You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who loves the Astros more than its ballpark tour coordinator and super fan Chris Rawls. He doesn’t know for sure, but he estimates he’s been to more than 300 games. In 2005, he even drove to the World Series—from his naval base in San Diego to Pensacola to pick up his grandfather and back to Houston for Game 4. In 2017, the year he started at Minute Maid Park after retiring from the Navy, he stood on the field when the ’Stros beat the Dodgers in Game 7 and was awarded a World Series ring.
“I always wanted to be an Astro,” Rawls told us recently during a private tour of the park. He and staff also give a variety of daily public tours, which are worth a trip for the site-specific trivia alone: Did you know ghosts haunt the Section 122 men’s bathroom? Also, the stadium’s AC costs $1,000 an hour to run, and the grass on the field (stay off!) requires almost $750,000 to replace every year. “Don’t pet it like a puppy,” Rawls advises any child within earshot.
There’s so much to see, including memorabilia from Rawls’s personal collection— “What good does it do at my house?”—that one tour doesn’t feel like enough. We asked him to point out some of the coolest spots and oddities in the stadium and he happily obliged.
The random cannonball
In the concourse behind left field, you’ll find glass cases of artifacts among the Hall of Fame. Some make sense—old jerseys, a cap from the Houston Eagles, the city’s former Negro League team—but others don’t: an old shovel, a Dillinger pistol, and … a cannonball? Yep. In the ’90s, archaeologists excavated these items at the future site of the stadium, close to the long-lost neighborhood Frost Town. “The cannonball is what baffles me the most,” Rawls says. “Everything else you’d expect to find in a neighborhood. Why would you need a cannonball?”
The historic lobby
The opulent room, which served as Union Station from 1911 to 1974 and was designed by the architects behind New York’s Grand Central Terminal—Warren and Wetmore—has marble columns from Belgium that cost $540,000 total, Rawls says, “which would be over $13 million today.”
Behind the scoreboard
Note the out-of-town scoreboard along the left-field fence, which shows the scores for all the other MLB games playing at the same time. Four folks update this old-timey board from scaffolding in a little room behind it, and they’re basically professional Connect Four players, slipping on metal plates right-to-left to identify teams, innings, scores, and players pitching in myriad games. “You have to make sure the number’s not upside down,” says Rawls. “And that you’re updating the right block.”
The old AstroTurf
What Rawls remembers most from his first game at the Astrodome back in 1990: “How green the field was.” Though you’ll struggle to find Astrodome relics inside Minute Maid, some of the stadium’s legendary synthetic grass-like carpet (Astroturf) was salvaged and now lines the visitor’s bullpen, where opposing teams warm up. It’s a little dingy—not quite the bright green of old—but it’s bouncy like the floor at a gymnastics gym. Who doesn’t want some spring in their step as they walk across history?
Rawls hosts the Touch of History Tour on select days, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. $75 per person Learn more here.