Tag Archives: houston astros

Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park, Houston, TX

Number of games:  1
First game:  April 15, 2004 (Brewers 6, Astros 2)

(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

It’s better than the Astrodome.  But then, every ballpark I’ve ever been to is better than the Astrodome.  Since Minute Maid Park (nee Enron Field, nee Astros Stadium) was built in a better location and in a better era for ballparks, I was ready for something good.  I’m afraid I wasn’t terribly impressed with what I saw.

I admit that some of it had to be my political views.  I rarely take my bleeding-heart-liberal-thinkin’, dove-lovin’, Dukakis-votin’ political views into the ballpark.  And maybe I was just politically sensitive because of my experience earlier in the day at the George H.W. Bush Museum in College Station.  But there was something dreadfully awry about the way this ballpark was set up.  It’s especially helpful to compare this ballpark with the excellent Ballpark in Arlington because Minute Maid does wrong all of the things that The Ballpark in Arlington does right.

What do I want to see out on the exterior of a ballpark?  A celebration of baseball or local history.  What do I see on the exterior of this stadium?  In the most prominent location, a celebration of…Halliburton.  Ugh. 

It goes all the way back from their beginnings striking oil up through modern day.  And, on the day I attended the Bush museum, I couldn’t seem to escape Republicanism in Houston.  I admit that I was sort of hoping to encounter George and Barbara in the flesh on the day that I visited their museum, but alas, it was not to be.  My seats weren’t nearly good enough (I can’t afford to sit with Republicans).  But I don’t at all see the point of heroic pictures of Dick Cheney outside a ballpark.  I’d find a heroic, flag-featuring plaque of Al Gore just as silly.  George H.W. Bush?  At least he was a ballplayer.  But a celebration of Halliburton just because they helped roust up the bucks for the ballpark violates what I see as the sacredness of a shared space.  Ick.

To be sure, I tolerate corporate sponsorship at some level.  Naming rights?  Hate it, but understand it…even for Enron.  Silly advertising, like “This batter digging in is brought to you by Ace Hardware, for all your digging needs?”  Terrible, but I’ll swallow hard.  But both are preferable to this silly self-aggrandizement of a company.  How can they place Cheney in a better piece of real estate–closer to the stadium, easier to find, larger–than past Astros like Joe Morgan, Jose Cruz, and Darryl Kile?  Unacceptable.

Besides, if a noted Republican wanted to, they could always simply buy a brick, as this one did:

What a sweet little father-to-son gesture!  I agreed with very little that Bush 41 did in office, and less with his son, but still, you get a sense that it’d be fun to hang out with them at the ballpark.  Clinton, too, although he’d more likely ditch you to be with the babes.

I’m still not done with my complaints of the capitalist creep in this place.  Once on the inside, there are not one but two scoreboards (one down the third-base line at field level, the other up high by the right-field foul pole) that actually run the day’s stock ticker.  Come ON!!!  I thought “well, maybe it’s just for the pre-game.”  Nope.  It continued through the game, popping up between every inning.  I can tell you that, on April 15, 2004, Halliburton stock was up 37 cents a share.  I could also tell you the price, both current and settle, for natural gas, crude, unleaded, and heating oil.  Please!  That’s simply not acceptable.  Why not do one quick ticker at some point and have it sponsored by Charles Schwab or something?  Who the hell is going to come to the ballpark to look for stock quotes?  Isn’t a ballpark supposed to be an escape from these sorts of worldly pursuits and concerns?  If you need to check your portfolio while at the ballpark…and check it between every inning!…I urge you to trade in your tickets and use the money you save on professional help.

This issue was only one part of the generally charmless feel of Minute Maid Park.  I understand that Houston’s hot, humid summers necessitate a retractable roof that can completely enclose the stadium.  It’s better than the retractable roofs at Miller Park and Bank One Ballpark because there’s no tall wall beyond the left field stands…but still, a tall enough one to obscure potential views of downtown.  There’s no excitement to the neighborhood as there is in Baltimore or Denver…the ballpark is hemmed in between downtown on one side and freeways on the other, with all the inherent business therein (but given the Halliburton history and stock tickers, that’s probably what they have in mind for a crowd).  The concourses are sterile, with no sense of history–team records are horribly misplaced in a back stairway.  THERE ARE NO CUP HOLDERS IN THE THIRD DECK!!!!

