The Astrodome sits quietly now at 8400 Kirby Drive in Houston, Texas. It has been said that Walt Disney himself stood in the center at ground level, looked up and said, “This is indeed the Eighth Wonder of the World.” The Astrodome was the first Major League ballpark to be fully air conditioned and enclosed. Who would have thought that this facility would someday become a park of the past? It costs $31.6 million to build, which would be a steal in today’s market, and seated 54,313 fans. It originally opened with real grass, a Wild West scoreboard, and dead air that had a chilling effect on home runs. People came from all over the world to see this new facility. John Wayne and Frank Sinatra are just a few. The Astrodome opened its doors to the New York Yankees for a pre-season game on April 9, 1965. Mickey Mantle hit the first home run off Astros pitcher, Turk Ferrell, but Houston went on to win the game 2-1, on an RBI single by Nellie Fox in the 12th inning. The first regular season game occurred on April 12, 1965, against the Philadelphia Phillies. Bob Bruce was on the hill for the Astros and faced Tony Taylor of the Phillies. Dick Allen hit the first regular-season home run to help the Phillies post a 2-0 win over Houston. As the years went by, the grass died and was replaced by Astroturf; the 200-foot-high and 500-foot-long scoreboard was removed to add 10,000 seats in 1988; and the fences were lowered and moved in closer, to help the offense.
Thirty-five years does not compare to the life of most ballparks, but the Astrodome has had its moments. Here are some highlights: Willie Mays hit his 500th home run off the Astros Don Nottebart, on September 13, 1965. Don Wilson of the Astros no-hit the Atlanta Braves 2-0 for the first no-hitter in the Astrodome, on June 18, 1967. Back-to-back no-hitters were thrown on April 30 and May 1, 1969, by Cincinnati pitcher Jim Mahoney and Houston pitcher Don Wilson, respectively. On June 10, 1974, slugger Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia hit a towering shot that hit a speaker hanging in fair territory in centerfield. Nolan Ryan threw his fifth no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 26, 1981. Ryan also recorded his 4000th strikeout on July 11, 1985, against Danny Heep. Mike Scott beat the San Francisco Giants with a 2-0 no-hitter thrown on September 25, 1986, to clinch the National League West Division. It was the first time a no-hitter decided a pennant or division title. One of the most exciting games ever played at the Astrodome happened on October 15, 1986, when the New York Mets beat the Astros 7-6 in sixteen innings, to advance to the World Series. Another first occurred in 1992. The Astros were forced to go on a twenty-six day road trip, because the Dome was being used for the Republican National Convention.
The Houston Oilers called the Astrodome their home until they moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1998. The “House of Pain,” displayed great players like: George Blanda, Warren Moon, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini, Bruce Mathews, Mike Munchak, Elvin Bethea, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Mike Rozier, Ernest Givens, and Kenny Houston who thrilled the hometown fans every Sunday.
Of course, the Astrodome was also used for many non-sporting events. With 43,614 fans on hand, Elvis Presley turned the place out on February 27, 1970. George Strait, U2, Madonna, Pink Floyd, Selena, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones, are a few of the other groups to perform at the Astrodome. Tractor pulls, wrestling, monster trucks, and live stock and rodeo shows took their place inside the Dome. “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, beat up Cleveland Williams in 1966 and Ernie Terrell in 1967, both at the Dome. Professional tennis stars, Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs, played each other on September 20, 1973. Houston Cougars football and basketball were no strangers to the Astrodome. The Bluebonnet Bowl was played every year, and provided many thrills for the local fans. The University of Houston played the UCLA Bruins on January 1, 1968, in the “Game of the Century.” Cougar’s Elvin Hayes scored 39 points and got the better of Lew Alcindor, as 52,693 fans watched Houston stop UCLA’s winning streak at 47. The NBA All-Star Game was also held there in 1989.
I can’t guess how many games I attended for both baseball and football over the years at the Astrodome. I can tell you I was always amazed at the size of the building every time I parked. It gave me the feeling I was about to be a part of something special in a special place. Most folks didn’t realize that half the dome actually sat underground. To enter and then go down several flights of concourse to ground level seemed a little eerie. A study done by the city in May of 2012 estimated the cost of demolition of the Astrodome would be right at 128 million. Of course it would cost even more if they replaced the space with some other kind of building. The process reminds me of the Memorial Coliseum here in Corpus. I will miss the Astrodome and all the memories.
The Astros started the 2000 season in downtown Houston at their new retractable roof park called Enron Field, later to be named Minute Maid Park. There is no doubt that the retractable roof became the final nail in the Astrodome’s coffin. Indeed, a lost diamond.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him atwww.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.