Sunday, September 28, 2008

Deathtour~!: Minute Maid Park, Houston

It’s all come down to the last weekend of the season in Houston. I’ve passed through 29 stadiums on my way here and 5 months, 2 weeks and 5 days after I sat in section 321 of AT&T Park and watched that first game of the season I’ve finally reached the end of my journey. My only regret is that I’m finishing alone, and not in Kansas City as I’d originally planned. Se la vie.

After a long plane trip, which included 2 stops in San Diego and Denver, I arrived at long last in Houston. I quickly checked into my hotel nestled at the edge of downtown Houston, just two blocks from Minute Maid Park, and walked over to pick up my ticket from will call.

The Astros have a litany of historical accomplishments to their credit which are displayed in (I’m not joking) Halliburton Field, right outside the stadium behind the Crawford Boxes. Career milestones, retired numbers, player awards, HOF members – all are recognized with plaques behind half an infield with statues of a second basemen throwing to first.

There’s even a dugout you can sit in. And the windows provide a peek into the playing field from outside, similar to the right field level at AT&T.

Minute Maid is a brilliant concept with nods to past ballparks galore while remaining distinctively modern. The Crawford boxes only 320 feet from home and sit on top of the classic hand operated scoreboard. In dead center is Tal’s Hill and the flagpole, taken from Crosley Field and old Yankee Stadium respectively. The field dimensions remind me of the early ballparks, constrained in their design by the city streets they bordered. The field is rectangular with just the one curve in center. It’s a straight line from right field to the hill and only the Crawford boxes, jutting out in left prevent a straight line from the foul pole to the flag pole.

My seat was only $7 and now I know why. I can’t see the left field corner. I’m also in the very last row of section 406.

It’s game time and they haven’t closed the roof. I was really hoping they would. Not because the weather is lousy (it’s not), I just wanted to watch it move. About the only thing Minute Maid Park lacks so far is a quality centerfield screen. I’m pretty sure the one they have isn’t intended as an homage to 1980s technology.

Ty Wiggington hit one out to right and the train makes its way above the Crawford Boxes. The train is a reference to this being the former site of Union Station.

In a play that’s as unusual as the triple play I saw in San Francisco earlier this season, Michael Bourn just scored on a sacrifice fly to center from second base. Great heads up play by Bourn and it took everybody by surprise, most notably Josh Anderson who took his time in throwing it back in.

If you know 75 people and have $2500 to blow at a baseball game, why not rent out the roof at Union Station?

We just concluded the fifth inning making this game official. No matter what happens now, no can say I didn’t watch a game at all 30 stadiums this season. Since I’m alone for this game I take to my phone to spread the news.

LaTroy Hawkins come in to pitch the 8th for the Astros with a 4-2 lead. It seems like I’ve watched him in 12 different games or so this season. Am I imagining that? I know he was with the Yankees earlier this season. How many teams has he played with in his career? It has to be over 10. I’m going to look this up. In the meantime Hawkins is pitching like he has absolutely nothing to do after the game tonight. Umpires need to start enforcing the 20 second rule. LaTroy Hawkins has been pitching so long he’s been traded twice since coming into the game.

Hawkins finally got out of the inning after giving up a run. At least the game isn’t tied. I can only imagine the final game of my season going 15 innings. (I looked it up and Hawkins has only played for 7 teams. That sounds way to low to me. He needs to play for 5 or 6 more before he retires.)

Jose Valverde, the Astros emotional closer come in to close out the game and hopefully finish my season.

Valverde gives up a walk, a single, a FC, another walk and a second single and we’re tied going to the bottom of the ninth. C’mon ‘Stros!

Well how ‘bout that! Darrin Erstad, who came in as a defensive substitution an inning earlier hit a walk off home run to win the game. It’s the first (and last) walk off home run I’ve seen this season and I can’t think of a better way to finish the deathtour~!

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