As if we hadn’t been to enough fancy, brand-new Houston sports venues in the last three days (namely Toyota Center and Reliant Stadium, if you haven’t read the other parts of this series), my wife and I ventured out on Saturday afternoon to see some baseball.
Exhibition baseball, that is. The Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers were playing a two-game series between spring training and Monday's Opening Day...and they were playing in downtown Houston at beautiful Minute Maid Park.
On Friday night, Detroit had whitewashed the Astros 10-0, leaving only one game left that didn't count in the season standings - and we would be there.
Not only that, but it was the Astros' annual Fan Fest. We decided we wouldn't be standing in line at 5 a.m. for autograph vouchers, but we'd arrive a little early just to see what all was going on.
So when Saturday morning rolled around, we dug out our maps, lathered on our sunscreen, and headed downtown to watch baseball. Of course, when we arrived, the retractable roof at Minute Maid was closed. So much for sunscreen.
FanFest was a pretty neat experience. Autograph vouchers were long gone when we got there (and at $20-50 a pop, that didn't break my heart). They had some different advertising booths, some stuff for the kids, and my favorite, a sports card/memorabilia show in the concourse.
The Mickey Mantle signed baseball at $350 looked like a great addition to my collection, but we don't include the word "Cheap" in this column’s title for nothing. I didn't spend a dollar.
Our seats were in section 325, basically straight above first base. Minute Maid Park itself is a beautiful place to watch baseball—one of the new era of stadiums designed to please the fan. My wife and I both agreed this was about as far from Wrigley Field (where the actual game is all the focus) as you could get.
Anyway, the entire left half of the outfield is what I would call “touristy”. There's a train that moves every time the Astros homer. There's also the wall you'd recognize with all the pennants and such, and a beautiful view of the Houston skyline.
The right half of the outfield is completely different with the big scoreboard and lots of seating. You almost wouldn't know you were in the same ballpark to compare the view we had (skyline) and the view somebody behind 3rd base would have (scoreboard).
The game was an enjoyable one to watch for a fan like me. Translation, there were a lot of home runs. Four, to be exact. Now, I like a good pitcher's duel just like anybody, but come on—it's exhibition! And I wanted to see the train move down the track!
Both teams have added star Miguels this year. The Tigers got Cabrera from the Marlins and the Astros signed Tejada. Both new additions doubled and played relatively well before being taken out with two or three innings to go.
Hunter Pence is definitely a fan favorite as he begins his second season in the Astros' outfield. After his early homer, the crowd in right field gave him an ovation every inning when he ran out.
I don't know if I've ever seen a game where a team doesn't leave anybody on base. The Astros only had one more hit than the Tigers, but they drove in the guys that got on. All of them.
And oh yeah, Houston came away with a 9-4 win.
But that part doesn't really matter—it's exhibition, right?
Toyota Center, Reliant Stadium, and Minute Maid Park in less than 72 hours. Houston has done a great job getting fan-friendly, beautiful, modern sports facilities in their town. It was neat to get an inside look at all of them.
I also got to help pay for them, since there's a Harris County stadium tax on my rental car statement. (Did you think the stadiums just magically appear? Someone has to foot the bill!)
And that's the view from the cheap seats. Thanks for reading!