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You didn't like Tal's Hill until it might be going away

The decision on Tal's Hill has been a long time coming.

Bob Levey

If this had been any other season, Tuesday's news about Tal's Hill possibly going away might have qualified as the biggest "controversy" we've seen.

As it stands, Tal's Hill may not even register in the top 10, nor may be considered that controversial.

Evan Drellich had a story in Tuesday's Chronicle about how the Astros are looking at updating Minute Maid Park. In addition to announcing renovations to the wheels on the retractable roof and concession stands in the upper deck, Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan said that Houston may do away with the "iconic" center field slope.

This created some national opinions and some local opinions on the matter.

Drellich arch-enemy Craig Calcaterra aplauded the idea of getting rid of a "dumb gimmick."

It's one of those oddities, the likes of which several teams that built ballparks from the early 90s on through the mid-2000s forced on everyone. "Quirks" to make the place seem unique but which in no way were organic. Dumb overhangs. Friezes. There's a reason why Fenway Park has odd dimensions and the Green Monster. They literally did not have the land to build the park in a different way. That "quirk" was basically required and, only over time, became historic and significant. Most of the newer parks tried to manufacture their own instant history and most examples of it are silly. Tal's Hill probably being the silliest.

We've mostly gotten out of that retro-era. The parks of the past few years like Nats Park and the park in Miami may or may not be to everyone's tastes, but at least they're not trying to ape history. Good riddance, Tal's Hill.

Meanwhile, former SB Nation baseball head honcho Rob Neyer disagreed with Calcaterra, while also generally running down MMP.

Look, I get it. But let's not all treat all gimmicks the same. This one's been there for a while, it's just about the only interesting thing about (or near!) the ballpark, and it's not hurting anybody (no, despite all the worries, in 15 years nobody's actually been injured while climbing Tal's Hill).

I'm afraid Minute Maid Park is beyond redemption. The roof, the local climate, the locals' unwillingness to sit around for three hours in steamy conditions means the ballpark will always be a dreary place, at least when the team isn't exciting. But let's not make the place even less interesting than it already is.

Neither is a ringing endorsement for a ballpark that doesn't really have a bad seat in the entire house. While there may not be much "character' to MMP, it's a pretty nice venue to watch a game.

That has nothing to do with Tal's Hill or the flagpoles. If they are iconic, it's only because that's all we've known about MMP. That's why it was slightly puzzling when the stories about Tal's Hill's removal generated some dissenting opinions locally.

The problem, as I see it, is that there have maybe been three memorable plays made on Tal's Hill. You've got Berkman's catch. You've got Sexson's homer. And...what else?

Run down the most memorable moments in MMP history. Kent's home run. Burke's game winner. The Pujols shot. Biggio's 3,000th hit.

None had anything to do with the hill.

Houston's management has been looking at that hill for three years. At one of the first blogger nights with Jeff Luhnow in 2012, Tal's Hill came up. No one defended it. No one had anything nice to say about it. Most wanted to picnic on it more than see it in play.

Luhnow's response was that there were so few plays that went out there, it was a moot point.

Over time, I'm sure the Astros have listened to many fans talk about the hill. That's one of Reid Ryan's strengths, soliciting fan input. If they're comfortable moving forward, they have enough evidence that it's not that big a deal to fans. Or that the improvements will negate any nostalgia for the old setup.

How many of you liked the hill before it was going away? From my experience over these years, not many.

So, if the Astros want to improve the space, fine. It sounds like the plan may involve moving the bullpens into center field, maybe with premium seating in left (where the visiting bullpen currently sits) and more seating in right. It could mean putting a team museum in center, which would be all kinds of cool.

Maybe the Astros create a big wall in center instead. Get rid of the hill, but give batter's a 30-foot batting eye while transforming that space into something useful, something that enhances the character of the park.

Does it matter that those improvements would come at the expense of Tal's Hill?

I don't know that I care one way or the other. Keep it. Bulldoze it. I'll still like going to games at MMP.

The only thing I know is that the Astros aren't doing this at a whim.