Itinerant Fan

Minute Maid Park

In Major League Baseball are traditional ballparks and quirky ones; old-timey ones and modern ones; ones that embrace the great outdoors and ones with retractable roofs. Houston’s Minute Maid Park seems to fit the second of each of those pairs — it certainly fits the last one, since it undoubtedly has a retractable roof. But none of this is to say that any of those things are bad.

Baseball fans and ballpark enthusiasts tend to romanticize the old-timey and traditional, but Minute Maid Park fits Houston and its team just fine. Remember, the Astros are a team that used to play in the majors’ (and the world’s) first domed stadium and helped usher in the era of artificial turf.

Nowadays, it plays in a park that is quite unique and quite quirky — perhaps, in retrospect, the designers tried a little too hard to make it so — but for the fan offers plenty in the way of an enjoyable day at the ballpark. So it’s an A-OK place to see baseball as far as we’re concerned, but I took a visit on a Sunday afternoon in April to see for myself.

  •   The Approach

    Minute Maid Park sits on the edge of downtown, with a freeway (U.S. 59, or the Eastex Freeway) running right by it, and occupies a prominent piece of land in an up-and-coming part of town — there are several apartment and loft complexes within walking distance, built around the same time the ballpark was or afterward. So even at a game that’s rather sparsely attended such as this one (the Astros had been running on a few seasons of, well, being downright terrible at this point), there’s plenty of foot traffic around the ballpark.

    Unfortunately, though, it appears most of the pedestrians were walking from their car to the ballpark. There’s surprisingly little to do in the immediate vicinity, save for a pretty large bar and a restaurant right next to it, both across Texas Street. There’s more to do if you walk northwest on Texas toward the heart of downtown — and if you happen to be arriving via light rail, you could visit those places. Yes, there is light rail in Houston, and the main (and right now only) line of it cuts through the heart of downtown. The nearest stop, Preston Street, is six blocks away, so it’s a healthy walk.

    I had arrived in Houston that morning, so I chose to take a bus from Hobby Airport to the ballpark. The line I chose took me 40 minutes from point to point, but it dropped me off on the corner of Capitol and Crawford streets, one block away. For $1.25, not too bad.

    Those driving to the game can find abundant parking in the area. As with most ballparks, the closer you park to the stadium, the more you’ll pay for parking. You can purchase parking in advance around the stadium, which is a pretty easy way to take on an unpleasant part of the gameday experience.

     
  •   The Build-Up

    Booking.com

    The aforementioned lack of food and drink options nearby, the Astros being a not-very-good team and a generally gloomy day — it was sprinkling when I first arrived downtown and was raining pretty hard at times while the game progressed — all added up to there being not much build-up at all, at least not outside the park, on this day. You can walk around the perimeter of the park if you like, but there isn’t a whole lot to see except on Texas Street, where there are a few decorations and such on the sidewalk.

    Nope, if you’re going to the game you might as well head inside when you get there, and you’ll probably wind up being glad you did. Since it was raining, I certainly was. Gave me more time to check out the scene inside.

  •   The Ambiance

    If you’re making your first visit to Minute Maid Park, do yourself a favor and go inside through the left-field gate at the corner of Crawford and Texas. At first it’ll appear as though you’re entering an office building, but once you’ve gone through the ticket-takers you’ll get your first glimpse of the left-field patio that was fashioned to resemble a train depot — a tribute to the former Union Station that stood at the site (the building is now part of the ballpark). The arches, the other side of which are visible from inside whenever you look toward left field, are perhaps the most distinctive thing about Minute Maid Park, so it’s a nice intro to the experience to be able to walk under them.


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    If you’re headed to the upper level, there is a set of escalators right there if you so desire. If you walk around the main concourse, though, know that if you don’t choose those escalators to head up, you’ll be walking up the stairs. I learned that the hard way after taking a mini-tour to check out the concession stands, I found no escalators in sight and finally gave up at some point and took the stairs. This map seems to indicate the presence of another escalator behind home plate, or perhaps that’s an elevator. Either way, it’s out of sight or perhaps inaccessible to anyone but suite ticket holders and the disabled. I’m not averse to stairs, but fair warning if you do arrive with upper-level tickets.

    At this game, with an announced crowd of less than 15,000, concession lines were mostly light. I pledged to wait until a few innings into the game to eat, and once I did I left my seat in Section 418 for good and headed back downstairs (using the left-field escalators) and surveyed my options. There were a few good ones, including a Cuban food stand (hard for me to resist Cuban sandwiches) and a specialty nacho stand. But whenever I’m in Texas my first instinct is to look for barbecue, and the “Maverick Smokehouse” stand had some good choices. I went for the brisket sandwich — the first positive sign came when the cashier asked, “sliced or chopped” (sliced, of course!); the second came when the sandwich arrived without BBQ sauce, as it was up to you to add it yourself at the condiment stand. I added only a little bit, and I have to say that for ballpark food, it was pretty damn good. Only two outs in the game went by as I wolfed it down from a standing picnic table overlooking the field.

    From there I headed to left field, and if you’re going to choose somewhere besides the seat you bought a ticket for to watch the game, the left-field patio is it. The railing, in between the Crawford Boxes (the name for the short porch in left field) and center field, is long enough for probably 100 or so people to stand and watch, and it includes an overhang that juts out over the field — look straight down from there and you’re practically past the warning track.

    I stayed there for a few innings and then decided to walk down into the 100-level seats, where nary an usher was around to stop me from taking a free seat to watch the Astros finish out their victory over the Angels. In the seventh-inning stretch, after “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” the Astros play “Deep In The Heart Of Texas,” which I guess was less a reminder of where we were than a nod to just how unique this ballpark was.

The Particulars

Home Teams
Houston Astros

Address
501 Crawford St.
Houston, TX 77002

Year Opened
2000

Capacity
40,950

Upcoming Events
All times local
Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros
Monday, April 2, 2018
7:10 pm
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Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
7:10 pm
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Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
1:10 pm
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San Diego Padres at Houston Astros
Friday, April 6, 2018
7:10 pm
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San Diego Padres at Houston Astros
Saturday, April 7, 2018
6:10 pm
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