Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Game #12: Deep in the Heart of Texas

A quick caveat – I’ve been to both of the two Texas ballparks before, and am a big fan of Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Yes, it’s also designed by HOK, and yes, it shares many design features with numerous new parks. But they’ve definitely done it right, and you definitely feel like you are “Deep in the Heart of Texas”

The roof, which was closed on this visit, works quite well. While in Seattle the stadium roof is for rain, and in Minnesota it’s for snow, the roof in Houston, much like that in Arizona, is used to close out the heat of the summer and air condition the interior. It’s not as hot as it is in Phoenix, but with the Houston humidity, the closed roof and windows and air conditioned ballpark were definitely appreciated. Plus, they’ve been able to maintain natural grass and dirt, due to the fully retractable nature of the roof, so it really does work nicely.

I sat in the Crawford boxes out in left field, a characteristic element of the park. This left field home run porch is remarkably close to home plate, providing a very temping target for right-handed hitters, and a great vantage point for fans, and partly makes up for the deep expanse of center field stretching to Tal’s Hill and the in-play flagpole. And no, given the misunderstanding on a previous blog post about George W DC, I’ll specify that this is not Bush’s Crawford ranch, but rather the street beside the ballpark that this Crawford is named after.

Another distinctive feature of the park is the integration of the historic Houston Union Station as a grand entranceway into the park. I’d missed this on my first visit, but made a point of working my way around the park to enter via this gate. It’s got a great old-fashioned train station feel.

I looked and looked, but there was no sign of an Enron “E” anywhere in sight. That said, this is oil country, so oil stocks were listed in a ticker in right field, the price of crude is displayed prominently, and the total number of Astro home runs hit at the park are listed in a faux gas pump in left field. Gotta love it.

Also an indication of being in Texas: To loud applause, a group of new Marine recruits were sworn in on the field before the first pitch.

The beer selection is poor, but that was ok. I spent my pre-game warm-up at the Flying Saucer , a bar I’d found on my last trip to Houston in the heart of downtown and a short walk to the park that features a truly phenomenal collection of draft and bottled beers.

As usual for a Cubs road game, there were a LOT of Cubs fans in attendance. It’s got to be fairly frustrating, really, for home fans of any park when the Cubs, Sox, or Yanks come to town. But the Astros fans got the last laugh. For me, another day, another extra-inning game. This time, it was a 2-out, man-on-3rd base hit in the bottom of the 10th that sent everyone home happy. Great fun.

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