1965 my parents up and moved from Sioux City to Houston* and took me
It was a difficult time, having to adjust to
a new school and a new neighborhood in the middle of the eighth grade.
To this day, hearing Petula Clark's "Downtown" will trigger a
flashback of that time's adolescent anxiety and unhappiness. But there was a
great distraction in Houston that winter and spring. The fabulous Harris
County Domed Stadium was about to open.
Astrodome was the biggest thing in town, on many levels. I acquired a thick
souvenir guidebook and leafed through it hour upon hour.
I learned that the roof was constructed using a
system of interlocking steel triangles called lamella trusses, and that
there was room under said roof for an 18 story building (canonically,
the nearby Shamrock Hilton).
I learned that there were no fewer than six
restaurants in the building, and was properly impressed by pictures of
the ritzy skybox suites. I learned about the 40,000 plus "theater
style" seats. I read about the "acoustic nightmare"
solved by the ingenious public address system, and the hundreds of holes
drilled into the bottom of each and every theater-style seat to help
alleviate the situation.
I learned about the private Xanadu Judge Hofheinz
built for himself high above the right field mezzanine, and about the
x thousand moveable field level seats and the y horsepower motors that drove them
on tracks into football configuration in only z hours. I read about the doomed
Bermuda hybrid selected for the field, and the
soon-to-be-infamous three by five foot translucent panels in the
It's trendy now to trash this revolutionary and beautiful ballpark, but as
once said, you can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs.
It's unfair to lump the Astrodome with the bland, multipurpose stadiums built concurrently in National League cities
St. Louis, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. A roof and air
conditioning were necessities in Houston; there was simply no way to have
Wrigley Field-style baseball on the Texas Gulf Coast.
was never an issue at
the Eighth Wonder of the World. There was room for a stadium full of
people, each arriving in their own Winnebago. You could walk a quarter mile from the
building in any direction and still be in the parking lot. Now finding
your car after the game in hundreds of landmark-free acres of cars, that was an issue.
The main air conditioning
unit loomed on the left as you walked up the ramp of the East entrance. The splashing waterfall type,
it was massive. And it
worked. Over the years, the Dome was always cool. If
was the Astrodome’s bleacher
section. For many years, it cost $1.50 to sit in the Pavilion and watch a
major league game. This was a damn good deal, although I once saw an NBA doubleheader at
Hofheinz Pavilion for
75¢ and an empty potato chip
You couldn’t leave the Pavilion without holding a
ticket stub for a more expensive seat (basically, any seat that wasn’t
in the Pavilion). Older gentlemen in blue Astrodome blazers stood at the left and right
field gates checking each person that tried to escape. But I discovered
you could sneak out by crawling
under a toilet stall wall, emerging in a stall in an mirror-imaged bathroom on the
Mezzanine side of the fence. A couple of years later
they blocked this exit with two by fours and hurricane fencing. By
then I had too much dignity to crawl under a toilet stall partition
Before games, Dad liked to feed us at the Domeskeller, a buffet-style
eatery under the Pavilion seats. My father is a fan of all things
German,** although there was nothing especially charming about the
concrete-themed Domeskeller. You’d get your
food from a steam table and then sit at picnic tables placed against the
outfield wall. You could see out onto the field through wire fencing.
I once met the Jet Pack man down there behind the center field wall and got to look
closely at his machine.
people were excited about Astroturf. It was state of the art. It
was supernaturally green. It didn't require mowing. It had zippers. There hadn't been
untold thousands of head, knee and
ankle injuries on the stuff yet. In fact, we were told that Astroturf
would actually reduce football injuries. They installed Monsanto's
brain child the second year, 1966, as a response to the grass dying. The
grass died because they had to paint over the translucent roof panels so that outfielders could
follow fly balls during day games.
