ABOUT COLT STADIUM...
The only ones who remember Colt Stadium fondly are nostalgia buffs and sadists. It illustrated how unsuitable outdoor baseball could be during Texas summers. High temperatures, high humidity, large mosquitoes and a lack of shade (it was the only single-deck major league ballpark of its time) could make daytime baseball dangerous and night games merely tolerable.
A June daytime doubleheader in 1962 sent 78 patrons and one umpire to seek medical attention. Insect repellent was sold at the concession stands. Players took tiny spray containers with them to the field. Players needed salt tablets to replenish their sodium levels. Some Colts lost 10-15 pounds during a homestand. Day games were rescheduled to late afternoons and the National League lifted a ban on Sunday night games to accommodate broiling fans.
It was endured because Houston was thrilled to be in the big leagues and because everyone knew that the ballpark was temporary until the domed stadium was ready. The pastel colors of some seating sections made the ball hard for fielders to see. The lighting created "dark spots" in the field that also brought complaints from visiting teams.
Once the new park was finished, Colt Stadium became a dumping ground for broken and discarded items of the nearby "Astrodomain". The field slowly returned to the reclaimed marshland that it once was. The grandstands were sold and shipped to Mexico. The lot was eventually paved over for additional Astrodome parking.
An overhead view of Colt Stadium from 1962.
An enlarged color photo from 1964 with the domed stadium rising in the background.
ABOUT THE ASTRODOME...
Suffice it to say that the new domed stadium which opened in 1965, for better or worse, changed the face of the modern day sports arena. Climate controlled and protected from the elements that had plagued Colt Stadium, the new ballpark featured plush, cushioned theatre-style seats, enormous dugouts and a huge electronic scoreboard that celebrated every feat in Texas grandeur. Everyone from Mickey Mantle to the Rev. Billy Graham spoke in awe of the facility. To some, it was like being transported into the future. To others, it was the ultimate playpen.
The stadium was initially built at a cost of $35 million dollars, which came out as quite a bargain even by 1965 standards. Domed stadiums built in New Orleans, Montreal and Seattle a decade later cost a great deal more, even adjusted for inflation.
But the Astrodome was not universal hailed, especially by baseball purists. The criticism grew worse when the roof needed to be painted in order to help fielders follow fly balls. This caused the grass to die and that led to the introduction of artificial turf. Now indoor baseball was quite a different experience from the outdoor kind where bad hops and tricky winds were considered "breaks" of the game.
The New York Mets complained that the home squad manufactured their own wind. They alleged that the air conditioning was turned off or on depending on which team was at bat. The league dismissed the charges as baseless.
The Dome's height was 208 feet at its peak above second base. A pentagonal-shaped gondola at the top provided for some unique camera angles. The ceiling was a tempting target for fungo hitters during warmups. It was rarely reached in actual game conditions although Jeff Bagwell struck it during the division-clinching game of 1997. Several others struck the speakers that hung from the ceiling. Originally encased in white metal containers, the speakers were later stripped of their housing and painted black.
The roof had occasional leaks and one game in 1974 was affected by puddles in the outfield, although the fault lay with a crew that was replacing some of the roof panels. The Astros had one actual rain out at home. It occured on June 15th, 1976 when local flooding prevented the umpires from reaching the stadium. Both teams had arrived early for practice but, with no umps, the game was called off. Picnic tables were dragged onto the field where the Pirates and Astros shared their clubhouse meal with the few hearty fans who braved the storm.
Doubters had claimed the roof would never stand up to hurricane conditions. On August 18th 1983, Hurricane Alicia roared through town with winds topping 80 MPH as it crossed the city. The Astrodome survived with hardly a scratch.
The huge scoreboard rubbed some folks the wrong way. Opposing pitchers often felt they were being "showed up" by the big board, particularly after Houston home runs or when they were ushered to the showers during a pitching change. Pitchers may have cursed but the hitters felt more affronted by the spacious dimensions and the lack of "carry" that turned many a long fly ball into a noisy out.
The 1965 Milwaukee Braves had their own answer. They smuggled fireworks on their road trip from Wisconsin to San Francisco and Los Angeles before unpacking them in Houston. When Joe Torre took Larry Dierker deep, the Braves tossed firecrackers out of their dugout and lit sparklers in celebration. The Houston fans took the ribbing in good spirits.
The stadium also featured an apartment above the right field stands where Judge Hofheinz sometimes lived. It was a quirky and somewhat tacky abode which featured a bowling alley, a non-denominational wedding chapel and a tilted bar with trick magnets to help sliding refreshments defy gravity. There were two glassless windows where visitors could watch the events on the field. The Judge, ever a showman, wanted a place all other baseball owners could envy.
Age and wear took their toll. The Astrodome got several coats of fresh paint during its life, some reupholstering of seats and new spiral outdoor ramps. To appease Houston Oiler owner Bud Adams, the scoreboard was torn down in 1988 to put in more seating. The renovations cost almost twice as much ($65 million) as it cost to build the stadium.
The fence distances changed several times during the 35 years of baseball played there. An inner fence was installed at times, removed at others. Finally, the fences were supported by gardens of fake flowers along the outfield rim. Manual scoreboards kept track of other games after the last remodeling. At first, two large electronic signs for Gulf Oil were the only noticeable advertising. By the end, billboards of all types circled the field.
Besides the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Dome was the site for heavyweight title fights, bowl games, tennis matches, basketball games, bullfights, soccer matches, rock concerts and conventions. The 1968 college basketball classic between Lew Alcindor's UCLA squad and the University of Houston Cougars led by Elvin Hayes was played there. The famous tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King took place there. The 1992 Republican National Convention was held there. Two massive rallies saluting the "Luv Ya Blue" Houston Oilers of Bum Phillips happened there.
The Oilers left Houston in 1996 and a new stadium was needed to lure another pro football team to town. Bonds were approved to build a downtown baseball-only ballpark that was ready by the 2000 season. One by one, the tennants of the Astrodome were leaving her. With the new football stadium in its parking lot, the Astrodome, like Colt Stadium before it, is likely to be demolished and paved over in the near future.
The Astrodome as it looked in 1965. Colt Stadium is on the left. Downtown Houston is in the distance.
The Astrodome as it looked lit up at night during the 1980s.
Inside the Dome in 1965 when the Home Run Spectacular goes off, Note the grass on the field.
Inside the Dome in 1997. Note the artificial turf and the outfield stands which replaced the scoreboard.
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