Everybody wants a retractable roof. Everybody loves a retractable roof. When it's rainy or oppressively hot, you close the roof. When it's baseball weather, you open the roof. The best of both worlds! Which is why so many millions of taxpayers have ponied up the extra $100 million cost -- very roughly speaking -- of the retractable roofs now sported in six major-league ballparks (with a seventh on the way).
It's a funny thing, though. From Day 1, teams have been loath to actually open the roofs. Hilarious. For years after they opened Safeco Field, the Mariners wouldn't unroll the roof if there was a hint of a misty breeze within 100 miles of Puget Sound. Enough people complained, and finally they changed their ridiculous rules.
Last season the Houston Astros played 81 games at Minute Maid Park. The roof was open for 14 of them. Which hardly seems worth the trouble. Granted, the $100 million's already gone. But they could at least fire the guy who pushes the green button that opens the roof and save 40 grand.
It was a Minute Maid Park tradition during the ballpark's early days. As soon as the summer sun would disappear below the horizon, the retractable roof would peel open, usually around the seventh inning, and fans would get to enjoy outdoor baseball on a muggy night.
The Astros discontinued opening the roof during games in 2005, and no one is sure exactly why. All that president of business operations Reid Ryan knows now is that fans want the roof to be opened more -- and he's taking steps to make it happen.
"At this point, we're talking about it," Ryan said. "We haven't fully gotten to the bottom of why it [stopped], and we're not fully prepared to start to roll out what our recommendation will be. But we are thinking about it, and we're getting input."
Is this really such a huge mystery? There aren't any old memos filed away? E-mail messages to whomever was pushing the big green button in 2005?
Currently, the roof is closed for the threat of rain, threat of sustained winds above 30 mph, temperatures below 65 degrees for a night game and air temperature or heat-index readings above 88 degrees for a night game or 84 for a day game -- which just about covers late April through the end of the season.
Major League Baseball rules stipulate the decision to open a roof rests solely with the home team, and if a game begins with the roof open, it shall be closed only because of weather. The roof can be re-opened during a game when the climatic environment has reached a level where fans will be comfortable, as long as both teams agree.
The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park takes 13 minutes to open, but MLB rules say the roof can only be opened between innings -- which is less than three minutes. That's a sticking point. Ryan also said the opposing manager would have to agree to opening of the roof.
First, really? The fans can't handle below 65 or above 88? Ever been to a game in Arlington, Texas? Or St. Louis in August? I know the humidity in Houston is particularly oppressive. Really, I know. And I'll be there next summer to refresh my memory. But again, this gets to the fundamental question: Everybody knew what the weather was like in Houston before they built the ballpark. Did nobody consider the possibility that the roof would rarely be opened up?
Anyway, there doesn't seem to be any real mystery about the non-opening during games. You can't open roofs while the game's going because it's distracting to the hitters and probably the fielders, too. Theoretically, you might open the roof and suddenly the moon or a star or a strobe light in a downtown discotheque pops right into the hitter's field of vision. You can close a roof during an inning -- happens in Seattle a few times every year -- but you can't open it.
Which is a shame, but probably makes sense. So it seems to me the Astros are stuck with the three-minute rule, and will treat their fans to baseball under the stars more often only if their fans are willing to suffer just a little bit. You know, like the pioneers used to. Or maybe the state motto should be changed to "Don't mess with Texas' air conditioning."