I just kept finding new ways to be annoyed with Minute Maid Park.  Even the bits that were meant to be endearing felt more annoying to me, like the ballpark was trying too hard…sort of like a four-year-old mugging for the camera.  The wacky, jagged outfield walls…the stupid train with oranges on it…all too much, I felt.

There were a few positives:  the Biggio and Bagwell statues turning a double play outside, for instance, and the

displays of PA announcers’ words for the hearing impaired (I’d never thought of that).  I have to admit, I like the hill in center field, and the flagpole in play there.  It’s sort of like playing in a backyard, only larger and with better players.  There was a lovely scoreboard promotion for a car maintenance company that I wish I’d thought of:  “Brake for a kiss.”  The camera would focus on couples at the ballpark–all ages, races, levels of physical attractiveness–and when couples saw themselves on the screen, they were expected to kiss.  Some kissed sweetly, one woman totally jumped her date, some elderly couples got respectful, sweet applause…it was a nice bonding moment throughout the stadium, I think.  One of the best uses of the Diamondvision I’ve ever seen.  (Given the Republican slant to this ballpark, how long will it be before we see a gay couple in this promotion?  I won’t hold my breath…even in my liberal hometown of Seattle, they’d get too many complaints from the God squad.  Someday, though, I hope…)  Also, I got to spend part of the game talking about my former Louisiana home with David, the gentleman from  Elton, LA who sat next to me.  I spent 6 innings annoyed with David because he didn’t have a sense of personal space.  He sat with his legs pointed out diagonally from his body, such that his knees were interfering with my personal space.  I tried every socially acceptable method I could think of to move him back to his space…light leaning, fidgeting, etc…but to no avail.  But eventually, I asked him where Elton was (it was displayed on his hat…and maybe that’s a Southern thing…why don’t I see baseball hats with small companies that announce “Redmond, WA” on them?).  Turns out it wasn’t far from the place I taught for a couple of years…and he has relatives who went there.  A nice guy, even though (or perhaps because) he’d had a few beers by the time we talked.  He informed me that Ben Sheets is from Monroe, Louisiana, and had struck his sons out in high school ball a few times.

But on the whole, this ballpark represents all of the negatives of the new proliferation of ballparks and few of the positives.  But at least the Astros are outdoors now.


Ben Sheets pitches magnificently for five innings to pick up the win, only leaving due to an injury.

Craig Biggio homers.

(Written April 2004.)


From astrosconnection.com.

Astrodome, Houston, TX

Number of games:  3
First game:  July 26, 1993 (Reds 6, Astros 1)
Last game:  May 18, 1994 (Astros 4, Giants 2)

The Astrodome is no longer in use as of the end of the 1999 season.

The Astrodome might be the eighth wonder of the world, but it’s the worst of all the baseball stadiums I’ve been to.  I’ll grant that, by the time I saw the Astrodome, it was 30 years old, and the original ooohs and aaahs (look!  they’re playing baseball indoors!  how cool!  and look!  the scoreboard explodes!) were passe’ and even quaint.  And I’ll grant you that, even for baseball, air-conditioning might be better than sitting in a muggy Texas afternoon or night.  But here’s what I remember about the Astrodome–it smelled like mold.  All three times I walked into the place, I thought the same thing.  I never was in a crowd that reached even 20,000, so it always felt terribly cavernous, even more so than other multi-purpose stadiums.

All three visits were during my two years living and teaching sixth graders in the sticks of west central Louisiana, which is another memoir entirely.  Loved the teaching, hated west central Louisiana.  Me and my fellow young visiting-teacher friends would drive the three hours down to see whatever ballgame was on–once, even on a school night.  We were that desperate to escape.

