7/18/99 at the Astrodome

The summer of 1999 was insane. My first book, How to Snag Major League Baseballs, had been published several months earlier, and I was being interviewed nonstop. I also had a full-time/Monday-through-Friday internship at Workman Publishing in New York City. Meanwhile, my college girlfriend (Alli) was spending the summer in New York and living with me and my parents . . . AND . . . Fujifilm had sponsored me and was sending me out every other weekend to major league baseball games in different cities. I didn’t exactly have a whole lot of free time before I’d be heading back to Guilford College in mid-August, so when I realized that the Astrodome was going to close for good at the end of the season, my only chance to visit was on a weekend. I decided to combine both Texas stadiums into one trip, which meant I was only gonna be at the Astrodome for one game, and unfortunately, because of how things worked out with my schedule, it turned out to be a Sunday with a Beanie Baby give-away. (Ugh!) I knew it was going to be packed, and I simply *had* to find a way to snag at least one baseball.

On the way to my hotel, I got a glimpse of Enron Field from the taxi:

1_enron_field_construction

It was still under construction, and I remember thinking how ugly and hangar-like it looked. I knew that I’d be back someday to attend some games there, but for the moment, I was focused on one thing: The Astrodome.

It wasn’t long before I saw it:

2_astrodome_from_afar

Nowadays, whenever I attend a game, I make a point of taking at least a few photos during batting practice, but back in 1999, when I didn’t have a blog or even a digital camera, I didn’t bother documenting every moment of every day. What I’m saying is . . . I have no photos of BP at the Astrodome, so all I can do is briefly describe the baseballs that I snagged. That’s right. Baseballs. Plural. My streak stayed alive, and I was ecstatic when I caught the first one of the day — a slicer down the right field foul line by a right-handed batter on the Astros. I got my second ball nearby with the glove trick. I got my third ball thrown by Indians pitcher Dave Burba along the left field foul line, and while I was over there, I used the glove trick again to snag ball No. 4. That was it for BP — not bad for a sellout at a new/tough stadium.

As thrilled as I was to have snagged a few baseballs, I was just as excited to actually BE inside the Astrodome. It was my 20th major league stadium, but it wasn’t just about the numbers. I loved the fact that I’d finally made it to this famous place that I’d heard about forever and seen on TV countless times. That’s always how I feel when I visit a new stadium, but there was something extra special about this particular structure that seemed . . . majestic. Take a look at the roof:

3_astrodome_field_and_roof

Did you know that when the Astrodome opened in 1965, it had real grass? And that the roof was made of glass panels? And that the glass created a glare that prevented the outfielders from seeing the ball? And that the panels were then painted white? And that the sunlight was blocked and the grass died? And that the playing surface was replaced the next year with some artificial crap named ChemGrass? And that ChemGrass later became known as AstroTurf? True story. I read about it in some book called Watching Baseball Smarter.

I had lots of time to spare before the game, so I marveled at the roof some more . . .

4_astrodome_banner_and_roof

. . . and wandered around the Field Level seats. Here’s a photo of the bleachers that I took in left-center field:

5_astrodome_center_field_seats

Here’s a photo from foul territory in right field . . .

6_astrodome_pregame_crowd

. . . and here’s a shot of the stands on the first-base side:

7_astrodome_first_base_side

Here’s a photo of me:

8_zack_at_the_astrodome

Are you aware that I’m *not* wearing a backpack in the photo above? Those dark streaks on my shoulders are sweat stains from my backpack. And also, did you notice the Enron logo on the white advertisement in the upper deck? Unreal.

I wandered a bit during the game, but didn’t take many photos and stayed near the dugouts. Here’s a shot from a tunnel on the first-base side:

9_astrodome_tunnel_to_seats

Here’s an action shot in the bottom of the 8th inning . . .

