One of the downsides of my time up here in Findlay is an absence of Houston Astro news coverage, games on TV, or the holy grail, seeing them live at Minute Maid Park. True, within two hours of Findlay are the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, and Toledo Mud Hens, and within four hours the Cincinnati Reds (which happen to be hosting the Astros this weekend…hmmm…road trip?).
The Internet does give me doses of daily baseball news and if I want to fork over the $15/month to MLB.TV I can watch their games via streaming video over my RoadRunner connection, but it’s not the same as being able to see them live. Plus, I subscribe to MLB.TV last season and it took an act of Congress to cancel the subscription. Seems like they expect you to join for life, their auto renewal program being nearly impossible to get out of, short of canceling your credit card so they can’t auto renew your account.
On a recent trip to Houston, my bosses treated me to a trip to Minute Maid Park and a night game to see this year’s version of last year’s National League Champs. Having lived in Houston for close to 20 years, it was ironic that I was out of town on this assignment last year when they finally made the big show, the World Series. I caught most of the playoff games on Internet audio, but I was in New England during some of the series games, a place where if it’s not the Red Sox or the Yankees, no one is interested in watching baseball on TV. And so my search for a place to watch the ‘Stros during the Series while vacationing in the belly of the Red Sox Nation was fruitless. Even the sports bars failed to turn at least one TV to the proper channel, instead feeding the locals with everything from basketball to football reruns. No respect.
Fortunately, one of my bosses is as rabid a baseball fan as I and also likes to get to the ballpark as soon as it opens. I love to walk around and take in the atmosphere, sights, and sounds of baseball fans and the pre-game warm ups. During the game it’s hard to break-away from watching the action to enjoy the ballpark itself, so the pre-game time is perfect for people watching and appreciating the park architecture, not to mention previewing the eats! Plus, it’s the only time you can wander into different seating sections to see what those views are like.
Sadly, today’s big-league business is all about money and sponsorship, and every time I go to the park it seems the ads are getting bigger, bolder, and filling up nearly every available space. The shot above of the infamous Crawford boxes is noticeably more ad-crowded than I remember when I went to a game during the park’s inaugural year. Since the park opened about four years ago, ticket prices have just about doubled. You have to wonder how much tickets would cost without the ads-everywhere philosophy. Going to a major league game is not an inexpensive outing.
After my requisite stroll completely around the park, stopping to enjoy the sights and sounds at various vantage points, I settled in with a traditional dog and suds, and eventually “play ball” started the real show. Although the Astros pitching more resembled batting practice than a serious game, in the end they outlasted the Milwaukee Brewers and sent fans home happy with their 13-12 win. That score tells you there was a lot of bat-power and less-than-sterling glove work in the field, but at least there was a lot of action to follow, which made leaving my seat for the traditional peanuts and later ice cream, a tough choice, since every half-inning something excited happened.
In the end, to me, it’s about the baseball and not so much who wins or loses. And since I’m in withdrawal from being able to attend Astro games, that night it was all about the rare treat to see the boys play live. We got to the World Series last year, and this year we’ll finish the business and bring the prize home. It’s a long season, but I’m predicting it will be an Astros/White Sox October rematch: just remember you heard it here first.
For more photos of the Astros and Minute Maid Park, go here for my album of photos shot in 2005.