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The Astros may get rid of Tal’s Hill and that train

Jun 28, 2012, 10:19 AM EDT

Tal's Hill AP

Tal’s Hill is that little hill in center field at Minute Maid Park. It probably represents the dumbest flair-for-the-sake-of-flair design element of any ballpark in baseball. And, based on Zach Levine’s report in the Houston Chronicle, it may be gone soon, along with that train above the outfield:

Add the train high above left field to Tal’s Hill on the list of Minute Maid Park quirks potentially on the chopping block.

Owner Jim Crane said Wednesday that the club will weigh removing both features before next year when it moves to the American League and rebrands.

“Those are two things people question me about all the time and those are logical,” Crane said. ”We’re going to do our marketing research. We’re going to study it.”

The train could stay or go, who cares. But if there is market research that supports keeping a freaking hill on the playing field, I submit that such research should be ignored.

  1. The Dangerous Mabry - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    It probably helps mitigate the danger of the pole. Is that pole still there? I seem to remember something about it being removed. If not, then if you’re getting rid of the hill (good move) I think you’ve got to bring that fence in so that people don’t kill themselves on that pole.

    • kopy - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:41 AM

      I couldn’t care less about the hill. My favorite memory is when the on-field runner used it to jump back out of the field and escape security.

      However, I hope they don’t move the center field fence in too much, or it will be one heck of a hitters’ park. Those sides are so close, a deep center is needed to mitigate the effects.

  2. thefalcon123 - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Wohoo! Now if they can get rid of the pole in fair play, move in the center field wall and ditch the stupid Crawford boxes, it will be just like a real stadium!

    • ezthinking - Jun 28, 2012 at 1:14 PM

      I suppose they should take down the Monster and move the fence back and Fenway would be a real stadium too.

      • thefalcon123 - Jun 28, 2012 at 1:48 PM

        Fenway is Fenway because it is old and historic. If someone built a new stadium Pesky’s pole and the Green Monster, it would be mocked mercilessly.

    • gloccamorra - Jun 28, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      The Crawford boxes are pop-fly home run seats, and it seems they make visiting-team 5′-7″ second basemen into sluggers. But, they’re popular, they’re high priced seats, and there are all kinds of promotions associated with them. In a choice between marketing vs. more realistic playing dimensions, guess which one wins?

  3. tcostant - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    Keep the train, get ride of the hill. Problem solved.

    • nolanwiffle - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:00 AM

      ….or vice-versa

  4. Bryz - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    Damn, I like the hill. 😦

    (not sarcasm)

    • Bryz - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:00 AM

      I feel like I should expand on this, because I think someone will inevitably ask me why I like it anyway.

      Tal’s Hill represents a large reason why I went from a casual fan of baseball to a diehard. First, on the pitching side, you don’t just have everyone chucking overhand fastballs at hitters 100% of the time. No, you’ve got them changing speeds, throwing curveballs and sliders, and even the occasional knuckleball and screwball. Plus, some even choose to sling it sidearm to the plate. Same goes with the hitters, as you’ve got a few that stand in the batter’s box like they want to absolutely murder the ball, while others will just sit and wait quietly until they find a pitch to their liking.

      Finally, every other major sport plays their game on a standard field. Not baseball, as we are treated to games that yes, do have some cookie-cutter stadiums (Atlanta, White Sox), but also have games where you need to combat a 30-foot wall (Boston), an overhang that juts over the field (Minnesota), cavernous foul territory (Oakland), and a freakin’ hill and flagpole that’s in play (Houston).

      I became a diehard fan of baseball because I learned that there are so many differences and oddities about EVERYTHING. I remember my brother and I raving about Craig Counsell and Gary Sheffield’s batting stances, Hideo Nomo’s windup and Chad Bradford pitching from the stretch, and finally the Green Monster and Tal’s Hill. If everything and everyone was similar, I’d only be a casual fan like I am with the other 3 major sports. This is why I would like Tal’s Hill to stay.

      • grizz2202 - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:05 AM

        C’mon Bryz, it’s dangerous. You don’t want one of your outfielders turning their ankle (or worse) trying to navigate a hill while they go to rob a homer.

