Minute Maid Park Provides Fans Air-Conditioned Baseball Games

As voters in Arlington weigh whether to help the Texas Rangers build a new ballpark with a retractable roof, the Houston Astros are playing their 17th season inside Minute Maid Park, one of six Major League Baseball parks with roofs that can be either open or closed.

"It feels great, I love it," said Crysten Conner, who drove from Alabama to see the Astros play recently. "I would much rather be inside an air-conditioned building than in the heat outside."

Normally left open in dry, mild weather, the Minute Maid Park roof is often closed in July and August so fans can enjoy the games in comfort.

"I enjoy that this stadium has the option of being open or closed because it's beautiful when the temperature is right," said Astros fan Bethany Wesson of Houston.

For the night game on July 6, the outside temperature in Houston felt like 105 degrees, but inside the air-conditioned ballpark, it was a comfortable 73 degrees.

"You're comfortable for the whole game," said Astros season ticket holder Darrell Fernandez. "No rain outs, no delays, so it's pretty nice."

That day, the roof remained open until mid-afternoon to let the sun shine on the natural grass field.

"We try and get it about six hours a day so we'll open up in the mornings, get as much sunlight as we can and then close the roof," said Marcel Braithwaite, the Astros' senior vice president of business operations. "And baseball should be played on natural grass."

Prior to the year 2000, the Houston Astros played in the fixed-roof Astrodome with artificial turf.

With three panels and a glass wall behind left field, the 9,000-ton retractable roof can be fully opened or closed in just 13 minutes.

"Just watching it move, you sit and you kind of watch it and you're mesmerized," Braithwaite said.

"The outer roof, the inner roof, the two inner panels (slide) underneath themselves, underneath the superstructure," Braithwaite said. "And all of it goes out to the centerfield, right field area."

With the flexibility of a retractable roof, Minute Maid Park hosts more than 600 events each year, including everything from small gathering to huge concerts.

"Last year we had a great event where we had a boxing match out on second base, closed roof because it was raining outside," Braithwaite said. "Had the roof not been there, you would not have been able to have the matches here for that day."

"The reality is consistency," Braithwaite added. "One, I know that I'm never going to have a rainout and, two, is when the hot summers of Houston, being able to provide a comfortable environment for our fans is huge."

New construction now surrounds Minute Maid Park, which once sat in the middle of sprawling parking lots in downtown Houston.

"It's been a remarkable turnaround, and Minute Maid Park has been a big, big part of that," said urban planner Guy Hagstette, who adds the retractable roof is a big part of the reason.

"It makes the ballpark experience about more than just baseball," Hagstette said. "It's about this whole urban traditional experience of going to the ballgame."

Attendance varies, based mostly on how well the team is playing, but the retractable roof is often the 10th player on the field.

"When its mid-70s in April, and you've got the roof open, it's a completely different experience again at the ballpark," Braithwaite said. "So you can experience both."

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