Astros suspend plans to renovate center field
Tal's Hill to remain a Minute Maid Park feature in 2016
HOUSTON -- An unexpected playoff push, coupled with a longer-than-anticipated bidding process, forced the Astros to postpone center field renovations they had previously announced would take place this offseason.
The $15 million renovations, announced and approved by the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority on June 4, were slated to remove Tal's Hill -- a 90-foot-wide, 10-degree incline in the deepest part of center field -- and bring the fences in from 436 feet to 409 feet.
"We knew we were going to have to start work probably while the baseball season was still going on," said Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan. "But getting into the bidding process and fully vetting everything, and what it takes to actually take something from a piece of paper and then get it done within a timeframe and a unique structure with cement and things that you can't move very easily, it was just more detailed than we thought to get it done in this timeframe."
Ryan said there were doubts the plans could be completed by Opening Day 2016 before the Astros entered the postseason, but when they advanced to the American League Division Series and ensured two home postseason games, the decision was solidified.
Also compounding the plans is an international cricket match set to take place in November. Minute Maid Park is one of three Major League parks set to host a match.
"We're going to look at, 'Is there anything we can pull forward, any elements that aren't field-facing that don't affect the play on the field?' If we can do those, we're going to try to get those done in the offseason," Ryan said. "If that's not something we can do, we're going to have to figure out a plan and go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to be able to do this within two seasons, or something else."
The hill, which is named for former Astros executive Tal Smith, and has provided its share of circus-style catches through the years, will remain for at least one more season, a revelation that left manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow largely indifferent at their end-of-season press conference on Thursday.
Ryan said everything that was on the original model -- including a restaurant and a viewing deck in center field -- is still slated to be completed at Minute Maid Park in the future.
"Our plans are to put in what we designed and rolled out," Ryan said. "But the first thing we have to be able to do is to be able to have a scope and a plan we can deliver. If we can't deliver anything, it doesn't matter what our model looks like. That's what we have to go and do now, and so we'll start that process and see how it goes."