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Dome Sweet Dome? Not So for Baseball

THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO

October 01, 1999|RANDY HARVEY

I was between the eighth and ninth grades when my father drove us the 200 miles or so to Houston to see the new ballpark. The word ballpark didn't do it justice. It was magnificent.

By then, thanks to my parents' insistence that we would experience a world outside northeast Texas during summer vacations, I had seen the Grand Canyon, the redwoods, two oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. To my 13-year-old eyes, nothing compared to the Astrodome.

The baseball team's marketing department called the stadium "The Eighth Wonder of the World," but, as the name Astrodome implied, it actually was other-worldly.

It was the first indoor stadium for an outdoor sport, with a 208-foot-high glass ceiling, air conditioning and, once it was determined a year later that grass wouldn't grow inside, AstroTurf. We weren't merely seeing baseball, we were promised, we were seeing the future of baseball.

The only thing missing in those days, it seemed, was a contending team. The Astros, who changed their name from Colt .45s after moving into the dome, weren't even as exciting as their scoreboard, which erupted in electronic images of exploding fireworks, charging bulls, gushing oil wells, discharging six-shooters and gigantic Lone Star flags when they hit a home run.

But with power alleys at 390 feet, none of the Astros except Jimmy Wynn, the "Toy Cannon," was capable of hitting many. By the time the Astros finally made it into postseason play in 1980, with a victory over the Dodgers in a one-game playoff to determine the National League West champion, I was long gone.

So was my fascination with the Astrodome.

I was not alone. Indoor baseball, although attempted in other places, never became accepted as part of our culture, and, by the '90s, the trend was toward building new stadiums to look like old ones.

If the Astros don't make the playoffs this season, the Astrodome will never again be used for major league baseball after this weekend's series with the Dodgers. The Astros' new stadium, which will be ready for opening day next season, has a retractable roof--for those particularly humid Houston days and nights--and God's green grass.

The Astrodome, fortunately, was not the future. It was a grand experiment, but one that ultimately reminded us that some things are better the way they are.

*

Walter O'Malley is not recalled with love in Brooklyn, but at least he took all of the Dodgers out of there at the same time. . . .

The L.A. Dodgers are leaving one at a time. . . .

I'm tired of writing negatively about our professional sports teams. I predict that the Kings and Ducks will tie for the Pacific Division title. . . .

Barry Bonds, who rarely gives interviews, gave a particularly insightful one to Channel 4's Fred Roggin that was shown Thursday. . . .

Bonds said he has fond memories of Candlestick Park, having seen his first baseball game there when he was 4 and his father, Bobby, played for the Giants. Barry, however, did not say he would miss the place. . . .

Three seasons ago, after Arizona State beat Nebraska in the regular season, won the Pacific 10 title and lost by three in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State, I was convinced that the Sun Devils were on the verge of becoming a national power. . . .

But a 5-6 record last season and a 1-2 start in this one--with losses to New Mexico State and California and with UCLA and Notre Dame up--have Phoenix sports columnists calling for Coach Bruce Snyder's job. . . .

USC Coach Paul Hackett's solution for preventing Carson Palmer from trying to bowl over defensive backs after he returns from his shoulder injury: "I'm going to make him quit watching films of Jim Brown." . . .

Julio Cesar Chavez will try to win for the 104th time in his career Saturday night in Las Vegas against Willy Wise. . . .

Chavez's victory total is third among active boxers. Publicist John Beyrooty told me Wednesday that Buck Smith is first with 178 wins. I knew that. . . .

The U.S. team watched a motivational film featuring past Ryder Cup heroics last Saturday night, spliced with scenes from other sources provided by Ben Crenshaw's wife, the former Julie Forrest of Temple City. . . .

Steve Pate said he was particularly inspired by the one from "Animal House," when the John Belushi character asks, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" . . .

Among sports movies, the one with the highest U.S. box office revenue is "The Waterboy," the sequel to "On the Waterfront."

*

While wondering if Michael Ovitz is about to provide a Hollywood ending for pro football in Los Angeles, I was thinking: Jeff Gordon without Ray Evernham is like the Dolphins without Don Shula, the Mets can come back if Bill Buckner plays first base for the Reds, I had to look twice when I read that the Lakers had signed Benoit Benjamin to make sure it wasn't April 1.

Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: randy.harvey@latimes.com.

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