        If you like the Hill because it’s different, hell let’s throw some bears out there or somethin’. (We don’t do that either because it’s also dangerous.) An obvious exaggeration but you get the idea.

      • Bryz - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:18 PM

        There’s a warning track in front of it for a reason. Not to mention that a high fly ball hit deep enough that the center fielder needs to track it all the way to the hill is rather uncommon.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:27 PM

        We’re here, we’re clear, we don’t want anymore bears!

      • kopy - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:34 PM

        Let the bears pay the bear tax. I pay the Homer tax!

      • Jonny 5 - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:38 PM

        I’m with you Bryz. To those saying how dangerous the hill is, I ask. Where is the evidence that that hill is any more dangerous than the rest of the outfield? I’d even venture to say that there are less injuries on that hill. I like the added flair. I mean it isn’t like some Carni-val parade float like some teams have in the OF. Or giant apples popping out the batters eye. The train can go straight to hell though imo.

    • dan1111 - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:01 AM

      I do like the uniqueness factor. In what other team sport is it possible to have a hill in the field of play? (actually, imagining the possibility of hills in other sports is pretty entertaining. Ice hockey would probably be the worst–or is it the best?)

      • IdahoMariner - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:46 PM

        ice hockey would definitely be the best. I would love that.
        but, that would definitely be more injuries.
        the puck sailing off the crest of a hill, like when we were kids jumping pur bikes off ramps? awesome.
        but, injuries.

        also, I dig the hill. yeah it’s flair for the sake of flair. i will take it over that thing in marlins-land. and it doesn’t appear to be injuring anyone….unlike what all that astro-turf did to all those outfielders’ careers….

      • jwbiii - Jun 28, 2012 at 1:47 PM

        It would also be unique to set up carnival rides behind second base. It would also be a bad idea to do so.

    • jarathen - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:57 AM

      The Hill is going to cause a catastrophic injury that turns Mike Trout into a shadow of his former self. DESTROY THE HILL.

      • cackalackyank - Jun 28, 2012 at 7:45 PM

        A catastrophic injury can happen anywhere on the field. There is no “Tal’s hill” at Kaufmann Stadium in KC…and Mariano River got pretty well messed up there…and that was just BP.

  5. mybrunoblog - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    I agree with Craig. The hill was an idiotic idea. It was meant to replicate the hill they had at the old Crosley field. The Crosley field hill was their due to the odd architecture and design of the old ballpark and the grade beyond the outfield wall. Replicating that in a modern ballpark was gratuitous and downright stupid.
    As for the train I don’t know. If the fans like it keep it. If not get rid of it. Maybe get the fans involved and do some kind of survey and whatever wins then the team follows through.
    Bottom line is it is the ballpark stuff is just window dressing. It’s going to be extremely weird seeing the Astros in the AL.

  6. jarathen - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    I’m not an Astros fan, but it seems to me like they need to commit to this whole “Astro” thing and dump the train. And the hill. This park should be a love letter to SPACE, and immediately become the best baseball stadium ever.


  7. deathmonkey41 - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    It needs more cowbell.

    • paperlions - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:15 AM

      So….keep the hill, move the fence in so the hill is not in play, make the wall plexiglass, and stick a couple of cows on it….with bells.

      • IdahoMariner - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:48 PM


      • paperlions - Jun 28, 2012 at 2:27 PM

        To clarify, I meant to stick cows on the hill, not on the wall.

  8. dan1111 - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    The only problem is, they’re going to replace it with Tal’s Hole, a 20 foot deep pit with spikes at the bottom.

    (assuming that the ‘Stros consider this “rebuilding”)

  9. bouwel92 - Jun 28, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Get rid of that damn hill but keep the train.

  10. ralphdibny - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    The Houston stadium is built on the site of the old Union Station–that’s why the train is there. And the hill is supposed to evoke the old AAA stadium. So why no love for the Astrodome? They should put the employees back in astronaut suits:

    • natstowngreg - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:48 AM

      With that context, the locomotive makes sense. But then, I like trains as a matter of principle.

