HOUSTON -- It was a Minute Maid Park tradition during the ballpark's early days. As soon as the summer sun would disappear below the horizon, the retractable roof would peel open, usually around the seventh inning, and fans would get to enjoy outdoor baseball on a muggy night.
The Astros discontinued opening the roof during games in 2005, and no one is sure exactly why. All that president of business operations Reid Ryan knows now is that fans want the roof to be opened more -- and he's taking steps to make it happen.
Ryan said he plans to talk to Major League Baseball officials at this month's quarterly Owners Meetings about the possibility of once again opening the roof during games. The Astros have surveyed fans heavily, and Ryan said having more games under the stars is a priority for them. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter have voiced their opinion, as well.
"At this point, we're talking about it," Ryan said. "We haven't fully gotten to the bottom of why it [stopped], and we're not fully prepared to start to roll out what our recommendation will be. But we are thinking about it, and we're getting input."
The oppressive summer heat and humidity in Houston mean that most games at the downtown ballpark are played in air-conditioned comfort. Last season, the roof was open for only 14 of the team's 81 regular-season home games -- and most of those were in April.
Currently, the roof is closed for the threat of rain, threat of sustained winds above 30 mph, temperatures below 65 degrees for a night game and air temperature or heat-index readings above 88 degrees for a night game or 84 for a day game -- which just about covers late April through the end of the season.
Major League Baseball rules stipulate the decision to open a roof rests solely with the home team, and if a game begins with the roof open, it shall be closed only because of weather. The roof can be re-opened during a game when the climatic environment has reached a level where fans will be comfortable, as long as both teams agree.
"In a nutshell, what I would personally like to see is us to be able to open the roof late in the game when the weather is appealing or was comfortable enough that fans would enjoy it," Ryan said. "The one thing we know from our research -- and we surveyed fans extensively this year -- is people want to see the roof open more. They like the feel of outdoor baseball. So what is that [optimum] temperature? What is the [right] wind condition? What are the chances of rain? We're still digging into all that -- and once we get it, then we'll put it out there."
During Games 3 and 4 of the 2005 World Series, the Astros wanted the roof to be closed to help with crowd noise, but MLB stepped in and said the weather was mild enough that the roof should be opened.
The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park takes 13 minutes to open, but MLB rules say the roof can only be opened between innings -- which is less than three minutes. That's a sticking point. Ryan also said the opposing manager would have to agree to opening of the roof.
"If the opposing manager thinks there's an advantage [for the Astros], he's able to protest," Ryan said. "The reality is, every other ballpark in the country -- minus the few that have retractable roofs -- you have wind coming in, wind going out. You have clouds coming in, you have sprinkles.
"Baseball is a game that's played outside. Just look at the past couple of World Series and you could see that. So we don't want to do anything to take away from the pleasure of the fans. We don't want to make it harder on the players. What we want to do is take this wonderful asset we have in a retractable roof and be able to open it when the conditions present themselves -- so people can enjoy one of the most beautiful stadiums in baseball."