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"Unless you're leading the Dog, the view never changes." - sign just outside the Yankees spring training clubhouse, Legends Field, Tampa, Florida



by modernerabaseball.com

There are few givens today in Major League Baseball but here's one of them - teams are building themselves new ballparks like there's no tomorrow.

Well, they're not exactly constructing these new digs all by their lonesome. That would be too sensible.

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No, instead clubs are erecting these 21st century palaces using taxpayer dollars.

One of these shrines - Enron Field - is in the east part of downtown Houston, which the Astros christened last April.

There are few givens in the Lone Star State but here's one of them - Texans like their sporting venues to emphasize "big."

From behemoth Texas Stadium in Irving (with the open roof so God can watch his Dallas Cowboys play) to the mammoth Alamo Dome in San Antonio to the 70,000 plus football stadiums in Fort Worth, College Station, Austin and Houston, Texas sports fans like living large.

Size DOES matter.

This is only appropriate considering the state is by far the largest in the Union, and if broken up into four parts would still be one of the biggest in the fruited plain hands down.

And now...back to our story...

Enron Field is big. Very big.

Unfortunately, bigger does not necessarily always equal better, particularly when it comes to ballparks. And that's the case with Enron Field.

Somewhat ironically it's the ballparks' greatest necessity that also serves as its greatest detraction.

What is it you ask my fair baseball aficionado?

It's the roof. Uh...em. The "retractable" roof.

The 242-high roof is a sight to be seen, especially when it quietly opens in less than 12 minutes.

But that's just it. The roof is often closed because Houston's climate has never been, isn't now and never will be suitable for 100 percent outdoor baseball on a consistent basis.

That's because Houston is the Miami of the Sunbelt.

It's an inferno. A bayou. It's a swamp for the love of peat!

It's usually hot and it's always - always - humid. Oh, and those mosquitoes. Ouch!

In fact, it was heat, humidity and the city's pesky mosquitoes that prompted the construction in the 1960s of the "Eighth Wonder of the Wonder," the Houston Astrodome (known only to the author as the "Eighth Blunder of the World" and the "Astrodump").

The Colt 45s, the former name of the Astros, had tried to play outdoor baseball in Colt Stadium to no avail. Fans quit coming. Just too damn hot.

Enron Field is an upgrade to the Astrodome but - truth be told - not much of an upgrade.

The major differences are easy to spot. Enron Field has natural grass, the Astrodome had "Astroturf," which the Astros invented after planting natural grass in the dome turned into a failed experiment.

The other major difference?

Enron Field actually is an old-fashioned baseball field, which is to say it has unique dimensions in left, center and right field unlike the Astrodome.

It's 315 feet down the left field line, 362 feet to the left field power alley, 435 feet to dead center field (the deepest in baseball), 373 feet in the right field power alley and 326 feet down the right field line.

Tal's Hill in dead center field angles up, and outfielders must maneuver around a padded flagpole nearby in the field of play.

"I like it a lot," said Astros fan James Lancaster during a recent game at Enron Field. "I like the jagged dimensions and the hill in center field."

Lancaster may like it, but Houston Astros pitchers won't second that opinion.

Enron Field is a hitters dream and a pitchers worst nightmare come true, unlike the Astrodome which served as one of the friendliest pitchers parks in all of baseball.

In 1999 Astros hurler Jose Lima was a 20-game winner and an All-Star selection.

In 2000 there was little "Lima time" from the animated right hander who was lucky he didn't lose 20 games thanks to Enron Field's short dimensions down the left field line.

But forget about the players. These new launching pads - excuse me, ballparks - are about the fans, or so the saying goes. And to Houstonians Enron Field is a gem.

Sure Enron Field isn't as charming or even in the same league as the Fenway's and Wrigley's of the world. And it doesn't even come close to the quaintness of newer ballparks like PNC Park, Camden Yards, SAFECO Field and The Ballpark In Arlington.

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Feb 09 2002, 10:19:22
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