Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This Day in Baseball History - Grass in the Astrodome

When the Houston Astrodome first opened in April of 1965, the field consisted of real, live grass, specially developed for indoor use. It received sunlight through transparent panels in the Astrodome roof. However, those clear panels made it difficult for Astros* outfielders to pick up the ball in flight. On May 23, with two out and two on, San Francisco third baseman Jim Ray Hart hit a routine fly ball to speedy center fielder Jimmy Wynn**. But he couldn’t see the ball and it fell for an inside the park home run. Instead of retiring the side three runs were in.

Grass, but an enclosed roof. A novel idea.
The next day, they painted the ceiling white. In a less than stunning surprise, the grass quickly died. Houston spent the rest of the season playing on dead grass, painted green. An artificial surface called ‘Astroturf’ was installed for the following season and indoor baseball  and football stadiums would follow this pattern until the Arizona Diamondback’s Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field) opened in 1998 as the first retractable roof stadium in the US.

The Astrodome was the first, enclosed multi-purpose stadium and dubbed ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’ when it opened, featuring a $2 million scoreboard (that was a big deal). By the time the Astros left in 2000 for Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park), it was viewed as an ungainly albatross and certainly not cool. But it was a revolution in the nineteen sixties. I saw an NFL game there in the nineties. It  didn’t have much charm and it certainly paled in comparison to the Astros game I saw a few years later at Minute Maid.

* The Astros were named the Houston Colt 45’s for their first three seasons (1962-1964). The team was renamed for the stadium in 1965. Teams had been named after players, managers, traffic conditions (the Dodgers were the Trolley Dodgers) and many other things, but a stadium might have been a first.

**Wynn’s nickname was ‘The Toy Cannon.’ He was only 5’-10” but his bat had a big pop. It didn’t hurt that it also served as a play on the Colt 45’s name.

Wynn played center field for the Dodgers in 1974 and 1975, making the all-star team both years. This is when I began following baseball and he was one of my favorite players. He hurt his shoulder during the ’75 season and was out of baseball by 1978. He is one of many very good but not quite great players from the sixties and seventies.

Wynn garnered Comeback  Player of the Year in 1974,
helping the Dodgers to the World Series.

1 comment: