Back to left field: it's only 315 feet deep; only five feet deeper than Fenway Park. If I were lucky enough, I could probably hit a ball out of Minute Maid Park. Well, probably not, but I like to think that's the case. And will continue to think that's the case.
Left field is in stark contrast to centre field, which is a ridiculous 436 feet deep. That's not all: Tal's Hill. On a 30 degree angle, it's not ridiculous enough on its own, and even boasts its own flag pole. While it's a ways away for any batter, I'd still hate to be a centre fielder for the Astros. But if I've learned anything on the baseball road trip of a lifetime, it's that ridiculous -- when it comes to ballparks, at least -- equals different. And I'm all about ballparks being different, and unique, in their own ways. So props to Houston.
Speaking of different: the Conoco Home Run Porch. You'll find it near Tal's Hill, in left-centre field, and it's actually over the field; a balcony of sorts. Tying in with Houston's oil-rich history, you'll find an old-school gasoline pump on the porch, with a running tally of just how many home runs have been hit by Astros players since Minute Maid Park opened 10 years ago. It's obviously a popular spot during the game.
The main concourse is spacious, and open, and lined with concessions of all sorts. In right-centre field, you'll find the Budweiser Patio. A seat in the Bud Patio will cost you $50, but includes a multi-course dinner from FiveSeven Grille. The new restaurant is named after number five, Jeff Bagwell, and number seven, Craig Biggio; the ultimate Houston Astros. Yep: brilliant.
Above the seats in right field is the ballpark's massive scoreboard, and, when the roof is open, where the ballpark's lid buckles over. Points must be given to the roof in Houston; when it is closed, a 50,000 square foot wall of hurricane-proof glass windows stretch from the left field wall to the roof. That means natural light, and a view of the Houston Skyline. Nails.
In right field, surrounding the scoreboard, is where you'll find advertisements galore. I had another baseball stranger from Texas e-mail me about The Juice Box, and, while Calvin certainly loves the ballpark, he complained of advertising overkill. And it's hard to argue with him. Even the foul poles didn't make it out unscathed; on them you'll find Chick-Fil-A ads.
Here's Calvin: "[The advertising]is too much, and if you sit behind home plate, it can be enough to induce a seizure, like watching one of those crazy Japanese morning cartoons with flashing lights and all. Another reason why I choose to sit in the upper deck section above right field. But Minute Maid is home, and can one really ask for much more in a ballpark? Well, maybe cheaper beer."
Talk about a perfect segue. A 24 oz. premium beer will cost you $10; a 24 oz. domestic: $9. A 16 oz. premium draft cup will cost you $8, and I found one local option: Houston's own Saint Arnold Brewery; the city's oldest craft brewery.
Your standard beers -- Bud, Bud Light, etc. -- are $7.50 a bottle from a vendor at your seat, and the same price, in draft form, from the concession stands. Your best bet might be a small draft of Ziegenbock -- brewed by Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, with a slogan of "for Texans by Texans" -- for only $5.
A Baseball Journey
I experienced Minute Maid Park mostly from my free seat that night in Houston. And I'm quite certain I'll never forget the breeze blowing through the ballpark, and turning my head to watch baseballs sail off the brick wall in left field. And while I've always associated Deep in the heart of Texas with Dallas, and the Rangers, it was in Houston, during the 7th inning stretch, when the legendary tune was played. My baseball education continued.
As the game ended, I thought about the Astrodome, the confines the Astros used to call home. Born in 1965, and celebrating 45 years this season, the Houston Astros have come a long way. Remember: the Astrodome was ahead of its time, too, much like the SkyDome. When Toronto does set in motion plans for a new ballpark, I hope they try and emulate Minute Maid Park. There are certainly lessons to be learned from the Juice Box.
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