The Runner Sports

Requiem Mound: Astros Ditch Tal’s Hill, Bring In Wall

Wednesday not only marked the imminent death of the Houston Astros’ Wild Card hopes, but doomed, too, is the landmark Tal’s Hill, the 30-yard wide center field bump that has confounded outfielders for 17 years. The Seattle Mariners clobbered Houston, 12-4, in the last game the hill will see use, September 28.

The Astros ultimately got eliminated from playoff contention on their Thursday off day, when Baltimore shut out Toronto, 4-0.

Boot the Butte

On Columbus Day, Tal’s Hill (and its 30-degree incline) began its reduction to just another pile of dirt. The flag pole (and attendant star spangled banner) will have to find another place to yet wave, and the wall will inch glacially closer to the infield of Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston. Tal’s Hill was named after former Astros president Tal Smith.

“We are very pleased to be moving forward with our plans to renovate the center field area of our ballpark, and continue to improve the fan experience,” Houston Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan pronounced in August.

Burying the Shovel

Groundbreaking for the leveling of Tal’s Hill, and the commencement of the new renovations began October 10. At a cost of just short of $19 million, the project will be funded by the Astros. The 436-foot mark wall segment will go into the Astros’ archives.

Loam Field Advantage

Delayed since its original date of demise a year ago due to the Astros’ abbreviated playoff run, fans got a chance to selfie with the consequent sack of soil (30 bucks for a group of four) following Wednesday’s loss to Seattle.

Taking the place of the grassy, knee-buckling protuberance will be a $15 million renovation project that had no use for a flag-bearing hill lacking a revenue stream.

So, come Opening Day 2017, improved seating, new food and beverage options, plus additional escalators will take the place of the unique ballpark feature that echoed Cincinnati’s old Crosley Field, and its 15-degree left field “terrace.”

With the renovation, the once-distant 436-foot center field wall will be moved to a more tolerable (for hitters, anyway) 409 feet from home plate. What was once the deepest center field in the American League will now be the sixth-farthest center field.

Video: Watch a collection of Tal’s Hill highlights. See who conquered it, and see who could’ve benefited from harnesses and rappelling devices.

Video: Watch “A Tribute to Tal’s Hill, Pt. 2”

According to the team, the design of the new center field area incorporated ideas from consultants, as well as feedback from fans. Current and former players and front office brass weighed in, as well. Astro execs also visited nearly two dozen MLB parks as part of the planning and visualization process.

Ryan also explained that, “This project is our latest effort to make Minute Maid Park one of the most modern and comfortable venues in Houston. Whether fans are taking in an Astros game, or attending one of our many special events, we are confident the updated center field area will provide a new and unique view of the action.”

As well as adding three new bar locations and four additional food locations, the first field-level seating area in the ballpark will be available.

In an interview last winter, the hill’s namesake added his own reflection on the changes looming on the horizon: “I’m over that, because for four years now, I’ve expected it’s going to go. It’s inevitable.”

Smith mentioned that he thought bringing in the wall will affect Minute Maid’s power alleys. “It’s going to play like a bandbox,” he said. “You’ve got very good defensive outfielders. I think that’s a big asset, but if they can’t get to a ball because it’s up against a fence or over a fence, you sort of negate that.”

The Dome’s Future

See: Astrodome Gets New Life + Her Katrina Heroism Revisited

Plus, enjoy this TRS article from last year, which celebrated the Astrodome’s 50th Anniversary, and includes personal memories (including Nolan Ryan’s) of the venerable stadium, as well as several wild ideas about her future that were freely bandied about:

Houston’s Astrodome is 50: Hats Off to the Grande Dame

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

At TRS, you'll get full Astros coverage, minor league peeks, player profiles, interviews, MLB historical perspective, and maybe a little rock'n'roll!
Brad Kyle