Sunday, November 03, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: Not-so-wondrous views of the Astrodome, the 'Eighth Wonder of the World'

Astros fans this weekend had a chance to take home some seats, turnstiles, on-deck circles and other treasures from the long-closed Astrodome.

But I’m guessing there wasn’t a mad rush to get to items from the Astrodome Club, shown here in all its Texas subtlety.

But first, a good story! I love the Astrodome. It’s an important place for baseball history and Mets history – and I boldly snuck in during a visit in 2009.

Here’s a portion of that post, and you can read the rest here. (There are some photos of what I saw during that adventure.)

The Eighth Wonder of the World still stands, though it has seen better days.

The Astros moved downtown and the Texans football team have massive Reliant Stadium, which towers over the first-ever domed stadium.

There’s a lot of Mets history in that dome, including what one author called “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Game 6 of the 1986 National League playoffs.

So I figured I’d head over and just walk around the outside, taking some photos. The Texans wanted $8 to park, even though there was nothing going on at either stadium. A friendly attendant suggested I could park in the shopping center across the street and walk over.

After grabbing a quick turkey sandwich at Subway – proving that I had an official reason to park in the lot – I strolled over to see the dome.

It was sad. The mighty Astrodome, which inspired the team to change its name and even create plastic grass, looks pretty unloved next to the new stadium.

It has a new name – the Reliant Astrodome – but it appears there has been no maintenance on the building since the move. It looked dirty, and there were missing pieces of siding here and there.

I figured I’d make a lap, snapping photos near and afar.

Then, on the far side, I saw what appeared to be a truck ramp leading under the stadium. There were two swing-out garage doors, and one was open.
Hmm. I thought maybe I could walk down and an employee or kind security guard would allow me to poke my head in and snap photos.

So I slinked down the ramp, and as I got closer to the door I could see a little inside. It led not to some inner hallway, but to what was the centerfield gate. Off in the distance were the famous rainbow-striped seat sections, with light pouring though the panels of the roof.

I stood in the door. I looked to my left, and to my right. There were no employees to be found.



An adventure should have a little risk. If I had taken another step forward, I supposed it could be considered trespassing.

I pondered what would happen if caught. I was an obvious fan, with cap on head and camera in hand. No harm was intended. I figured I’d get a, “Hey! You’re not supposed to be in here!” and escorted to the door – or I’d run back to the car at the Subway before they could catch me.

After about 10 seconds of deep contemplation, I took a bold step into the Astrodome.

It was spectacular.

I started snapping photos, first with my camera then with the iPhone, quickly sending shots to Will and Greg Prince, figuring that I could be tossed out at any moment and knowing they'd like to share in the fun.

I stood were the outfield fence once was, heart racing and trying to absorb everything I could see.

I don’t remember if there were lights on, or whether the semi-transparent roof was allowing enough light in to illuminate the inside. But it was plenty bright.

The famed plastic grass was gone, the floor was hard concrete. The third base side was filled with those golf cart-like trams that I guess are used to drive fans in from the distant regions of the parking lots for football games.

The first base side was littered with folding chairs and other odds and ends. It struck me that the Astrodome was now the world’s largest storage shed.

After several minutes of not being discovered, I became a little bolder, and started walking into centerfield. Not too far, maybe 10 to 15 feet beyond where the warning track once was.

Turning around, I saw some old advertising signs, blank scoreboards and a sign reading “Home of the Houston Astros" with the orange and blue logo the team hasn’t used since the rainbow days, the design with the stadium in the middle and orbiting baseballs.

I looked at the light coming in the roof and wondered what it would be like for a player to stand in that very spot trying to track the flight of a fly ball.

I swear I could see Mike Scott and his scuffballs, the Toy Cannon launching bombs, Don Wilson and J.R. Richard and Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno and those magnificent rainbows.

t seems to me that it’s wrong to demolish history. I wish there was more left of Shea than plaques in the parking lot. But I don’t know if it is right to keep up an unused stadium.

So for now it stands -- a garage for trams and storage shed.

I stood there in deep centerfield, looking for ghosts in rainbow jerseys and wondering if I could walk deeper or even up into the stands for more views.

There’s a difference between boldness and recklessness. I’d experienced what I came for and far beyond. Intentional or not, The Astrodome offered a wonderful gift and I didn’t want to abuse it. I took a long last look and headed back out into the sunshine.

A short time later I came across a sweet “Astrodome, the 8th Wonder of the World” foldout postcard packet. It’s neat, with a bunch of photos of inside and outside the stadium.

But two of them show a part of the stadium I didn’t explore. And, if the postcard photo is an indication, not too many other people found it either.

Foldouts usually don’t have room for the kind of detailed backs we’re used to reading and searching for clues. These have only a title:

“The Astrodome Club Bar – Longest Bad in Texas (150 feet long)” and “The Astrodome Club – One of the private dining rooms.”

Both embrace the “ghost town” genre of bad postcards, where we get rooms and buildings void of all humans.

Let’s start with the dining room. Did they use enough red? And what’s the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec rip-offs on the wall? Hey, Astros, that’s a stadium. Why is your club decorated like a cheap and tawdry casino on the wrong end of the Vegas Strip? Show us some sports or cowboys or other Texas stuff!

Now let’s check out the bar. No, wait. We can’t. It’s blocked off by the golden sash. That means that instead of getting a look at the actual bar, we get a close-up of the little section where I guess some employees sat and the golden sash.

So I’m sure none of those things awaited people who rushed into the Astrodome this weekend. The story said the sale was in advance of a bond request to convert the stadium into a convention center. Let’s hope the stadium remains in some way, because there’s too much glorious baseball history under that dome.

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