The Houston Astros today announced $15 million in changes to Minute Maid Park‘s center-field area for the 2016 season: improved seating options, better access and revisions to the playing field, including the removal of Tal’s Hill.
Tal’s Hill is named for former Astros exec Tal Smith, who pushed for the inclusion of an sloped center-field area when the ballpark was being designed. It’s a throwback to the days when there were no warning tracks and hills served a rudimentary purpose: Crosley Field famously featured a similar hill in the outfield, while Duffy’s Cliff was a 10-foot-high hill in front of Fenway Park’s Green Monster through 1933, named for former Red Sox outfielder Duffy Lewis. Similar field-of-play hills still exist: Isotopes Park opened with a similar hill in center field, while Finch Field, home of the High Point-Thomasville HiToms (summer collegiate; Coastal Plain League) has an outfield hill dating back to the ballpark’s use as a MiLB facility.
The flag currently at Tal’s Hill would also be relocated out of the field of play.
The center-field wall would be moved from the current 436 feet to 409 feet, moving Minute Maid Park from the deepest center distance to the sixth-farthest in the American League. The renovations will result in a total of three new bar locations, four additional food locations and a premium group seating area at field level, creating the first and only field-level seating area available at Minute Maid Park. Construction on the new center field area would begin immediately following the conclusion of the 2015 season for the start of the 2016 season.
MSA serves as the lead architecture firm for the project, while Manhattan Construction Company is the construction management partner.
The renovation has already received preliminary approval from Harris County – Houston Sports Authority.
“We are extremely excited about our plans for center field, and are confident that our fans will be as well,” said Astros President of Business Operations Reid Ryan. “Our goal will be to create a unique and entertaining atmosphere for our fans that will include great happy hour spots and spectacular views. It will also be visual, giving the ballpark an exciting, new look.”
“The renovation of center field represents a significant improvement of the fan experience while maintaining the integrity of the game,” said Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow. “The new center field will not only be great for fans, but will make Minute Maid Park an attractive ballpark for current and future players as well.”
Conceptual drawing courtesy of the Houston Astros.