After threatening to bulldoze over a unique feature of Minute Maid Park for the past few years, the Houston Astros made their threats official yesterday when they signed the death warrant for the quirky little incline in center field known as Tal’s Hill.
Tal’s Hill, named for former Astros executive Tal Smith, and a feature of Minute Maid Park since it opened in 2000, will be leveled at the end of the 2015 season and replaced by a $15 million redesign that will be ready in time for Opening Day 2016.
Highlights of the redesign that were announced by the Astros include, field level seats in center field, a new section of seats atop the field-level boxes, an observation tower with a winding staircase as well as a see-through elevator equipped with LED lights with the Astros’ name and logo, and adding a smaller, self-contained section of mezzanine seats to replace three sections of current seats that will be removed as part of the redesign.
Additionally, as part of the makeover the Astros will move the center field fence in from 436 feet, the deepest in Major League Baseball, to 409 feet while reducing seating capacity by about a hundred seats.
From the ashes of Tal’s Hill’s 30-degree, 27-foot-long incline will arise more space to entertain fans at premium prices.
While not coming right out and saying it, it is pretty obvious that as long as the are corporate sponsors and business willing to pay for premium seating areas teams will continue to build them while reducing the number of seats for the working class fan.
A few years back the press box at Minute Maid Park was moved up a level to make room for a lounge behind home plate. While reporters still cover the team I guess the real estate they previously occupied while doing their jobs was deemed to valuable to waste on media members.
So now where the press box once stood is a super exclusive seating area where tickets likely are $600 to $1000 a game, if not more.
So if even a press box is not sacred why let a unique feature such as Tal’s Hill get in the way of revenue generating opportunities?
After all, much to the chagrin of team officials while it was popular with the fans for 15 years all Tal’s Hill did was sit there and grow grass.
Marcel Braithwaite, the Astros’ senior vice president of baseball operations was quoted in the Houston Chronicle as saying that, “Communal areas like this are what the fans want. They want to watch the games with their friends and family, they want to see what other game are going on. We are looking to create destination areas, gathering places that enable you to enjoy the game with a good vantage point while enjoying some good food and drink and spending time together.”
It very well may be a generation gap thing but I have always felt that the main reason to go to a baseball game is to see the game on the field and take in the sights and sounds of a Ballpark experience while snacking on hot dogs and other baseball concession staples at my seat.
Through all of my years attending games in both a professional and strictly fan scenario I have never thought that I want to sit in a lounge or sports bar atmosphere at the Ballpark while a game goes on in the background.
Unfortunately the new trend in Ballpark design is creating immersive environments and mini bars where one can stay an entire game without actually seeing the action on the field.
Of course these areas need to include Wi-Fi hotspots as well to cater to the constantly plugged in fan of the 21st Century.
It seems to me that is someone is wanting to watch the game on a big screen television and eat pub food with their friends there are cheaper ways to do that then paying for a ticket to the ballgame if one has little desire to watch much of the ballgame.
Of course in this social media fueled Millennial madness I suppose they feel it is better to tag their Instagram posts with pictures from inside the Ballpark when they take a chance to remember that they are at a baseball game.
So like the press box before it Tal’s Hill will go to make room for yet another revenue stream in the form of gathering places and towers of light.
At least the outfield is not covered by large billboards that block the architectural elements of the Ballpark. Oh wait, never mind.
Besides making room for more revenue streams, another reason given for the demolition of Tal’s Hill was concerns for the safety of players. In the 15 years that the hill has been there to my knowledge there have not been any major injuries.
Or to put it another way, I can worry about 99 ways for a player to get injured, but a hill with a pitch ain’t one.
The removal of Tal’s Hill is unfortunate and I think that it is a mistake. It is not the first mistake that the Astros have made and it will not be the last.
Unfortunately each mistake adds fuel to the fire of me questioning how many more times I will visit Minute Maid Park.
I have already greatly reduced the number of games that I attend each year as I do not find the Ballpark experience as exciting as it used to be. That is not to say that I will no longer support the Astros if I stop going to see them in person.
I have never been the type of person who believes that the biggest fans of a team are determined by being the biggest spenders or the ones who attend the most games.
There are diehard fans in every sport who have never had the opportunity to see their teams play in person either through financial or geographic limitations.
That does not make them any less of a fan. In fact in some ways it might make them a bigger fan since they actually pay attention to the team more than an amenity such as a revenue generating lounge.
The Astros are winning more so that will bring in a new crop of fans so in the grand scheme of things I am sure they will not miss the hundreds of dollars that I used to spend in their facility.
The locomotive of baseball continues to chug along and people get on and off of the train at various stops along the way.
Speaking of trains I suppose the next unique feature that the Astros will want to get rid of is the train that moves and whistles whenever the Astros hit a home run.
After all, it is not like the site of the Ballpark is built on the grounds of the old Union Station railroad yard where it would make sense to have a locomotive as a tie to the past. Oh wait, never mind.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to mourn the loss of a pile of dirt.
Copyright 2015 R Anderson