They apparently had some Astroturf left over and
used it as carpeting here and there in the stadium. At a game in
early 1966 I actually
hacked off a foot square chunk near an elevator in the Domeskeller
area (someone had the idea before me, because it was already cut up). I figured I would practice kicking field goals
off it. I also made off with
a shoebox-sized box of Houston Apollos pocket schedules that year,
maybe at the same game. Charlie Palmquist, Teen Vandal.
The Dome is owned by the
citizens of Harris County. They built the thing, amazingly,
for a little over $40 million. Nowadays, $40 million spent on a big
league stadium might get most of the hole dug. The Houston Sports
Association, the owners of the Astros, signed a 40 year lease for just
under $1 million a year. Nowadays, $1 million a year will get you
a third string catcher.
could walk all the way to the top of the Dome over a spidery
network of ramps and stairs that began near a skybox on the third
base side. Knock on wood, being allowed to make this trek during a game
would have been a good Make a Wish Foundation request—had young Charlie
been stricken with a disease more serious than myopia. The so-called gondola, a large
lighting truss that could be lowered for
special events, was usually empty but once in a while they'd put a
fearless cameraman up there. It was more than 200 feet from the
gondola to the second base dirt.
those too impatient to wait for a ballgame
there were Astrodome Tours. In the 60s, no relative's stay in Houston
was complete without a visit to the Dome. You'd cruise into that huge
empty parking lot and join a few dozen cars at the west entrance.
Tours were a couple of bucks and started every hour. A perky guide with a
microphone and portable PA walked you completely around the stadium,
moving up and down through the various
levels, pausing occasionally to let us rest in a "theater style" seat and just take in the purple, orange,
yellow, green, and red wonder of it all. I
should have applied for a job as guide--I certainly had the knowledge.
League Baseball was the Dome's centerpiece, its reason for
existence. During summers when I was home from college, and later, during my first
couple of years
working for the Air Pollution Control Department my friend Scott Starks and I
often went to the ball game. Always to approximately the same seats, in the far right
field Pavilion. There we'd watch the game over Jose Cruz's
shoulder, along with the rest of the right field gang, including Earl
(“The Chief”) and his cronies, and Linda and Steve and their two kids.
Cruz’s Crew in a minute.
once planned a pre-game
attraction in which he would drop in a special barrel from the Gondola
into a small tank of water near second base. He didn't make it. A bad release, wind currents, quantum effects, or simple bad
luck pushed the barrel slightly off line. The barrel hit the edge
of the tank and the stuntman died. That must have put quite a damper on that
night's game. I'm glad I wasn't there.
Ali vs. the Karate
Guy After one
otherwise routine game
(or was it before?), workers dragged closed circuit screens onto the field, and
Scott and I were treated to a live
exhibition between Muhammad Ali and a karate champion. What a joke! The
karate guy spent most of the fight crabbing around on his back trying to
kick Ali in the shins. I lost a lot of respect for karate watching this
pathetic show. It was pretty clear that the hand moves of a boxer were superior to the hand moves of a karate expert. This guy didn't want
any part of Ali.
Herb on a Stool For
hour upon languid hour, between the start of batting practice and the
"batter up" call at 7:35 PM, the PA system would play catchy
and interchangeable Herb Alpert hits such as "Spanish Flea," "A
Taste of Honey," and "Tijuana Taxi." The music was accompanied on the
scoreboard by the slowly rotating image of a trumpeter on a stool.
Astrodome music, the Judge's daughter, Dene Hofheinz Mann, got
plenty of airtime in the sixties on the Dome's giant PA. I could
make a joke here involving the phrase "acoustic nightmare," but her
Astrodome song wasn't bad, especially the snappy chorus. The
lyrics are from memory and if someone knows them all, please email me.
