Ballpark Review: Minute Maid Park

Franchise: Houston Astros

Year Opened: 2000

Capacity: 41,574

Game Attended: June 26th, 2015 v New York Yankees

Section 128, Row 20

Minute Maid Park is strange to me. It looks like an amazing park from pictures and TV, with the facade in left and view of downtown Houston, but it is often maligned in ballpark reviews and rankings. After visiting, it still feels strange to me- I had never seen baseball played under a roof before!- but I just don’t see how some people are so down on it.

1) Aesthetics- 20/25

Exterior- 3.5/5

Like most modern parks, Minute Maid embraces the brick layered design. It is a fail-proof look, but with so many teams embracing a brick laden exterior, Minute Maid doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

Interior- 9/10

Minute Maid Park is beautiful. I love the Crawford seats, I love the facade with the train on top, and I love Tal’s Hill. Minute Maid is extremely unique and that is what makes it so great. Some people hate that it’s disingenuous and quirky (there is no need for Tal’s Hill they say). But who cares? Funky dimensions, fences, and features is what makes baseball and baseball parks so special compared to arenas of other sports. One real interesting feature is how the park is “split in two” due to the roof. In left field is the facade and view of downtown Houston while the jumbo video board takes up the whole of right field. The only downside to Minute Maid is the roof. While it does get to be REALLY hot in Houston for most of the season, the aesthetics of the stadium would improve without the roof. The whole time I kept thinking, “it’s comfortable in here…but how amazing would this stadium look with the roof open”.

Backdrop- 7.5/10

Foul pole to foul pole, this is one of my favorite views so far. Obviously an open roof would help, but the buildings of downtown Houston rising above the facade in left make for a wonderful background to the game. Despite having no backdrop in left, the view in left more than makes up for it. Those who are able to enjoy an open roof game will marvel at the view.This is an 8 with the roof open and 7 with the roof closed.

2) Seats & View- 15/20

Sight line- 7/10 From walking around the park pre-game, there are not too many bad seats. But there are a lot of average ones. Where we sat was the first section into the outfield on the first base side. We had good sight lines for balls in play and the video board. But you really have to crane your neck to face the pitcher. Moreover, there isn’t much of an incline on the first level, so if you’re short, you better hope no one tall sits in front of you. In right field on the first level you will have a great seat in the first several rows. After that your sight line on fly balls is cut off because of the second deck overhang. Seats down the third base line are angled in to face the pitcher so you don’t need to crane your neck. But then you can’t see the wonderful out of town score board on the left field fence. As for the upper deck, sight lines are great unless you are at the very top. Then beams and A/C tubes block your vision. So this rating is a tough call- there are good views, but several areas where it does lack.

Proximity- 4/5 Despite sitting 20 rows up, I felt really close to the action. Moreover, third and fourth level seats are angled so you feel on top of the action. Obviously the highest seat in the park isn’t going to be great, but you don’t need to bring binoculars to keep track of the action.

Comfort- 3/5 I was not cramped in my seat, but there wasn’t a lot of side to side space, although the leg room was pretty good. However, from where I was I did have to crane my neck which did get uncomfortable. For me it was a minor issue, but for some I can see it being annoying or problematic. I’m sure there are a lot worse parks in terms of comfortable seating (see Fenway) but there are also a lot more cozy parks.

3) Atmosphere- 10/15

Fan Participation- 4/5

The fans were loud and made their presence known every time something good or bad happened to the hometown team. When the Astros came from 6 down to tie the game, everyone was standing and hollering and it was a really fun environment (other than the fact the Yankees had just blown a 6 run lead). However, things were quiet when the Yankees were leading and some fans left early when the Yankees went up for good.

Attendance- 3/5

: I know the Astros attendance has been bad while they’ve had losing season after losing season, but with the Yankees in town the game I was at was packed. I don’t think it was a sellout, but the park was at least 90% full. The fans were loud and made their presence known every time something good or bad happened to the hometown team.I would rate this higher based on the game I was at, but I know it was a weekend game v a premium opponent.

Fan Knowledge: 3/5

: My one complaint and the one thing keeping them a tier below your NY, Boston, and Philly tier fans is they don’t respect standing with two strikes two outs. I stood in that very situation with Dellin about to close the game out- and was scolded. Afterwards when joking to my friends about it, they started chirping from up the aisle. Now maybe these were rogue fans unrepresentative of the Astros fan base, but it is a baseball game. You are supposed to stand with two strikes and two outs, at the very least.

4) Attractions- 5/15

Museums and Team History- 3/10

On the outside, they only have a tiny plaza with Bagwell and Biggio statues with a few other plaques. But it looks like the Astros almost went out of their way to hide this “tribute” area from the public. Inside, there is no team museum as far as I could tell. The Astros have “only” functioned as a franchise for just north of 50 seasons now, but there is no real tribute to their team history. Granted they have no World Series, just one pennant, and until recently, a lack of quality players throughout those 50+ years. Yet ballparks that pay homage to their team legacy definitely stand out from those that do not. They have retired numbers in the park, but I couldn’t even find murals of past players of big moments in team history.

Things to Do and See- 2/5 Outside the HR Oil Pump in left- an oil pump displaying all the HR’s ever hit in MMP- there wasn’t any special attraction to the stadium, unless you count Tal’s Hill (which I don’t). There is the train on top of the facade, but you can’t actually go up and check it out before or during the game. Your only real chance to check it out is to hope the home team goes yard during the game. The team store was relatively big, but didn’t offer anything too special. Moreover, the organization and layout was terrible leading to overcrowding and insanely long lines.

5) Food & Drink- 4/10

Hot Dog- 1/5 The Astro Dog. You can top it with chili cheese, onions, spicy mustard, and more. It’s made with Nolan Ryan beef which has a great reputation. In spite of this, the Astro Dog was terrible. By far the worst ballpark dog I have had and I don’t see another stadium serving a worse dog. The only redeeming quality was the toppings, but the hot dog itself tasted terrible and looked like no hot dog should look on the inside.

Best of the Rest- 3/5 As for the other food options, I only got the hot dog but they had some really good concessions like build your own fajitas and BBQ plates. I’m sure I would have liked them if I tried it. But the cost for these dishes were $10+. There was even a salad bar which I was tempted to try, before reminding myself I was at a ballgame. Beers here are quite expensive, as you pay just under $12 for 24oz. That coupled with the Astro Dog and I walked away as an unhappy camper with this aspect of the Minute Maid experience.

6) Game Entertainment & Presentation- 4.5/5

In-Game Entertainment- 4.5/5

The Astros do a solid job with their in-game entertainment. There were no mascot races which I liked because too many teams have them while only a few actually do them well. There were your run of the mill kiss cams and whatnot, but the real show is their mascot, Orbit. I believe Orbit is relatively new, but boy is he killing the game. The Phanatic better look out because I think Orbit has a legitimate claim to best mascot in baseball. His best performance when I went was a parody video to the Napoleon Dynamite dance in an effort to get fans to Vote for Jose (Altuve) for the All-Star game.

As far as music goes, I didn’t notice anything that stood out in particular.

7) Cleanliness – 3.5/5

Concourse- Minute Maid still feels really new even though it opened up in 2000. The concourse was clean and everything still seemed high-tech, although that might just be a side-effect of it being a retractable roof stadium that is closed 90% of the time.

Bathrooms- I wasn’t a fan of the bathrooms, but I’m not going to let that spoil their ranking here. It smelled like a bathroom, but then again, IT’S A BATHROOM.

Rows & Seats- I did notice from walking around before the game that there was leftover food in the upper deck from the night before. Fortunately, the first level was clean.

8) Local Scene & Location- 2/5

There is no local scene. There are a couple eateries outside the stadium but because there are only a couple they are extremely packed. Despite MMP being located in downtown Houston, there is nothing to do in downtown Houston. Just walking around the city the next day there are only corporate buildings. I saw no cafes, no restaurants, and few bars. You’ll have to drive elsewhere to find something to do. As for getting to the park- you’ll need to walk if you are staying close by or grab an Uber. Location- Minute Maid is located downtown so it provides for a great backdrop and convenient place to get to. Unfortunately, there is just nothing to do in downtown Houston.

9) Access & Cost- 3/5

Accessibility- Access to MMP is run of the mill. There is light rail and bus that drops off near the stadium and it is very walkable from downtown Houston. Most people will most likely drive in though, and while it is easy to drive to once you get to the city, there will be traffic on the highway that takes you into downtown. It would be better if there were more, simpler alternatives.

Cost- For premium games tickets can be pricey (first level for a Yankees/Red Sox game will probably be around $100) but seats elsewhere in the park are moderately priced and non-premium games run a little bit easier on the wallet. However, both food and drink are priced higher than other stadiums- or at least other stadiums I have been to outside New York.

10) Misc.- 4

Stats & Info- One thing I demand from stadiums is for relevant information such as speed pitch, speed type, pitch count, and players stats to be available and easy to find. At Minute Maid, these information is not easy to find despite a giant video board. One thing I hated: the video board is great- but is a waste of space. In the main, center portion of the board where player head shots, info, and stats are shown, they put a logo of the hitting team. So instead of an A-Rod head shot with player information, it was the Yankees logo.

Out-of-Town Scoreboard- One thing I loved: the out of town scoreboard. It shows the full nine inning box opposed to just a score and what inning it is. You don’t see too many stadiums do that.

Concourse- Minute Maid gets a major check mark for having an open concourse. In today’s day and age there is no excuse for a closed concourse. Fans should still be able to see the action when waiting in line to get food or drink or walking to the bathroom.

Roof- As much as I wanted the roof down, it is necessary. 4 months of the season it is 90+ outside and often it is 100+ with a lot of humidity. The roof is pretty much a necessity.

Tradition- It is always great when a ballpark has tradition and the playing of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” certainly qualifies.

Personal Score- 3.5/5 Watching baseball indoors was weird. But once the action gets going you don’t notice it because you get into the game. It truly is a great park to watch a game and it was a really fun game. Of all the modern stadiums I have been to, MMP might be the most unique and I like that. In fact, the view of left field with the fence, the facade, the train, and downtown Houston is one of my favorite sight lines of any park I have been to. There were some flaws- the food, lack of attention paid to team history, and waste of video board space were all bothersome- but that did not take away from what this park does right.

Overall Score- 74.5/115

Minute Maid Park has a lower score than expected, but it was hurt due to the smaller factors I don’t care as much about. As far as aesthetics, seats/view, and atmosphere, MMP is certainly one of the top dozen parks in baseball.

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