Houston Astros – September 22

What’s better than an absolutely awesome, jam-packed first day in Houston?

The feeling I had waking up on the morning of September 22 and knowing that I had another full day to explore Minute Maid Park, enjoy my downtown stadium-facing hotel and soak up all the fun that a baseball road trip provides.

I woke up super early so that I could set up my GoPro on one my window ledges and capture the sun rising over Minute Maid Park. Pretty majestic view, right?

While the GoPro snapped hundreds of shots that I used to build this time-lapse video (I’d love if you could click the thumbs-up button, by the way!) I started to browse the photos that I’d taken at the Astros game the night before and catch up on some highlights on ESPN of the previous evening’s action — all while enjoying hanging out in my outstanding hotel room.

In case you missed my previous post, I was fortunate to be staying at the Westin Houston Downtown — one of the nicest hotels in Houston and a perfect choice for fans visiting the city to see the Astros. Its great location aside, my guest room was one of the nicest I’ve ever been in. I was fortunate to get a corner room, which meant there were windows on two sides of the room, giving it a nice, open feel. Here’s one look at the room:

westin-houston-downtown-room-1

And another shot:

westin-houston-downtown-room-2

It was a great experience to relax in my awesome room for a bit, but soon it was time to explore the hotel a little. The hotel really plays up its close proximity to Minute Maid Park — each of the conference/event rooms in the hotel has a different baseball-related name and one of the on-site restaurants is called the Ballpark Cafe. Given the name of my website and blog, it only made sense to check the place out for lunch.

Boy, was I impressed! This was no ordinary lunch — it was one that I can easily count among the very best meals I’ve ever eaten.

You can check out the Ballpark Cafe’s menu here to view all the impressive fare. Despite what I ate the previous night at the ballgame, I was hungry again and absolutely enticed by many of the menu’s items. I started with the Yellow Tuna Tataki dish, which featured sliced tuna with edamame aioli and ginger soy sauce; for my main course, I had the Certified Angus Filet Mignon, served with Patron green peppercorn sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus.

Now, I’m no food reviewer, but I can tell you that every bite of each dish was absolutely outstanding. The meal was one of those that I consider myself fortunate to have eaten.

Once I’d eaten, I headed back to my room to relax for a bit before snapping this shot of downtown Houston out my window …

downtown-houston-from-westin

… and then setting up my GoPro to take another few thousand shots that I could use to build another time-lapse video. I like how the clouds cast shadows on the buildings in this one:

Once I my GoPro finished its work and I enjoyed a bit more lounging in my room, it was time to pack up for the super-short walk over to the ballpark.

Having a second day in an MLB city is ideal because it doubles the time you can devote to checking out the park and the area around it, so I soon found myself exploring areas that I hadn’t had a chance to see a day earlier. My first stop was another parking lot that provided a spot where I could take this panorama of the outside of the ballpark:

minute-maid-park-outside-pano

I spent the next little while wandering around the exterior of the park, taking shots like this one:

minute-maid-park-outside-gates

And this one, of the park’s notable tower structure:

minute-maid-park-tower

Despite the searing heat, the pregame walking was a blast — it’s always awesome to get to check out MLB facilities. Soon enough, it was time to head inside. A day earlier, there were a few people ahead of me in line; on this day, I was the first fan into the park through my gate. Needless to say, the scene was pretty quiet even a few minutes later:

minute-maid-park-empty-seats

I took advantage of the early lack of a crowd to head down to the visiting side’s dugout so that I could see some of the Angels players up close. I had no trouble securing a spot in the front row where I had an awesome view of the action. Shane Victorino, who is a player I’ve enjoyed watching for years, was so close to where I stood that I heard him actually say “Aloha” to a fan who’d joined me in the front row. A moment later, I snapped this shot of the Flyin’ Hawaiian playing catch …

shane-victorino-pregame-tossing

… and I was amused that he’d yet to put on his belt. It’s hard to see in the above photo, but Victorino was wearing a custom Nike warmup shirt that paid tribute to his Hawaiian heritage. Here’s a zoomed-in shot of another picture I took that depicts the logo:

shane-victorino-t-shirt-closeup

Soon enough, this guy captured my attention:

albert-pujols-throwing

Albert Pujols has been one of my favorite players since he came into the major leagues, so it was awesome to see him so close. I’d previously seen him back in 2012 at Fenway Park and, of course, a day earlier in Houston, but now he was immediately on the other side of the dugout railing and just a few feet away. I took a ton of pictures of him, including this one that I really like:

albert-pujols-throwing-2

When Pujols finished tossing, he moved over toward the cage to begin stretching, so I followed him as best I could and took shots like this:

albert-pujols-stretching

Afterward, he moved back toward me and I took a bunch of shots like this, which show just how close he was:

albert-pujols-marucci-pregame

OK, convinced that I was stalking Pujols? You’re sort of correct, but let’s move on, shall we?