Got the weather beat
Got the weather beat
Got the weather beat
Ironically, right about
the time Alanis Morissette was coming into this
world a few minutes behind twin brother Wade, I first became aware of O Canada, the Canadian
national anthem. They’d play it before Expos games. Scott and I eventually learned all the words and would sing along and laugh
hysterically; what was so funny, I can't remember. It's actually a
pretty good tune, as national anthems go.
between innings I
at the main scoreboard over my right shoulder and read a news bulletin
that Richard Nixon had resigned the Presidency of the United States.
knew it was coming, so I wasn't shocked. But it did generate a
buzz from the crowd—the sound of ten thousand conversations starting
One night Scott and I read in lights that the US had
pulled everyone out of Saigon, that it had fallen to the North Vietnamese.
Another odd murmur ensued.
In the most famous
single game ever played in the Dome, in 1968
Elvin "Big E" Hayes led the University of Houston to a close victory over Lew Alcindor's UCLA
team. [For the sports impaired, I'm talking about
basketball here.] I wasn't actually at the game, but I was listening intently
to a Zenith table radio in my parent's kitchen three miles away. Go Cougs! Talk
about civic pride.
went with Dad and Grandpa Palmquist to the very first regular season game
played at the Dome, in April 1965. My first view of the field as
we moved down the aisle to our seats was unforgettable: a
visual feast of color, complexity, and titanic scale.
Of course, it was sold out.
We were in the red seats (field boxes) down the right field line. Final score: Phillies 2, Astros 0. Richie Allen accounted for all the
scoring with a two run homer. Unknown rookie Joe Morgan played
second; Sonny Jackson, current Giants coach, was a rookie shortstop. To send the crowd away happy, they set the scoreboard off at the end of
the game even though we didn't win and certainly didn't hit any
homeruns. A final note: In those days many people smoked, and it was
pretty hazy in there by the end of the game. I wonder if some anxious phone calls
went out to the Carrier people.
first year Dad took pal Alex Smith
and me to a big Dodger gameKoufax vs. Dierker. In those days, Koufax
was almost unhittable and just about every one of his road games was a
sellout. Dierker beat him that day, 2-zip, before a SRO crowd. Larry went on to become an
announcer for the locals and has been the manager for the last few
seasons. Now you chuckin' in there, Larry!
Sorry Atlanta Braves In my mid 1970s, heavy
baseball-watching period, Atlanta was a terrible team. They had no
pitching and a uniquely sloppy defense. The Astros seldom had trouble
beating these guys. I bet we won 80% of our home games against Atlanta
in this period. They were a far cry from today's Braves.
Ropes, Coming and Going In
terms of hitting the ball hard consistently,
nobody came close to Roberto Clemente. The Pirates were a good hitting
team generally and it seemed like Clemente drove the ball almost every
at bat. If he got a home run, it was of the line drive variety. He also had an amazing
throwing arm. I got a good look at how hard he could throw the ball
sitting out there in the right field Pavilion.
Opposing Player Without a doubt, cocky Pete Rose. The crowd
loved to boo him and he reciprocated by liking it. Most booed opposing
manager: again, without a doubt, the Dodger's Tommy Lasorda. He
didn't like the booing as much, though.
People drank beer at the
games and concessionaire Araserve didn't hit a home run with traditionalists when
they sent out vendors
trays of tepid beer in soggy cups covered with saran wrap, unlike the fresh
pours from iced bottles provided by authentic beer men in traditional ballparks. Still, Houstonians made do. In later years one had the option of a "bucket of beer,"
a tub the size of a Costco cereal box. Once during a special
promotion the beer was 5¢
a cup. For several years, if a homerun happened at just the right time on a Foamer
Friday****, the beer was free.
Once night in the Pavilion some guys to my left were drinking and getting rowdy. They had at
least one Bucket in the group. Eventually, a kid on a date sitting in front of the rowdies turned around to
complain to them about the language, or getting his chair kicked or
something. Words were exchanged, and then suddenly, splash! The guy
with the date was hit with a full cup of beer, right in the face. He
was wet and sputtering!
Don’t hassle drunk people at games, even when you are in the right.
