Labor Day weekend for some is just a three-day weekend for travel or an extra night out at the bar… something like that. But for us in the south, it’s all about the start to the best time of the year – the kickoff to football season! Football season’s kickoff weekend has grown substantially in the last 10 years or so. They have awesome non-conference match ups at neutral locations (mainly NFL venues) and they make a whole five-day span out of it. The Thursday and Friday games are usually not worth much, but the Saturday/Sunday/Monday games make for great entertainment considering it’s usually teams that seldom face off.
I took the travel approach to Labor Day Weekend and hit 5 different games in 5 days. A little crazy, right? Absolutely worth it! Here was my Labor Day Weekend line-up:
Thursday – Dallas Cowboys @ Houston Texans
Friday – Los Angeles Angels @ Houston Astros
Saturday – Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech at NRG Stadium
Sunday – LSU vs. Miami at AT&T Stadium
Monday – Minnesota Twins @ Texas Rangers
So to start off my Labor Day Weekend recap, I wanted to start with Minute Maid Park – home of the defending World Series Champions, the Houston Astros. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and the surrounding areas about this time last year, the Astros brought a little sunshine to the city by bringing home the team’s first ever World Series trophy. They had an incredibly impressive season breaking 100 wins and dominating the American League West division. I had some time to kill on Friday before the game so I headed up to Minute Maid Park and took a tour of the stadium and some of the exclusive areas most people don’t ever get to see (you can actually take the same tour that I did by purchasing tickets here! for daily tours Monday-Saturday).
Minute Maid Park is such a unique-looking stadium in my opinion. Really, I don’t have a lot to compare it to baseball-wise, since I’ve only seen a handful of stadiums (Rangers, Braves, and Angels), but you definitely don’t see any football or basketball arenas like this one. It’s modeled after a train station, and we’ll get to that in a minute.
On the left field side of the stadium, there’s a gorgeous little park with a bunch of tall trees and a few benches. Even when there wasn’t a game going on, I’ve seen people hanging around the area relaxing.
They also have their display of championship titles here (which need a little sprucing up). The orange flag is their National League title win from 2005 and then that gold flag of the (almost) very end is their World Series title from this past season. Looks like they’ve saved a little room for one more addition. We’ll see how fast they can get one up there! They’re first place in the AL West right now, but it’s only by a few games.
So I learned a little about the stadium design while on my tour! This building right here is actually the main part of an old train station. The train station was open from 1911-1974 and was one of the largest stations in the country. It was designed by the same man who did Grand Central Station. When the Astros rehomed the team in 2000, they purchased the old train station and built the stadium around it.
They kept the inside theme the same and stuck with a lot of the original design features during their remodel. This building houses the Team Store and accesses Left Field on the first level, but everything above the first level is the Astros Executive Offices, including owner Jim Crane and Nolan Ryan’s office.
They have EVERYTHING on display in this case from their World Series Championship this past year. Baseballs, plates… even the champagne bottle they popped after the victory. These are also the same jerseys worn in the game (clearly unwashed). How they remembered which ball was which is beyond me!
Just outside the train station is Chick-Fil-A and beer from the best brewery in town. Why would you want to go anywhere else in the stadium, right?
They keep with the train station theme and I just think this is a cool little area. I’d definitely grab a beer here during a game.
And there it is in all its glory. They really do just have a beautiful field. But it wasn’t always that way, it definitely took a lot of work to get the field this way.
Minute Maid Park’s roof is retractable, so they can keep it shut when the weather gets bad. They also shut it for games during the summer so they can keep it air conditioned (thank you to the genius who decided this – you’re the real MVP). The problem with this was the grass wasn’t getting enough sunlight when the roof was closed. They tried three different grasses that all died before finally deciding they needed an alternative. The solution? Astroturf. Now the name names sense, right?
