Look Ma! This Roof Opens!
by Bob Hulsey
When the Astrodome opened in 1965, the World Champion New York Yankees were invited to be the first opponent to face the new-look Houston Astros in their new home. 35 years later, the World Champion New York Yankees were invited to be the first opponent to face the new-look Houston Astros in their newest home. Houston won narrowly the first time, 2-1, and they would have delighted to do it again. Indeed, they pulled it off with a four-run eighth that edged the Bronx Bombers, 6-5. The similarities didn't end there.
While President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived at the Dome in 1965, he didn't stay for the end. Governor George W. Bush was running for the presidency in 2000 but did not attend. His father, former president George H.W. Bush was on hand as was his wife Barbara, the former first lady. The elder Bushes are season ticket holders so it was no big news that they were there. Nolan Ryan threw out the ceremonial first pitch and country music star Lyle Lovett sang the national anthem.
If the new downtown crib lacked a little of the pizzazz in its premiere that the Astrodome had, it might have been partly because Judge Roy Hofheinz, who owned the Astros back in the 1960s, was a showman first and a baseball owner second. Drayton McLane, on the other hand, was an owner first who watched his bottom line but also kept an ear open to the voice of the fans.
While the Astrodome was a novelty as the world's first indoor stadium, there had been other retractable roof stadiums before the new downtown park opened and the concept of inner-city baseball-only parks with quirky features had become a cottage industry of its own by the time it arrived in Houston. What seemed like a novelty to local fans was the ability to take in a major league ballgame with the stars or the sun visible overhead.
Originally named Enron Field after naming rights were sold to the Houston-based energy giant, the new ballpark tried almost too hard to be interesting. It had a retractable roof that could be opened for good weather and closed for hot or inclement weather. It featured a very short left field porch patterned after Boston's Fenway Park, yet with seats right where Boston's "Green Monster" was often peppered with liners. Beyond the warning track in deepest center field was a grassy hill that was dubbed "Tal's Hill" to salute the incline of Cincinnati's old Crosley Field. A flagpole sprang up from the hill, just like it used to do at Detroit's Tiger Stadium. The hill and the flagpole were both in play and skeptics wondered who would be the first outfielder to get seriously injured crashing into one or the other.
Where the Astrodome was symmetrical and gimmickless, Enron Field was full of gimmicks in the outfield, so much so that some regarded it like a putt-putt course or an amusement park. Pitchers would soon regard it as a torture chamber.
The three-time division champion Astros switched from midnight blue and gold uniforms with a slanted star prominent on their caps and jerseys to black, brick red and sand uniforms with a bolder, straighter star logo. The black-clad Astros took some getting used to, particular with the new droopy beard dangling from the face of their best player, Jeff Bagwell.
Bagwell got the first hit of the game, a single up the middle off Yankee starter and Houston resident Roger Clemens. He then stole second but the rally was quickly halted. In the third, after a walk to Craig Biggio and an infield single by Roger Cedeno, Bagwell smashed a double to deep right-center that brought both runners home for the new stadium's first two tallies.
Meanwhile, Dwight "Doc" Gooden, once a revered flamethrower in New York but now trying to milk the last months out of an outstanding yet disappointing career, hummed through the first five innings.
In 1965, Mickey Mantle got the Yankees' first run on a solo homer to lead off the sixth. In 2000, Yankee outfielder Ricky Ledee got New York's first run on a solo homer to lead off the sixth. Had that been a Mantle souvenir, one doubts the fan in right field would have tossed the home run ball back onto the turf but, since it was Ledee, back came the ball to fill someone else's display case.
Paul O'Neill tested this "throw it back" theory by slamming another shot into the right field seats three batters later. Unfortunately for Houston, the two batters in between had singled so O'Neill's bomb gave the Yankees a sudden 4-2 lead. After a walk, out came Gooden and reliever Jose Cabrera cooled the fire but not before another run came in to make it 5-2.
As substitutions were made in the late innings, the Yankees turned to reliever Jason Grimsley for some work. Had the veteran been remembered at all by Astros fans, it would be as the pitcher the Astros received in return when they traded away Curt Schilling to the Phillies in 1992. Grimsley was released the next spring while Schilling went on to baseball lore with World Series appearances on three different clubs. The Astros were finally going to receive a dividend for that trade.