      I happened to be in Houston late in the 1999 season and took in one of the last games played at the Astrodome. I was quite underwhelmed though in fairness, the Astros had been playing there 35 years, and didn’t have an incentive to keep up the place. Ken Caminiti hit a tie-breaking, steroid-fueled grand slam off Turk Wendell of the Mets in the 8th, so I was treated to indoor fireworks. Never was a good idea.

  11. roycethebaseballhack - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    I could take or leave The Hill. I’ve never heard people express any vehement opposition to it, but I don’t talk to a lot of NL Central players, day to day. At a quick glance, it seems that much area could be converted into some very cool fan-centered things, however.

    As far as the train, take a glance at the city’s official seal, if you’re confounded by what it’s doing there. Houston’s history can be linked to being a pivot-point of moving shipped goods to and from The Port of Galveston:

    • Joe - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:40 PM

      What kind of fan-centered things would you like to see on the playing field?

      • wlschneider09 - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:58 PM

        Dunk an Ump?

      • CJ - Jun 28, 2012 at 1:06 PM

        Taze an Ump would be way better

  12. ndnut - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    Honestly, if you get rid of both of them I won’t know the game is in Houston anymore. I like the hill because it makes it harder to get to the fence to rob a homer, and anyone who hits it that far deserves to have a HR.

  13. allisonhagen - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    I hope you’re not TOO upset that by blowing off a quick trip to Houston, I may be keeping you from seeing said hill and train BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.

  14. ndnut - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    Also, I just love the train for almost no reason.

  15. The Dangerous Mabry - Jun 28, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    You could just replace them both with a gun circle and call it a day. Now that’s excitement.

  16. stex52 - Jun 28, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    The hill and the flagpole need to go. Some player is going to wreck a knee or wrap himself around the pole. If you need more excitement, I kind of go with the bears idea. But you need to let them roam the stands, too, to enhance the experience. I am open to moving the center field wall in may 15-20 feet. 436 feet is a long way. But that’s a different discussion. I am concerned about player safety.

    As to the train, the park is located where Union Station used to be. It’s a history thing. No problem if they keep it. But not a driving issue either way. Maybe they can build Tommy’s littlle brother for home run celebrations.

  17. randygnyc - Jun 28, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    I’ve seen lots of players fall when trying to make a catch on bullpen mounds in foul territory. These “in play” bullpens always seemed a bad idea because the players are looking up when running onto those hills. Those are injuries waiting to happen, when completely unnecessary. I feel the same way about the hill at minute maid park. It may be good for the home team, but visiting players? As a quirk goes, it’s cool. But someone will get hurt there. And that will be one too many players.

  18. jillianefletcher - Jun 28, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    When I am at Minute Maid Park I look at the hill and flag pole and think it was designed by someone who has never played baseball. It might be dangerous, but the reason I don’t respect the hill is because it looks like it doesn’t belong. Same thing if there was a grassy pit in its place, it would look odd, like an obstacle. I hope part of their re-branding does not include additional obstacles to the field.

  19. gostros19 - Jun 28, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    I guess Milwaukee should remove that slide too then huh?

  20. Detroit Michael - Jun 28, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    Maybe the motivation is that Tal’s Hill is a reminder of Tal Smith and Jim Crane and Tal Smwith aren’t exactly best buddies as per Crane’s idea of rebranding might be getting rid of visible reminders of Tal Smith.

  21. jumbro10 - Jun 28, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    Personally LOVE the hill and would hate to see it go.

  22. jumbro10 - Jun 28, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    I have heard a lot of reports of people being afraid of i juries on the hill. Serious question…how many injuries have actually happened on that hill? Last time my reds were down there i saw the houston outfielder make an INCREDIBLE play on the hill. Home field advantage right there, and i like that

  23. tubbman27 - Jun 28, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    I thought it was cool when I was a kid but now I understand how stupid it is.

  24. Del Pittman - Jun 29, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    Smart move backed by common sense and good judgment.

  25. avietar - Jun 29, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    It’s a suppressed and little-known fact that when the Astros built the ballpark and installed Tal’s Hill, they petitioned the Commissioner’s office to allow the hill to serve as the pitchers’ mound for visiting pitchers, since that would be the only way the Astros could remain competitive. Naturally, the other owners balked at the suggestion…

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