The Astrodome’s Début

Houston, we have a solution.

Famous for its humidity, Houston unveiled a revolutionary, futuristic, and air-conditioned sports refuge—the Harris County Domed Stadium, also known as the Astrodome.  Débuting in 1965, the Astrodome’s monkey reflected the 1960s Space Age, when Houston dominated the world’s attention as the headquarters for NASA, which launched unmanned spacecraft and manned flights in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.  Houston’s Major League Baseball team changed labels, too.  Introduced as the Colt .45s in 1962, the team became the Astros concurrent with the Astrodome’s début.

Houston’s relationship with professional baseball began in 1888 with the Houston Buffaloes, a minor league fixture until 1961.  The Buffaloes, in fact, needed to be expunged from Houston so that a major league team could enter the market.  On January 17, 1961, the Houston Sports Association, the entity owning the rights for a National League team in Houston, purchased the Buffaloes and moved the team to Oklahoma City, where they became the 89ers.

The Astrodome provided Houstonians the opportunity to see events without worry regarding the weather.  “The searing Texas sun will still beat down, the angry Gulf Coast winds will still howl and the tropical rains will still fall, but NOT on the spectators in the Astrodome,” described the Houston Sports Association in its 1965 promotional magazine Inside the Astrodome.  “They sit in almost regal splendor in plush-type opera seats protected overhead by a permanent translucent roof covered with 4,596 skylights of clear ‘Lucite’ plastic and in a temperature of 74 degrees controlled by a $4,500,000 air-conditioning system of 6,600 tons.”

Until the Astrodome was erected, though, the Colt .45s needed a home field.  Colt Stadium was erected in a few months, though its conditions endorsed an indoor facility for Houston.  In his 2014 book The Astrodome: Building An American Spectacle, James Last wrote, “The team would play three seasons in Colt Stadium and, by all accounts, conditions there underscored the need for an indoor venue.  Ballplayers and spectators wilted under the high heat and humidity and were feasted on by mosquitoes drawn to the damp, low-lying site”

Besides the comfort provided by luxurious seats, cool temperatures, and protection from the elements, the Astrodome entertained fans with an electronic scoreboard featuring animation, an innovation in the mid-1960s.  Along with NASA’s missions, the Astrodome became geographic shorthand as it elevated Houston to worldwide fame.  In their 2013 book Deep in the Heart: Blazing A Trail From Expansion To the World Series, Bill Brown and Mike Acosta cite the description of renowned baseball journalist Mickey Herskowitz:  “But somewhere along that first year (1965), you could go to any city in the world, London or Paris for example, and if somebody asked where you were and you said Houston, they would know about the Astrodome.  People forget the impact the Astrodome had.”

The first game played in the Astrodome was an exhibition between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees on April 9, 1965.  Dick Farrell threw the first pitch, Mickey Mantle hit the first home run, and a new era of multi-purpose domed stadiums was born.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 11, 2015.

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