After sailing through a 1-2-3 seventh, Grimsley got into trouble in the eighth. Cedeno led off with a walk then Bagwell drilled a double to left center that plated Cedeno. It gave Bagwell three RBIs on the night. After a ground out, Moises Alou singled to score Bagwell and bring the Astros within 5-4.
Manager Larry Dierker replaced right-hand hitting Richard Hidalgo with left-hand hitting Daryle Ward. The two were projected to split time in left field that year. Ward held the promise of being a constant home run threat. He took a Grimsley pitch the other way, driving it to the short porch in left field where it landed in the third row, giving Houston a sudden 6-5 lead.
The Astros' bullpen phone rang for Billy Wagner and "the Kid" knew exactly what to do, sandwiching two strikeouts around a harmless fly to center to seal the victory, delighting most of the 40,000 fans in attendance.
It didn't turn out to be a good year for either the Astros or Enron. Houston was stung by injuries and poor pitching to finish below .500. Enron found themselves engulfed in an accounting scandal that eventually forced them into bankruptcy where they sold back the naming rights of the stadium to the Astros. For awhile, the ballpark was known simply as "Astros Field" until the naming rights were sold to Coca-Cola-owned Minute Maid Company. The Astros rebounded to win the division in 2001 and make the League Championship Series in 2004 and 2005 which were held in the re-named "Minute Maid Park".
Here are some Enron Field/Minute Maid Park firsts:
|First hit:||Jeff Bagwell (single)|
|First home run:||Ricky Ledee|
|First run:||Craig Biggio (on Bagwell's double in third)|
|First RBI:||Jeff Bagwell|
|First stolen base:||Jeff Bagwell|
|First pitch:||Dwight Gooden (to Chuck Knoblauch)|
|First winning pitcher:||Jay Powell|
|First losing pitcher:||Jason Grimsley|
|First save:||Billy Wagner|
Pitcher Chris Holt has a story to tell his grandchildren.
He hit the first home run in Enron Field history.
Well, sort of.
It won't officially count in the Astros record book, and the 42,000 seats were mostly empty.
That didn't stop Holt from bragging around the clubhouse after hitting two home runs during batting practice Thursday.
"Who got the first one?" Holt asked as he walked through the Astros' clubhouse.
After hitting his first home run - a shot that bounced off the back row of Crawford Boxes in left field - Holt raised his bat to the applause of members of the Astros' pitching staff and walked over for an impromptu news conference.
What was the estimated distance of his home run?
"I'll tell (my grandchildren) it went really, really far," said Holt, a career .080 hitter who is homer-less in 113 at-bats.
"It kind of scares me," Holt added, quickly remembering he will be trying to keep the ball in the park while on the mound this season. "I didn't hit the ball very good but it went out."
Relief pitcher Jose Cabrera became the first Astro to hit the 1860s-era locomotive that will puff along a track above left field. Later, outfielder Richard Hidalgo just missed hitting the coal cart attached to the train, ricocheting a ball off a steel light beam.
"It was a lot of fun. It was a different experience," Hidalgo said of the first live batting practice at the new ballpark. "I think there will be a lot of home runs hit this year. The ball was flying."
When it really counted, Daryle Ward delivered the biggest blow on a memorable evening, his two-run homer off Jason Grimsley in the eighth inning completing a three-run comeback in a 6-5 victory over the New York Yankees.
During three hours of emphasized a new era in Houston baseball, a touch of the past was resurrected with a re-creation of the Home Run Spectacular - snorting bull and lasso-waving cowboy included.
Ward's home run was one of three in the game - but the only one to sail over the 315-foot wall in left field. Yankees Ricky Ledee and Paul O'Neill homered to right field in the sixth inning.
"I thought all the home runs were legitimate," Astros manager Larry Dierker said.
Jeff Bagwell apparently likes hitting at Enron Field.
Fittingly, Bagwell, the Astros all-time RBI leader, recorded the first hit with a single up the middle in the first inning and drove in the first runs with a two-run double in the third inning, both off Roger Clemens. Bagwell went 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
"I think everybody that was here will want to come back," Bagwell said of the paid crowd of 40,624.
As first impressions go, it will take some time for the Astros to get acquainted with their new home.
One of the most noticeable changes can be seen in the egg shape-designed clubhouse, which is twice as big as the old setup at the Astrodome. It's not difficult to get lost amid countless hallways and doors.
