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The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. The Astros have been calling Houston home since 1962. Originally known as the Colt .45s in 1962, then after the .45s moved to the world's first multi-purpose dome (Astrodome) they became the Astros. In 2000, the Astros made another move to their current home of Minute Maid Park, located in downtown Houston. Minute Maid Park, like its predecessor, was one of the first of its kind being one of the first retractable-roofed stadiums. This was definitely a great idea as fans are protected from Houston's notoriously humid weather, but also allows fans to enjoy outdoor baseball during favorable weather. Minute Maid Park has the capacity to seat just under 41,000 people.
Minute Maid Park is definitely a one of a kind venue. The largest entrance to the park is inside what was once Houston's Union Station, and the left field side of the stadium features a train as homage to the site's history.
The train moves along a track on top of the length of the exterior wall beyond left field whenever an Astros player hits a home run, or when the Astros win a game. The engine's tender, traditionally used to carry coal, but is usually filled with giant oranges in tribute to Minute Maid's most famous product, orange juice.
The playing field also has a lot of neat nooks and crannies to it from the short porch in left known as the Crawford Boxes to Tal's Hill in center. Another cool feature you will see at Minute Maid is a concourse above Tal's Hill which features the "Conoco Home Run Porch" in left-center field that is actually over the field of play, and features a classic gasoline pump that displays the total number of Astros home runs hit since the park opened.
For fans that have attended Minute Maid in the past but not in 2011, new for the 2011 season is a large HD screen nicknamed "El Grande" replacing the original one in center field. At 54 feet high and 124 feet wide, it is the second largest scoreboard in Major League Baseball, behind Kauffman Stadium. The old screen was taken out and replaced by billboards. Additionally they added a smaller HD screen on the far left field wall. The ring of advertisement screens around the park have also been replaced in favor of HD ribbon boards in 2011.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
No trip to the ballpark is complete without some peanuts and crackerjacks (or so the song says, anyway). Fortunately, Minute Maid Park, has a bevy of food choices for you.
I'll start by mentioning the Astros' Sizzling Grille located in sections 116 and 125 where you can enjoy a Texas sized mild or hot sausage with your choice of toppings on a fresh baked poppy seed roll. If your taste buds are yearning for some fresh cooked sausages then the Sizzling Grill is where you need to be.
One of my favorite spots is the FiveSeven Grille owned by two of the greatest Astros of all time, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The FiveSeven Grille is a nice sitdown resturant that offers a variety of great options as well as to go orders for fans to enjoy in their seats. The FiveSeven Grille is located near section 156.
A couple other favorites of mine include the Goya Latin Cafe and Lefty's BBQ at Union Station. The Goya Latin Cafe has one of the best chicken in chipotle sauce I have ever had. They offer a vast array of different products from Beef Picadillo to grilled Cuban sandwiches. The Goya even offers frozen sangrias and margaritas if that is what you are in the mood for. The Goya Cafe can be found behind home plate near section 119. My last favorite spot is Lefty's BBQ which offers mouth watering Texas favorites like beef brisket, ribs, sausages and smoked turkey with all the great fixins. If Texas BBQ is on your mind then Lefty's is your place.
Minute Maid definitely provides many options and are right on par with most MLB park prices, so definitely make sure you bring a big appetite and even bigger checkbook.
The atmosphere at Minute Maid Park is unfortunately declining the worse the team gets. As of the time of this review (July 2011) the Astros are the worst team in baseball and on their way to their first 100-loss season in franchise history. So anytime you go to Minute Maid Park now you may see a more than average influx of opposing fans at games, especially when some of the big teams like the Cubs, Cardinals or Mets are in town. At times you may see a 50/50 crowd if someone like the Red Sox or Yankees are in town for inter-league play.
There are still neat things around the ballpark that provide that great baseball atmosphere, but the fans are definitely hurting this atmosphere. The Astros provide a great atmosphere for the kids as well as the diehard baseball fan. It just seems the baseball atmosphere will get worse before it gets better.
As I mentioned earlier, Minute Maid Park is in downtown Houston so you have a variety of options. I will list a couple of my ballpark favorites. First off is the Home Plate Bar & Grill. The place is packed during every Astros home game, but it's virtually empty in the off-season. Predictably, the decor is a stuffed-to-the-gills collection of autographed jerseys and posters of sports figures. Intent on watching the game? Sit downstairs - the mezzanine section has just two 13-inch TVs. The food wins big points, but drinks and service are somewhat lacking. The incredibly delicious crawfish po'boy is Tuesday's standout special. Wash it down with a $2.50 Mexican beer or $1.50 well drinks.
Another option right outside the ballpark is The B.U.S. If you end up on Travis St. on the way to Minute Maid Park for an Astros game, just look for the big blob of Stros gear, Ray-Bans, and Ice Cold brew all nestled under an open warehouse-like bar right across from the stadium and you have come across the B.U.S. Inside you will find 2 main bars made out of wood, many large old school big screen TVs, projections, pool tables, darts, shuffle board, an uber amount of sports memorabilia, and a bunch of happy, fired up baseball fans having a good time whether they have tickets to the game or not. It's not the cheapest place as far as beer prices, but overall it's a great place to unwind, relax, and drink up before or even after the game.
