So far in the two games the Phillies have played at Enron Field Minute Maid Park this week, the Astros' aberration in centerfield has come into play, as I imagine it often does. On Monday, Ryan Howard ripped a ball to center, which should have been caught, but rookie Hunter Pence had it bounce off his glove, and wasn't credited with an error, likely because he had to factor in for the 10º grade in center. Yep, a hill that would slow a Hyundai is in deep center. Then last night, Howard sent one further out to center, a sure home run in CBP, and Pence makes a great catch, running up the hill and reaching behind a flagpole, which is in play.
I'm all for distinguishing elements in today's corporately named parks, especially if they have roots in old-time baseball history. But that hill is weird, and the flagpole reminds me of a pipe coming out of the floor that everyone would just rather was hidden behind the wall. Yes maybe I'm just bitter that Pence made a great play on Howard's bomb, and then the Phils lost because of a horribly botched call that would have ended the game in the bottom of the 9th. At least that one had nothing to do with the hill.
So what's the story behind that hill? Our friend Texas Gal from Ladies... was in the first row, centerfield, last night, and shares some history: "The hill is an homage to the one in old Crosley Field in Cincinnati, and it's called "Tal's Hill," after Astros' President Tal Smith, who came up with the idea. (eds note: If Pence keeps playing the way he has since being called up, they might have to call it Hunter's Hill. I vote for Henry Hill though.) The flagpole in play? That's a tribute to the one from Tiger Stadium. Some of the players have called Tal's Hill the "Grassy Knoll" in the past, but
most people just call it "the Hill." The flagpole is actually probably more dangerous to visiting
CFers than the slope of the hill—and if a ball hits off the pole,
it's a fair ball. In '03(?), Biggio was actually playing OF,
and Burrell hit a ball out there—and Biggio fell on his face trying to
go grab it, so Pat got the triple."
Overall, the stadium, with its retractable roof, significant grades, Double Dare obstacle course, etc., is probably a pretty nice place to see a game. I just hope Pence doesn't blow out an ankle at its base or pull a Rowand into the pole. OK, maybe I'd like to see him run into the pole. Just a little.