Friday, June 26, 2009

Mike's Review: Minute Maid Park

Here's an example of a ballpark I knew little about, and was instantly impressed by every part of it. From zero expectations of a retractable roof stadium named after the worse of the two corporate orange juice sponsors (sorry, I like that pure premium original), Minute Maid Park became an instant contender for best overall ballpark.

The Ballpark
A big concern for retractable roof stadiums is that even when the roof is open, the ballpark feels very confined and closed in. Well at Minute Maid Park in Houston, this ballpark has a feeling of openness even when the roof is closed. From our upper deck seats behind 1st base, we had a great view of the unique left field wall, the train, and the tall glass windows spanning from foul territory to the center field scoreboard – and through those tall glass windows, a great view of downtown Houston.
The field was not overcrowded with advertisements like some ballparks are. Besides the usual ads around the scoreboard, most of the other advertisements were integrated into the look of the park: Eat More Fowl could be read on the foul poles, and a "home run" gas pump is located under one of the archways in left-center. Because Minute Maid Park was built over an old train yard, trains were a big theme. The left field train is surrounded by fireworks that went off when the Astros scored the winning run in walk off fashion. What stands out the most, though, would have to be the hill in centerfield, 436 feet away from home plate. It's so far away from the batter that balls rarely travel that far, but when they do it becomes an entertaining circus watching the centerfielder try to track down what would easily be a home run in any other ballpark. We watched Astros centerfielder Michael Bourn track down one of these fly balls, fall on his back, and make a fantastic catch.
Some people don't like the hill and all of the issues that go along with fielding it. In my opinion, it's a fun addition to the ballpark as long as players aren't getting hurt, and if a center fielder really doesn't want to try the hill, then he can let the ball fall (a ball that again would travel out of any other ballpark) and try to hold the runner to a triple instead of an inside the park homer.
In addition to being a very fun place to watch a game, Minute Maid Park has a lot of food, including a restaurant under the scoreboard in center. Local Beer Highlight: Shiner Bock.
4.5 / 5

The Game and Fans
The game was slow, the fans were quiet most of the game. Houston scored one run in the first inning... and that was it until a Cubs ninth inning solo shot sent the game into extras. 4 innings later the Astros walk off with the win, 2-1 the final score. Without much offense to cheer for, the loudest the fans got came after Bourn's center field hill catch, which was really very impressive. Justin and I were thankful for the late inning home run, if nothing else to make the game a lot more interesting. The home teams are now 2-0 in extra inning games on this trip, that's always fun to see.
3 / 5

Houston is enormous, and Minute Maid Park is located right downtown, a nice walk from our hotel. Lots of bars and restaurants around, we checked out a couple crowded sports bars in the area. The only difficult part about walking around Houston in June is the heat, which is why many of the downtown buildings are connected through a network of underground tunnels and pedestrian skywalks.
Neighborhood: 4 / 5
City: 4 / 5

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