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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fields of Dreams: Minute Maid Park - Houston, Texas


Minute Maid Park is the home of the Houston Astros and displaces the now unused Astrodome, an historical landmark it shared with the Houston Oilers football team.  It's located in downtown Houston, beside (and incorporating) the old Union Station train depot.
Originally, the team was known as the Houston Colt 45's. In fact, I made sure I got and wore a replica Colt 45's t-shirt to the game. A lot of old-time Houston fans at the game let me know how much they appreciated the gesture. The team was an expansion to the National League in 1962, the same year the New York Mets started their MLB career.



Houston became the nerve center of the country's space program with the creation of Johnson Space Center and everything became space-themed. The new indoor stadium became known as the Astrodome and the team changed names to the Astros to pay homage to American Astronauts.



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The dome was a modern marvel in its day, cutting edge in stadium design, but 1965 modern didn't translate into new millennium modern. Houston had just lost their football team by not giving them a modern stadium to move into. They weren't about to lose the baseball team for the same reason and construction began on a new downtown stadium in 1997. The Astros opened their 2000 season in the new, modern, retractable roof stadium with natural grass (as opposed to the synthetic grass developed especially for the Astrodome, dubbed Astroturf). 



Naming rights soon went to Enron, an energy company that soon found itself broiled in scandal, then the Astros went to CocaCola who ponied up the money to name the stadium after its juice brand. Because of that, the stadium now has the unofficial nickname the "juicebox."

A few years ago when the team was moved to the American League, the Astros were kind of a laughing stock for having a miniscule budget, no-name players, and an awful record. The team management basically said "wait, this is part of an improvement plan." It must have been a pretty good plan because they have steadily worked themselves up the standings and, as of this writing, sit atop the American League West standings a whopping 12 games over the second place Angels and the season is not even half over.




Notable names on today's roster include second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielder Carlos Beltran, and shortstop Carlos Correa. 


Here are the stats…
Year opened: 2000
Surface: Platinum TE Paspalum
Construction cost: $250 million
Capacity:  44,950
Field dimensions: Left field – 315 ft.; left center – 404 ft.; Center field – 409 ft.; right center – 408 ft.;  Right field – 326 ft.
Home team: Houston Astros, 2000 - Present
Events attended: one game

Minute Maid Park seems huge when you’re outside but gets a more intimate feel once you're in. Perhaps because a large part, the old Union Station where the team has its offices and gift shop, really sits outside of the seating bowl making it larger than it feels.   The staff is professional and fans are very welcoming to out-of-towners.  It’s know as a hitter-friendly park despite the long distance to center field but is does have fairly short power alleys.
In addition to the long distance to center field, there used to be a small hill and flagpole here that was in play. Saner heads prevailed and the ground was flattened and the flagpole removed after the 2016 season.



Another unique feature, paying homage to the stadium's former life as a train station, is a full-size replica locomotive that travels across the top of the left field stands whenever the home team hits a home run. 


Also, look for the corner window at the top of the office building beyond the left field foul pole with the noticeably thicker glass and a 422 feet marker under it. That's the owner's office and one day at batting practice, someone hit a ball there, shattered the glass, and made a mess of the interior. The office was cleaned up, the sign installed, and...now...thick shatterproof glass makes sure this won't be repeated (story was told to me by our usher).


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The seating bowl features three larger decks and a small level of suites, two decks in right field and a smaller deck in left.  The Texas heat is left behind when it gets too hot...the roof is closed and the air conditioning turned on. If the weather is pleasant, the roof is opened.



Wheelchair seating is liberally spread out through the park. We opted for the club level, near the right field foul pole. Our seats were on a very comfortable and roomy deck above the seats below.They were about the same price as the seats we had back at Globe Life Park but much more comfortable. An Interior food court was directly behind us.

Hot dogs here are good.  Very good and big. The park is also know for it's street tacos which are good too. Beer selection is also very good and the food and drink prices are a little above average. 



Public transportation to the park is good with a trolley station a block away. Houston has a good light rail system in the downtown area and it connects with a lot of hotels.



Minute Maid Park now displaces Miller Park in Milwaukee as our favorite domed/retractable roof stadium in the majors. It's a wonderful place to see a ballgame in or out of a wheelchair.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick

Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

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