Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Five Ballparks in 2011: Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park- Houston, Texas- Home of the Houston Astros

I am laughing at all the sappy intros I could use to begin this review. I will spare you the “come on ride the train” comments, as I can only imagine most would just roll their eyes and stop reading after the first sentence of this post (which still may happen). In June, I took a trip to Houston to visit friends and catch an Astros game at Minute Maid Park. Yes, Minute Maid Park is in Houston. Texas. Odd as it may seem that a ballpark holding the name of a citrus company is in Texas, it is one of the most interesting ballparks I have been too. Minute Maid Park is located in downtown Houston, with parking readily available across the street from the park on all sides. The city of Houston was basically built as a railroad stop, thus, the ballpark is strongly tied into local history. The park is connected to the former operating Union Station, and Minute Maid’s most unique attraction is the locomotive that runs on a track above left field after each Astros home run and victory.
Sitting out in the Huston humidity just not sounding fun to you? No worries, Minute Maid is equipped with a retractable roof. Much like another “OJ flavored” ballpark, Tropicana Field in Tampa, baseball is played indoors on most game days. However, in Houston you get the best of both worlds. On days with favorable weather (tell me when that is in Houston), the roof is open and outdoor baseball is enjoyed. When the roof is closed, fans are still treated to a downtown view since the retractable was designed with a glass wall. Sit in your seat and sing along to “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” or take time to stroll along the left field concourse and check out the tributes to Astros greats and successful seasons of the past. Minute Maid has a refined concourse loaded with Texas inspired food choices. Though it doesn’t offer view of the field, The Five Seven Grille in the outfield adds a sleek restaurant to the park. You want the view while you enjoy your ballpark food? Minute Maid offers several appealing spots for watching a ballgame while entertaining. The Union Station Roof Deck holds up to 125 and can be rented for $500. With both a downtown and park view, this is an impressive spot to host a party. If you are looking for a more engaging spot to watch the game you might want to reserve Coke Corner. Located at the top of center field, Coke Corner will seat 50 people and is rented for $625. I am betting the view from this premiere seating will not disappoint. If you would rather have the feel of a sports bar without the need for a flat screen, Minute Maid has you covered with an “are you kidding me?!” deal. Seating in the Budweiser Patio in centerfield, next to the Astros bull pen, is only $65 a seat and includes: dinner, unlimited beverages, and table service! Budweiser Patio is also right next to Tal’s Hill, which is exactly 436 feet from home plate. You never know what you might see over at Tal’s Hill either! The “grassy knoll” in dead centerfield was host to what is now known as “The Great Fan Escape,” in May 2011. During a home game a fan jetted across the outfield and was able to scale the hill and the ivy wall above it to evade security. I suppose you could witness a variety of entertainment at an Astros game. If at long last you are ready to venture out of the park to enjoy the company of friends, cross the street to the B.U.S. The laid-back open-air sports bar is a local favorite.
Overview: Climate controlled ballpark, unique seating options, great dining spots, easy access to pre or post-game downtown entertainment and a train loaded with oranges… that leaves you pulling for the home team just so you can see it move!

The centerfield concourse outside The Five Seven Grille and Budweiser Patio.

The leftfield concourse featuring a tribute to Astros great Jeff Bagwell.

View of Minute Maid Park from leftfield.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Five Ballparks in 2011: Kauffman Stadium

Kauffman Stadium- Kansas City, MO- Home of the Kansas City Royals

How does a trip to the City of Fountains sound? Not Rome…the official City of Fountains. Kansas City has more fountains than any city other than Rome at over 200 in total. Perhaps none of these fountains is more famous than the fountains of Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals. The weekend after I returned from San Diego and my visit to Petco Park, I made a day-trip to Kansas City to visit Kauffman Stadium and watch the Royals play the Twins. Since, Kauffman is in somewhat of a remote location the only notable view once inside the park is of the fountains, but it is still a really great park to watch baseball.
Parking is made very simple at Kauffman Stadium, since there is only one choice. You will park in a massive lot that is shared with the Chief’s Arrowhead Stadium, and you will pay $10. Drop-offs will be tricky. There could be a Midwest chill in the air if it is early or late in the season, but the weather should be nice and warm if it is summertime in Kansas City. It might be a good idea to get to the stadium early if you are not willing to miss a couple of innings of the game to visit the Royals Hall of Fame. This museum, found in left field, is a must see. Exhibits are not limited to Royals history and tributes to George Brett, but also include American League memorabilia and the history of the glove and bat. While in the outfield, check out the kids play area, featuring a Royals Carousel.
I suppose the thing to eat in Kansas City is barbecue, and might I suggest dining at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue while in town, because that is where I ate prior to the game. I am unable to suggest a food selection at the park, however, I would lean toward stopping by Rivals Sports Bar in right field. This sports bar has an open air view of the park and offers a great atmosphere for watching the game. Located just below Rivals Sports Bar is the visitor’s dugout…and just to the right of it in center field is the best experience of Kaufmann Stadium, Pepsi Party Porch. For $45-52 you can secure a spot on this porch for game viewing and a fun and rowdy time. The porch is right in front of the fountains…which light up at night I might add. If you don’t have a ticket for the porch, no worries, the entire area behind it is open viewing, so check out who is warming-up to take the mound or just take in the view. Either way you are sure to enjoy a nice Garth Brooks sing-along to “Friends in Low Places,” and come away singing praises of Kauffman Stadium! I did….and my Twins sadly lost 2-11.

Rivals Sports Bar

The Fountains at Night

A Kansas City Home Run

Royals Hall of Fame- Tribute to George Brett's 3,154 Hits