I mentioned, the far right field Pavilion
crowd—the Chief and his cronies, Linda, Steve, and Linda and Steve’s
Cruz’s Crew. Jose Cruz played right field, so he was the
one player I got to see up close. (I knew Linda's name because she
almost always wore a softball shirt with her name on the back.) They
liked Scott and me, although we didn’t go out there quite as regularly
as the crew. I suppose we were honorary members of Cruz’s Crew. Scott
said the Chief, real name Earl, was a probably a professional man,
perhaps a barber. This rang true.
Earl was an entertainer: When the
other team went to a relief pitcher, the scoreboard would show a cartoon
of a dejected hurler walking sadly to the showers. But when he
turned the water on, it wasn't water! Some explosive substance worked
its way through the pipes and blew up in the poor pitcher's face.
would loudly narrate this cartoon to the amusement of everyone in the
section. "Look out! That's not water! That's not water!" he
cackle as everyone laughed. Of course, everyone was already in a
good mood at that point because if they were playing that tape, the Astros had a rally going.
[I happened to hear the Mission Impossible theme the other night and
remembered that this was the music played during the "to the showers"
cartoon. It may have even been called "Pitching Impossible."]
the infamous UH/Tulsa game? Does 100 – 6
ring a bell? That was University of Houston football, Astrodome style. The Cougars
were explosively fast, possibly because UH was quicker than the schools
of the more
prestigious Southwest Conference to fully embrace black athletes. Triple option right, last second pitch, and a
halfback makes an Astroturf cut and goes 63 yards for a touchdown. Still, Bill Yeoman should
have been ashamed of himself, and probably was, for
running up the score like that.
Now-Defunct Houston Oilers occupy many million neurons worth of
tangy Charlie Anderson memories, but this is an Astrodome page and I won't dwell on them here. I didn't
many Oiler games at the Dome until well after the glory days of Bum
Phillips/Earl Campbell/Love ya
Blue. Tickets were too expensive and too hard to get, I suppose,
and by then I had gotten married and moved to the other side of town.
later, 1985 or 1986, I had season tickets for the Oilers. I remember walking to the Dome from my office at Macintosh developer Vicon Systems, off Kirby Drive just south of 610. Once I saw an actual
Derrick Doll, in costume, heading in from the parking lot.*** To
my knowledge, no one has ever experimented with cheerleaders at baseball
games. Why is that?
The 1986 All
Star game was a typical Astrodome contest—final score: 3-2. Astro pitcher Mike Scott was in his heyday and the most exciting part of
the game was when he came in and started to strike people out. One
Junior Circuit hitter fanned, and then another. The crowd was on
its feet ready
to scream at the final strike on a third batter, but instead of striking
out, the joker jacked the ball into the left field stands. Boy, that quieted the crowd in a hurry. Houston’s
mayor, Kathy Whitmire, sat below me in the field boxes down
the third base line.
never made it to the World Series. But they came close in 1980 when
they lost a heartbreaking five game series to Philadelphia. I was at game
five. An Astro triple play was overruled, we lost a 2-0 8th inning lead, and Pete Rose
stole the game. Ouch. Finishing fifth was a lot less painful.
was in a scoring funk during my Astrodome
years; great pitchers like Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, and Ferguson Jenkins
hitters on their heels. Lord knows, the Astrodome did nothing to
reverse the trend. It was a big park with cool, dense air and the
ball didn't carry. People still hit the occasional home run, but it
wasn’t like today. At any given game you’d be lucky to see one hit by
either team. As Scott once pointed out, a symbol for this
punchless era was weak hitting shortstop Roger Metzger making
his patented smooth
turn back into the extra-long first base dugout after one of his routine
6-3 ground-outs. Suffice it to say, Trout was no A-Rod at the plate.
The Astrodome’s outfield design
lent itself to disputed home runs. The outfield walls were surmounted with a
sturdy railing, and then rows of seats. Balls would whack the railing
or an empty chair and turf bounce halfway back to the infield.
