I visited Minute Maid Park on Wednesday evening and I am hoping to get a few more parks in this summer and will use this space to summarize my visits. I will make sure to hit all the key topics to provide the reader some tips on future visits.
Traffic/Parking: This being the Astros second home game of the season, the crowd was significantly lessened. I drove from a hotel about 10 miles to the north and even though I left during rush hour, I got to the stadium fairly easily. The parking situation was different from what I have normally seen as there didn’t seem to be any stadium-sanctioned lots. The lots around the stadium seemed to be independently owned and even though I was uncomfortable with the situation, I found a spot right next to the stadium and made my way in.
First thoughts: One of the items I was most anticipating with the stadium was whether or not the retractable roof would be open or closed. Even though the weather had reached the 90s during the day, the evening was a little cooler. By cool I mean the 60s, and a Chicago boy was still definitely in shorts and sandals. The roof was open, to my delight. I had over an hour to kill so I walked throughout the entire stadium. The Indians were just wrapping up their batting practice and with the outfield not having many seats, the batted balls get fairly close to the concourse in some areas.
I got to see the famous train that rests on a track above the left field concourse and the infamous hill in centerfield with the flagpole. It looks as ridiculous as you would think it does and I am surprised that such a feature still exists in a modern stadium.
Food/refreshments: This was the stadium’s best feature and I made sure to taste a few of the many options offered all through the park. I found out earlier in the day that the attracting feature to draw fans in to this particular game was dollar hot dog night. The dollar hot dog booths were spread out through the stadium, just enough to be able to find a close one but not to have any crazy lines at any of the ones I saw. Let’s just say I had more than a couple.
The new food item that I was pumped for after seeing on Baseball Tonight was the “chicken and waffle cone”. To describe it – a waffle cone filled up with mashed potatoes (possibly to make it look like ice cream?) and then “topped” with little chicken pieces and then dressed with a honey mustard sauce. I am not the biggest fan of mashed potatoes so it didn’t measure up to my expectations but the honey mustard was very tasty. For the record, it’s also pretty difficult to consume. You’re not eating it like an ice cream cone.
I also have to commend the beer selection. The stadium featured many different types including a local craft brewery, Saint Arnold, which had a few different types. I partook in the amber and it was very tasty.
In-game experience: The crowd was a little light although it was somewhat late arriving where at least the area in the lower level between the bases filed up. It was a pretty loud crowd and I was impressed with the amount of Indians fans I saw (when they barely come to their own games). They do a decent effort to try to increase crowd involvement but it was hard to liven up the crowd during a low-scoring game. I did not get to see the train in action as the Astros didn’t score a run, let alone a homerun. I do believe the conductor spends the entire game in the train which has to be a bizarre experience. I am curious whether it’s the same guy each game and how he likes it. Since there were open seats available everywhere, I changed vantage points a few times throughout the game. The stadium is very modern and the large scoreboard provides a fun in-game experience.
Wrap-up thoughts: Houston provided a good overall baseball experience. The game was light on excitement as two solo Indian homeruns provided the only offense. The Astros struck out 13 times and the first two times through the order the 2, 3, and 4 hitters struck out. It’s hard to get much offense with that happening. The opening series also set a record as the Astros hit .096, which was a modern era record for lowest average for the first three games in a season.
Less than 48 hours later, I attended my second game of the young season at the White Sox home opener. It takes a little out of a home opener when you have two #4 starters facing off compared to two aces, but there was still a lot of electricity in the house.
Traffic/parking: This game being a 3 pm start on the South Side of Chicago was predictably going to involve a lot of traffic. I drove in straight from O’Hare airport and it took about 90 minutes to get there. I have my parking secrets knowing the area which helped since the many stadium lots were all full by the time I arrived. A home opener on a Friday provided a much different experience than the game I attended earlier this week.
First thoughts: My first thoughts are cheating a bit as I have attended U.S. Cellular Field over 100 times. I find the park beautiful and the changes they have made in recent years make it a great experience, regardless of where you sit. Security is tough on allowing guests to the main concourse unless you have a ticket in the 100 level, which is a downside but the team chooses to limit the crowd on the concourse by doing so. It was a nice day for an early April afternoon, specifically if the sun was shining on you.
Food/refreshments: The Cell, as it’s commonly referred to by the home fans, is widely known as having one of the best offerings of food selection in the league. I kept it simple with a polish sausage and a bag of peanuts. I would highly recommend the mac and cheese burger and you can’t go wrong with bacon on a stick. The beer selection is a wide variety but it’s not always easy to find premium brands and the lines for those booths are usually amongst the largest.
In-game experience: The 3 o’clock starting time had many perks along with some pitfalls. I wrote in the preseason about how I think all April ballgames in cold-weather cities should be day games to preserve some of the spring warmth. A 3 pm start may be the best of both worlds as most of the game was under the sun but also late enough to get a Friday early dismissal work crowd to get out to the game. The 3 pm start was also beneficial to the drinking crowd as the fans were a bit rowdy. Clearly some had the chance to start the pre-game ritual early for the game as I saw more than a few examples of heavy indulgence. The White Sox organization has made efforts through the years to make their stadium as family friendly as possible and 3 pm starts may not work to balance with those efforts. For now, I wish they would keep coming and the game may not have been a success for the team but it certainly was for the bottom line.
Wrap-up thoughts: U.S. Cellular will always have a special place in my heart but objectively, I do recommend it to any baseball fan. The food is outstanding and they provide a lot to do for families. The White Sox moving to a 0-4 start wasn’t great for any fans attending but hopefully the crowds can be as close to the size and energy as that opener.