10_astrodome_action_shot_during_game

. . . and here’s a look at Manny Ramirez entering the Indians’ dugout on the third-base side:

11_manny_ramirez_astrodome_dugout

I *loved* Manny at the time. As I’ve mentioned before, I was (and still am) friends with the guy who coached him in high school, so I pretty much knew about Manny’s greatness before anyone. Yeah, well, we all know how THAT turned out, but at the time, I was happy to be standing just a few feet away from him.

The Astros beat the Indians that day by the score of 2-0. Mike Hampton pitched a four-hit shutout. (He finished the season with a 22-4 record and a 2.90 ERA.) Craig Biggio went 3-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. (He had a career-high 56 doubles that season.) Manny Ramirez went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. (Serves him right.)

After the final out, I got Billy Wagner to toss me a ball at the Astros’ dugout. Then I leaned way out over the railing and took the following photo of Hampton sitting alone on the bench, doing an interview:

12_mike_hampton_dugout_postgame

On my way out of the section, I took two photos of the field. Here’s one . . .

13_astrodome_postgame

. . . and here’s the other (which I realize isn’t much different):

14_astrodome_postgame

On my way out of the stadium, I collected a whole bunch of ticket stubs. I ended up with seven that looked like this:

15_astrodome_ticket_stubs

Where are the other two, you ask? I got them signed by Omar Vizquel later on:

16_omar_vizquel_autographs

I also got one stub that looked like this . . .

17_astrodome_ticket_stubs

. . . and two like this (which I’ve scanned full-size, which means you should click the photo to expand it and see what I mean):

18_astrodome_ticket_stubs

I also got EIGHTEEN stubs that looked like this:

19_astrodome_ticket_stubs

Overall it was a great day — and I’m glad to share my original handwritten journal entry about it:

20_journal_volume54_page48_49

Lots of bleeps on the following page — sorry, had to do it:

21_journal_volume54_page50_51b

The entry continues, ends, and continues here:

22_journal_volume54_page52_53

Here are the final two full pages . . .

23_journal_volume54_page54_55

. . . and here’s the last little bit:

24_journal_volume54_page56

Finally, if you’d like to check out my previous “Turn Back The Clock” blog entries, here’s a list:

1) June 11, 1993 at Candlestick Park
2) June 11, 1996 at Shea Stadium
3) July 2, 1998 at Cinergy Field
4) July 10, 1998 at Tiger Stadium
5) July 13, 1998 at County Stadium
6) May 29, 1999 at the Kingdome
7) July 17-18, 2000 at Qualcomm Stadium

19 Comments

Loving these turn-back-the-clock entries! I do have to ask… Why are you up at 3 in the morning, much less publishing an entry at that time (Yes I know it’s past midnight for me and I should be in bed sleeping because I have school in less than 8 hours)? Oh, and as I’ve watched the WBC games that have empty stadiums, I’ve been thinking of all the balls you would snag… If only you lived in Asia…
-Nick

Loved the rubber band ball on Reddit. Hope you don’t have to move house any time soon.

The Eighth Wonder of the World! Would have loved to catch a game there! Zach – you headed out to SF for the WBC finals this week?

Sorry for the misspelling of Zack… its 6am out here in CA!

Astrodome was a nice looking park. Those flowers in the front row of the outfield add that hideous “perfect-ness” you look for in a stadium. I wish I got to go. Apparently, you can still go inside of it even though it’s abandoned, it has the Houston Oilers setup inside. Might be a side project of mine when I go to Minute Maid.
- Chris
http://ballhawker.mlblogs.com

Ah, 1999. When the most expensive ticket Zack found was for $26.00. And some for $6.00, $3.00… and even a Comp. ::grumble – inflation – grumble::
I was fortunate enough to visit the Astrodome when I was a kid – no pictures though so this entry was a helpful reminder – you’re right – that this stadium was majestic. There hasn’t been another stadium like it… and there won’t ever be.
~Matt

NICK-
Why was I up at 3am? Because this whole “24 hours in a day” thing is stupid. A 30-hour cycle would be much better for me. I’d stay up for 20 or 22 hours and then sleep 8 or 10 hours. I’d feel so much better.

