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From Astrodome to Home-Ron Field

The Astros, who for 35 years played in the climate-controlled (and often homer-less) environment of the Astrodome, have officially reached the opposite end of the slugging spectrum.  Most people had suspected that Houston's new park would be more hitter-friendly than the Astrodome, but few thought it would be such a home-run magnet!  

Consider this:  during the first dozen regular-season games at Enron, 46 home runs were hit, or an average of 3.83 per game.  The Major League average for the previous season was just 2.46.  Astro starter Jose Lima must just love his new home, as during his first three starts at Enron, he yielded eight dingers.  He surrendered only seven in the Astrodome during the entire '99 season.  "Last year (1999), we couldn't wait to get home," Lima said.  "This year, we don't want to come home.  It's scary."

When you look at the distance the batters have to hit a ball to be able to "touch 'em all," it shouldn't be a shock that this is a hitters' park.  At 315 feet from home, no other National League park has the left-field foul pole as close.  Down the right-field line, it's only 326 feet -- and there the fence is only seven feet tall.  

Let's compare the dimensions of the Astros' old and new homes:  

The "early" Astrodome The "later" Astrodome Enron Field
Left field line 340' 325' 315'
Left center 390' 375' 362'
Dead center 406' 400' 435'
Right center 390' 375' 373'
Right field line 340' 325' 326'
Height of wall 16' 10' 21' in left, 10' in center, 7' in right

OK, so a lot of balls are flying out of the park here.  Does that make it a bad stadium?  Not at all.  Look at these interesting features of Enron Field:

  • The roof   Unlike the retractable ceiling tiles at BankOne Ballpark in Phoenix, when Enron's roof panels move out of the way, the entire playing field and a lot of the seats are fully exposed to the elements.  One reason that this is true is that it's not just the area overhead that moves.  Instead, each of the three retractable panels also has a side wall that moves with it.  With the roof closed, these see-through walls extend from the area above center field to down the third-base line.
  • The hill   It's called Tal's Hill --after Astro President Tal Smith -- and Major League baseball hasn't seen anything like it since the Reds moved out of Crosley Field in 1970.  Yes, there is actually a grass-covered hill that is in play on the far side of the dirt warning track in deepest center field . . . and on this hill there's a flag pole also in play just within the fence.  By the way, it's 436 feet from home to the deepest part of the park, making it the longest distance from home plate to an outfield fence anywhere currently in the Majors.  
  • The look outside   All things considered, the exterior of the park is probably more attractive than the interior.  Sand-colored brick contrasts nicely with the reddish-brown brick, and dark-green accents abound.  There is a lovely bell tower at the southeast corner of the structure, directly behind home plate.  This 138-foot-tall tower contains bells that serenade the fans as they enter the park.
  • The idiosyncrasies inside   Aside from Tal's Hill, the field of play is truly meant to baffle fielders -- especially in the outfield.  There are so many weird angles and pillars that jut out from the outfield wall that Sports Illustrated observed that Enron has "more nooks and crannies than an English muffin."  Team owner Drayton McLane predicted before the season began that there would be quite a few adventures for the fielders here.  "I don't know what they are, but strange things are going to happen," he said.
  • The view   Fans at Enron have a wonderful view of downtown Houston . . . and this is true whether the roof (and its side panels) is open or closed.  That's because the vertical portion of each of the retractable roof panels is clear, so that even when the roof is closed, fans can see the city's skyline.  The best view of this is from the first-base side . . . unfortunately, the sun sets beyond that skyline, making the glare for early evening games somewhat unbearable for fans on the that side of the stadium.
  • The seating   In keeping with the modern-day notion that "less is more," Enron continues the trend of offering fans fewer seats -- thereby increasing the demand for the scarcer product.  There are only 40,950 seats here -- plus the team routinely sells a thousand-plus standing-room tickets.
  • The cost   Surprise!  The HOK-designed stadium came in on-time and on-budget.  And since Enron Field cost $248 million to build, maybe someone can explain why Safeco Field in Seattle -- which has a design very similar to Enron -- ended up costing a staggering $517 million to complete.
  • The scores   Keeping up with the balls and strikes and the scores of other games is a snap at Enron, from the hand-operated scoreboard providing out-of-town scores along the left-field wall, to 200 feet of scoreboards and message boards high above right center.

And just as Kansas City's park has the fountains, the most identifiable, unique aspect of Enron Field is the enormous steam locomotive that runs along 800 feet of track high above the left-field wall.  Weighing in at 24 tons, the engine is actually larger than a full-size locomotive from the 1860s.  Its whistles and smoke are quite distinctive.  Thanks to BASEBALLPARKS.COM visitor Michael Hildebrand for providing this unique photo perspective.  The background of this shot is actually the interior of the stadium.

Another cute feature is an old-style gas pump above left-center field.  The gauge on the pump keeps a count of all of the Astro homers hit at Enron . . . and we all know that it will be working overtime to keep up with the number of "bombs" hit at this launching pad!

So is it a hitters' park?  Sure -- hence the nickname "Home Ron Field."  But it's a pretty nice hitters' park!

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