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Minute Maid on display at ASG
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07/10/2004 12:51 PM ET
Minute Maid on display at ASG
Locomotive, incline in center field add to experience
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Fans in Houston can now enjoy baseball outside. (Daria DeBuono/MLB.com)

HOUSTON -- As soon as the referendum for a new ballpark in downtown Houston passed in 1996, Astros owner Drayton McLane set his sights on bringing the All-Star Game to the Bayou City.

He was granted that wish in 2001 when Major League Baseball awarded Houston the 2004 All-Star Game, giving McLane the opportunity to show off the Astros' sparkling downtown ballpark to the world.

When the Astros opened the doors of what is now called Minute Maid Park for the first time in 2000, fans saw something they hadn't witnessed since 1964 -- outdoor baseball in Houston. While clear skies and natural grass were a welcome change after 35 years in the Astrodome, a retractable roof offered protection from two inevitable elements linked to Houston -- rain, and often unbearably hot weather.

Typically, the Astros keep the roof open in April and May on non-rainy days. When temperatures and humidity skyrocket during the summer months, night games begin with the roof closed, and if inclement weather is not on the radar, the Astros will open the roof after the sun goes down, usually at the top of the sixth inning.



JUST THE FACTS


Distances from plate:
Left field - 315 feet
Left-center - 362 feet
Center field - 435 feet
Deepest point - 436 feet
Right-center - 373 feet
Right field - 326 feet

Height of wall:
Left field - 19 feet
Left-center - 25 feet
Center field - 10 feet
Deepest point - 10 feet
Right-center - 10 feet
Right field - 7 feet

Seating:
TOTAL - 40,950
Diamond Club - 259
Field Boxes - 6,168
Crawford Boxes - 763
Bullpen Boxes - 2,326
Center Field Patio - 74
Club Level - 4,776
Mezzanine - 2,337
Suite Level - 918
Terrace Deck - 3,316
Upper Deck - 9,131
Outfield Deck - 1,677

Size:
Gross Square Footage - 28.97 acres

Total Square Footage - 1,263,240 square feet

Building Height - 93 feet

The roof takes between 12 and 20 minutes to open and close.

Minute Maid Park offers several unique elements. A replica of a 19th century locomotive, circa 1860, weighs close to 50,000 pounds and runs along 800 feet of low roof track that spans from left field to center field. When the Astros hit a home run, the train chugs and snorts its way down the tracks.

Ocassionally, the train will sport a "guest conductor." Local newscasters and executives from other Houston sports teams have been among the list of invited guests. Earlier this year, Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly hopped aboard for a trek down the tracks.

On the playing field, a 10-degree hill sits toward the back of center field, representing the deepest part of the ballpark. Named "Tal's Hill" after the club President who came up with the idea, Tal Smith, the slope sports a flag pole in the field of play that creates unique actions for any ball that gets past an outfielder.

Several audio and video elements keep the fans in every minute of the game. Minute Maid Park was the first major sports facility to feature an open-captioning board for the hearing impaired. The primary scoreboard, measuring 35 by 131 feet, displays player and team stats on the left side while the right features graphics and animation.

A speed pitch board, four auxiliary scoreboards and an old-fashioned, manually operated, out-of-town scoreboard along the left-field wall keep fans on top of the action in the ballpark as well as stadiums throughout the Major Leagues.

The state-of-the-art video board high atop Minute Maid Park is a product of SACO Smartvision, providing fans with unmatched instant replays and special video features and effects unlike anywhere in Major League Baseball.

The overall seating capacity of Minute Maid Park is 40,950, but sellouts usually exceed that total thanks to a few thousand standing room only tickets that go on sale the day of a game.

The most popular seating area is the Crawford Boxes, located in left field. As soon as the gates open, fans pour into that area, knowing it's the best place to catch a batting practice homer.

The distance down the left-field line is short, just 315 feet. But the deepest part of the park in center is one of the biggest in baseball at 436 feet. The left field power alley spans 362 feet, while right field extends 373 feet. The distance down the right-field line is 326 feet.

The Astros played their first game in their new ballpark in an exhibition contest with the New York Yankees on March 30, 2000. Roger Clemens reminded everyone at his January press conference when he signed with the Astros that he logged the first base hit.

The Astros' first regular season contest in downtown Houston was against the Phillies on April 7. All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen scored the first run when he homered to left field in the seventh inning.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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