KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros fans will have the opportunity to see their team play in a rather unique setting this upcoming weekend when they face the Texas Rangers in a pair of exhibition games at the Alamodome in San Antonio, in a series dubbed H-E-B Big League Weekend.
For the second year in a row, the Alamodome will be transformed into a baseball venue, which took a large commitment from both teams and the Alamo City. The games are scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT on Friday and 1:05 p.m. CT on Saturday.
"It's really a unique deal with putting this game in the Alamodome," Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan said. "I think our fans will find it interesting because last year we were the first baseball game ever played there, so it was quite an undertaking."
The event is a brainchild of Ryan Sanders Baseball, which last year saw the Padres and Rangers draw 75,000 fans to a pair of games in the stadium in downtown San Antonio that used to be the home of the NBA's Spurs and has hosted several college football games, as well as the men's and women's Final Four.
Ryan Sanders signed a two-year extension with the city of San Antonio at the beginning of this year that takes the event through next year with a two-year option.
Tickets, which begin at $10, can be purchased at www.bigleagueweekend.com/buy-tickets or by calling 1-800-745-3000. In addition, there will be a sports collectibles show during the games and a Saturday postgame concert with Jack Ingram.
"It's a fun deal," Ryan said. "We wanted to get into this because we felt like it would be good to reconnect with our fans in San Antonio and sort of continue a little bit of the instate rivalry. We want to be like the Rangers and get to where they've sort of been every year and knocking on the door. Playing these guys over there is really exciting and it should be a lot of fun this week."
Turning the Alamodome into a baseball facility was no easy task.
Ryan Sanders Baseball collaborated with AstroTurf -- the official synthetic turf supplier of Major League Baseball -- to build a 133,000 square-foot custom field for the Alamodome floor. Other modifications include custom fencing, walls, padding, netting, dugouts, bullpens, foul poles and more.
Because the Alamodome, which has a baseball seating capacity of 52,295, was built with football and basketball in mind, the baseball dimensions will be rather unusual. It will be 339 feet down the left-field line, 400 to enter and only 271 to right field, but with a 16-foot wall.
Ryan Sanders enlisted the help of Murray Cook, division president of Brickman Sports Turf, to design the field. He looked at the configuration used at the Los Angeles Coliseum when the Dodgers hosted the Red Sox in 2008, when the distance from home plate to left field was only 201 feet with a 60-foot high screen.
"We thought there was going to be a ton of home runs last year, and there actually ended up being two each team," Ryan said. "There was one 'cheapy' a game where a right-handed hitter got one. The roof situation is unique. It's higher than what it is at Tropicana Field, but it has catwalks that hang lower.
"It was kind of fun to figure out how we were going to do all that. There were several balls that went over the catwalks and never touched anything, which is kind of fun for the guys."
The venue was such a hit for baseball that Ryan said the city has been encouraged to submit a bid to host a World Baseball Classic qualifier and the Big 12 Conference college baseball tournament and Southland Conference tournament.
"I think it's opened some eyes to the potential of what the building could be," Ryan said. "If you could ever do something and build a higher wall in right field -- maybe making it a 40-foot wall -- its proximity to Mexico [makes it deal for WBC] and for the World Baseball Classic weather can sometimes be an issue.
"You need a city that could be a destination city. We think we might have potential in the future. We're really hoping to have another good turnout this year and continue to both solidify the venue and the market as a possible big baseball market."
Ryan said Big League Weekend gives Astros fans that couldn't get to Spring Training in Florida a chance to see the team prior to Opening Day. The Astros will also play a pair of exhibition games Saturday and Sunday at Minute Maid Park against Veracruz of the Mexican League.
"It's been awesome to see how many fans come out to Spring Training, and we hope that continues, but not everybody has the ability to fly out to Spring Training," he said. "For folks that want to do something over the weekend before the season starts and want to do something different, now we have the option with San Antonio and against Veracruz at home."