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The Houston Astros have played in only three stadiums since their inception in 1962; the late and lamented Colt .45 Field, which was plagued by oppressive Texas heat and occasional rattlesnake visits on the field, to the first domed stadium in the world, the Astrodome, to their present home in downtown Houston, Minute Maid Park . The park opened in 2000 and was known as Enron Field, and after the ensuing scandal was renamed Minute Maid Park as a part of a 28-year marketing agreement with the beverage company.
Minute Maid Park offers a flexibility not found in the Astrodome. It is a retractable-roof stadium that can be opened or closed within a 15-minute period, depending on the weather. The ability to open and close the roof allows the use of real grass, not the much-maligned AstroTurf, which caused odd bounces and many turf burns for the players over the years. A wall of glass shows off the downtown Houston skyline and does not give the tomb-like feel of the Astrodome. Texans are very proud of their history, and Minute Maid Park uniquely incorporates this history into its design. There are many entrances into the field, but none as grand as the one through the Union Station lobby, built in 1911. Its soaring ceiling and fine architectural style make it a one of a kind entryway to an athletic facility. This salute to the building’s heritage is carried out further by a steam engine atop the left field wall, which runs down the tracks carrying Minute Maid oranges -- of course -- after an Astro victory or home run.
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".
You will need to bring a Texas sized appetite and billfold to Minute Maid Park, as the portions are huge. Remember you are in the Southwest, as there are a number of locally-based Tex-Mex offerings, barbecue stands galore, as well as your usual baseball fare. Some of the restaurants my friends recommend are El Real (fajita nachos $11.50, beef quesadilla $9.50), Maverick Smokehouse BBQ and the 5-7 Grille, owned by former Astro legends Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The 5-7 has a menu ranging from steaks to seafood to premium cocktails in a setting that salutes highlights in Astro history. Be sure to save room for the famous Texas-made Blue Bell ice cream, which is sold throughout the park (prices range from $5.50-$6.50). Unlike most MLB stadiums, Minute Maid Park allows food to be brought in, as long as it is in a clear one-gallon bag .
Minute Maid Park is a case of the product off the field being better than the product on the field. The stadium does all it can to entertain its visitors, as far as comfort, great sight lines wherever you sit, interesting sights, such as the train running down the tracks, and one of the largest scoreboards in the major leagues. In addition, there are many fan-friendly amenities, such as the Squeeze Play park for families with young children, a very active mascot, Orbit, who seems to be some type of space alien and Homerun Alley where fans can often snag a home run during batting practice. Another unique feature of this park retains a feature of old Crosley Field in Cincinnati. It is a terraced area (Tal's Porch) featuring a 20-degree uphill slope AND three flagpoles on the playing field. This all adds up to some interesting action in deep center field
Like many downtown ballparks, the neighborhood surrounding it can vary greatly. On the positive side there are some very nice hotels, such as the Westin literally across the street from the stadium. There are also some great sports bars such as the Home Plate Bar and Grill, located in the vicinity. BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the MLS Houston Dynamos, is also located a few blocks away. On the flip side, other neighbors to the stadium include the Texas Pardons and Paroles offices, numerous bail bonds outlets and a Salvation Army Center
Texans are serious sports fans who expect a lot of their sports teams. However, the Astros are in a youth movement and are not going to be pennant contenders in the near future. It is hard to get fired up for a team which is double figures out of first place in their division by May. However, once these young players develop, the fans can become very boisterous, as they did in the Killer B's era with great pitching from Mike Scott and Joe Niekro. Typically the loudest cheer of the night goes out when "Deep in the Heart of Texas" is played in lieu of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" for the seventh-inning stretch
Houston has a well earned reputation as one of the most congested cities in the U.S. Minute Maid Field is basically accessible only by city streets, many of which are one-way or presently have construction blocking several lanes. Most of this construction is due to the extension of the rapid rail system, which will eventually be a good thing, as presently the closest rail station is eight blocks from Minute Maid. The expansion will provide a station at Minute Maid Field, much as there is already a station at the Houston Texans' NRG Stadium. Parking will cost around $15 in the parking decks surrounding the Astros' stadium
Minute Maid Field is a beautiful, unique place to play baseball .The team seems to be dedicated to keeping the ticket prices affordable and offer numerous buy one get one free or half-price promotions. In addition, they offer discounted rates for students with good grades and many of the civic organizations in town. The Astros have a very admirable program of providing free tickets to wounded warriors and their families. If you are simply visiting Houston and "don't have a dog in the hunt," a visit to Minute Maid Park is well worth a visit for an enjoyable, comfortable evening of baseball.
Minute Maid Park offers some unique attributes not found in many stadiums. These include the Tal Terrace, the train, the incorporation of Union Station into the park and a great play area for the kids when they get bored with the game.
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.
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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