Last Thursday I headed to Texas for a couple of days to knock out visits to both ballparks. I was surprised that both teams were home at the same time since I’ve noticed while scheduling trips that most instate teams play opposite schedules (ex: Cleveland and Cincy/ Kansas City and St. Louis). This is going to have to change next year when Houston moves to the AL, right? Have fun with that MLB schedule makers! Anyways, I flew into Dallas using Southwest Thursday morning and rented a car through Enterprise. Car renting is expensive, so if you can drive to the city you’re visiting, it’s going to save you mucho dinero (I’m in Texas, I have to throw in some Spanish a la former President Bush). The drive down to Houston is a straight shot down I-45 and is easily done in just under four hours. I stopped at my hotel by the Astrodome, home to the Texans, to freshen up before heading over to Minute Maid Park. Traffic was uber congested even though it was the tail end of rush hour (it was bad the three times I drove around) and there was some construction near the park, but I made it to a lot across from the ballpark and parked for only $5. Sweet!
Maybe you haven’t heard, but it is hot and humid in Texas in the summer. I was soaked in sweat just walking across the street to the stadium. Gross. Glad I wore black! Even extreme heat couldn’t keep me from doing my normal lap around the park, though this one was a quickie! I was relieved to see the roof was closed tonight- thank God for climate control! The roof slides from right field toward home plate and the beams look like train tracks. I’m not sure if that’s intentional since there is a train theme throughout this ballpark, even an old train station is incorporated into its design in left field. The entrances to the park look like train stops with the arches and large shaded “platforms.” As I walked past the Center Field Gate, I noticed the baseball seam detailing in the concrete and the large baseballs lining the street. There is also a semi-baseball diamond near this entrance complete with bleachers hoisting flags to commemorate the glory days and a couple of bronze players making a play at first. As I neared the Left Field Gate, I passed some futuristic benches and more monuments filled with team history. Left field is where new collides with old as the stadium connects to the old train station. This building has beautiful brickwork and the inside is vast and a “cool” place to wait for the park to open. From here I walked towards home plate, stopping to buy my ticket and passing the team shop and Larry’s Big Bamboo, an attached bar. As I walked to the Right Field Gate, I had time to appreciate the ballpark’s façade- stripes of concrete supporting classic arches of brick with green steel accent bridges that later connected to form the tracks to the roof. The little clock tower was a nice touch and the large posters added some much-needed team spirit. Hot and dripping, I entered the park at the Right Field Gate, straight into the kid’s area- perfect!
The Minute Maid Squeeze Play area was almost deserted, so I took the time to amuse myself, stopping in the “dugout” to hang with my new boyfriend (sorry Derek) and watch a couple guys try and outdo each other in pitching. This area is set in an area outside the park, so you walk through another set of doors and enter the main concourse that circles around the entire park at the 100 level. I walked down the stands to the field to watch the Nationals batting practice and survey the field. It’s awesome! The scoreboard above right field is ginormous, flanked by ads and retired numbers. The foul poles are adorned by the Chick-fil-a cows with the sayings “Chikin iz fare” and “Burgerz r foul.” Above left field are large windows that allow you to (partially) see the Houston skyline. They just built this monster ad board, that was heavily scrutinized, and it sort of blocks this and the iconic train. The most unique factor of this ballpark is the small inclined slope in center field with an in-play flag pole. It adds some extra excitement to the outfield and game. I sat in left field by the manual scoreboard for some of batting practice, almost getting nailed by a foul ball. I was later partially run over by fans eager to snag some Nats players autographs- batting practice can be dangerous!
I decided to work my way from the top again, so before the anthem, I headed up to the 300 level. The escalator passes by the 200 level, but it’s closed off to non-suite and club level ticket holders, the standard at most ballparks. The 300 level concourse is large though more narrow than the main concourse, but there are plenty of concession options near home plate. As you walk further along toward the outfield, the selection dwindles because the stands are closed. I ran into that at Jacob’s Progressive Field too. What was surprising, is unlike Progressive Field, the Astros didn’t close off upper-level sections and herd everyone to the middle. They still expected the 200 fans present to go to their assigned seat. That must suck for the cleaning people! My seat was in the outfield reserve section in left field, but I went and sat behind home plate for a few innings since there was like maybe 2,000 fans in the entire ballpark. I’ve never been to a game this empty– ever. It was definitely a unique experience. It was so quiet and you could hear the few hecklers loud and clear. Poor Astros, things can only get worse when they move to the AL next year (though they did just fire their manager). After a few innings of mediocre baseball, I headed back down to the main level to explore the rest of the park and grab dinner.
Back on the main level, I stopped at the third baseline to watch an inning from the standing room and deliberated on what I wanted to eat. Minute Maid Park has a plethora of options and I narrowed it down to a salad from Green Fork or a loaded hot dog from the Extreme stand. Ha, a salad! No thanks, I went with the obvious choice- a delicious hot dog with all the Chicago fixings I fell in love with at Wrigley. But if you are a health freak and think salad at the ballpark sounds yummy, Astros have a stand for you! After I finished, I decided to “walk it off” with a lap around the park. I headed towards the outfield concourse, passing the saddest bar ever, Lefty’s Patio. There were just a couple of fans enjoying the bar and no one out on the patio (couldn’t blame anyone here, it was hot out!). As I continued on, the concourse in left field narrowed to a hallway, Home Run Alley, with blown-up baseball cards of former Astros players and plenty of arched openings for fans to stand in and watch the game. The view from the outfield was good and there was one porch that juts out over the field of play with a large gas pump counting Astros home runs (didn’t see one from them at this game). On the other side of this porch is a large tribute to Craig Biggio (3,000 hits) and Jeff Bagwell (449 home runs) that covers up the camera deck and park of the batters eye. Crossing over to center field, the concourse widened and I found where all the fans were hanging out.
Five Seven Grille is a bar and sit down restaurant behind center field that offers some “outdoor” (in the concourse) seating with a decent view of the field. Across the concourse is the Budweiser Patio that is ticket only, but the top bar is open to all fans. There are plenty of bar tables along the right field bleachers for fans to stand at and watch the game while they enjoy food and drink. This area was pretty packed compared to the rest of the park, so I mingled with some Astros fans for a couple innings before heading over to the first base line to catch the 7th inning stretch and the very lackluster “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” They played the song twice and it managed to stay in my head the rest of this trip- no complaints, it’s a catchy ditty!
Before I peaced out of the park I did do a quick walk behind home plate to see if there was anything going on and I found the park entrance to Larry’s Big Bamboo. This place was rather packed too, but it doesn’t have any field views since the area behind home plate is closed off for club/suite seating. I did like the vibe of this bar– it was low key and reminded me of a divey neighborhood bar. As I went to leave the park, I saw one of the concessions was advertising value meals that were a decent deal, so if you’re looking for a simple hot dog and coke, head to the Union Station stand. The final out came, Nationals over the Astros 5-1, and I left the parking lot without any problems or real traffic.
For this trip, I spent $218 on my flight, $111 on my rental car, $74 on a hotel, $5 for parking, $5 for my ticket, and $17 on food and snacks ($430 in all). More than I’d like to spend on my travels, but this trip had to happen before football season gets underway. Minute Maid Park is a beautiful venue and it’s a shame it lacks so much in atmosphere. Fingers crossed the team gets things turned around under new management and with the switch to the AL next season!