Boys of Summer
Baseball season is here and even though it generally runs through October it is and always will be a summer sport in most people’s minds. There are very few things less thrilling than fighting the crowds to find your seat, sitting down with a bag of salty peanuts and shouting along for 9 innings all the while keeping an eye out for fly balls. Long sunshine filled days add to excitement and allow everyone a little extra time to relax and have fun once daily duties are done.
In Houston we are lucky to have a legacy of amazing baseball stadiums. This legacy began with the 8th wonder of the world, the Astrodome. An 18-story building would fit inside its 710-foot diameter, its 9 acres of real estate, and its steel-beamed ceiling that rises 208 feet above the baseball diamond. The playing field is 25 feet below street level. To light up the field requires more electricity than is used by a city of 9,000 people, and the central air-conditioning has to circulate 2.5 million cubic feet of air a minute. Engineers actually claimed to have been able to make it snow inside the Astrodome because of the abundance of air conditioning capacity. An interesting bit of HVAC trivia is, in its inaugural 1965 season, the Astrodome was the scene of a unique groundskeeping argument. The New York Mets claimed that the groundskeepers were “roofkeeping” as well by manipulating the air conditioning system so that the air currents helped the Astros longballs and hindered visitor’s homers. Over the years this modern marvel became dated and the city decided to move on. The last Astros game was played at The Dome on October 9, 1999 and after years of patronage Houstonians moved on to a new and improved stadium with a remarkable development, the retractable roof.
Retractable roofs are generally used in locales where inclement weather, extreme heat, or extreme cold are prevalent during the respective sports seasons, in order to allow for playing of traditionally outdoor sports in more favorable conditions, as well as the comfort of spectators watching games played in such weather. Unlike their predecessors, the domes built primarily during the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980’s, retractable roofs also allow for playing of the same traditionally outdoor sports in outdoor conditions when the weather is more favorable. Houston is the perfect place for such a roof. An open air stadium on a day when the temperature is 98 degrees with humidity to match sounds like an uninviting sticky mess and is probably the reason why even on days when the roof is open Minute Maid park blast the air conditioning. Surprisingly enough the roof can close in 20 minutes and the energy cost is about $5 per usage. A newsletter from Entergy, the stadiums energy provider states: “The roof at Minute Maid Park retracts completely off the ballpark to reveal the largest open area of any retractable roofed baseball stadium in existence today. A total of 50,000 square feet of glass in the west wall of the retractable roof give fans a view of the Houston skyline, even when the roof is in the closed position. Even with the stadium open to the sky, Entergy Thermal is able to provide air conditioning for Astros fans through its nearby 33,000 ton water plant.”. Minute Maid Park is cooled by a chilled water system installed when the baseball arena opened in 2000. Piping and cooling devices pump water through miles of conduits to create chilled air. Insulation is needed to prevent moisture buildup, corrosion, leaking and possible failure of the complex system. There is a gigantic chiller tank station four blocks west of the ballpark. Two chiller tanks hold a total of 2,000,000 gallons of water. The water is super-cooled to just above the freezing level, and the chilled water is pumped through a network of pipes inside the stadium, cooling the ambient temperature.
Anyone who’s been to a game at Ranger’s Ballpark or The Astrodome can appreciate this technological development in the same way anyone who pays an electric bill might cringe at the thought of “air conditioning the whole neighborhood.” All jokes aside, if you haven’t been to an Astro’s game lately I highly recommend it. I’m partial to sitting behind the first base line, but every seat in the house is fantastic. Also nothing makes you feel like a kid again more than standing up with thousands of others people to sing ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ during the 7th inning stretch. If you’re lucky enough to catch a game with the roof open this season remember; a lot of thought and planning went into keeping you cool when you take yourself out to the ballgame.
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