I recently had four days off from work (two days off for the Fourth, and no one told me), and nowhere to go, so I figured I’d take a trip down I-45 from my current home in Dallas to the land of National League Baseball in Texas, Houston. That’s right, Houston, where concrete mingles with cow manure and barbecue, and the local baseball team has quietly put together a pretty successful franchise over the last couple of decades.
I’d been to the Astrodome, but not to the new ballpark, so I figured I’d hop in my A4 and make the four-hour trip to see the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Astros in a getaway-day, 1:05 PM matchup on July 3. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me (the only reason Texans ever go to a baseball game is because the Cowboys or Texans aren’t in town, anyway), so I figured I’d go by myself.
After dodging Texas state troopers for three and a half hours, I arrived at Minute Maid Park (Formerly known as Enron Field. We all know what happened there. After Enron, it’s like they decided to go with the least offensive name possible. I guess “Webkins Park” was taken, so they settled on Minute Maid.).
The exterior of Minute Maid Park is brick, accented with green steel. If you go to Minute Maid, get used to green steel. There’s a lot of it. And it’s not that pleasing hunter green either, it’s more like the color of something that might come out of Linda Blair’s mouth. In fact, the interior, framed by lots of green steel, takes on a kind of Linda Blair Green tint no matter where you look.
The retractable roof was mercifully closed on this 100-degree Houston day, and the temperature inside was perfect. Ducts and vents were evenly dispersed throughout the
stands, allowing every patron to feel the freon love. The concourse featured classy displays of notable past Astros like Nolan Ryan, Glenn Davis, Jeff Bagwell, and The Cheater…er, I mean Mike Scott. The scoreboard was adorned with the retired numbers of former Astro greats – all nine of them. That’s right, the Astros have retired NINE uniform numbers, including Jackie Robinson’s, since their inception in 1962. The
Mets, who came into existence that same year, have retired a grand total of four, including Robinson’s. And of those four, the only Mets PLAYER to have his number retired is Tom Seaver. The Mets have won two World Series. The Astros have won a grand total of NONE. There’s something wrong here.
If the Mets have retired to few (Gary Carter and Mike Piazza should be up there on the outfield wall, maybe Darryl and Keith, too), the Astros have retired too many. Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwell, Jimmy Wynn, Don Wilson, and Jim Umbricht (the latter two due to their untimely deaths) are no brainers. Jose Cruz is borderline. He was a popular Astro, but he only hit 165 career home runs to the tune of a .284 lifetime batting average. But Larry Dierker? He had one 20-win season in 1969, and finished with a mere 139 career wins. And Mike Scott had five good years with Houston – thanks to the fact he learned how to put the same three scratch marks on every ball he threw and somehow managed to get away with it.
But, anyway, back to the ballpark. It’s clean, comfortable, has great sight lines, and great food (lots of Texas BBQ!). The closed roof does kind of give it an airplane-hanger feel, but it is quite necessary. My only complaint were the lines to get into the men’s rooms. I mean, you expect that sort of thing with the ladies, but I’ve never seen lines quite so long at any other men’s facility in any other ballpark.
The field is natural grass and well-maintained despite the thinning grass around the warning track. The replica steam engine above the left field wall actually does run, and moves back
and forth after an Astros home run. And, of course, Minute Maid Park features the two most thoughtless and dangerous “features” in any of the new generation of ballparks.
Tal’s Hill. Someone decided it would be a good idea to move the center field fence back to 436 feet and have a grassy hill abruptly climb from the warning track to the middle of the wall. Then, they decided to put the flagpole smack dab in the middle of the hill – IN PLAY. This way, if the center fielder doesn’t snap his Achilles tendons climing the hill, he’ll smack his head on the flagpole. Of course, this did lead to a
spectacular catch by Carlos Beltran last year. I just think it’s an unnecessary and dangerous gimmick.
The visitor’s bullpen. The bullpen is located in left-center field, between Tal’s Hill and the Crawford Boxes (which, incidently, offer a unique view of the field). The visitor’s bullpen causes two problems. First, it is bordered with a chainlink fence. Chainlink fences are made from interwoven metal which can tear up an outfielder while he makes a crashing catch against the fence. Second, a ball is deemed to be a home run if it hits the wall above a
yellow line painted above the visitor’s bullpen. This causes lots of confusion, and leads to missed home run calls.
The game was nothing to write home about. The Dodgers beat the Astros 5-2. Chad Billingsley was outstanding for LA, and Brandon Backe continued to frustrate Astros fans, striking out eight over seven innings, but surrendering long home runs to Andre Ethier and James Loney.
Parking was pretty darned easy, considering the ballpark is located downtown, and for fifty bucks, I got to sit right behind homeplate. Not too bad, considering.
Coming back home on I-45, I spotted the huge statue of Sam Houston. Just the sort of classic tacky thing you like to see on a road trip. Naturally, I had to stop and shoot it.
So, Minute Maid Park? Not my favorite of the new generation of parks, but it was certainly worth the trip.