Well, as bad as I hate to say this, Astros fans are some of the worst fair weather fans you will find in the league. Just a little over five years ago, Minute Maid Park was buzzing with fans as the Astros made their run at the World Series. Unfortunately for the 'Stros, the fans, and Minute Maid Park it has gone down hill since then. I will say if you are still looking for some of those diehard fans you're better off looking for them in the 300 and 400 sections rather than lower to the field. I have sat all throughout Minute Maid Park and have found the more dedicated and knowledgeable fans seem to be higher up. Unfortunately for the fans it doesn't look like they are going to get any better any time soon, so they will just have to hope the rebuilding process doesn't take as long as it did in Pittsburgh.
Access to Minute Maid Park is usually not too bad. If you work downtown or are visiting, then I would highly recommend taking the Light Rail. Unfortunately, the city of Houston still has a pretty dismal public transportation system. As long as you aren't fighting the usually brutal Houston traffic though, getting to Minute Maid can be pretty easy.
Parking will cost anywhere from $10-$20 depending on the distance from the ballpark as well as importance of the game. The concourses are wide enough to make a trip all the way around the ballpark with ease.
Bathrooms are plentiful and I have never noticed much of a line during my many visits.
Right now (2011) is about the best return on investment you will ever find at Minute Maid Park. With plenty of promotional deals, the Astros are making a trip to Minute Maid Park quite an affordable trip for the family. The Astros offer promotions like all summer long kids are free, so I can buy a regularly priced ticket and both of my sons get in free. If you're planning a trip to Minute Maid Park in the near future I would definitely check the promotional schedule to see when you can get the most out of your money.
There are a few neat extras I like about the park. One is Tal's Hill. I think it adds that special unique aspect to Minute Maid Park. As well as it can make for some great blooper reels or SportsCenter highlights depending on how the center fielder handles the hill.
Another great extra is the Train located on tracks at the top of the stadium. It is a neat fixture and the kids love it.
One of my favorite extras is the singing of "Deep in the Heart of Texas" during the seventh inning stretch. You don't even have to be a fan of baseball to enjoy that. Trust me, no matter what your age is you will be hard pressed from at least humming the tune during this.
My last point goes out to the great inclusion of the retractable roof which makes plenty of fans happy on those blistering hot summer days.
Upon stepping off the Houston Light Rail train, an excitement came about that I hadn't foreseen with attending a baseball game; this was going to be a good experience.
Attending an Astros game at Minute Maid Park is a must for all that come to visit Houston. The rich history of the Astros' organization as well as the family friendly atmosphere and excellent location speak volumes to what Houston provides to visitors and locals alike.
Just northeast of what was formally the old Union Station, Minute Maid Park brings a combination of old-school railroad memories in with modern day fan appeal, bars, restaurants and other entertainment alternatives.
The first time I made it to Minute Maid Park, the roof was closed and I left unimpressed. It's a whole new experience when the roof is open. Great food, and a lot of fun singing Deep in the Heart of Texas in the 7th.
There are some good options outside of the stadium, and a beautiful park. I also love the quirks of the park, including the strange walls and centerfield hill.
I love the downtown location. The park has good proximity to bars & restaurants and is a walkable destination if you're downtown - a huge plus. Take driving & parking out of the equation of getting to a ballpark, and I'm infinitely happier. The park itself is new retro - I love the window in left, and the double decks in right. I fucking detest the ridiculous homage to old Tigers stadium in center field. Stupid gimmicks are for in between innings at minor league parks, not for major league fields. If I could give a negative star, I would.
Food - You have to try to BBQ brisket topped baked potato. One of the best stadium fare item I've ever had.
Atmosphere - Minute Maid Park is a beautiful stadium and relatively new. Though not much history, the park has hosted Astro greats like Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt. Add in a World Series run which included Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens.
Neighborhood - Plenty to do within walking distance of Minute Maid. Houston's downtown area leaves much to be desired compared to some other major city downtowns, but there are enough bars and restaurants to keep the party going.
Fans - Astro fans haven't had much to cheer for lately. Since the World Series run, the team has basically been stripped of any recognizable stars which has led to some of the lowest attendance numbers. When the Astros are winning, the fans are great, but when they aren't, there aren't enough hard-core fans to keep the stands filled.
Access - Minute Maid is in downtown Houston, which can make access an issue on weeknights and even some weekends. Parking can get pricey around the stadium and can also fill pretty quick. Bathrooms are clean and available.
Extra - BBQ Brisket Baked Potato.....delicious.
I'm glad I went when the Astros were competitive or else it probably wouldn't have been as high as I am making it to be.
I've been to a few of the "new" parks and this takes the taco as the worst one. I'll start off with why. Prices were bad all around and inconsistent. One place had a jumbo hot dog for $3.50 and you put it in another spot in the stadium it is about $6.50. Souvenir prices were higher for even most baseball stadiums. The sightlines are atrocious for a park. Anything in RF is a mess whether or not you have the overhang or the underhang. The lines also didn't work either. The food got me sick (a BBQ loaded potato) and what I did have that didn't get me sick wasn't overly tasty (I added an extra pont because of the variety the place has). Bathrooms were cramped and it took forever getting into them. As for the stadium "look," I never really felt like I was at a ballpark but more of an enlarged field.
But besides that, the Astros, who were chasing St. Louis for the division, had/have great fans. They were into the game, even when they were blown out or it was a close one. They were incredibly supportive and incredibly friendly.
But besides that, a very disappointing experience.
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