Built as a multi-purpose venue on the outskirts of downtown Houston and opening in 1965, the Astrodome was the first stadium to utilize the fake grass-like surface called AstroTurf. This invention debuted after a brief attempt at growing grass indoors, which failed miserably. While awaiting the arrival of the AstroTurf for the 1966 season, the remaining dirt was painted green to look like grass, which surely added to the other-worldly atmosphere.
The arena also doubled as the home of the NFL’s Houston Oilers, as well as college and high school football. I saw a Texas high school football championship played here in the early 2000’s when the Dome was in its dying days and the construction cranes of Reliant Stadium next door hovered like the Grim Reaper’s scythe.
To get the full effect of the dome, seats closer to field level are best for seeing baseball as you can image what the players are experiencing on the field with no winds, controlled climate and that crazy roof. Each level of cushioned seating is a different color and once matched the classic fruit-striped home jerseys of the Astros. The total capacity of the Astrodome was 70,000 with 54,000 available for baseball. The foul poles are actually yellow strips suspended from the ceiling almost twice as high as a regulation foul pole, perfect for calling “moon shots” fair or foul.
Review by Gary
Long before interleague play, Houston was the closest my beloved Mets would come to my then-home near Dallas. So, my first visit to the Astrodome was to see, not the Astros, but the Mets. When it was completed in 1964, the Astrodome was completely new and foreign. It was a glimpse into the future. The Astrodome was the first climate-controlled sports stadium. It was the first stadium to boast a mega-sized scoreboard with a television screen. It was the first baseball stadium to take advantage of the wonderful technology that is air conditioning, as going to a ballgame in the heat of a Texas summer tends to be a bit tortuous (see Arlington Stadium).
The Astrodome became a symbol of an era when Houston was projecting an image to the rest of the world as "Space City," the city of the future, with the Johnson Space Center and NASA at the heart of it all. With frosted glass panels in the fixed roof 18 stories above the field to allow in daylight, there is no feeling of claustrophobia once inside the Dome. There is a darkened area in the roof directly above home plate so the fielders don’t lose the ball in the “sun”. The exterior concourses around the entire Roman Coliseum-esque venue are not air conditioned so you can look through the openings in the concrete exoskeleton to the outside world and still feel the extreme temperatures. Once you pass through the doors to your seating area, you return to the cool embrace of A/C.
When I first visited in 1987, the World Champion Mets came to visit and my Mets attire and I were booed as my team had beaten the Astros in 1986 in the NLCS. I would return twice more and the Astrodome did not disappoint on either visit. I am glad to have had the chance to visit this historic venue three times.