all. It's simply too hot in the Bayou City to play baseball outdoors all summer long. The city can go weeks with stifling humidity. And simply having the roof isn't enough. Seattle built a stadium with retractable roof, but that was primarily to keep the rain off the field. In Houston not only does the roof have to move, the stadium has to be air conditioned, just like the Astrodome.

The roof weighs 8,000,000 pounds and covers 6.5 acres. The two lower panels (528x120 feet) each weigh 2,000,000 pounds, and the upper panel (579x240 feet) weighs 4,000,000 pounds. How fast the roof opens and closes depends on the wind. With no wind, the roof can open in eight minutes. It can be operated in winds up to 40 miles-an-hour, and is expected to last 730 miles before it must be replaced (about 50 years).

There are a number of quirks that make Astros Field special. The building was constructed on the grounds of an old rail yard. As part of the project, the Union Station (Missouri Pacific Railroad) building was renovated and included in the ballpark design. It holds ticketing facilities, restaurants, and gift shops. From the roof of Union Station people can peer into the stadium to watch the game. Even when the roof is closed, it's possible to look through the stadium's 50,000 square foot glass wall to see the action.

In another bow to the stadium's railroading history, there is a very small railway along left field. It's actually an 800-foot stretch of track on top of the left field wall. When the Astros hit a home run a 57-foot-long locomotive blows its whistle and chugs from one side to the other at 10 MPH. Astros Field may be the only stadium with its own railroad engineer to drive the train. The locomotive itself weighs 48,000 pounds and is actually 25% larger than a real train so it can be better seen by the audience. Yes, on occasion it is hit by a home run ball.

Another major quirk is the shape of the field itself. After just a few games the ballpark earned the nickname "Home Run Field." For the first few months visiting teams took great delight in the number and ease with which they hit home runs. Strangely, the Astros were unable to duplicate these feats on their home turf. Because of a number of weird angles, there are some very short distances needed to score home runs. In fact, there are a total of 17 angles that make up the field. That does not include "Tal's Hill," named for Astros general manager Tal Smith. This is one of the most peculiar objects in Astros Field. It is a five-foot tall, 90-foot wide hill in center field. It is considered fair territory and serves no purpose other than to make the ball bounce in strange directions and make the players fall on their butts as they back up to catch fly balls. The hill is punctuated by a flag pole that is also fair territory. If a ball hits the pole it is still in play and the fielder must chase after it. Again, a quirk to make this sometimes boring national pastime a little more interesting for the laymen.

At the time Astros Field opened, it was claimed that the ballpark had the largest scoreboard in Major League Baseball. This may be true, or it may be a bit of hyperbole hearkening back to the days of the original scoreboard in the Astrodome which was, indeed, the largest in baseball. The old scoreboard was taken down to allow for more seating. The current Astros Field scoreboard is 131 feet wide and 35 feet high. Though to the eye it appears divided, it is one continuous display of 92,416 pixels with the left side in monochrome and the right in color. The resolution of the color side, where the animations run, is 352x152. Many of the animations are very well done with state-of-the-art ray tracing. But the one that gets the old-time fans going is a simple set of line drawings of a bull and a cowboy. This animation was retired and sorely missed when the large Astrodome scoreboard was removed. It makes a triumphant return to the hoots and hollers of the fans who remember when two-color line drawings were futuristic. In addition to the main scoreboard, there are four auxiliary scoreboards. One provides closed captioning for the hearing impaired, one alternately displays game statistics and a stock ticker, a third shows the progress of other baseball games being played, and the fourth gives statistics for the batter.

Quick Facts
    >There are 308 toilets in the 25 women's rest rooms.
    >There are 297 toilets in the 24 men's rest rooms.
    >The roof transport system is based on the same system that moves mobile rocket towers for NASA.
    >It is more likely that the roof will be closed during a night game than a day game because during the day the sun holds down the humidity somewhat.
    >The first game played in Astros Field was the Houston Astros versus the New York Yankees. These are the same two teams that participated in the first-ever game in the Astrodome on April 9, 1965.
    >It is said that there is a remote control to operate the train and its whistle located in the team owner's box. It is not known if it has ever been used.
    >The Houston Chronicle reports that in the first two seasons of operation, politicians and community groups requested 4,000 tickets for the suite set aside for public officials. The tickets were worth about $100,000.00, but the people in the seats ate $155,000.00 worth of food. Taxpayers paid for it.
    >November, 2001 - With the collapse of Enron questions have been raised about the name of Enron Field. The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority plans to keep the baseball park named Enron Field as long as Enron keeps making its $30,000 payments. How long those payments continue is up to a federal bankruptcy court.
    >6 February, 2002 - KTRH(AM) reports the Houston Astros have gone to court to get out of the naming rights contract for what is now Enron Field. The Astros contend that being associated with the scandal-ridden company is hurting their image. Enron has chosen to keep making payments on the naming rights, in spite of its bankruptcy. The Astros worry Enron might try to sell those rights to someone else.
    >27 February, 2002 - Houston Astros have repurchased naming rights to their ballpark from the collapsed Enron corporation. The team will pay Enron $2,100,000.00 to get out of the 30-year agreement.
    >28 February, 2002 - Workers have begun the process of de-Enroning Houston's downtown ballpark. Just a day after announcing that the Astros will buy back naming rights to the stadium, crews descended on the park taking down the easy signs, and covering up the harder ones that will need special equipment.
    >10 March, 2002 - KRIV (channels 26 and 27) reports that Compaq Computer is in negotiations to buy the naming rights to Astros Field. However, this is complicated by the fact that Compaq is in the process of merging with Hewlett Packard.
    >28 March, 2002 - The Houston Astros eliminate the last remaining trace of Enron at the downtown ballpark. The "Enron Field" clock faces on the clock tower are covered up.
    >5 June, 2002 - Minute Maid has been awarded naming rights to the downtown ball park. The juice company will pay $100,000,000.00 over the next 28 years. The unit of Cocoa-Cola beat out Landry's seafood, Conoco, Hewlett Packard, and mercifully, Gallery Furniture for the naming rights to what will now be called Minute Maid Park.
    >23 July, 2002 - The first letter of the new "Minute Maid Park" sign is unveiled. Not surprisingly, it's an "M" illuminated by 240 feet of neon.
    >20 August, 2002 - The new Minute Maid Park center field scoreboard is unveiled.
    "In Houston they have decided to change the name of Enron Field in wake of the company going bankrupt. The new name of the field will be 'Oh My God, We Are So Screwed! Field'"

    Comedian Conan O'Brien January, 2002

    "This place is incredible. We didn't spend two innings in our seats, because we wanted to walk around and see everything it had to offer. We walked around the interior of the stadium . What a great place to watch baseball. I don't know that I've ever seen a baseball stadium I was more impressed with."
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner, Rich McKay Houston Chronicle 16 May, 2002
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