HOUSTON -- Tal Smith, the long-time Astros president and general manager who inspired Tal's Hill, will be at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday for the final regular-season game of the incline in center field. The Astros are removing Tal's Hill next season as part of a $15 million renovation of the center-field area to include more fan amenities.
Smith, who helped design the Astrodome in the early years of the franchise and later served as general manager and president of baseball operations, said team president Reid Ryan invited him to the game. It will be only his third appearance at Minute Maid Park since he was let go following the 2011 season. Smith said he also wanted to attend Bill Brown's final game as the Astros' primary television play-by-play voice.
"I've been expecting it," Smith said of the removal Tal's Hill, which originally was supposed to happen following the 2015 season. "I thought it was inevitable with the new ownership and management. I thought it was a very distinct feature of the ballpark. I liked it. Everybody's got their opinions. I sort of sense it was popular with many of the fans, and players and managers you get different viewpoints.
"I think it added an interesting aspect, interesting feature and I think the injury-risk factor that gets mentioned from time to time, it's been 17 years now and -- knock on wood -- so far I don't know if anybody that's been hurt out there. And when you look at the memorable defensive plays in the history of the ballpark, so far many of them would be center-field plays."
When designing then-Enron Field in the late 1990s, Smith was tasked with coming up with a unique concept for the park that would bring to mind unique characteristics of older ballparks like Yankee Stadium's monuments, Fenway Parks' Green Monster and Wrigley Field's ivy-covered wall.
Smith remembered Frank Robinson navigating the hill at Crosley Field in Cincinnati without any difficulty and brought the incline to Houston's new park in 2000. It inherited the name, Tal's Hill. The distance to center field, which is currently 436 feet, will be 409 feet when the renovations are done.
"Obviously, when we opened Enron in 2000, it played like a bandbox until pitchers learned to compensate and use the depth of the power alleys in center field," Smith said.
With a $30 donation to the Astros Foundation, fans can take a picture in front of Tal's Hill following Wednesday'S game. And who knows? Smith might be out there as well.
"I think Reid made a comment that some people might ask to have a picture taken with you and I'll do whatever I can," he said. "I'll have to see the last game and what it looks like. It's also Brownie's last day, and I'd like to be there for that, too."