Have a baseball road trip coming up? Well, in a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
Up next is our good friend James Yasko of Astros County. He wrote the 10 best things about being an Astros fan for us last season and will help you navigate a trip to see his favorite team in the early stages of a rebuild.
Planning a visit to Houston? You’ll love it – as long as you don’t visit when the proximity of the sun is melting it away, which is basically between now and November. But for the 80 percent of you who still have snow on the ground, it’s a lovely place that, according to MLB.com has a baseball team (ESPN makes no mention of them).
So what should you visit when you’re in Houston? Well, I'm here to tell you. But in the interest of full disclosure: I don’t live in Houston anymore. All my exes live in Texas, which actually does partially explain why I hang my hat in Tennessee. Worry not, though. My family still lives in Houston, so I’m there fairly often. I still consider myself a local.
1. Getting to the game: Minute Maid Park is a downtown stadium so parking is atrocious. The prices are inconsistent based on the lot – you might pay $10 to get within four blocks of the Stadium, walk two blocks and find that a closer lot is $5. Might I suggest the MetroRail, Houston’s newish 7.5-mile light rail? It’s clean, it’s cheaper than parking by the stadium, easier and quicker to get in and out of the ballpark, and there’s only like a 40 percent chance that the MetroRail will hit a pedestrian.
2. I want to see a specific game. Will I be able to get tickets? Will the 2013 Astros sell out quickly? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. The lone benefit of having a bad team is that any seat or section is there for the taking. Check Stubhub for some real bargains.
3. The Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio statues: Of course you’re going to spend most of your time in and around Minute Maid Park. Why else would you possibly come to Houston? Well, you have to visit the statues of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, if only to try to erase the memories of Carlos Lee playing first base.
First of all, it’s a great design. Future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio is presumably completing a double play to a stretched-out (and Future Hall of Famer) Jeff Bagwell. Everyone gets their picture by these statues. And since you’re a tourist, you should, too.
4. Don’t tailgate: The Astros are currently apparently trying to get a handle on “People Who Like To Get Together And Hang Out in Parking Lots Before Sporting Events.” Until they figure out if tailgating is just a 100-year old passing fad, tailgating is not allowed in “Astros controlled parking lots.”
5. The restaurants at Minute Maid Park are really good (if a little expensive): The Astros hired “celebrity chef” Bryan Caswell (you should check out his Montrose-area TexMex restaurant El Real) as a consultant to ramp up the culinary options while you’re at the game. You should definitely get the Caz GrandSlam – a half-pound burger with refried beans, corn chips, onions, avocado, poblano peppers, cheese and back, on a toasted bun. You’ll probably also want to note that you can receive medical treatment at Sections 150 and 334.
There was a time in my life when I was a vegetarian (Prince Fielder and I were in a Fattest Vegetarian In America contest), and eating at an Astros game meant that I left the ballpark hungry, or at least covered in nacho cheese. But with the new FiveSeven Grille – again, a reminder of the Bagwell/Biggio years – and other concourse restaurants, there are plenty of options for people who have different culinary preferences from your stereotypical Texan.
Want a drink? Be sure to check out the Houston-based St. Arnold’s Brewery. St. Arnold’s is Texas’ Oldest Craft Brewery and has an establishment behind the Crawford Boxes for your imbibing pleasure.
Do keep in mind the Astros finally caught up with the rest of the world, and you can bring in food and water to the stadium.
6. Squeeze Play: You know, for kids! Along the right field line, near Section 133, is the Squeeze Play interactive area. There are hitting cages, there’s an interactive exhibit that shows the umpire’s point of view, kids can run some bases. There’s even a game in which the BBWAA questions the integrity of your kids and voices unsourced suspicions about how clean they are, also in honor of Biggio and Bagwell*. It’s open for ages 3-12 provided they’re accompanied by an adult, and has plenty of TV screens so you can keep tabs on the game.
*This doesn’t actually exist.
7. Marvel at the, ahem, different features of the stadium: Whether it’s the aforementioned Crawford Boxes, a tidy 315 feet from home plate, the Chick-Fil-A Fowl Pole (in which the Chick-Fil-A cows are mounted on the foul poles), the Community Partners billboards that now blocks a significant part of the view of downtown Houston, or the hill in centerfield with the in-play flagpoles, there are plenty of opportunities for you to go back home and write a blog post about how stupid Minute Maid Park is.
8. BBVA Compass Stadium: Not far from Minute Maid Park is BBVA Compass Stadium, home of MLS’ Houston Dynamo. It’s brand new – right at a year old – and provides an intimate setting to watch a soccer game. One fun activity (not for gambling purposes, of course) is to pair an Astros game with a Dynamo game and see who scores more points.
9. Visit the zombie shell of the Astrodome: While you’re in town, you should visit the Astrodome, if only to marvel at how the Texans’ Reliant Stadium makes what was once known as the Eighth Wonder of the World look like a rusted out ’74 Chevelle parked in the front lawn. Regrettably, nobody in Houston knows what to do with the Astrodome so it just sits there.
10. Make sure to pick up your instant street cred: Look, we know the Astros aren’t very good this year. They may not be very good next year. But Houston is a beautiful city (subjective, of course) and you can’t visit all 30 ballparks without coming to Minute Maid. So you might as well sit back in the air-conditioning and tell your friends that you went and saw the Astros in 2013. They’ll marvel at your courage and level of commitment.
What are your favorite tips for visiting Minute Maid Park?
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park