Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is Minute Maid hill really a good idea?

HOUSTON - For a split second, as Michael Bourn fell on his back, you could almost hear the thoughts of Astros fans whisking through Minute Maid Park.

That stupid hill.

Bourn backpedalled faster than most people can frontpedal and had a beat on a towering blast by the Cubs' Micah Hoffpauir on Thursday afternoon.

Nanoseconds before the ball return to earth, Bourn hit the inclined hill in center field and landed square on his back.

That stupid hill.

The name of that hill is Tal's Hill, named after Astros owner Tal Smith, who came up with the idea as a tribute to Cincinnati's Crosley Field. There's a flagpole in fair territory, two feet from the fence, inspired by Tigers Stadium.

A flagpole inside the outfield fence? What is this, a park rec softball field?

Ten years ago, the idea of the pole and hill was novel. In some ways it still is.

But is it really necessary?

The hill, called "The Grassy Knoll" by some players, added some needed character to what is otherwise an ordinary retractable-roof stadium (I'd rank Minute Maid in the middle of the pack of stadiums I've seen, although the brick facade outside is stunning). A Minute Maid experience feels like a night at a Bobcats game:

T-shirt giveaways. Cd-giveaways. Air-guitar cams.

Most of the summer, the roof is closed to keep out the extreme Houston heat, which have to help season-ticket sales.

A wall of windows certainly disguises the fact that you are watching it indoors. It's light years ahead of watching ball at The Trop in Tampa, but indoor baseball is like putting ketchup on a steak.

Regardless, as Bourn laid on his back, he never thought about giving up on the catch, even though he wasn't exactly sure where it was landing.

Watch the catch here.

“I never lost the flight of the ball,” Bourn told the Houston Chronicle. “I lost the sight of it at the end, but I kind of knew where it was at. I just put my glove up to where it was going to be at and I caught it.”

And as the Minute Maid crowd roared, he momentarily forgot about that hill.

That stupid hill.

"I practice going up the hill a little bit," Bourn said. "But in that instance you just have to go on instinct."

But what about the other 29 center fielders in baseball? How often do they practice such a play?

And as my brother-in-law said, "What happens when a $50 million dollar player breaks his leg on that hill?"

My guess is the hill will be leveled the next day.

Stupid or not, the hill is a bit gimmicky, but one of the most unique places in all of sports.

And maybe, just another reason to love baseball.


Anonymous said...

Dig a hole in the hill and bury Luis Castillo up to his neck in it.

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Anonymous said...

I think the hill & pole are part of the big pendulum swing ballpark designs have been going through. All the staduiums built in the first half of the 20th century had quirks and goofy designs. Then in the 60's/70's all these multi-purpose, symetrical parks popped up. Once we realized how disgusting they looked, we started building single-purpose parks again, and looked for any excuse to build something goofy into it to make it "retro."

The thing I like the most about my beloved Indians home, Progressive Field, is that it's not on either extreme. It's not symetrical, but there's no quirky object mucking up the ground rules. Nice and simple.