After much discussion, the Houston Astros are now moving forward with plans to remove Tal’s Hill, which will be taken out of Minute Maid Park before next season.
For much of the last year, it appeared that the Astros would remove the centerfield slope and renovate the area. In a project that is similar to the one shown above, the centerfield fence would be moved in to create additional space for a new bar, food, and field-level seating areas. The Astros decided last fall to wait another year before pursuing that plan, allowing Tal’s Hill to serve out the 2016 campaign.
When Minute Maid Park first opened in 2000, it included the man-made hill at the suggestion of Tal Smith. Smith, who was an Astros executive at the time, noted that the hill could be an homage to early 20th century ballparks such as Crosley Field and to bygone features such as Duffy’s Cliff at Fenway Park.
The hill, which included a flag pole that was in play, has lasted through this season despite safety concerns voiced by players and team officials. Though Smith now says that he thought the hill could be removed after Jim Crane purchased the Astros from Drayton McClane, he admits that he initially expected it become a signature feature within the ballpark. The Astros, for their part, are looking ahead at what they will do with the space. Via the Watertown Public Opinion:
Smith expected Houston’s hill would create the type of iconic association that Wrigley Field’s ivy, Fenway Park’s Green Monster and Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park have with their cities. He also argued it would deepen the fence to 436 feet, the farthest in the majors, to compensate for the near, hitter-friendly walls in left and right fields.
Like McLane, former Astros employees are hill loyalists. Mike Donovan, the project manager from Populous, credits Smith’s imagination for stoking the group’s idea for the locomotive above left field. Former broadcaster Brett Dolan liked how much visiting teams had to adjust: the near walls in the corners made legging out doubles difficult and deep center opened up room for bloopers.
Larry Dierker, who managed the Astros in the Astrodome and Enron Field from 1997 to 2001, thought the hill was “an odd touch,” but he appreciated its unique effects.
“Removing it is a continuation of a trend to homogenize the sport,” he said. “They’ve covered (stadiums) all up with advertising and electronic media and wireless and everything. They’re these electronic profit centers. It’s sad to me. I’m an old guy. I asked my son and my daughter if this bothers them, and it doesn’t bother them a bit.”
The hill debate divided along old school and new school perspectives like so many baseball disputes.
“Millennials have different demands,” Ryan said. He explained that high-speed Internet, craft beer, televisions broadcasting different games and multiple spots to lounge are essential accoutrements these days. The Astros will spend $15 million on the renovations. “The area that was best for that is centerfield. And thus why we take down Tal’s Hill.”
The Astros will play their final regular season home game on Wednesday. Aside from a special offer in which fans can have their picture taken on the hill, the Astros are incorporating a unique touch on the bases that will be used for the game:
Today is the final regular season game with Tal's Hill at Minute Maid Park. Our bases feature a special farewell. pic.twitter.com/fYDtdKvmoV
— Mike Acosta (@AstrosTalk) September 28, 2016