Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cubs end final Houston visit with loss

The Cubs were 5-3 at Minute Maid Park in Houston this year.

This is the Houston Astros' tenth season in Minute Maid Park. They played their last season in the Astrodome in 1999. I remember a radio station announcer (now-defunct FM100--the current occupant, 100.3, formerly Love FM, isn't much better) calling the Astrodome a "Chamber of Horrors" for the Cubs. Very true. I think the Cubs' overall record in the Astrodome (1966 or so - 1999) was about .333. Until 1994, the Astros were in the other division, so the Cubs only had to visit twice a year. The latter half of the '90's must have been tough, though. At least the Cubs were competitive in 1998.

Why do the Cubs perform so well in Minute Maid Park? It was designed to be an updated version of that dump Wrigley Field--with a roof. It has natural grass instead of the Astrodome's artificial turf (invented for the building and named for the team). Its field dimensions aren't astronomical. And the roof isn't the same color as the baseball, DUH. Furthermore, the Astros only close the roof for rain and first-pitch temperatures over 80 degrees. So when it's nice out, the ballpark even more closely resembles Wrigley Field.

It's easy to see why the Cubs were so hopelessly out of their element dealing with artificial turf/carpeting on the road from the 1960's (when it was invented for the Astrodome) through the early 90's, when teams began ripping it up and replacing it with grass. The Cubs actually played more than half their road games at night, on Astroturf. (They still play more than half their road games at night, which is why their matinée-heavy schedule continues to be a competitive disadvantage.) Here are the Cubs' National League rivals during this period, with a "T" next to the team name for Astroturf.

NL East (the Cubs' division) NL West
New York Cincinnati - T
Pittsburgh - T Houston - T
Philadelphia - T Atlanta
St. Louis - T San Diego
Montreal - T (indoors at some point) San Francisco
Los Angeles

Why were Atlanta and Cincinnati in the "West" while the Gateway to the West was in the East? Yeah, really. Montreal played in Olympic Stadium, and the city eventually closed the exposed roof.

This year, the Cubs' only games on artificial turf are indoors at Minneapolis, an interleague series. If that series were to recur next year, when the Twins move outdoors to Freeze Your Ass Off Ballpark, it would be on grass. So one positive outcome of all those taxpayer-financed new ballparks is that artificial turf is no longer a factor in Major League Baseball. And for that, Cubs fans say, "Thank you."

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