This grass isn’t actually Astroturf anymore. They’ve found a grass that doesn’t need that much sunlight and can live in the conditions. It costed about $1 million to install. It was recently redone after Hurricane Harvey not from flooding but from, again, lack of sunlight. So they’ve definitely put just a little bit of money into keeping this field perfect.
Fun little side note, if you look closely at the clock on the tower you’ll see it has a time on it. This was the exact time that the last out was made in Game 7 of the World Series last year.
So these are considered the “nosebleed” seats and you can find them pretty cheap. But in reality, it really isn’t a bad view! I love stadiums that have a view of the downtown skylines like this.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Houston, it’s a huge oil and gas hub. Hence all of the oil and gas sponsors.
There is also a fully-functional train up here – you can see it just to the right of the World Series Championship banner. A man actually drives it when there are home runs and wins.
The train doesn’t actually go all the way around the stadium like some people think it does. It stops here. If you can see that white sign under a window, that’s owner Jim Crane’s office. Apparently there’s ongoing bet to see who can hit a home run and break his window first.
That jumbotron is actually only the 6th largest in Texas. Just in Texas. Obviously, the Cowboys take the cake in that category. This TV is 1600″… meanwhile I’m too busy to replace my little 28″ TV. But hey, it works!
Above the jumbotron are the retired jersey numbers for the Astros. There are actually two players up there that never actually played for the Astros, though. Jackie Robinson is the first, and he’s retired all across the MLB. The second is Jim Umbricht, who passed away while playing for the Houston Colt .45s from melanoma. His story is actually a very good read if you want to check it out here. Jim’s ashes were spread at the Astrodome after his passing.
The most recently retired number is Craig Biggio. If you look closely, you can see there’s a little yellow sun on his baseball. This is the logo for the Sunshine Kids, who Craig is a national spokesperson for. The Sunshine Kids organization works with children that have terminal illnesses. He wanted a representative of it through his jersey retirement.
Next up was the suite and club level of the stadium. The furniture up here in the common areas were designed to look like an old train station, down to the carpet and the ceiling tiles.
A few years ago the outfield was remodeled and this is the original model give to the Astros to show what the project would look like. Now it contains some really great places to eat, including my personal favorite, Torchy’s Tacos. If you haven’t had their fried cookie dough… you’re absolutely missing out!
This hand-painted mural was just completed. It took over 8 months to complete.
I’ve only ever been inside a baseball suite at the Rangers’ stadium, but by comparison I definitely liked this one better! It was so spacious and had a nice layout. The ones at GlobeLife Park are a little crowded – especially when you’re entertaining clients. 95% of suites at any stadium are probably going to be owned by sponsors and are used to entertain clients, so there really aren’t many personally-owned suites. So get on with a good company that has tickets! Or find a friend who does!
The club level is sponsored by Honda so there are Honda cars everywhere up and down the row. Usually you have to a club level tickets to access this area, but here’s a secret for Astros fans. If you own a Honda car, just bring your key in with you and show it to the doorman. You and three guests gain club level access this way! Get there early enough, though, they start cutting back the number of guests they’ll let you bring in if you wait too long.
This set up was a little odd to me. The Press Box is actually located right off of the club level hallway, just through this little door. I’ve never seen a press box not be immediately off of an elevator in order to control access.
Alex Bregman scored a walk-off home run in Game 5 of the World Series last year and this was a picture of his aftermath. Alex is actually an LSU baseball alumni and I got to see him play a few times his senior year at LSU. I’ve always thought that was pretty cool.
The press box is named after Milo Hamilton who called 65 years of baseball (that’s incredible). Milo called years and years of baseball for the Houston Astros before passing away and now they have chosen to honor him by naming the press box for him.
Milo would actually keep score of the games by hand – in pen. For baseball fans, you know how hard that is to do!
I’m not sure why but this cracked me up. There are over 100 miles of cables up here. Normally press boxes try and hide these, but they display them openly. I got a little laugh out of it.
