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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Deep in the heart of southeast Texas you’ll find the University of Houston and Cougar Field, home to UH baseball. Located on campus, Cougar Field is a cozy venue that’s nice for college baseball and a family atmosphere. Whether it’s the Kid’s Zone or the grassy berms down both foul lines, the environment is great for a family day out. Even better, expect to catch some high quality college baseball against conference foes like Rice and Tulane at a very reasonable price. It sure doesn’t hurt that you’ll be in America’s 4th largest city with tons to do in the greater area. Overall, Cougar Field provides for solid college baseball experience.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Cougar Field offers a decent variety of ballpark concession options. Two primary stands are built into the stadium on both sides of the main entrance. These stands will offer your usual ballpark favorites which include hot dogs ($3-$4) and nachos ($5-$6). Snack options include popcorn ($5), pretzels ($4), peanuts ($4), sunflower seeds ($3), pickles ($2), candy ($3), and chips ($2). Your drink options will be headlined by Coca-Cola products ($4-$5) and bottled Dasani water ($3). Cougar Field sells alcoholic drinks including beer ($7) and margaritas ($8). You can also score an ICEE for $5.
Depending on the timing of your visit, there's usually a couple of specialty stands at the ballpark. You'll likely find a Chick-fil-A cart just inside the main entrance and for select games H-Two-BBQ will serve up BBQ plates on the berm down the first baseline. I highly recommend a stop by the H-Two-BBQ tent if they are on site.
Both Chick-fil-A and H-Two-BBQ drastically improve the concession options at a UH baseball game. The main concessions stands are a little light on variety and the quality isn't the greatest. On several occasions I've purchased a rubber hot dog on a brick bun. Why I continue to do so, no one really knows. At least beer is on the menu which helps to wash it down. The popcorn is usually tasty and it helps to have items like ICEEs and alcoholic beverages.
Reconstructed in 1995, Cougar Field is a beautiful and cozy ballpark located on the campus of the University of Houston. The field has a listed capacity of 3,500 but can support attendance up to 5,000 when you factor in the grass berm seating down the left and right field lines. Chairback seating is available on the bottom tier of the main grandstand with bleacher seating located above on the second tier. Several fans will also take advantage of the berm seating. For select games, a "Kid's Zone" is fenced off on the outskirts of the left field berm area. This includes a bounce house and ball toss tent.
The playing surface is natural grass (Tif 419) and is kept in pristine condition. The outfield fence stands at 8 foot tall and the field dimensions are as follows: foul lines - 330, power alleys - 375, and centerfield - 390. Just above the right field fence is the scoreboard which includes a 13 foot by 18 foot video board and a decorative clock on top in the center. Above the left field wall sits an accomplishment board which lists appearances in the NCAA Regionals, Super Regionals, and College World Series. Trees and campus buildings are in sight beyond the outfield wall. There's a small strip of overhang which provides shade to the bleacher seats on both the first and third baselines. Personally, my favorite seating is the right field grassy berm but you can also escape the sun (depending on time of day) in the bleacher seats under the overhang.
UH fans are passionate, but crowds can be a bit sparse at times. Unless it's a game against cross-town rival Rice or a major state program like Texas, don't expect a near capacity crowd. The atmosphere is generally pretty laid back without very much noise except after big plays. The UH athletics department does a great job with the in game promotions and activities. You'll see trivia questions, videos on the scoreboard, and various other activities taking place between innings.
The venue is committed to recognizing great Cougar players. In the concourse you'll find plaques honoring retired numbers (including Doug Drabek), a national player of the year (Brad Lincoln, 2006), and pictures of several All-Americans. In the main aisle in front of the pressbox that separates the two tiers of seating, there are two posts that pay homage to the College World Series runs in 1953 and 1967.
The area immediately around Cougar Field features a few restaurants and other types of attractions, but generally isn't an area you will want to stay in before or after the game. Though the UH campus is a beautiful place for the university community, the area surrounding the campus is not so much. You shouldn't encounter any issues while on campus, but the area outside the campus does have a decent amount of reported crime and is generally run-down. So, if you're making a special trip into Houston for the baseball game, don't plan to spend the majority of your time on campus. Houston has a lot to offer, but in other areas of the city.
