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On This Date in Sports April 12, 1965: The Eighth Wonder

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

 

Hailed as ‘’The Eighth Wonder of the World’’, the Astrodome hosts its first regular-season game as the Houston Astros host the Philadelphia Phillies. Dick Allen hits the first home run in the dome, driving in the game’s only runs as the Phillies spoil the dome opener 2-0. The Astros had played the New York Yankees in an exhibition three games earlier, winning 2-1 despite a home run by Mickey Mantle. 

The Houston Colt .45s joined the National League in 1962. Playing at a minor league stadium for their first three seasons, the team knew it had to find a way to shield against the oppressive Texas summer heat. Domed Stadiums had been conceptualized for a decade. The Dodgers had desired to build a dome in Brooklyn, before their move to Los Angeles. Roy Hofheinz, who sought to bring big-league baseball for a decade, first conceived of a dome in 1952, when he observed how often the minor league Houston Buffaloes were rained out. 

Originally called the Harris County Domed Stadium, the Astrodome was designed by Hermon Lloyd & W.B. Morgan and Wilson, Morris, Crain, and Anderson. Built at the cost of $35 million, the stadium became known as the Astrodome as the team changed its name to Astros. The name change came as the Colt Firearms Company objected to the team’s sale of novelties and merchandise, wanting a portion of the sale.  The name Astros fit well with a space-age image that went hand and hand with the first domed stadium. 

Astrodome opened on April 9, 1965, with an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, with President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson on hand, as Governor John Connally threw out the first pitch. Turk Farrell started for Houston as Mickey Mantle had the first hit and the first home run, while the groundcrew wore spacesuits. The Astros would win the exhibition 2-1. 

As they prepared for their first season, the Astros invited Satchel Paige to get his feel for pitching indoors. He would correctly predict it to be a pitcher’s paradise.

The first official game at the Astrodome had less pomp and circumstance as the Astros faced the Philadelphia Phillies to start the 1965 season. Bob Bruce made the start for the Astros managed by Lum Harris, as Chris Short started for Gene Mauch and the Phillies. Tony Taylor led the game off with a double, the first official hit in the dome. In the third inning, Dick Allen hit a two-run home run with Ruben Amaro on base for the first runs in the Astrodome. The 2-0 lead would stand, as Short allowed just four hits while striking out 11 in a complete-game win. John Bateman got Houston’s first hit in the third inning.  

The Astros finished their first season in the dome with a record of 65-97 as they ended the season in ninth place. The Astrodome had several kinks that needed to be worked out that first season. The dome initially had a transparent roof, which created too much glare. This led to the ceiling being painted, which led to the grass dying. In 1966, the Astros installed an artificial playing surface, which became known as Astroturf.

One feature of the Astrodome that thrilled fans from the start was baseball’s first animated scoreboard. The scoreboard ran the length of the outfield and was built at the cost of $2.1 million. The scoreboard remained in place until 1988 when it was removed for more seating for the NFL’s Houston Oilers.