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Best of 2015: #8, Tal’s Hill

Minute Maid Park

We end 2015 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #8: The Houston Astros make plans to remove Tal’s Hill from Minute Maid Park — a move eventually postponed.

Under owner Jim Crane, the Houston Astros have made yearly changes to Minute Maid Park to enhance the fan experience. One change that’s been discussed for years — since 2012, anyway — is the removal of Tal’s Hill in center field.

Tal’s Hill is named for former Astros exec Tal Smith, who pushed for the inclusion of a terraced center-field area, complete with flagpole in the field of play, 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. (The Fenway Park hill was due to the ballpark design, not as a warning track.) 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.

As you might expect, players either hate or love Tal’s Hill, depending on their appreciation of baseball history or ability to appreciate a ballpark quirk. This was the year the Astros announced Tal’s Hill was going away, replaced by a center-field renovation that includes new group-seating areas, bars and more:

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.

“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.”

In the end, however, Tal’s Hill lives — at least for 2016. The $15-million ballpark renovation project was put on hold: seems the team’s postseason success didn’t provide enough time for construction to be done by the 2016 season opener. To wit:

“Through the bidding process, we determined that the construction timelines to have the ballpark ready for Opening Day 2016 became too risky, and we decided it was in everyone’s best interest to postpone the renovation.” said Astros President of Business Operations Reid Ryan. “The playing field, including Tal’s Hill, will stay the same for the 2016 season. Other potential renovations to the ballpark are being evaluated, and we will announce future plans in the coming months.”

Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2015 List:
#9: The Annual Rickwood Classic
#10, Hartford Yard Goats

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