The Houston Colt .45s/Astros have spent their 58 seasons in three ballparks. For the purpose of this post, we will ignore the original Colt Stadium the temporary home of the Colt .45s for their first three seasons (1962-64) as the Astrodome was being built. It is best remembered for cementing the need for a domed stadium between its combination of heat, humidity, rain and mosquitoes. The stadium remained abandoned in the parking lot of the Astrodome for the better part of a decade before it was sold to a Mexican league team. It was moved and used in two different cities in Mexico ending up in Tampico where it was finally demolished, last being used in 1985.
The Astrodome was completed for the 1965 season and was the first major multi-purpose domed stadium in the world. Interestingly, a domed stadium (designed by famed architect Buckminster Fuller) had been proposed as a solution to keeping the Brooklyn Dodgers in Brooklyn, but disagreements between city planner Robert Moses and Dodger owner Walter O’Malley on location led to the Dodger’s exodus to Los Angeles.
The Harris County Domed Stadium (The Eighth Wonder of the World) was the brainchild of owner Roy Hofheinz and was truly a spectacular step forward for an indoor venue for outdoor activities. The Dome became the go-to for spectacular events ranging from bullfighting, Evel Knievel motorcycle jumps, Billie Jean King – Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” (might have been more impressive if she had beaten Ilie Nastase – just saying), the UCLA – UH basketball game of the century and of course the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Judy Garland with the Supremes opening for her was the first concert there, and the Rolling Stones, Metallica, The Who and Pink Floyd were among the headliners, who came through.
But baseball with the Astros and football with the Oilers were the big pro sports users of the Dome. (OK the Rockets did play there part-time before the Summit was being built). The UH Cougars football team played there for 32 seasons.
It was truly a unique and spectacular experience to go to a game there for the first time. From the outside, the Dome seemed humongous, stretching so wide and high above a flat as a Ken Giles fastball prairie. Walking inside it and riding the escalators (usually way up) to your seating level raised the expectations and then entering the interior, walking up those steps like a mountain goat to your spot and sitting in those seats and facing the largest indoor space anyone had ever seen was awe-inspiring. The pre-game with Herb Alpert tunes in the background and crude video on the scoreboard, the cute little cartoons during the game, and the truly exciting exploding scoreboard all enhanced the experience.
The Dome served the team well from 1965 into the ’90s, but the old girl started to look dated and both the football and the baseball teams were interested in separate stadiums that served their sport better. The Oilers left and that gave Drayton McLane a lot of leverage towards getting a new stadium and so Enron Field came to be for the 2000 season.
The new stadium’s roof could be retracted, which it was for early season games and often pulled back late in summertime games. Enron was a more intimate experience than the Dome with the fans closer to the action and the field proved more intimate in the era of PED assistance and soon earned the title of Ten-Run Field.
A few years later due to some small financial difficulties at Enron that closed them down and threw their leaders in prison, the name of the stadium was changed to Minute Maid Park. The park over time became a less offensive friendly spot as pitchers learned to force hitters to keep the ball more often in the vast centerfield area.
The Astros made the biggest change to the field in the off-season after 2016 when they took down Tal’s Hill and moved in the center field fence. This set the team back so much they won the 2017 World Series (that’s my take and I’m sticking to it), and had very successful 2018 and 2019 seasons.
So when we look at the two main stadiums the Astros have played in, how do we compare them.
- Location – The Enron/Minute Maid Park location is a far more central location that made the trips from the northern and eastern parts of the Houston Area a much easier drive.
- Parking – The Astrodome location provided a ton of parking at a set price all the way around the Dome. Yes, it could be a pain with everyone trying to get out of the same gates, but you knew what price you would be paying and did not have to walk through what some times can be a bit dicey neighborhood.
- Comfort – The Dome seats were cushioned and were a bit wider than the hardwood torture chairs at MMP.
- Site Lines – The technology of the time led to the Dome being built like a huge bowl. A vast majority of the fans were just farther away from the action than at MMP. In addition, fans at Minute Maid can wander around the ground level and see the game from many different angles from the promenade.
- Atmosphere – The Dome (especially later) could hold many more fans than at MMP. It was the loudest place I have ever been during some of the peak years. On the other hand, the Dome had a lot more times when it was a tomb, than MMP has faced. This is a bit of a push.
- History – The Dome was history. It was the first of its kind in the World. However, as far as success goes, the Astros never won a playoff series in the Dome. There were some tremendous games played there, but they mostly ended with the Astros on the wrong end of the scoreboard. All of their playoff success including their 2017 WS run occurred at MMP.
In the end, where you stand on the choice between the two stadiums may well depend on your individual experiences there. Which one do you pick?