2018 Baseball Road Trip – Day 5 (Minute Maid Park)

Following a day of activities in the Houston area, we relaxed for a bit before heading out to Minute Maid Park for an evening contest between the Anaheim Angels and Houston Astros. We had been to Minute Maid Park once before, in September 2003. Having arrived just before game time back then, we didn’t leave ourselves time to truly explore the stadium. We planned to make up for that oversight.

1. Minute Maid Park

Welcome to Minute Maid Park! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We arrived about two hours before game time, not long after the gates opened. There was plenty of parking at a reasonable prices less than two blocks from the stadium, though I’m sure our early arrival made finding parking much earlier. Almost like an omen, my brother had difficulty having his ticket scanned from his phone. As it turned out, we had to scan a paper copy of the ticket to allow him enter Minute Maid Park. The callousness of the ticket staff was dismaying, but we let it go fairly quickly as we toured the inside of the stadium.

The train set against the coming evening in left field at Minute Maid Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Much had changed, but there were still many of the landmarks we saw in 2003. Gone was the flag pole in centerfield (no tears shed here), but the train on the left field wall was still present. The evening weather was as good as could have been hoped, and the roof was open for the game.

Our seats for the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following a quick trip to the concession stand for dogs and drinks, we went in search out our seats. The stadium looked much bigger with the roof open (back in 2003, the roof was closed until the 7th inning), something we did not get to experience much in our previous visit. We sensed some trouble not long after settling into our seats. The people behind us were drunk and rowdy, and I began to get a sinking feeling, as though the experience was about to be ruined.

The roof at Minute Maid Park retracted over right field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My fears were realized shortly after the first pitch, when one of the drunk fans vomited on us, with my brother taking the brunt. The fan explained it was his birthday, and he had too much to drink. His companion, also visibly drunk, starting screaming at the top of her lungs. Trying to be kind, I asked her to tone it down a bit, but I was told something I’d prefer not to write here.

Finally, I asked an usher to intervene. The usher talked to her, and tried to explain that she was just enthusiastic about the game. Dejected, my brother and I actively considered leaving, in order to maintain civility. The usher promised to watch over her, and eventually he did admonish her for her behavior. After that, the circumstance changed, and we were able to enjoy the game. Overall, I was disappointed by the response to the aberrant behavior, leaving me with a negative early opinion of Minute Maid Park.

Mike Trout at the plate in the top of the first. If memory serves, this is the first time I’d seen Mike Trout live. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With most of the unpleasantness out of the way, we did our best to enjoy the game and the ballpark. In addition to seeing Mike Trout live for the first time, we also got to see Shohei Ohtani start for the Angels. Considering the amount of hype following him, I felt lucky to see him so early in his MLB career.

Shohei Ohtani delivering a pitch in the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Unfortunately, Ohtani did not have his best stuff that night, grinding out 5 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on six hits and five walks. However, the Astros pitching wasn’t much better, and the game took on the feel of a burgeoning slugfest. Angels SS Andrelton Simmons hit a ball completely out of Minute Maid Park (which only seems possible with the roof open), part of a two HR, 5 RBI night.

Minute Maid at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Simmons’ second HR night, a three run shot in the seventh inning put the game out of the reach. In total, 11 pitchers were used in the game. As it typical when this many pitchers are used, the game slowed to a crawl at times. On this pleasantly evening, in this beautiful ballpark, the pace of play was not as draining as it can be.

Following the last out, we exited the park and headed back to the hotel. Minute Maid Park is a beautiful place, but the fan unfriendly actions of just two took away from the experience. The Astros’ response was also distressing, leaving me with an overall negative feeling about the night. Hopefully the matinee tomorrow afternoon can wash away the unsettling vibe from tonight.

Cleveland, Ohio, August 5th 2019

Following our stay in Akron, we made the short trip to Independence, where we stayed the night. Our plan was to visit Progressive Field for a 705 pm game between the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. It is our first visit to Cleveland since 2000, when the stadium was called Jacobs Field.

Cleveland’s Jacobs Field on a cold, drizzly afternoon in May 2000. This picture was taken with a film camera, back before I owned a digital camera. Unfortunately the quality of the image shows that clearly.

A short drive into Cleveland brought us to the lakefront, where we wondered along the lake’s edge, waiting for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to open at 1000 am. The morning was warm and muggy, and by 1000 am I was ready to get out of the heat. Even before the Hall opened, crowds were gathering outside, complicating the opportunity to get a clear shot of the front of the Rock Hall.

Outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just before 1000 am, Monday, August 5th, 2019. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We had been to the Hall once before, during our last visit to Cleveland back in 2000. Since the Hall frequently changes exhibits, we fully expected a much different experience this time around. Walking among the exhibits and memorabilia, there was a palpable sense of music history. However, it seemed as though there were fewer exhibits than in 2000, and worst of all, there was no Led Zeppelin exhibit!!! For most people, that wouldn’t be that big a deal, but being a lifelong Zeppelin fanatic, this omission was unforgivable.

Again, it is understandable that some performers are underrepresented. There is only so much space in the museum, and rotating exhibits gives visitors the best viewing experience. The Beatles and Rolling Stones exhibits were well done, as was the exhibit for The Beach Boys.

The Beatles represented in the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Still, the Hall seemed to have less charm and content of the last visit. Perhaps I’m being too critical with my review of the Hall; any true Rock and Roll fan should make the pilgrimage here when near Cleveland. In contrast, despite its humble appearance, Sun Studios in Memphis had a much better feel, in my opinion. That place has a PRESENCE that the Hall seemed to lack. In any event, it was time well spent.

After lunch back closer to Independence, we took in a movie before relaxing in advance of the game. We saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Being a Tarantino fan, I enjoyed the movie immensely. In true Tarantino style, he took a fairly well known story and made it his own, complete with a rewrite of history at the end.


Progressive Field

Ahead of the 705 pm game time, we arrived at Progressive Field around the time of the evening commute. Traffic heading to the ballpark was manageable, which made finding parking fairly easy. Prices just a block from the park was very reasonable ($20) especially for an urban setting. The downside of the parking adjacent to the park was that we were packed in like sardines, making me wonder how easily we might escape after the game. Considering the parking nightmares in other cities (yeah, I’m looking at you Philadelphia, though it has gotten better with the new stadium), we felt fortunate to finding parking so easily.

As is our custom, we walked around the stadium before entering. We were here nearly 20 years ago, so my memory of the surroundings is fuzzy at best. In any event, the outside of the stadium was nicer than I remember, but the last time we were here, I was more concerned about staying warm than enjoying the view.

Outside Progressive Field about an hour before game time, Monday, August 5th, 2019. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Walking around the inside of the park, we found a nugget I didn’t expect to find. Just after entering through the centerfield gate, we saw a space suit. Upon closer inspection, we found that it was a mock-up of the one worn by Ohio native son Neil Armstrong. A lifelong obsession with NASA and space travel, the suit was a pleasant surprise ensconced within another lifelong obsession (baseball, of course!!!). In fact, it might have been my favorite part of the visit to the park.

A recreation of the suit worn by Neil Armstrong in 1969. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We had great seats for the game, in the lower level on the third base side of home plate. The weather was markedly better for the start of the game than the last time we were here. Instead of a raw day, with temperatures in the lower 40s and a wind off the lake (which Oil Can Boyd famously referred to as the ocean), it was clear and about 80 degrees for the first pitch. The warmer weather allowed us to enjoy the experience much more than 19 years ago.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The concessions in Progressive Field offered the standard fare for MLB parks, with plenty of concession stands, and reasonable prices. Typically, I would sample the hot dogs, as I do at almost all of our baseball stops. However, I passed this time, with memories of the greasy hot dogs at Canal Park still painfully fresh in my mind. Upon finding our seats, we found great sight lines and a generally unobstructed view of the field. Sitting fairly close to the field for an MLB park, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were still far from the action. Attending many more minor league games over the past few years, we had become spoiled by the access they provide. This is not a knock on Progressive Field; almost all MLB parks feel this way. However, it did not detract from the charm of Progressive this night.

Francisco Linder and Yasiel Puig pausing before taking the field. Gotta love that Mohawk Puig was sporting. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The game was excellent, a tight affair as starters Mike Minor (Rangers) and Aaron Cevale (Indians) were in firmly command. The score was 1-0 Rangers going into the bottom of the 9th inning, when closer Jose Leclerc entered the game. A lead off triple by Jose Ramirez put Leclerc on the ropes. Seemingly unfazed, he retired the next three batter to notch the save.

Overall, it was a great game in a very nice ballpark. We took out time getting back to the car, since we were packed into the lot. To our pleasant surprise, the lot has cleared sufficiently to allow us a clean getaway from the park and out of Cleveland. Since we anticipated a late evening, we stayed in Independence one more night, after which we would continue our road trip, bound for Altoona, PA the next day