They painted yellow lines to clarify things. Hit above the line, it was
a home run, no matter how far back it bounced. I'm sorry, yellow line
or no yellow line, there's something unsatisfying about a homerun that
bounces off a fence back to the third baseman. Management
eventually rectified this problem by building an inner fence.
When the grounds crew came
out before and during the game to drag the infield, they
were dressed in orange jump suits and white space helmets.
Some genius probably got a raise for thinking this up.
The Astros always had pretty good
pitching, right from the beginning. Names
like Turk Farrell, Bob Bruce, Larry Dierker, Mike Cuellar, and the
star-crossed Don Wilson and James Rodney Richard come to mind.
Later, hurlers like Phil Niekro, Mike Scott, and Nolan Ryan continued
the tradition. I bet
the Astros have had as many team no hitters and shutouts since 1962 as anybody.
and Gentlemen, Charlie Anderson I made it on the famous field
exactly once—at the end of a 10K fun run in 1985. The finish line
was just at the edge of the tunnel. It felt
great to be out there, even though the only people in the seats were a
few hundred sunburned joggers nursing water bottles.
Once before a game they trotted out
some professional golfers. They
were good, I remember thinking. They stood near the center field wall
and aimed at home plate. Every shot was pretty much dead on. One of
the guys was "Champagne" Tony Lima. They rode around the
perimeter of the field in golf
carts so everyone got a good look.
Foul Ball Myth In all the games I attended I never caught a foul
ball or home run or was even especially close to one.
and I sat in the Pavilion, only a few guys could reach. Had we
played Pittsburg every night, Willie Stargell would undoubtedly have gotten
one back to us from time to time.
The Quick Getaway
house on Ardmore, and later my apartment near the Medical Center were just
minutes from the Astrodome. Combining this proximity with my
Dome parking lot moxie, I would sometimes get home from
games (in which I was in my seat for the last out) before the post game
show had ended! That's within 15 minutes,
people! You can't sniff the parking lot exit at most stadiums within 15
minutes of leaving your seat.
Beef on White with Mayo In the 1960s, before I discovered
beer, my favorite food item at the Pavilion concession stand was the corned beef
sandwich. A black lady would make you one for a dollar, fixed
anyway you liked it, just as long you liked it with mayo and some pickle
slices on white bread. As the twig is bent, etc., this is still
how I like my corned beef sandwiches.
voices of the original Astros radio broadcasters I can
call up at will in my imagination. Great job, guys: Harry Kallas,
and especially Loel
Passe and Gene Elston. A tip of the orange or navy cap to
long-time flagship station KPRC 950 and the "Dean of National Legue Engineers," Bob Green.
ball is in Astro Orbit.” “Hot ziggity
dog and sassafras tea!”
“Now you chuckin' in there Astros.
He breezed him one time!”
“Schlitz...brewed in Milwaukee, Longview,
and other great cities.”
Coda: August 18, 2001—Alex and I
visit The Ballpark at Union Station. With the roof closed for a Saturday afternoon
game, the Astros easily handled the Pirates 3-zip before a near sellout
crowd to move into first place in the NL Central. The Dome's
replacement is a beautiful downtown ballpark filled with amenities, charming quirks, and real grass. I feel a little like a traitor but I have to admit, "Ten Run" Field has the Astrodome beat. Thousands of kids are developing great memories
of their own watching the now powerful Astros pummel hapless visitors to
the tune of Ozzy's Crazy Train.
Later we cruised by the Astrodome, now dwarfed by a massive football
stadium going up just to the west. Time marches on, and brother,
you better keep marching right along with it.
Sioux City is almost due north of
**Not including Nazis and other WW II-related unpleasantness.
***If the World Wide Web is so great, how come I could
find only two Derrick Doll pictures?
****The Friday Foamer was established