Among those new innovations were the first skyboxes, which were appropriately named, positioned more than 100 feet above the field. Another was the scoreboard, with message boards that spanned across the outfield and a screen that offered animated images, player headshots and the instant replays.
The technology was crude and the images weren’t what we are used to seeing today, but the futuristic scoreboard was a marvel that drew fans to the park. Perhaps it attracted fans more than the fledgling Astros, an expansion franchise that lost 90-plus games in each of its first seven seasons.
Like the young club, the Astrodome endured growing pains. When it opened in 1965, the roof was made of roughly 4,600 clear Lucite panels, which allowed the playing surface to be grass. But when the Astros returned from spring training for five exhibition games, they discovered that the glare off the clear panels made it difficult to track flyballs.
“You could have thrown a basketball up there and not see it,” says Bob Bruce, the Houston righthander who started the first regular-season game at the Astrodome. In time, the roof was painted, which reduced the glare but caused the grass to die. “It was like a bald guy—a little bit of grass here, a little bit of grass there,” Bruce says. “When the ball came in from the outfield on a hit, it would come in green from the paint.”
The opening of the Astrodome is a fascinating story, covered in the March-April issue of Baseball Digest. Some of the key figures in the early history of the franchise—Bruce, Jimmy Wynn, Bob Astpromonte, Larry Dierker and Al Spangler—provide interesting stories and insights.