Ten leather sofa seats are in a row for players to lounge. There is an empty space where a big-screen television will eventually sit.
"I feel like I'm in a visitor's clubhouse," Bagwell said. "It's kind of weird. It doesn't feel like home yet. The Yankees have as many games here as we do. I don't know where to go or where to hang out. I don't know what to do, but I'll learn."
Dierker compared the festive atmosphere during pre-game ceremonies and throughout the evening to a playoff game.
"When I walked out to the field my first impression was how close all the people were and how festive the atmosphere was compared to the Dome, which seemed quiet and muffled," Dierker said. "Not many people will forget they were here and will forget how it turned out."
And what would a night be without closer Billy Wagner?
Wagner entered in the ninth inning and retired the side in order, striking out Derek Jeter to end the game.
"My reaction was kind of mixed," Wagner said. "It was spring training, not the World Series. Everybody wants to play the Yankees, everybody wants to get the save in the inaugural game.
For Astros, A Perfect Night Start To Finish
By Carlton Thompson, Houston Chroncle
March 31, 2000
WELCOME to the other side of the tracks.
There was a time when the advisable way to visit the east side of downtown Houston after dark was in a group. But that was before a luxurious new ballpark was developed and constructed around historic Union Station.
Suddenly, the wrong side of the tracks is looking pretty good, and it's still a good place to gather in a group, albeit for totally different reasons. On Thursday, the first of many sellout crowds to come experienced an enjoyable evening of baseball under the stars at the inaugural game at Enron Field.
"Houston finally became a baseball town like St. Louis or Chicago. People will now be able to experience baseball like it's supposed to be played," longtime Astros fan Jon Davis said. "The Dome just didn't stir the same kinds of emotions that this park will."
Certain details of the night between the lines will be forgotten or simply dismissed as insignificant because they occurred in an exhibition game.
But other impressions are likely to live forever in the minds of the 42,000-plus fans who were fortunate enough to attend this grand opening, which ended in a 6-5 Astros victory over the two-time World Series champion New York Yankees.
In a fitting turn of events, Craig Biggio scored the first run at Enron Field, and Jeff Bagwell - his sidekick of so many summers - drove him in.
"That was meant to be," Astros pitcher Jose Lima said. "Those two have been the heart and soul of this team for so long. We should never let them get away."
Few leads have gotten away in the past few years, because they have been in the reliable hands of Billy Wagner. Naturally, it was appropriate that Wagner came sprinting from the bullpen after the Astros scored four eighth-inning runs to take the lead.
Three up, three down, two strikeouts; Astros fans could get used to this.
"I loved how the fans were right on top of us," Wagner said. "That was really exciting. It was just an exhibition game, but there were 40,000-something people who were ready for baseball."
They were ready from the time the gates opened. The excitement grew with each trip the train made up and down the track, whistling loud enough to be heard blocks away.
"The fans had a lot of fun," Bagwell said. "That was quite a bit of excitement for a game that didn't count. Everyone who was here tonight will probably want to come back tomorrow, and that's what makes it worthwhile."
The hero of the night was Daryle Ward, who like Roy Hobbs took the field in a gimpy state only to hit an opposite-field, game-winning home run into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
In one of the feel-good scenes of the night, Ward spent at least an hour signing autographs near the Astros' dugout following the game.
"That was a great feeling," said Ward, who is nursing a sore hamstring. "The crowd was really into it, and that made it all the more fun. This is a night I think we'll all remember for a long time."
Bagwell's two-run double off Houstonian Roger Clemens gave the Astros an early lead in the third inning.
Two innings earlier, Bagwell had delivered the ballpark's first hit, a single through the middle of the infield off Clemens, who under different circumstances might have been wearing an Astros uniform for this game.
"It's a wonderful stadium," Clemens said. "It's great for our city, and everyone should be very proud. I never look back (to what might have been, had circumstances worked out to where he could have joined the Astros last season).
"I'm happy to be a Yankee. It was loud, but it wasn't Game 4 (of a World Series)."
Astros starter Dwight Gooden, who received a warm welcome from the fans in his first Houston appearance in an Astros uniform, got a rude send-off from the Yankees.
Gooden was chased from the mound in the sixth inning with five runs on five hits, including home runs by Ricky Ledee and Paul O'Neill.
