Do not level Tal's Hill, please
The Astros are going to make some changes to Minute Maid Park after the 2015 season; that much seems pretty clear. And Craig Calcaterra sure would love to see the ballpark's most distinctive feature -- Tal's Hill in deep, deep center field -- go away:
It’s one of those oddities, the likes of which several teams that built ballparks from the early 90s on through the mid-2000s forced on everyone. “Quirks” to make the place seem unique but which in no way were organic. Dumb overhangs. Friezes. There’s a reason why Fenway Park has odd dimensions and the Green Monster. They literally did not have the land to build the park in a different way. That “quirk” was basically required and, only over time, became historic and significant. Most of the newer parks tried to manufacture their own instant history and most examples of it are silly. Tal’s Hill probably being the silliest.
We’ve mostly gotten out of that retro-era. The parks of the past few years like Nats Park and the park in Miami may or may not be to everyone’s tastes, but at least they’re not trying to ape history. Good riddance, Tal’s Hill.
As usual, I agree with Craig in principle: non-organic flourishes are gimmicky and should be avoided. Function over form and all that. But in this specific case I will disagree with him. Is Tal's Hill gimmicky? Of course it is. Is the flagpole in play gimmicky? Of course it is. But without the gimmicks, what else have you got? I don't know if Craig's ever been to that ballpark, but I have and I can tell you there's not much going on there. When the roof is closed, which is nearly all of the time, it's as charm-free as any ballpark I've experienced. And I spent hundreds of hours in the Kingdome.
What's more, I will argue that Tal's Hill is more than just a gimmick; it's an aesthetically pleasing gimmick, which should change the discussion entirely. It's a bit like a backdrop behind a high-school staging of Oklahoma! What, now Craig wants to rip all the hard work the kids put into the backdrop? Sacrilege, I say!
Look, I get it. But let's not all treat all gimmicks the same. This one's been there for a while, it's just about the only interesting thing about (or near!) the ballpark, and it's not hurting anybody (no, despite all the worries, in 15 years nobody's actually been injured while climbing Tal's Hill).
I'm afraid Minute Maid Park is beyond redemption. The roof, the local climate, amd the locals' unwillingness to sit around for three hours in steamy conditions means the ballpark will always be a dreary place, at least when the team isn't exciting. But let's not make the place even less interesting than it already is.