Minute Maid Park – Houston Astros
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Excitement and Energy in H-Town
Houston, also known as Space City, is one of the United States’ largest, most metropolitan cities, and is home to four major league franchises, the oldest being Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros. The team’s former home, the legendary Houston Astrodome, was known worldwide as “the 8th wonder of the world,” but as the 20th century began to wind down, a new home was sought for the ‘Stros. In 2000 that home was unveiled, and was renamed Minute Maid Park in 2002. Affectionately known among fans as “The Juice Box,” Minute Maid Park is a hitter’s paradise, and a true must visit for any baseball fan. Built on the former site of Houston’s Union Station train depot in the middle of downtown, Minute Maid Park combines the old world aesthetics that are a hallmark of baseball with all the modern bells and whistles of 21st century sports entertainment.
Food & Beverage 5
Like all of the great “new” ballparks in Major League Baseball, Minute Maid Park has really stepped up their food offering beyond the traditional hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks. There is plenty to eat and drink at Minute Maid and you don’t have to go far to find something for everyone’s tastes. The ballpark does a really nice job incorporating the flavors of the city and of Texas into the menu. Tex-Mex and barbecue options abound throughout the park, both in the regular stands and in freestanding kiosks. You will also find signature Texas staples such as Blue Bell Ice Cream ($6.95 for a two-scoop souvenir mini batting helmet), Minute Maid frozen treats, and Nolan Ryan Beef products (including regular and foot-long hot dogs).
Additional highlights include the fare offered at the Street Eats stands on the main level and upper concourse level. First, celebrity “eater” and chef Andrew Zimmern offers his take on a street sandwich with the Korean Pork Belly Sandwich, made with fried pork belly, grilled pineapple, scallion butter, Korean gochujang (a spicy condiment), and a potato bun – sweet, savory, spicy, crispy, and rich all in one handheld treat. Street Eats also offers the Chicken Waffle Cone, a hand-held take on the soul food classic. Here, fried chicken bites and mashed potatoes fill a sweet waffle cone, and the entire dish is drizzled with honey mustard; it must be seen to be believed. Both of these items are unique crowd favorites. Street Eats also sells Mexican street tacos (three to an order), which are excellent. These items range from $9 up to $18 for combos, which include a souvenir cup and drink.
For those thirsty for adult beverages, look no further than left center field, in the remnants of the old train depot. Here, the Saint Arnold Brewing Company, the oldest craft brewery in the state of Texas, has set up a pub for fans to sample all of their finest beers. These go above and beyond, in many cases, your typical ballpark beers.
While Minute Maid Park is no longer “brand new,” it still retains the look and feel of a ballpark that has only recently opened. The openness of the design (which was created by famed sports venue architects HOK), the incorporation of the former architecture, the proximity to Houston’s vibrant downtown area, and a slew of recent upgrades to the park all add to the overwhelming “fun” atmosphere.
The Crawford Box seats above the left field wall (named for the street that fronts the park) are a particularly desirous spot to catch the action. During the past few off seasons, the Astros have conducted several upgrades to Minute Maid Park. In 2013, the Diamond Club area (a private lounge in the park’s suite level that offers a four-star dining experience inspired by Houston celebrity chef Bryan Caswell) was completely renovated. The main concourse area was also renovated to feature new concessions and a new look in 2014, and last season in 2015 the Mazda Club level was also redesigned.
To accommodate today’s tech savvy fans, Wi-Fi was recently upgraded throughout the stadium, and there are numerous opportunities throughout to engage the Astros via social media sites, including Instagram-able photo ops along all the walls at every level. Another great feature for young fans is the Minute Maid Squeeze Play area on the main concourse level. This fully enclosed play area incorporates many of the features of the park and the ball club.
One of the most fascinating and engaging aspects of Minute Maid Park is the retractable roof. The roof can be opened and closed in 14-20 minutes and it is still quite an awesome sight to behold.
Minute Maid Park is located right in the heart of Houston’s vibrant downtown. It lies in the heart of the city’s thriving financial center, and close to Houston’s museum and historic warehouse districts. It is also located across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center, which adds to the energy and buzz that permeate the park. Being in the middle of downtown offers fans a wealth of opportunities for dining and entertainment both before and after the game. As an example, directly across the street from the main entrance to Minute Maid Park is the Home Plate Bar & Grill. However, that is by no means your only option. There are dozens of options available to fans and attendees, many of which are within reasonable walking distance, or are within a 10 minute drive of the stadium.
Parking is ample and in line with the current “standards” of the major professional sports leagues; you can expect to pay between $20 and $30, but public transport is also available. One caveat, however, is that this is Houston, and Minute Maid Park is located in one of its busiest areas. You can expect steady traffic on game days.
As the old adage goes, the rising tide lifts all boats. This is especially true of sports and their fans. After many years of frustration, the Astros franchise began to achieve success in the 1980s and have been consistently good to great ever since. There were some down/rebuilding years at the start of the 2010s, but good management and shrewd talent development have the fans raucous with excitement. It’s a great time to be an Astros fan these days, and that is felt all throughout the stadium. Sections 105 and 106 are home to Keuchel’s Korner, a fan section dedicated to Astros ace Dallas Keuchel. Tickets in this section include a signature Keuchel beard giveaway and an exclusive Keuchel’s Korner T-shirt.
Being centrally located in Houston’s downtown is a great advantage for game attendees. Minute Maid Park is easily accessible off of three major highways/interstates. This helps a lot when leaving the ballpark as traffic has several options in terms of where to go. Because of its location, there are several easy options in terms of public transportation. Houston’s Metro Rail System is a great way to avoid traffic and parking fees. There is also a taxi stand located one block south of Minute Maid Park. The Houston Metro system also offers buses and trolleys that are available in the vicinity of Minute Maid Park.
Return on Investment 4
One of the great benefits of having 81 home games a season for fans is that MLB tickets can generally be purchased inexpensively. Single game tickets for the Astros can be bought, on most occasions, for as low as $8 per person. If you are going to drive and park, that cost is very much in line with what is going on in the rest of the sports world. Food and drink options abound and you can eat and drink your fill on a very modest budget.
The real ROI when it comes to Minute Maid Park is the overall experience. This is truly a gorgeous venue for baseball; the sight lines are all wonderful, the food is first-class, the atmosphere is exciting, and there is just something special about seeing a baseball game played on real grass at a retro/modern ballpark. You will get your money’s worth in Houston.
One of the best features that the Astros roll out every single game is their full size locomotive engine and container car in left center field. The train makes the run across a short track each and every time an Astro clubs a dinger, and is a fun sight for fans of all ages.
Another great bonus is the Astros long-time mascot, Orbit. Described as everyone’s favorite alien, this little green man is a real crowd pleaser. He has become one of the most popular mascots in MLB, and can be found at every home game interacting with fans and players on the field.
There are also lots of unique vantage points in the park to catch the action. Home Run Alley, near the famed hill in center field, features the Conoco Home Run Porch. Complete with a “gas pump” that keeps track of Astros home runs, this standing room area sees lots of game-time action in this hitter-friendly ballpark.
Minute Maid Park also has an excellent fan shop inside the stadium (though it can be accessed from the outside on non-game days). All manner of Astros paraphernalia is for sale; you can even order customized merchandise right there onsite.
Though closing in on two decades of existence, Minute Maid Park still looks and feels brand new. It mixes the retro look that reflects baseball’s golden age with all the technology, comfort, and convenience of the 21st century.
You would be hard pressed to find a nicer ballpark to see a game than Minute Maid Park. Do yourself a favor, if you are in Space City during the season, stop in and catch a game – you won’t be disappointed.
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