We saw two games in Houston after extending our stay in America’s fourth-largest city so we could take Holmes to his third MLB game of the season.
The original plan was to head up toward the Dallas area Labor Day weekend and go to a Texas Rangers game on Sept. 1. But when we saw the Astros had their annual Dog Day on Sept. 2, we didn’t leave Houston until Sept. 3.
We were once again fortunate to spend time with family. Patti’s cousin Caressa, her fiancé Tim and their baby Gabriel met us for one game. Ron’s brother, Ben, was also able to come down from San Antonio with his girlfriend, Bailey, to join us at Minute Maid Park.
The first game we watched was an important American League West matchup between the Oakland Athletics and the ‘Stros. The A’s won that one on Aug. 28 before we saw the Astros handle the Angels on Sept. 2.
We also received our first — and only — television coverage in Houston thanks to KHOU.
I am not a fan of the highway system in the big cities of Texas. Houston and Dallas both have these behemoth raised freeways off of which you must take a roundabout way to get to your destination. That said, getting to Minute Maid Park was a cinch. The MetroRail is cost effective and free street parking can be found on Sundays.
We went to a pair of games in Houston and used two different ways to get there. Both of which were rather simple.
We were staying at an RV park in southwest Houston and did not want to fight traffic to get downtown for a Tuesday evening game on Aug. 28. So to see the A’s play the Astros, we hopped on the MetroRail at Fannin South by NRG Stadium — home of the NFL’s Texans. Parking at the metro station was $3 and then it was a total cost of $5 for each of us to ride roundtrip. This cost us a total of $8 and the 40-minute ride was worth the hassle of driving through rush-hour traffic and then paying for parking at the stadium.
When we returned Sunday, we could not take Holmes on the metro so we drove. Houston has free street parking on Sundays and we found a spot — as did my brother — just a couple of blocks from Minute Maid Park.
Another indoor stadium, another somewhat subdued environment. It was fun to see the train full of oranges chug its way across the left field wall when a home run was hit and the count go up on the Phillips 66 Home Run Pump, which tracks the number of homers hit by the Astros at Minute Maid Park since its opening in 2000.
Fans were very friendly and we hung out on the staircase to the Budweiser bar for an interesting view above center field. Orbit’s antics on Dog Day were particularly hilarious as he got the opposing team in on the act of scooping a supposed “accident” on the field.
Minute Maid Park did not have the electric atmosphere I expected it to have. The series against the A’s was huge, but fans appeared to just be going through the motions in what wound up a 4-3 A’s win. That’s not to say the fans aren’t into the game. They are, but there wasn’t the consistent fan interaction I had anticipated.
The same could be said for Houston’s 4-2 win over the Angels on Dog Day. What was a treat, however, was seeing all of the people with their dogs in the left-field seats.
The tight concourses were made even tighter when they close off some areas to keep the dogs in the designated section. It didn’t help that there are escalators in the middle of the concourse walkway, which is a terribly flawed design.
Minute Maid Park probably has a different atmosphere with the roof open, though we were glad it was closed with 100-degree temperatures outside.
Patti and Ron both say:
When we researched the must-have food at Minute Maid Park, the result we found was Texas Smoke barbeque. Unfortunately, the two Texas Smoke concessions stands were replaced this year. Sweet Baby Ray’s replaced the Texas Smoke location on the 400 level and Jackson Street BBQ, which has its restaurant adjacent to the stadium, took over the 100-level spot. Ron darted his way through the clogged concourses, then felt dejected when he saw the Sweet Baby Ray’s sign in place of the Texas Smoke sign he expected to see. Back downstairs he went to what was now the Jackson Street BBQ stand. Even though we went to Jackson Street BBQ a day earlier at its stand-alone restaurant, Ron opted for a pulled pork sandwich. It was good, but nothing spectacular.
Ron’s brother, Ben, shared an order of nachos — in an adult-sized plastic helmet, of course — with Bailey. Ben said the nachos were phenomenal.
There are plenty of food and beverage options at Minute Maid, but nothing stood out to us as unique.
Tickets for Dog Day were downright expensive.
Because you have to get those special section tickets from the Astros, you pay a premium. Ron had to call the Astros to purchase tickets because the team only accepts credit card purchases from Louisiana and Texas on its website. That geographical restriction was something we did not encounter anywhere else. Those three tickets — for Ron, Patti and Holmes — in Section 105 set us back $186.
It was nice, however, to be able to walk with Holmes — and many other dogs — around the warning track at Minute Maid Park.
The tickets we got for the A’s game were much more reasonable with four tickets in Section 317 for $88. Though we were joined by Patti’s cousins, Baby Gabriel didn’t last long and they left after four innings, but it still counts as his first game.
Minute Maid Park features several murals celebrating the team’s 56-year history and the franchise’s great players. The best of all, without much argument, is Nolan Ryan. The Hall of Fame pitcher tossed a modern-era record seven no-hitters, but also had 24 other potential no-nos broken up in the seventh inning or later. His 5,714 strikeouts are a Major League Baseball record that will never be broken. Fellow Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who has his own heavy presence at Seattle’s Safeco Field, is second on the all-time MLB list with 4,875 — nearly 900 behind the Ryan Express.
After winning the team’s first-ever World Series championship last year, the Astros adopted the phrase, “Never Settle” for the 2018 campaign. A “Never Settle” mural also pays tribute to the team’s history and franchise greats.
Following the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch, fans join in with a rendition of “Deep In the Heart of Texas” and that makes for a fun sing-along that you just can’t help but join.
Every Tuesday at Minute Maid Park is also “Dollar Dog Night” and that made the food decision that night rather easy.
While Houston is a sprawling metropolis, there is also a lot to do. Beaches on the Gulf of Mexico are nearby and Galveston Island is a popular tourist attraction.
Perhaps the No. 1 Houston attraction, however, is the Johnson Space Center.
The NASA hub has worked its way into popular culture because of the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem,” similar to that uttered during the problem-filled Apollo 13 mission in 1970. You get to sit in the Mission Control room and see the radio box on which those iconic words were first heard.
It is also amazing to see how small the early capsules were and then walk thru a Space Shuttle, and to think of all the advances that apply in our everyday lives.
The Houston Space Center provides a must-see journey through our country’s venture into space exploration.
We also paid a brief visit to the Harris County 1910 Courthouse and Houston does have the usual collection of museums as well as zoo and the type of large aquarium you’d expect to see in a seaside city.
What Houston lacks, however, is much character. There are not many recognizable neighborhoods — especially on the south end — and a drive along any freeway features sights of strip malls, restaurants and department stores.
As with other cities we visited, we’d love a return to the Space City, but it’s probably not a city in which we’d ever want to live.