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:
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:
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:
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 . . .
. . . and wandered around the Field Level seats. Here’s a photo of the bleachers that I took in left-center field:
Here’s a photo from foul territory in right field . . .
. . . and here’s a shot of the stands on the first-base side:
Here’s a photo of me:
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:
Here’s an action shot in the bottom of the 8th inning . . .
. . . and here’s a look at Manny Ramirez entering the Indians’ dugout on the third-base side:
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:
On my way out of the section, I took two photos of the field. Here’s one . . .
. . . and here’s the other (which I realize isn’t much different):
On my way out of the stadium, I collected a whole bunch of ticket stubs. I ended up with seven that looked like this:
Where are the other two, you ask? I got them signed by Omar Vizquel later on:
I also got one stub that looked like this . . .
. . . 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):
I also got EIGHTEEN stubs that looked like this:
Overall it was a great day — and I’m glad to share my original handwritten journal entry about it:
Lots of bleeps on the following page — sorry, had to do it:
The entry continues, ends, and continues here:
Here are the final two full pages . . .
. . . and here’s the last little bit:
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