Legends, astronauts celebrate Astrodome's 50th anniversary

Members of first Astros team to play in Astrodome join pre-game ceremony

Legends, astronauts celebrate Astrodome's 50th anniversary

HOUSTON -- Bob Aspromonte hit the first official home run in the Astrodome for the Astros. Bob Bruce was on the mound for the Astros and threw the first official pitch in the building known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Larry Dierker called the Astrodome home for more than a decade as a player, and even longer as a broadcaster and manager.

Fifty years after the Astros played their first game in the Astrodome, several members of that team, including Aspromonte, Bruce, Dierker, Ron Brand, Dan Coombs and Jimmy Wynn, caught the ceremonial first pitches prior to Saturday's game against the Angels at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were known as the Colt .45s for the first three years of their existence before moving to the Astrodome in 1965.

"I remember the first week as if it were yesterday," said Coombs, a left-handed pitcher.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Astrodome, which opened on April 9, 1965 with an exhibition game against the Yankees, the Astros and Angels wore throwback uniforms from 1965 and had NASA astronauts throw out the first pitches like they did 50 years ago.

Astronauts throw out first pitch

"It's very special, especially when we played alongside in a little Minor League ballpark [Colt Stadium] and watched his incredible stadium being built," Aspromonte said. "What [Astrodome visionaries] Judge Roy Hofheinz and R.E. 'Bob' Smith did for the city of Houston is incredible."

Dene Hofheinz, daughter of Judge Roy Hofheinz, participated in the pregame ceremony along with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who was representing the owners of the Astrodome (Harris County). Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton was on the field to handle the introductions.

Ron Brand talks Astrodome

Dene Hofheinz and Emmett are at the center of the efforts to re-imagine the Astrodome, which has sat largely vacant for more than a decade.

"It has history as a structure," Dierker said. "There's never been anything built on the planet like that before. What do we do with it? I have to think somebody out there has a creative mind that's equal to what Judge Hofheinz had back then."

Brand was behind the plate when Yankees great Mickey Mantle led off the first game in the Astrodome. The Hall of Fame had asked Brand to ask Mantle to take the first pitch so the ball could be sent to Cooperstown.

"So he came up and I politely said, 'Mickey, they want you to take the first pitch,'" Brand said. "Mantle said, 'OK,' and he smoothed the dirt. He said, 'Shoot, I'm too nervous to swing anyway.'"

Mantled homered in his next at-bat and is credited with the first home run in the Astrodome, but Aspromonte hit the first regular-season home run by an Astros player in the Dome.

"When you circle the bases and have 50,000 people in the stadium, it was a long-lasting feeling," Aspromonte said. "When I arrived in the city of Houston, there was only about 500,000 people here. The growth from the stadium has been incredible."

Wynn on Astrodome's history

Coombs was in awe the first time he and Dierker stepped into the Astrodome.

"We were walking in the mezzanine level and looking at the skylights and the sun was shining and the grass was growing," he said. "It took your breath away. You couldn't wait to get to the locker room and get our uniforms and run out and start playing like little kids."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.