My first trip, however, was solo…heading down from my place during the summer to make the Astrodome the tenth stadium in the original Erotic Love and Baseball Stadium tour…the only stop without a connection to any woman.  Well, a guy needs a break sometimes.  I remember three things from this game–a suddenly-not-hot Darryl Kile getting shelled, but nevertheless getting a standing ovation when he was pulled; a very impressive Chris Sabo home run, and my second encounter in a week with Kevin Wickander.

As I told you back in the Riverfront game, Wickander lost his good buddies Steve Olin and Tim Crews in a boat accident that March at Cleveland’s spring training, and had been traded to Cincinnati in the hope that new surroundings would get him back on track.  And I felt for the guy.  His public struggle with grief was breaking my heart, especially after I saw him throw eight pitches without a strike at Riverfront.  So, for my second consecutive game, I shouted wild support when Wickander entered the game, this time with a 6-1 lead to close it out in the ninth.  “All right, WICK!!!” I shouted, as the few Astros fans who were left wondered why I was hollering in support of the enemy.  If they’d asked, I’d have told them, and we’d have seen what kind of empathy they had.  Anyway, at least Wick got an out in this one, getting Ken Caminiti to fly to center.  Indeed, at least he threw a strike in this one.  But after Caminiti’s fly out, Wickander walked the next two batters and was pulled.  It was awful.  Again, I was stuck watching a guy go through horrendous personal grief in a public venue.  He had an awful year; his ERA was close to 7.  But, giving baseball-reference.com a look, it looks like there may be a happier ending to this story…he wasn’t in the majors in 1994 (minors?  mental health?) but came back to have a strong year (ERA under 2) for Detroit and Milwaukee in 1995.  He struggled a bit more for the Brewers in 1996, and doesn’t appear to have been in the majors since, but by then, I’d hope it was due to mechanics or injuries and not due to the broken heart that was so clearly dogging him when I watched him pitch the summer of 1993.

**April 2003…I have received two separate emails about Kevin Wickander’s life since his retirement from baseball, one from a college and minor-league teammate of Wick’s and another from a distant relative.  I’m afraid his life hasn’t developed as positively as I thought/hoped…it appears he developed a drug problem, has endured a divorce, and is now in prison for drug-related offenses.  I appreciate the people who sent me the update, although in some ways, I wish I didn’t know the sad truth.

My choice to drive to that game alone left me driving the three hours home all alone until 2 in the morning, very tired, picking up distant sports talk stations, even stopping and looking for rural payphones considering a call in.  The topic was low morals among athletes.  I don’t remember what jerk du jour the guy was worked up about, but I wanted to point out that there are good guys even in New York sports, like Jim Abbott and Anthony Young.  But then it occurred to me…I was choosing two guys in the middle of bad seasons, and Young was in the middle of a record-setting losing streak.  I might unintentionally have made the point that you have to be a jerk to win.  When it occurred to me–maybe you do.  Which made me depressed as well as tired on the trip.  Kids–don’t try this drive at home.  If I had to do it again, no matter how broke I was at the end of my tour, I would have stopped for accommodation in Livingston or Woodville.

At another game, I went with two friends, one of whom, blessed with magazine-cover looks, said “Well, I don’t like baseball, but I once dated a Montreal Expo, so this game (against Montreal) will be especially appropriate.”  We watched Mark Portugal warm up just a few feet away from us, and when I stepped away for some food, buddy Dan got Astros’ pitching coach Bob Cluck to autograph my program.  “Hey, this’ll be great, can you sign this for my friend???”  Thanks, Dan and Bob.  And I remember Mark Portugal failing to lay down a sacrifice in the fifth inning, and just as he was running by us down the first-base line, he shouted out the loudest f-word I’ve ever heard.  Mark!  There are kids here!

Was it worth making the six-hour round trip on a school night to sit at this terrible indoor stadium?  Yes.  But I’m glad they finally opened the new place.  It’s not my favorite, but it’s far better than this was.


Darryl Kile has a nine-game winning streak snapped.

Mark Portugal, in one of his last starts for the Astros, sets personal career high with his 14th win and 8th in a row.

Mark Portugal, in his first start in Houston against the Astros, loses to Doug Drabek.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2005.)