Historic Astrodome may be future Reliant parking lot
Most of the memorable sporting events that I attended during my adult life took place in the Houston Astrodome, dubbed by the media as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
And being a sports reporter for the last half-century means that there were a ton of attractions that took me some 110 miles down Interstate 10 to witness those events and analyze them in this newspaper column.
As we have pointed out several times in the past, Kaz’s Korner got its start on Sept. 12, 1966 as has been going strong ever since.
The Houston Astrodome held its initial sports event on April 9, 1965 when the Astros played an exhibition game against the New York Yankees and Hall of Fame slugger Mickey Mantle hit the first home run in an air-conditioned stadium. Although the Houston Astrodome was built for baseball, many other events have taken place over the years in that enormous complex.
The Astros shared the Dome with the old Houston Oilers as their home field, but there also have been a college basketball game, rodeos, high school and college football games, concerts including one featuring Elvis, circuses, world championship boxing matches, church revivals, a tennis match in which Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in 1973, daredevil Evil Knievel jumping over 13 cars on his motorcycle, demolition derbies and other events too numerous to mention.
Major league baseball came to Houston in 1962 as the brainchild of former Cincinnati Reds’ executives Gabe Paul and Bill Giles along with current Major League Baseball executive Tal Smith. The team’s initial nickname was the Colt .45’s.
But the sweltering heat and high humidity plus the pesky mosquitoes and a team that wasn’t very competitive kept the fans away in droves at the old Colt Stadium.
So former Houston mayor and county judge Roy Hofheinz ram-rodded a deal through the Houston Sports Association to obtain funding for the world’s first indoor baseball stadium.
And at a cost of $35 million the first beautiful cylindrical-domed stadium for major league baseball was created.
However, it didn’t come without problems. Outfielders complained that they couldn’t see fly balls hit during day games because of the sun’s glare through the glass panels in the roof.
That problem was solved easily by painting the glass panels in the roof black. Then another problem cropped up—the lack of sunlight killed the infield and outfield grass. This led to the first use of artificial turf which became known as Astroturf, which is still being used today in some variation.
Bill Giles, who was listed as the Colts traveling secretary and publicity director, became the Astros promotions director in addition to his other two jobs. He was the son of Warren Giles, who was President of the National League from 1951-1969.
One of my first assignments in 1966 when I began working at the daily newspaper in Orange was to help do a huge feature on Giles and his duties with the Houston Astros. Giles was so impressed with the spread we did on him that he gave us carte blanche on any event that was scheduled at the Astrodome and presented each member of our three-man staff with season press passes and parking passes to the Houston Astros games.
Covering a baseball game in the Astros’ press box back then meant a full-course meal before the game, anything we wanted to drink during the game and deli sandwiches after the game. The toughest part of the whole deal was getting home after midnight and then being at work at 7 a.m. the next morning.
When the Astrodome hosted its first Major League All-Star game in 1968, Giles gave us rooms at the Warwick Hotel and passes to all of the festivities that took place during the All-Star break.
And Judge Hofheinz wanted to impress all the big-name media members from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston so all the press parties were first class all the way with the finest food his big bucks could buy.
When the Astrodome hosted the World Heavyweight Championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Big Cat Williams, Giles put us right on the ropes with Howard Cosell and all the boxing editors from around the world.
After Ali recorded his knockout, several of the world-renowned boxing writers didn’t have credentials to Ali’s dressing room for the post-fight interview, but our small-town paper was represented along with Cosell and the major television networks.
Ali fought another title fight a few months later against Ernie Terrell, who had never been knocked down in his entire career and again Giles secured us with ringside seats. Ali pummeled Terrell so badly that he probably wished he had hit the canvas, because Terrell never fought again after that.
Giles saw to it that we had great seats for the first regular-season college basketball game to be televised in prime-time between the University of Houston and UCLA in 1968.
A basketball court was laid in the middle of the Astrodome field. This was the epic battle between Elvin Hayes and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who was still called Lew Alcindor then.
Since then I have covered or did radio broadcasts of many high school and college football games, watched Astros regular season and playoff games plus other special events in the Houston Astrodome.
Today it is condemned and is costing Houstonians several million dollars each year. Monday was the deadline to submit private proposals for the Astrodome to the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation which oversees the stadium.
The Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo say the Astrodome could be imploded and replaced with 1,600 additional parking spaces for $29 million. Other officials claim demolition would cost more than twice that amount.
But with Houston hosting the 2017 Super Bowl in nearby Reliant Stadium, the parking lot idea will probably win out and could have even helped the city land the Super Bowl bid.
The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation will consider all proposals and present their final decision to the Harris County Commissioners Court on June 25.
KWICKIES…A final round of 76 cost Lamar University graduate Shawn Stefani fame and fortune as led the PGA Tour’s St. Jude Classic in Memphis by one stroke after three rounds and ended up in a tie for seventh place. The tourney was won by 23-year-old former Georgia Bulldogs golfer Harris English who birdied the final two holes and won by two strokes over Phil Mickelson and Scott Stallings. Harris pocketed $1,026,000 winner’s share while Mickelson and Stallings each received $501,600 and Stefani garnered $177,650.
And while on the subject of golf and much closer to home, Sunset Grove Country Club golfer Ken Ruane didn’t know what club to use Saturday morning after hitting a big drive on the Par-4 No. 17 hole and was only 45 yards out. So he chose a soft lob wedge which took one hop and rolled into the hole for an eagle-2. Members of our fivesome which pays extra bonus money for birdies and eagles included Craig Couvillion, Jim Rodda, Bob Hoepner and yours truly.
The defending world champion Miami Heat came roaring back from being upset 92-88 Thursday night in the NBA Championship finals to blow out San Antonio 103-84 Sunday night to tie the series at one game each. If the Spurs can take make good use of their home court advantage, they can close out the Heat in five games because the next three games (last night, Thursday and Sunday) will be played in San Antonio.
Another year has gone by the books without a Triple Crown winner in the world of horse racing. Palace Malice, which had won only one race before running in Saturday’s 145th running of the Belmont Stakes, upset 13 other horses bidding for the $1 million final race for the Triple Crown. Palace Malice, which finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness, dismissed the 13-1 odds and defeated Preakness winner Oxbow by 3 ½ lengths and third-place Kentucky Derby winner Orb by 5 lengths. Palace Malice was one of five horses entered in the Belmont by trainer Todd Pletcher, who decided to take the blinders off his horse for this 1 ½-mile race.
JUST BETWEEN US…The Houston Astros didn’t pull any big surprise with their No. 1 pick in last week’s 2013 Major League Baseball amateur draft by taking Houston native and Stanford University star right-handed pitcher Mark Appel. The draft ended last weekend with the sons of three Houston natives probably headed for baseball’s Hall of Fame drafted on the final day. Kacy Clemens, son of Roger Clemens was taken by the Houston Astros in the 35th round and indicated he was headed to the University of Texas. Josh Pettitte, son of New York Yankees’ ace pitcher Andy Pettitte was picked by the Yankees in the 37th round but plans on attending Baylor. Cavan Biggio was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 29th round and hadn’t divulged his future plans at this writing.