If ever a ballpark generated more headlines than the baseball team, it was the Harris County Domed Stadium. Judge Roy Hofheinz, who was buying control of the team from the other partners, dubbed it "The Astrodome" and, thank goodness, the name stuck. Gone were the days of stifling heat and merciless mosquitoes. Under glass, it was 72-degree comfort in plush theater seats. There were luxury suites and an enormous scoreboard. To baseball purists though, the sacrifices for comfort came at a price. To Houston fans, it made the losing product on the field easier to endure.
The Astrodome's debut came on April 9th in an exhibition game against the American League's dynasty, the New York Yankees. The new palace, ballyhooed by Hofheinz as the "Eighth Wonder of the World", was christened in fine fashion. Turk Farrell had the honor of pitching before a packed house while Yankee legend Mickey Mantle got the first base hit and the first home run in indoor competition. Ron Brand would achieve the first hit for the Astros. President Johnson halted the action temporarily when he arrived and joined Judge Hofheinz in the judge's apartment built above the right field stands. LBJ left before the game was done but those who stayed got their money's worth. It was player-coach Nellie Fox who would close the curtain on a memorable night, driving home Jim Wynn in the 12th inning for a 2-1 victory.
Opening Day on April 12th was less thrilling. After 24 astronauts from NASA tossed out the "first pitch" to their baseball namesakes, Phillies lefty Chris Short silenced the throng with a four-hit shutout. Richie Allen of Philadelphia swatted the Dome's first National League home run in the 2-0 decision.
Bob Aspromonte was the first Astro to set off the scoreboard's Home Run Spectacular for its intended purpose on April 24th against Vernon Law of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wynn would set it off again two innings later. New York broadcaster Lindsey Nelson got to explore another unique feature of the new ballpark when he broadcast a Mets game from the gondola 200 feet above second base on April 28th.
As visiting teams adjusted to the new conditions, the Astros launched their first ten-game winning streak, climaxing with a doubleheader sweep of Chicago on May 1st. Though tied several times, the winning streak would continue to be a club record until 1999.
Joe Morgan left his mark in the team's record book when he went six-for-six in a twelve-inning loss to the Milwaukee Braves on July 8th. Morgan and Wynn established themselves as regulars on the team that year. Wynn led the Astros in batting average (.275), homers (22), RBIs (73) and steals (43). Farrell was again the team's pitching leader with 11 victories.
In August, the Astros signed Philadelphia legend Robin Roberts to a contract. Cast aside by the Phillies two years before, Roberts got revenge on August 9th when he blanked the Phils, 8-0, on a four-hitter. He beat them again in Philadelphia on the next road trip.
The Astros topped the two-million mark in home attendance as fans came from all around to see the new stadium. But the change of scenery made little difference in the standings. Houston finished 65-97 and once again landed in ninth place.By Astro Daily
- Astrodome, Bob Aspromonte, Harris County Domed Stadium, Houston Astros, Jim Wynn, Joe Morgan, Lindsey Nelson, Mickey Mantle, Nellie Fox, New York Yankees, Richie Allen, Robin Roberts, Ron Brand, Turk Farrell, Vern Law