Game 6: Minute Maid Park, Houston

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I was born in Houston.

Sometimes I forget that about myself. I only lived there for a few months before moving to Kansas City, so I obviously have no memories there myself, just second hand stories my parents have told me for years and years.

I went to my first ballgame in Houston. On April 6, 1986, was 23 days old and the Braves were in town playing the Astros. My dad wanted to take me to a Sunday afternoon game at the Astrodome. My mom agreed on one condition: he has to go to church before he goes to a ballgame.

So even as an infant, these two themes – church and baseball – were already becoming a part of my life trajectory.

The Astrodome, unfortunately, is just sitting as an empty crumbling shell next door to the Texans’ Reliant Stadium. When the Astrodome was built in 1966, it was described as being the “8th Wonder of the World” – a fully enclosed, climate controlled, indoor facility to protect the fans from the humidity capitol of the world.

The Astrodome also brought with it AstroTurf, which is where it gets its goofy name. They tried to grow real grass in there for a year, but even first graders know that grass needs sunlight to survive. It all died, and they replaced it with the fake stuff. Today, the only stadium still sporting turf is in Toronto.

Thankfully, the city declared it a historic landmark this past year and won’t knock it down now. My vote is to renovate it in another 10 years or so and turn it into a sweet concert venue. It’s too nostalgic to do away with and it’s too much of a monstrosity to just let sit idle.

Check out this Astrodome gallery here.

The Astros left their dome and moved downtown in 2000 for The Ballpark at Union Station, which was a great descriptor because the primary entrance is through the old Union Station concourse built in 1911. But quickly they found an opportunity for extra revenue when it became Enron Field that same year. Then Enron…happened, and it dropped the name for a few months and became Astros Field until it found its current suitor: Minute Maid.

Minute Maid is a unique park, and some people even called it the “9th Wonder of the World” when it was being built. It has a giant retractable roof with a retractable glass wall that goes up above the archways in LF, completely enclosing the ballpark. This is essential in the dog days of summer, but in April, it’s wide open and feels extremely comfortable outside.

Along with the Union Station design, MMP has a couple other interesting bits about it. The giant concrete archways in LF make for a really cool view from behind the plate, and above the arches sits a locomotive on a short track that runs back and forth whenever the Astros hit a homer.

Underneath one of the arches is a big gas pump with a home run counter on it referred to as the Home Run Pump.

Just to the left of the pump, down on the field, is the most unique stadium design in the majors, I think: The Hill.

At it’s widest point, the hill is 90 feet across – much larger than it looks on TV – and at the top of the hill, in the field of play, is a flag pole. It’s 436 to the wall in straight away CF – Simmons home run in Atlanta on Sunday would’ve stayed in the yard at MMP – but occasionally a ball is it up on that hill and every time I get nervous the CF is going to injure himself trying to run up it.

Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day across the MLB. It’s a day when every single player wears the number that no player will ever wear again out of respect to the man who broke the color barrier and integrated baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

His number, 42,  is now retired in every ballpark across the nation.

The man with the second most ballparks with his number retired: Nolan Ryan – Angels, Rangers and Astros all three have his name and number on display.

Nolan Ryan’s name was attached to another hot dog too. This time it was a chili cheese brisket dog. Two nights in a row going for a Nolan Ryan Beef meal. Delicious decisions on both accounts.

Over the past two games, my friend Nick has joined me along with Wally, Ryan and Rapley and sons. Nick is a photographer for my publisher, The House Studio, so he came along to shoot some promotional material for the project. Until Monday, I thought it would just be he and I in H-Town.

IMG_6261But my buddy, Dan, found out he was going to be in Austin for work on Monday and could rent a car and make the trip over to Houston in time for the game. So it was the three of us going to see the Astros.

Except we weren’t really going to see the Astros. We were going to see the visiting Royals.

As has been my custom at each ballpark so far, I have worn the hat of the home team and tried my best to blend in as one of them. Things were different last night in Houston.

I wore my orange Houston cap.

But I was yelling loudly for the visitors.

Also, in an unintentional darkhorse move, I wore my KC Monarchs t-shirt under my hoodie, which was somehow perfect because it 1. supported Kansas City, 2. repped the Negro Leagues on Jackie Robinson Day, and 3. it matched my Astros cap decently.

I decided to get us the cheapest tickets available since the Astros draw hardly any fans nowadays. We ended up standing under one of the archways in LF the entire game spitting sunflower shells on to the warning track. We got pretty rowdy cheering for the Royals after a while – especially after Lorenzo Cain starting communicating with us pretty regularly in about the 3rd inning.

