Friday, August 31, 2012

Game 20: Friendly Confines

Giants 3, Astros 2

As we walked around the concourses in Minute Maid Park we noticed that the stadium's supporting columns were adorned with life-size images of current Astros players. While many Major League teams  use different areas of the stadium to promote their own,and often their very best players, what was remarkable about Houston's choice of decor was how few of the players we recognized. This invariably led to a game of "can you name that Astro?" which quickly became — ok, always was — an uncouth celebration of the team's insignificance. This, a sparse crowd littered with Giants fans, and our desire to see Matt Cain throw a no-hitter meant that we were altogether too harsh on the Astros in the early going.

Around the 3rd inning we took advantage of the empty seats all around us to relocate from the nosebleed seats above the left field line to the upper deck behind home plate. Shortly after we arrived in our new seats, two fans sitting in the row behind us engaged us in conversation about our trip. The best part of these discussions, which we have at nearly every game, is our chance to pick the brains of fans of every team and get their perspective on their team, their stadium, the owner, etc. In this case the fans we spoke with were named Herb and Armando, two longtime Astros fans who had been with the team through the best of times and the worst of times. Talking with them reminded me of one of the countless reasons why we love sports — the feeling that, no matter how bad it is now, things can always get better.

The Houston Astros are the worst team in baseball right now and it's not even close. Not only are they headed towards a 100-plus loss season, but their minor league system is also void of any true talent. Needless to say, the organization has fallen on hard times. And yet, Astros fans have much to look forward to. The team was sold last year and the new owners agreed, as part of the purchase, to move the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West to balance the number of teams in each division and each league. In addition to the move, the Astros will also be changing their uniforms and logos — something that has worked wonders for the Orioles this year — though the team has not yet unveiled the new, or old school look, I hope, of the future. The success of both the Orioles and Rays speaks to the effectiveness of the uniform overhaul.

Joking aside, however, Astros fans can take solace in Minute Maid Park and the great people who work there. At no other stadium have we received as warm a welcome as we did in Houston. Halfway through the game Robert, a member of the Astros' PR department, walked over to our seats and welcomed us to Minute Maid Park and asked us about our trip. He would return to our seats three more times and handed each of us personalized first visit certificates. In between Robert's visits, Jason, an usher, would come over to talk to us and attempt to convince us that Minute Maid Park should be the number one stadium on our list of rankings. Though Minute Maid will not pass Wrigley or some of our other favorite stadiums, it has the friendliest staff of any park we've visited and their hospitality and generosity enhanced our viewing experience. So thank you, Jason and Robert.

Games Watched: 20
Games to Go: 10
Thuuz Score: 93
Stadium: Minute Maid Park is a quirky place, both good and bad. The park does some things really well: the wall and ceiling above and behind right field stretching into center is made totally out of glass, leading to a lot of natural light flooding the stadium; the right field wall is made out of white brick, which recalls the stone used in the old Yankee Stadium. Other things, however, are designed poorly — namely the hill in centerfield and the placement of the American flag, the pole of which is  actually in play.
Fan Atmosphere: This was by far the smallest crowd of any game we've attended, but it's hard to blame them. To their credit, though, the fans that were engaged in the game and stuck around to the very end.
Concessions: The stadium offered a variety of different food options, including a "healthier" Turkey burger, nachos and barbecue. The food was not exceptional, but it was safely in the top half offered at the stadiums we've attended so far.
Quote of the Day: "You two be politicians, you read my mind, and you tell me how much money I can't make." -An usher from last night's game upon hearing that Owen and I are political science majors, Jeff is a philosophy major (which we think she mistaked for psychology) and Craig is a math major.
Tim Kurkjian Award:
I could try to explain this play with words, but I think it's much better done visually. Take a look:

Miles Traveled: 9032
Miles to Go: 745 (Rays @ Royals, August 29th, 7:05 pm)

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