Following a busy first full day in Houston, we relaxed before heading to Minute Maid Park for a Tuesday afternoon matinee. Rather than squeeze in any more sightseeing in the Houston area, we stayed close to the hotel before checking out and heading for the stadium.
1. Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
We arrived at Minute Maid Park late in the warm and humid morning, finding parking plentiful across from the stadium. Unlike last evening, we had more than sufficient time to stroll the grounds before heading into the ballpark. As mentioned before, this was not our first visit to Minute Maid Park (our first visit game in September 2003), but we did not build in much time to explore the park before that game.
Wandering around the stadium we discovered there was much to see. Perhaps my favorite display outside the park was The Plaza at Minute Maid Park. It featured statutes of beloved Astros players, as well as a tribute to the Astros playoff teams of the past. Considering how few teams make good use of space outside the ballpark, the displays here was a refreshing exception to the rule.
The increasing warmth and humidity prompted us to enter the stadium to seek some relief a bit earlier than planned. Upon entering the ballpark, it was clear that the roof was closed (in contrast to the game the previous evening). When I asked a stadium employee why the roof was closed, the terse response was “because is 89 degrees in Houston”. Though I have been to Houston only twice, I assumed that the population was well attuned to heat and humidity, even in late April. The response reminded me of what I might hear in the Northeast; so much for Southern hospitality.
Undaunted by the response to my question, we continued to explore the inside of Minute Maid Park. While there were most definitely changes in the ballpark, some of the exhibits did not. The biggest change was the flagpole in centerfield. In truth, I was not a fan of that part of the stadium, and I was glad to see it go.
With the roof closed, Minute Maid seemed like a much different place. In fact, it seemed almost dank in comparison to the open roof game the night before. Following our tour of the park, and the obligatory visit to the concession stand, we headed for our seats. For this game, our seats were on the third base side, about halfway up the section.
The Astros’ opponent for the 110 pm game was once again the Anaheim Angels. The Astros starter was Justin Verlander, former AL Cy Young winner and MVP (2011). By this time, Verlander was 35 years old, an age at which a number of hard throwing pitchers begin to lose their edge. Because of this, I watched Verlander closely during his start.
Verlander worked much harder than I expected. At the end of the Astros at-bat, he sprinted to the mound, getting to work immediately. Though his velocity was still in the mid 90s, his pitch selection and changes in speeds made him much more effective. Obviously, he learned that with age, natural ability needs to be augmented with hard work in order to remain successful. Verlander gave up two runs and four hits in his seven innings, while striking out nine.
The closeness of the game resulted in a fairly quick affair, with the Astros prevailing 5-2. Since our next ball game was about 24 hours away in Memphis, Tennessee, we did not linger long in Houston. The remainder of the daylight hours were spent covering miles. After about three and one-half hours, we called a day in Marshall, Texas.