I got a few curious glares from some of the Astros fans. Probably weird to find a guy wearing a Houston cap rooting so openly for the opponent. On one occasion, when Greg Holland was in the game effectively shutting the door on the Astros hopes, a woman standing next to us turned to her husband and said loudly, “Let’s go. These Royals guys are starting to bug me.”

And I don’t blame her. I know what that’s like. I’ve seen the Yankees come to Kansas City and hated listening to their fans cheer louder than ours. It’s obnoxious and infuriating. These fans are stepping into our ballpark, our sacred ground, and acting like they belong and run the show. It’s insulting.

We try really hard to draw lines in the sand between things that we find sacred and things we don’t. We all do it: our homes, our desks, our neighborhoods and our personal space*, they’re all defined in each of our minds as belonging to us. And when someone else crosses those defined lines and wrongly enters our spaces, our frustration elevates as we watch our sacred space become profane.

* – As I write this post, I’m on a flight from Houston to Phoenix, and the guy next to me is leaning confidently into my personal space. My arms are pinned to my sides to where I’m typing like a T-Rex. He has crossed into my space and made it thoroughly profane.

It’s okay to have a group over for a BBQ out on your deck or a nice dinner in your dining room, but if your friend decided to go upstairs, lay down in your bed and turn on old episodes of Jimmy Fallon, you’d probably feel like a line was crossed.

We all do this.

And we hate it when others move into our sacred spaces when they don’t belong there.

Which is interesting to note considering that yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day. For decades, baseball was segregated into the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues. Players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston were some of the best players of all time, yet few know much about them because they weren’t allowed to play in the MLB.

Today, we celebrate a history African American players who are celebrated as some of the best to ever play the game: Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays.

But in the 1940s, when Jackie Robinson finally entered the world of white baseball, he was viewed by many as an outsider stepping into a well defined space. Managers, fans, and even other players hated him for stepping into an area they believed he didn’t belong. In their minds, he was making their “sacred space” profane.

The difference, however, is that he did belong.

He had every right to play baseball, and today we can celebrate the fact that baseball- and life itself – is for everyone to participate in equally.

Scripture is jam packed with themes of sacred and profane. Depending on your family, gender, occupation, health condition, or nationality, you could only enter certain levels of the Temple. Judeans and Samaritans wouldn’t mix. Gentiles had no business in the synagogues. Women had little prominence in society. Anyone with an illness wasn’t allowed to be touched and couldn’t join in gatherings for certain periods.

And Jesus broke these socially defined spaces all the time.

Which is why the outsiders loved him, and the insiders ended up crucifying him.

Anyway. I’m excited to explore this sacred/profane conversation more in depth later. But this blog is already getting super long (because it’s a longer flight today, and there’s nothing else to do but type), so I better move on to some game notes and wrap this thing up.

Game Notes:

The top story line from last night’s game: Yordano Ventura got his first win of his career. Ventura is going to be amazing. The Royals need to lock him up for a long term contract immediately. It’s baffling to watch a 5’11” dude put triple digits on the radar gun in the 7th inning, but that’s the kind of pitcher he is. He’s my pick for the AL Rookie of the Year.

Ventura only allowed 7 base runners the whole night. Wade Davis pitched a perfect 8th. Holland pitched a perfect 9th. They looked really good, but then again, the Astros are really bad.

Last time Astros starter Lucas Harrell pitched against the Royals he went 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R…so there was some reason to think he might perform well against KC last night. Instead he went 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R, and after the game he was designated for assignment. He’s had a rough season so far – 12.1 IP, 9.49 ERA in 3 starts.

The Royals doubled their home run count in the 1st inning when Omar Infante hit a solo shot to the short porch in LF.

Lorenzo Cain became our best friend last night. He hit a ball right below us to LCF that went just under the glove of the left fielder and Cain ended up at third. They called it an error and gave him a single. He scored on an Omar Infante grounder a few batters later.

When he came back out to CF after the Royals got out, we started hollering at him that he should’ve gotten a triple just like he should’ve gotten a Gold Glove last season. He laughed, shrugged his shoulders and gave us a thumbs up. For the rest of the game, any time the Royals did anything good, he would turn around smiling and give us a nod. Basically we’re best friends now and he’s probably coming over to play RBI Baseball with me after he gets home from Houston.

Six down. Twenty-Four to go.

Up next: Arizona Diamondbacks

-apc.

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