I took one more photo from the dugout area — this shot of Collin Cowgill’s glove …

collin-cowgill-glove

… and then it was time to find some other parts of the park to explore. My first stop was the second deck in right field, where I took this shot of the custom iron work on the railings:

minute-maid-park-railing-detail

And this panorama of the scene from where I stood:

minute-maid-park-pano-second-deck

As you might have noticed in the panorama, the huge windows beyond left and center field were casting crazy shadows on the field. I like how this shot of four Angels and their shadows turned out:

minute-maid-park-player-shadows-bp

I continued on my quest and noticed a couple cool MLB All-Star Game artifacts from past seasons, including this cowboy boot from the 2004 game in Houston:

minute-maid-park-boot-2004-all-star-game

And from the 2010 game in Anaheim:

minute-maid-park-mickey-mouse-2010-all-star-game

Sort of interesting that these two statues represented the home fields for the two teams playing in the evening’s game, huh?

By this time, first pitch was starting to sneak up, so I took advantage of the opportunity to check out the concession stands like I had done a day earlier. This time, I made up my mind pretty quickly — I went with a chicken fried steak sandwich that featured Nolan Ryan Texas Beef. (He’s got a beef company in Texas, as you might have guessed.) Here’s a shot of this glorious sandwich:

minute-maid-park-food-chicken-fried-steak-sandwich

It was delicious! I’d never eaten chicken fried steak in the past, but I figured that a visit to Texas was the right time to try it. The steak was nice and tender and it didn’t take long until this hulking sandwich was just a memory.

I took a post-meal digestion break by watching a few minutes of the Astros pregame show …

minute-maid-park-astros-pregame

… before heading over to the third base side of home in time for the start of the first inning:

minute-maid-park-first-inning-view

I was glad to have this spot because the visitor’s side of the first inning proved to be eventful as Mike Trout …

minute-maid-park-trout-home-run

… and Pujols hit back-to-back home runs:

minute-maid-park-pujols-home-run

Fireworks aside, it was awesome to have such a close view of the action. Here’s Houston’s 5’5″ Jose Altuve, who is one of the more exciting MLBers to watch:

minute-maid-park-altuve-at-bat

After I’d spent a few innings in this spot, it was time to continue exploring the park. I headed all the way up to the upper deck and over toward the train that you’ve undoubtedly seen on TV broadcasts. This next shot gives you a behind-the-scenes view — I took it while standing at the end of the train tracks; obviously, the train only travels as far as the windows that you see in the center of the image, but it was neat to have this vantage point of the train:

minute-maid-park-train-tracks

Upon looking at the train, I went out to the seats and found an open area where I watched a couple innings with this view:

minute-maid-park-pano-upper-deck

From up here, I had a different view of the train:

minute-maid-park-train

I don’t think I’d realized from seeing the train on TV over the past several years that it has a driver — although I admittedly don’t watch Astros games very often. I also thought it was funny how the train car has the Nolan Ryan Texas Beef logo on it, yet it’s carrying a load of oranges as a tip of the cap to the company that holds the ballpark’s naming rights.

Once I’d spent a bit of time with this bird’s-eye view, I went back down to the main level and checked out one of the team shops. I was drawn to one of the historical displays featuring seats from the old Astrodome:

houston-astrodome-seats

Did you know that it was originally called “Harris County Domed Stadium” when it opened in 1965? I sure didn’t.

As I often do during the latter half of the game when I’m visiting a ballpark on consecutive days, I found a seat with a great view of the action — behind home plate, in this instance — put my camera away and simply enjoyed the remainder of the game. After the final out, I made the quick walk back to my hotel room and got to bed in anticipation of getting up at 4 a.m. to fly from Houston to Chicago, Chicago to Toronto and then drive home.

Thanks for joining me to read about my adventure in Texas. It truly was an outstanding experience and one that I look forward to experiencing again soon!

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