brewers baseball and things

home sweet houston

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I never saw Willie Mays play, but I hear he may have been the greatest ballplayer to ever live. The praise is filled with wonder more than numbers and it’s highly contagious.

Suddenly it’s 1954 and I’m standing in the hollow of Coogan’s Bluff hoping to see Mays race back on a fly ball with my own eyes. Thecoogans massive outfield cannot be completely seen, but I don’t care. I look to the right or maybe it’s to the left and there’s the “Sugar Hill” Fats Domino sang about in “Take the A train.”

Anything seems possible and the Polo Grounds feel untouchable and then suddenly it’s all gone. I walk among the ruins and the smell is strangely delicious, like something new. This must be a sin. I keep my revery to myself as I sneak out of town. I must have walked a long time because a newspaper tumbles up to my ankles and it says 1992.

Baltimore is breaking ribbons to celebrate a brand new retro style stadium-Camden Yards. Owners take notice and build retro stadiums of their own. Only Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field remain untouched. They need no retro-fication. They’re already classics. Oakland’s multipurpose Coliseum also still stands.  It’s where foul territory is a diamond unto itself and souvenir pop flies become easy outs and a pitcher’s best friend.

HillinCFI walk and walk all over America and see traces of yesterday in stadium facades, but only in Houston are the dimensions bizarre and asymmetrical enough to really evoke some time travel. There is no three acre outfield but Minute Maid Park’s center field stretches 436 feet and is suddenly interrupted by an embankment and a flag pole.

Tal’s Hill is named after former Astros President Tal Smith. The incline is 90 feet and modeled after Cincinnati’s Crosley Field and other parks that no longer exist.

The left center field alley is also over 400 feet, but down the line, it shrinks to 315 with a 19 foot home run fence. This Minute Maid Park is truly a strange place, a real retro look where it matters most; on the actual field. This place has the potential to be a slug fest or a 1-0 pitcher’s duel.

And yet Astro players past and present have pointed their  fingers at management. “Bring the center field fence in closer! Remove the flag pole and the embankment!” Well, they weren’t whining in 2005 when the Astros made it to the World Series.

The opposition says it’s dangerous and impossible to prepare for, but isn’t that the whole idea of home field advantage? The Yankees have their schmaltzy traditions, big pocket books and media zoo. Why shouldn’t the Astros preserve a climate of not so friendly confines? Cripes. They’ve lost 100 games for three consecutive years. They have nothing to lose. Why not add a similar obstacle somewhere in the infield and train Astro players to turn a nuisance into a competitive advantage?

The Astros have an impressive tradition of winning excellence at home since entering the league in 1962. In fact, they rank 6th all time in highest home wining percentage-.550. That’s based on teams from 1945 and up. Their previous venue-the Astrodome was a glorious place for pitchers and so the Astros focused on pitching.

dexter

And maybe now it’s time to focus on obstacles and how to get around them. The Astros don’t spend much money these days, but they did sign Dexter Fowler a few weeks ago. The former Colorado Rockie is 6’4,” runs fast, plays center field and is probably in for the time of his life. Not even Willie Mays can say he ran up an embankment and around a flag pole to snare a deep fly ball.

To be continued….

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Author: Steve Myers

I grew up in Milwaukee and have been a Milwaukee Brewers baseball fan for as long as I can remember.

11 thoughts on “home sweet houston

  1. Three comments—-

    1. Steve, you are a great writer, and it would be a tragic waste if your works didn’t get published for the non “blog” world. (which is most people).

    2. I hate to correct you, and maybe you were just using poetic license, but I did a little bit of research, and I can’t find any evidence that Fats Domino ever recorded “Take The A Train.”

    3. About those ballparks like Minute Maid Park and such. They are self-conscious, artificial, phony. “Retro” says it all. It’s kind of like when I was young, my parents used to buy “Early American Furniture.” to fill their living room. Yeah, it looked nice. I’ll say that.

    But there’s a big difference between “antiques” (authentic) and “Early American” (NOT authentic). The difference is that antiques are old-looking because they ARE old.

    Ya know how they were able to call these newly-made lamps and stuff “Early American”? By taking a hammer to it and banging the hell out of it, and putting holes and black markings on it. Maybe burning it a little here and there. Maybe even using a submachine gun on the lamps.

    That’s the way it is with the “quaint” dimensions of a “Minute Maid Park” or a “Camden Yards” or a “Citi Park” (of whose artificially “quaint” deep left-center field fence had the “classy” David Wright hooting and hollering and whining at management about moving it in several feet because he wasn’t hitting enough home runs. (Can you imagine Stan Musial doing that?)

    But it’ll never be like the real thing, like the ivy at Wrigley Field, the strange hills in the outfield at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, not even the old and nutty line on the walls in left field and right field at Shea Stadium that, if the ball went over it, it constituted a home run, until they changed it in the early 80s. It caused consternation among managers, creating arguments with umpires left and right.

    THOSE Things were unintentional and inadvertent; the “retro” stadiums are self-consciously quaint; they ain’t the real thing.

    Speaking of “the real thing, here’s Duke Ellington and “Take The A Train” in all its glory (the song, not the train.)

    Glen Russell Slater

  2. Soon we will be reminiscing about the poop in the Oakland dugouts…..”our ancestors sure were gritty…”
    Seriously though, if you are interested in older ballparks I would recommend the lower minor leagues.

    • Thanks Gary. If i pass through any towns with lower minor league stadiums, I’m gonna definitely go. I also hope to go to PNC park one of these years and Minute Maid as well. Ah screw it, i’m just gonna dream of winning a a winnebago and a small middle eastern country. Then I could take a trip to every stadium.

  3. The thing about Dexter Fowler is that he’s cheap, and if he hits the flag pole on a dead run it’s not a huge investment.

    The things I remember about Forbes Field (I got there just under the wire, catching a Bucs-Cubs game on the park’s last weekend) is that is right in the middle of an actual neighborhood, with shops and bars and restaurants all around it. I also remember that they kept the batting cage out in center field during games, because it was 457′ to dead center, and who could reach it anyway?

    • W.k. That’s amazing that you were in Forbes Field. I read about that batting cage in center field. It’s sort of the same situation in Houston in that management is saying what’s the difference if we keep or remove the flag pole. It’s so far away anyway.

  4. What I love about this blog is how you start my mind going down a branch line. All these baseball teams that leave one place for another – is there any archeological trace of the stadiums they left behind? The corner of a diamond, like the remaining piece of banking at Brooklands motor racing circuit.

    • Thanks Marie. I’m glad you enjoy these posts. I would imagine there’s commemorative signs for most forgotten parks. I can only speak of the few I’ve seen like the plaques for Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and my favorite which has no corner of a diamond, just old men on park benches remembering Jarry Park where the Montreal Expos first played. And always that Frank Sinatra song “there used to be a ballpark.”

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