RAY BURTON-
Thanks! No moves planned at the moment.

TAYLOR HAMILTON-
You are forgiven, but no, I’m not planning to attend any WBC games.

CHRIS-
Not sure if you can tell, but those flowers were almost certainly fake. I had seen them on TV all the time, and when I finally got there and took a peek over the left-center field wall, I was disappointed to see that they were perched atop wood boards (which may have been painted dark green in order to look like grass). The entire area beneath the flowers was hollow/empty.

MATT-
I’m grumbling with ya. Prices are out of control, especially at Yankee Stadium, but hey, that’s what I get for living in New York City. (Still worth it.) Anyway, thanks for checking out the entry. Glad to have helped bring back some memories.

Oh man how I miss some aspects of the Dome. Others, not so much. It was a majestic building though. One of my favorites was when my buddy, who is a sound guy with a band, was working a concert there. We were on the floor while the crew was setting up the stage just hanging out playing frisbee with one of those long distance frisbee rings. We could literally toss it from one side to the other. One of those neat experiences that happen sometimes in life.
.
It’s sad to drive by it now and see it just sitting there in the current state. Astroworld is gone. The Astro Hall is gone. The Astrodome is the world’s biggest storage locker. The sites of many of my childhood memories.

Wow I just read your Astros story and I am jealous as I never got to go and see the Astros at the old stadium and that must of been a great happy but yet sad feeling knowing that you was in a very special place at the end of its tenure

Your last few entries reminded me how long interleague play has been around. 1997-2000 doesn’t seem like that long ago. Love seeing different angles of old stadiums, too.

I remember that story about the grass from WBS. It was a good idea that had to be tried, even though it failed. The University of Phoenix Stadium (football) has a natural grass turf that is retractable and is moved to the exterior of the building to allow it to get sunlight. How smart is that?

DONNY IN HOUSTON-
That was a beautiful comment. The frisbee story is amazing, and I love the idea of the stadium being a storage locker for your memories. Incredible.

THOMAS OTT-
It wasn’t *that* sad because I didn’t grow up in that stadium, so (unlike Donny, who commented just before you) I didn’t have an emotional connection to it. If anything, I was happy to have made it there before I lost the opportunity for good.

MATT H-
Yep, it’s been around for quite a while, and I hear ya about the different angles. It seems that every famous shot of every stadium is a panorama taken from behind home plate in the upper deck.

LIZ MERRY-
Retractable turf?! Damn.

How did you find out about that book? It’s funny because I just finished reading Watching Baseball Smarter. I wanted to get it read before spring break this week. It seems like it could use an updated version, though. In reading it in 2013 I realize just how much the league has changed in six years.
-Mateo
http://mateofischer.mlblogs.com

Cool game report, Zack. Although it would undoubtedly involve too much clean up work to be economically feasible, I’d love to see the Astros play a “turn back the clock” night game at the Astro Dome. If they did it, I’d definitely make all reasonable efforts to be there since I missed out on ever going to a game there.

Just saw a random video you might find interesting on a site called “nicekicks.com”, a video tour of Jeremy Guthrie’s “shoe-zeum” shoe vault. Apparently he’s a big collector.

http://blog.chron.com/newswatch/2013/03/vacant-astrodome-remains-vast-dusty/
.
Nice photos from a recent media tour of the dome.

Hey zack are you going to the April 18th game at Yankee stadium against the diamondbacks?

MATEO-
The book *is* due for an update. (If only my publisher were reading this.)

COOK & SON-
That’d be awesome, but there’s no way that it’ll happen.

KSLO69-
Guthrie’s the man.

DONNY IN HOUSTON-
Sad.

ALDEN KNOWLES-
Yep, planning on it. Don’t have tickets yet, though.

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