"I hit a wall in the sixth," Gooden said. "I got a little fatigued, but everything felt really good. It was great to be out there. New team, new park; everyone was cheering. The fans were great."
Ledee, whose blast cleared the right-field wall with ease, forever will be remembered as the first player to homer at Enron Field, although O'Neill's three-run shot to right did more damage.
The Astros weighed in with their first Enron homer, by Ward, two innings later.
Ward's homer brought the crowd to its feet, and the re-creation of the home-run spectacular from the famed Astrodome scoreboard kept the patrons standing and cheering their approval.
Lima said, "This was the best crowd I've ever seen in my life. The noise level was unbelievable. In a big stadium like the Astrodome, you can have 30,000 people but the noise just goes away. This was a totally different story."
Listen to Jeff Bagwell get the first hit in the new park. (Brown, Deshaies Astros Network)
Listen to Daryle Ward hit the game-winning homer. (Brown, Deshaies, Astros Network)
Houston Astros 6, New York Yankees 5 Game Played on Thursday, March 30, 2000 (N) at Enron Field NYY A 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 - 5 6 0 HOU N 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 4 x - 6 9 1 BATTING New York Yankees AB R H RBI BB SO PO A Knoblauch 2b 2 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 Delgado 2b 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 Jeter ss 5 1 1 0 0 1 0 9 O'Neill rf 3 1 1 3 0 0 0 0 Erdos p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Leyritz c 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 BWilliams cf 3 1 0 0 1 2 1 0 Grimsley p 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 TMartinez 1b 4 0 0 0 0 0 10 1 Spencer lf 4 0 1 1 0 3 1 0 Posada c 3 0 0 0 0 1 6 0 RKelly cf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Brosius 3b 3 0 0 0 1 0 1 2 Clemens p 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 Ledee rf 2 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 Jose ph 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 Totals 34 5 6 5 5 9 24 13 FIELDING - DP: 0. E: none. PB: Posada. BATTING - HR: Ledee (6th inning off Gooden 0 on, 0 out); O'Neill (6th inning off Gooden 2 on, 0 out). SB: BWilliams (off Cabrera, Meluskey); Spencer (off Cabrera, Meluskey); Knoblauch (off YPerez, Meluskey). Team LOB: 6. Houston Astros AB R H RBI BB SO PO A Biggio 2b 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 2 RCedeno cf 3 2 2 0 1 0 5 0 Bagwell 1b 4 1 3 3 0 0 5 0 Caminiti 3b 3 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 Alou rf 4 1 1 1 0 1 3 0 Hidalgo lf 3 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 Ward lf 1 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 Meluskey c 3 0 1 0 0 0 4 0 YPerez p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 Powell p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 RuJohnson ph 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 Wagner p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Bogar ss 3 0 0 0 0 1 2 2 Spiers ss 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 Gooden p 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 Cabrera p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Bako c 2 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 Totals 33 6 9 6 3 6 27 6 FIELDING - DP: 1. E: Spiers. PB: Bako. BATTING - 2B: Bagwell, 2 (off Clemens, off Grimsley); Meluskey (off Clemens). HR: Ward (8th inning off Grimsley 1 on, 1 out). SB: Bagwell (off Clemens, Posada). Team LOB: 6. PITCHING New York Yankees IP H R ER BB SO HR Clemens 5 5 2 2 2 5 0 Erdos 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 Grimsley (L) 2 4 4 4 1 1 1 Totals 8 9 6 6 3 6 1 Houston Astros IP H R ER BB SO HR Gooden 5 5 5 5 3 4 2 Cabrera 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 YPerez 1 0 0 0 2 2 0 Powell (W) 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 Wagner (Sv) 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 Totals 9 6 5 5 5 9 2 Attendance: 40624
Play by Play