The one place I will recommend in the immediate campus area is Frenchy's Chicken. Though the place certainly doesn't look like much on the outside, what matters most is the delicious taste of their fried chicken. I'd recommend picking up a box and eating it tailgate style just before the game. Ninfa's on Navigation is Houston favorite for Tex-Mex and margaritas. Goode's BBQ serves up great Texas-styled BBQ options and you have to try their Austin Baked Beans. The Houston area has a strong Vietnamese culture so stop in and get a taste of it at Les Givral's (ask for the #2: BBQ pork sandwich).
Houston is full of attractions as well. Depending on the timing of your visit, make plans for a stop at the Saint Arnold's Brewery. For just a few bucks you'll get several drink tokens, a souvenir glass, and a tour of the oldest craft brew in Texas. The Art Car Museum offers an experience of Houston's unique obession with turning cars into art and featuring them in a massive parade. If you're traveling with family, enjoy downtown Houston at Discovery Green, a large downtown park which features plenty of green space, a splash pad, and playground. For a change of pace from the sports scene, stop in for a free visit to the Menil Collection, a famous area art museum. When considering your lodging options, keep in mind that there's a hotel on the campus of UH. The Hilton University Hotel offers fans planning to spend a good deal of time around the campus an easy, comfortable, and accessible stay.
Cougar fans are a very prideful bunch and are certainly excited about a new conference affiliation. There is a nice size of hardcore fans and baseball families which attend every game. A few of these will be found tailgating in the parking lot behind the stadium. Many are long time baseball fans with exceptional knowledge of the game. With that said, UH baseball could certainly use some extra fans in attendance. For a school of UH's size, you'd expect a stadium of 3,500 to be near capacity for many of the weekend series game. The average crowd ranges ranges around the 1,000 attendance mark. The fan inspired atmosphere is very laid back and noise is generally only associated with big plays. The student support could be better. Though students are in attendance, there's no clear section or groups visible.
There are many reasons being located in a major city like Houston is a great thing, but one of the not so great aspects is the traffic. Houston has some of the worst traffic in the United States and a drive down I-45 towards the UH campus just might make you pull your hair out. The weekday travel is absolute madness but things are likely smoother on the weekends. As you exit I-45 to the UH campus, Cougar Field is just past the main entrance. There's plenty of parking around the stadium and its usually free. Depending on the size of the crowd, you may run into a bit of a line at the ticket stand. With only room for two workers, you could be in for a bit of a wait for games with large crowds. The path into the stadium gate is quick and smooth. The restrooms at Cougar Field are adequate and it's very unlikely that you'll have to hold it while waiting for a space to become available. The main concourse on the outer rim of the stadium is spacious enough for easy passage. The seating aisles are a bit tight but it doesn't seem to pose much of a hassle.
Tickets for a UH baseball game at Cougar Field range from $6-$8 for general admission to $10 for reserved chairbacks. Concessions aren't the cheapest option so expect to shell out a bit of cash for some grub. Parking is free so that's a plus. For this level of competition. $6 is a steal of a deal. The stadium is very cozy and the atmosphere will be great for college baseball, not to mention the high level of play against conference foes like Tulane and Rice. Overall, the return on investment is pretty nice.
Every great live sports experience is highlighted by certain 'extra' features which are unique compared to other venues or make the overall experience memorable. For a UH baseball game at Cougar Field, be sure to consider the following during your stadium experience:
• The family atmosphere is one that truly defines the college baseball experience. Whether it's throwing a sheet down on the grass berm or watching the kids run around at the Kid Zone, the environment is relaxed and perfect for a family day out.
• Alcohol isn't usually sold at traditional college baseball venues. It's great to have the option of drinking a beer while taking in the game. What's even better is you don't notice anyone getting out of hand.
• Though the surrounding area doesn't make for a high score on our rating system, if you're making a special trip into the area, there's tons to do in Houston. Take advantage of some of the tips in the Neighborhood section and you're guaranteed to have a great experience.
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