Baseball can be a boring game from time-to-time. With pitchers taking their time in attacking the hitter or the batter constantly stepping out to readjust his batting gloves, some fans become disinterested. Though historic features aren’t primarily designed for fan entertainment, items such as the hill in center field at Minute Maid Park or the ivy on the walls at Wrigley field are important to the game.
While it is possible that the game is affected by the hill, is the ivy at Wrigley ever a huge factor? There have been times where the baseball has been lost in the ivy. Even the home of the Boston Red Sox has some difficulties in the outfield. There is a giant wall, dubbed “The Green Monster,” that can result in weird bounces and subsequent hops for visiting and home outfielders alike. Heck, the fan favorite that was built in 1912 also features a ladder that was hit in July during the 2014 season.
As someone who has had the fortune of visiting a handful of MLB stadiums I have grown to truly appreciate and love the aesthetic features that some parks have to offer. A concert-goer in a couple basketball stadiums, I feel that these buildings are too similar to one another. Baseball has the ability to be different.
In St. Louis, at Busch Stadium, there is Musial’s bridge. But that is not in the field of play. Some parks including Coors Field, PNC Park, and Camden Yards have heightened walls for scoreboards. To list off a few fan-friendly feature: home run feature in Miami, the Brewers’ slide, the rocks in Anaheim and the apple in New York.
Tal’s hill can easily be a feature that is in the place of play as well as being a fan feature. It is a piece of baseball history and should definitely be marketed as a symbol of Houston, not destroyed to fulfill a handful of concerns.
Two of the primary arguments for taking the hill away involve the steep incline and the flagpole that is “in the middle of play.” So I ask, are these truly significant issues? Baseball has gotten along just fine for 15 seasons in Houston without a devastating injury to a player. Recently one of the CTH Writers, Larry Manch, recounted a couple plays and thoughts by players in an article.
"Former Astro Lance Berkman played 166 games in centerfield, and had at least one memorable run in with Tal’s Hill.Carlos Gomez made a nice catch on the hill, and he spoke about it in June 2013 in a story by Adam McCalvy on MLB.com.“I worked on it [in batting practice]. I got a few balls like that in center field kind of like that, and I dropped them,” Gomez said. “It was good practice.”"
I can recall that Richie Sexson hit a triple once at Minute Maid Park.That’s about the only time I think that the flagpole has ever caused an issue at this stadium.
"There have been just 38 home runs hit with a horizontal angle within five degrees of center field since 2006 — and just two within one degree of center, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. For reference, the league has already hit 18 home runs within one degree of center field in more than 10% of the 2013 season (entering play Tuesday)."
Statistics such as these help prove the extreme rarity of the hill, let alone the flagpole, really ever being a factor. It took nearly 14 full seasons but Jesus Montero hit a shot to straightaway center field, bypassing the hill and the flag pole. Fangraphs reported the true tendencies that MMP does rank as a hitters haven for home runs. But most of those end up in the Crawford boxes, a stretch to consider them as a baby green monster. Some home runs lie to the area of the Astros home bullpen and to the right.
The argument for replacing the hill just seems weak to me. Other stadiums have their own subtleties; their own features that can cause discussions with tourists or even the typical entertainment-goer. Removing Tal’s Hill seems like a movement driven by people who disagree with the Astros method of rebuilding and are trying to utilize this period of rapid change to make Minute Maid Park a tick closer to ordinary.
And Houston is not ordinary.