Starting Lineups: New York Yankees Houston Astros 1. Knoblauch 2b Biggio 2b 2. Jeter ss RCedeno cf 3. O'Neill rf Bagwell 1b 4. BWilliams cf Caminiti 3b 5. TMartinez 1b Alou rf 6. Spencer lf Hidalgo lf 7. Posada c Meluskey c 8. Brosius 3b Bogar ss 9. Clemens p Gooden p YANKEES 1ST: Knoblauch walked; Jeter grounded out (pitcher to first) [Knoblauch to second]; O'Neill flied out to left; BWilliams struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 0. ASTROS 1ST: Biggio grounded out (shortstop to first); RCedeno flied out to left; Bagwell singled to center; Bagwell stole second; Caminiti struck out; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 0. YANKEES 2ND: TMartinez popped out to shortstop; Spencer struck out; Posada struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 0. ASTROS 2ND: Alou grounded out (shortstop to first); Hidalgo struck out; Meluskey grounded out (shortstop to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 0. YANKEES 3RD: Brosius walked; Clemens singled to right [Brosius to second]; Knoblauch flied out to center; Jeter hit into a double play (shortstop to second to first) [Clemens out at second]; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 0. ASTROS 3RD: Bogar struck out; Gooden struck out; Biggio walked; RCedeno infield single to shortstop [Biggio to second]; Bagwell doubled to right-center [Biggio scored, RCedeno scored]; Caminiti walked; Alou struck out; 2 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 2. YANKEES 4TH: O'Neill flied out to left; BWilliams flied out to center; TMartinez lined out to shortstop; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 2. ASTROS 4TH: Hidalgo fouled out to third; Meluskey doubled to right- center; Meluskey to third on passed ball; Bogar hit into fielders choice (shortstop to catcher) [Bogar safe at first, Meluskey out at home]; Gooden grounded out (first unassisted); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 2. YANKEES 5TH: Spencer struck out; Posada flied out to right; Brosius grounded out (shortstop to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 2. ASTROS 5TH: Biggio grounded out (shortstop to first); RCedeno singled to right; Bagwell grounded out (third to first) [RCedeno to second]; Caminiti grounded out (pitcher to first); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Yankees 0, Astros 2. YANKEES 6TH: LEDEE PINCH-HIT FOR CLEMENS; Ledee homered to right; Knoblauch singled to center; Jeter singled to center [Knoblauch to second]; O'Neill homered to right [Knoblauch scored, Jeter scored]; BWilliams walked; CABRERA (pitching) REPLACED GOODEN; BWilliams stole second; TMartinez grounded out (second to first) [BWilliams to third]; Spencer singled to right [BWilliams scored]; Spencer stole second; Posada flied out to right; Brosius flied out to right; 5 R, 5 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Yankees 5, Astros 2. ASTROS 6TH: ERDOS (pitching) REPLACED O'NEILL, LEDEE TO RIGHT; Alou grounded out (shortstop to first); Hidalgo flied out to right; Meluskey lined out to first; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Yankees 5, Astros 2. YANKEES 7TH: YPEREZ (pitching) REPLACED MELUSKEY, BAKO REPLACED CABRERA; Ledee struck out; Knoblauch walked; Knoblauch stole second; Jeter grounded out (pitcher to first); LEYRITZ PINCH-HIT FOR ERDOS; Leyritz walked; BWilliams struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Yankeees 5, Astros 2. ASTROS 7TH: GRIMSLEY (pitching) REPLACED BWILLIAMS, RKELLY REPLACED POSADA, LEYRITZ TO CATCHER; Bogar grounded out (shortstop to first); Bako grounded out (third to first); Biggio grounded out (shortstop to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Yankees 5, Astros 2. YANKEES 8TH: POWELL (pitching) REPLACED YPEREZ, SPIERS REPLACED BOGAR; TMartinez flied out to right; Spencer struck out; RKelly safe at second on throwing error by Spiers; RKelly to third on passed ball; Brosius flied out to center; 0 R, 0 H, 1 E, 1 LOB. Yankees 5, Astros 2. ASTROS 8TH: DELGADO REPLACED KNOBLAUCH; RCedeno walked; Bagwell doubled to left-center [RCedeno scored]; Caminiti grounded out (first to pitcher) [Bagwell to third]; Alou singled to left [Bagwell scored]; WARD PINCH-HIT FOR HIDALGO; Ward homered to left [Alou scored]; RuJOHNSON PINCH-HIT FOR POWELL; RuJohnson struck out; Spiers singled to left; Bako hits into fielders choice (shortstop to second) [Spiers out at second]; 4 R, 4 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Yankees 5, Astros 6. YANKEES 9TH: WAGNER (pitching) REPLACED POWELL; JOSE PINCH-HIT FOR LEDEE; Jose struck out; Delgado flied out to right; Jeter struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Yankees 5, Astros 6. Final Totals R H E LOB Yankees 5 6 0 6 Astros 6 9 1 6