Baseball, Travel

Ballpark Review: Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros)

We finally had the opportunity to visit Minute Maid Park, the home of our old Central division rivals, the Houston Astros. We visited this stadium with family after a fun Caribbean cruise while visiting my sister that now lives in Houston. We really appreciated the closed roof in humid Houston, which still provided a decent view of the Houston skyline through glass panels on the left field side. The abundance of local concession options (tacos, BBQ, breweries) was a huge plus. The overall atmosphere was energetic as fans rooted on their major league record leading team. Overall, we had a great experience and hope to see the Astros finally win a World Series this year – as long as it’s not against the Cardinals that is.

Design

The stadium design includes a retractable roof, which is nice to have closed on humid, hot days in Houston. There is a nice view of downtown Houston through glass panels on the left field side. The skyline view is better when the roof is open. Red and orange/beige brick are used throughout which nicely accent the navy/orange team colors.

Minute Maid took over naming rights for the stadium after Enron went under and their sign is featured right above the video board.

The most prominent stadium feature is the train above left field. It turns out that the original 1911 Union Station has been preserved and renovated as the ballpark’s main lobby. That’s pretty neat that they retained this historical rail station and feature it in the stadium. During home runs and wins, the train runs down the tracks. There are oranges in the train car that are likely related to Minute Maid. Flags by the train show the years the Astros won division/league championships. Retired numbers are visible above the Minute Maid sign.

We also noticed that “Tal’s Hill” and the flagpoles were removed from the outfield. The outfield still has a lot of weird angles, but I’m guessing it’s much safer without the hill.

A classic petrol pump in left field displays the total number of Astros home runs hit since the park opened. 

There is an old-fashioned, manual scoreboard in outfield for displaying the scores for all MLB games. A large video screen is on the right field side and one miniature on the left side. The game score is displayed on the large video screen with old school green colors to match the manual scoreboard.

Chick-fil-A ads on the foul poles are a bit tacky and say “CHIKIN IZ FARE” and “BURGERZ R FOUL”. Apparently anytime an Astros player hits the pole, the fans in attendance get a free chicken sandwich. I guess the benefits outweigh the tackiness.

A cool mural was painted on the wall by local artists to feature notable Astros.

There were plenty of stairwells, escalators and ramps making it easy to get around. Finding some of the featured areas was a bit tricky, as the upper level doesn’t go all the way around.

Outside the stadium statues of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio playing baseball together are located in the “The Plaza at Minute Maid Park”. The plaza also displays pennants for all Astros division and league championships and plaques for prominent Astros.

Location

The surrounding area was pretty residential and appeared safe. There were very few fun activities/restaurants in close proximity of the stadium. Midtown – the popular area for hanging out – is about a 10 minute drive.

The stadium was fairly easy to reach via car, but be sure to use GPS to direct you around the traffic (which is abundant on the highways). An easy public transit option did not appear to be within close range.

Parking was easy to find and cost us $10 for a few block walk. There are three large lots A-C for parking, which are popular for tailgating.

Concessions

We really liked the integration of local favorites for food and beverages. Street Eats features local food truck items like the chicken waffle cone.

Other popular ones include Torchy’s Tacos, El Real Tex-Mex, Jackson Street BBQ, Texas Smoke BBQ, and Little Bigs sliders. There were also an abundance of stands for walking tacos and getting standard ballpark favorites like hot dogs and nachos. They recently put in a Shake Shack. Healthy food options can be found at the FiveSeven Grille, Urban Bistro and Green Fork, which we actually didn’t run across because they were on the Club level. There were also several unique dessert options including Bake & Scoop, the Cookie & Creamery, and heavenly smelling funnel cakes.

There was an abundance of local beers options including a Saint Arnold Beer Bar, Karbach Bar, and ZiegenBock. If you are into tequila, the FiveSeven Grill Loft (named for Bagwell and Biggio’s numbers) supposedly features various tequilas. There is a Budweiser Brew House and Budweiser patio next to the Astros bullpen where fans can grab a bit and domestic beer and watch relievers warm up while keeping an eye on the game. Of course there were also Minute Maid stands for juice for the younger fans.

Amenities

There was a “Squeeze Play” kids area with a train-themed play place. Just behind the playground is kids can race a giant baseball player, bat in a virtual hitting game, or toss a ball in a pitching cage. The kids also enjoyed the How do you measure up? and jumping to reach the height of some of their Astros players.

Restrooms were relatively small but plentiful and clean. Seating was pretty average but steep and hot in the upper decks. We nabbed some seats in the lower decks which were much more comfortable.

There were also a significant number of team stores including one on the upper deck. They did have an Authentics shop, which you can buy a jar of Tal Hill’s dirt.

There were the standard Club level suites available. We also walked by the “Crawford boxes” which had a nice view. Overall, there weren’t any “extra” amenities that really stood out.

Culture

There was a decent sound system and frequent playing of pop music. The organ was not very active and when it was used was pretty quiet. They had a few interactive fan activities like the Flex cam and Chevy base stealer kids race.

The stadium was packed; this was likely partially attributed to the Astros having the best record in baseball, and that it was Christian family day. We did notice there were a lot of kids there. The fans were quite enthusiastic and we heard a lot of “Wooooo” cheers during good hits/plays. They use a horn for “Charge” with a bucking bull on the video screens. There was great participation due to this (something that Busch needs to work on).

Very few people asked us about our Cardinals gear, which we were a little surprised by, considering we used to be division rivals. There was minimal integration of franchise history into the game, but may be attributed to the team yet winning a World Series.

The mascot, Orbit, was seen throughout the game, either riding around shooting shirts between innings or climbing into the stands to take pictures with fans.

The celebrations for monumental moments all featured the train. For home runs, there’s a loud boom, smoke shoots out the Houston H, and the train runs down the tracks. For a win, a similar display of activities occurs, in addition to low shooting fireworks going off over the train. To get fans excited, a conductor comes out during the game and waves to the fans from the train.

Summary & Scoring

Date Visited: Saturday, June 10, 2017
Game Played: Astros 3, Angels 1. We got to see some of our old buddies – Pujols and Beltran. We just missed seeing Pujols’ 600th career home run, which he hit earlier in the week. He only managed a single in this game, and Beltran had a nice double. We were hoping for a blowout, but a McCann one-run homer was the only real excitement. Box Score
Design: 3.9 Stars – We really appreciated the closed roof option in humid Houston and liked that you could still see the Houston skyline through glass on the left side. The outfield still has a lot of weird angles but “Tal’s Hill” has been removed. 
Location: 3.3 Stars – The location is in downtown Houston, fairly close to residential areas with few venues/restaurants within walking distance to visit afterwards.
Concessions: 4.0 Stars – The many local foods (tacos, BBQ) and breweries featured gave lots of unique options.
Amenities: 3.6 Stars – There was a fun “Squeeze Play” train-themed play area for kids and standard club level suites, but no “above and beyond” items.
Culture: 3.8 Stars – Fans were enthusiastic, cheering “Woooo” and participating heartily in the home run / win celebrations that featured a train in left field running down the tracks. Orbit, the mascot, mingled with fans throughout the game.
Overall: 3.68 Stars – The retractable roof is a huge plus in Houston, which is kept closed on humid, hot days. A glass viewing panel in left field still allows a nice skyline view. The abundance of local concession options (tacos, BBQ, breweries) was a standout. The overall atmosphere was energetic and celebrations featured the train running down the tracks. 

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