Covers.com’s Ballpark Breakdown series investigates how a team’s home stadium affects your wagers. Every major league stadium will be looked at over the course of the summer. The fourth entry in the series is dedicated to the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park.
The Astros opened brand-new Enron Field amidst great fanfare in 2000. Popular Enron CEO Ken Lay even threw out the first pitch in stadium history.
Call it all too convenient foreshadowing.
Enron went bankrupt in 2001 in one of the biggest corporate scandals in American history. The Astros' criminal act was a scandalous case of stadium identity theft.
Their ballpark, re-named Minute Maid Park in 2002, was designed to incorporate interesting features from ballparks of the past. Yet the Astros' thievery led to more than just poor architecture. It created an outfield that presents legitimate danger to those who patrol it.
The first thing that strikes you upon entering is a 90-foot wide, 30-degree incline hill running up the center field wall. It’s named Tal’s Hill after team president Tal Smith, but is also known as the Grassy Knoll. Extending from it is the ballpark’s other distinguishing feature – a massive flag planted in the middle of the hill, also in the field of play.
"If the ball rolls onto the hill, it's not steep enough to roll back, so you have to go get it,” Astros outfielder Lance Berkman said. “Then there’s the chance of running into the flagpole that’s on it and getting hurt.”
The design of the hill is a throwback to Crosley Field, home of the Cincinnati Reds from 1912-1970. Crosley Field featured a 15-degree incline in left field known as The Terrace. Neither it nor Tal’s Hill has proved popular among players and fans.
The flagpole mimics the old Tigers Stadium, home of the Detroit Tigers from 1912-1999, which had a flagpole in fair play just left of center field.
The eyesore hides the fact that Minute Maid Park has the deepest straightaway center field in baseball at 435 feet. From there, the dimensions quickly jut in to favor hitters, especially right-handers. The left field foul pole is just 315 feet away and the left-center field is 362 feet.
Batters do, however, have to contend with a 21-foot-high wall if they want to hit one out to left. The center field wall is nine feet high, while the right field wall is seven feet.
It is only slightly further out to right field than it is l