This is the Astros broadcast booth, and this pretty much says it all. A little bit of chaos! If you’ve ever seen a working press box during a game, you’d know that it’s not actually as calm as they make it seem. People who are visiting and writing articles (usually the ones you see on tv in the neat little rows) don’t have much excitement, but in the booths and behind the scenes of that, they’re running around like chickens with their heads chopped off. Nothing ever goes according to plan and it can get chaotic, to say the least!
They have some awards displayed which is unique. I haven’t seen a press box that does awards for media, but media members for professional teams are usually there for years and years and put in a lot of time and effort. I’m sure it means a lot to those who work so hard to be honored in their area.
This is one of the plainer press box areas that I’ve seen, but hey, it does the job! Still the best seats in the house in my opinion.
That gross plastic isn’t always there. Since the Astros have a retractable roof, they have an open-air press area. So whenever the roof is open, like today, this plastic is used to keep the birds out. Apparently, they had a reputation for awhile in the MLB and called the press box the “poop deck,” if you catch my drift.
Right outside the press box are team photographs of EVERY single Astros team, down to their original team in 1961 called the Houston Colt .45s (that definitely wouldn’t be a thing today). We’ll just go through a few…
This is the original Houston Buffs team in 1961 – the first year Houston received an MLB team. They had pushed for one for years but the league wouldn’t allow it due to the intense climate. They built the Astrodome as their solution to the heat, but it didn’t open until 1965.
In 1965 the Astros were born and they moved into the Astrodome.
This was the year they decided to do these… interesting… uniforms! They’re a throwback uniform now and people still wear them. I got a laugh out of them. They were apparently designed to look like an exploding star. I guess I can see it! A little.
This was the team’s first year in Minute Maid Park. It was originally named Enron Park, but… we can all guess why that named changed!
Coca-Cola wanted to take over the naming rights after Enron’s run-in with the law, but the MLB said they weren’t allowed to have two stadiums named for them (they have a minor league team in Pennsylvania named for them, too). So Minute Maid Park was born instead. Or as some like to call it… the “Juice Box!”
Lastly is the 2017 Championship team! Unfortunately, Justin Verlander isn’t pictured here… he was traded during the season and this was taken at the beginning. Bummer.
If you’ve ever wondered what the ground level of a stadium looks like… here ya go.
The Astros recently added the Diamond Club to their list of luxury areas. This area is exclusively for ticket holders of the Diamond Club area (right behind home plate). It’s all-you-can-eat food from the top chefs in the Houston area. Tickets in this area go for thousands of dollars. Safe to say I probably won’t ever get to sit in here!
But look at that wine wall…
Last up, we hit the field! It was crazy to think that the World Series was played here last year. It’s surreal to think about that kind of emotion and what it meant to the city of Houston after their devastating year. So many athletes in all of the major sports in the Houston area have done so much to give back to this community. This really just is a special team and a special place!
We even got to go into the dugout and sit on the benches.
This is the Astros bullpen, which is open-air. The visitor’s is actually tucked under seating and is not open-air. Some teams choose to do this and some teams leave them exposed.
So while the grass costs millions of dollars, this wall does not. It’s totally fake. But I really like this twist versus those tall ugly green walls that most baseball stadiums have! Obviously they’re necessary for the batter to see the ball, but they’re just… not cute. Ya know?
This is a good ol’ fashioned scoreboard! It’s manually operated. There are actually 4 full-time staff members that go through all of the games around the MLB and put them up on this scoreboard during the game! I got to see it in action later in the evening at the game.
This place was absolutely packed later in the evening for the match up against the Angels. This was my first Astros game, but not my first time in the stadium. Every year the Astros and Minute Maid Park host the Shriner’s College Classic here, and Texas Tech has participated a few times. I’ve never seen it like this, though!
Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the train move, because there wasn’t an Astros home run, and we didn’t win.
Mike Trout’s a babe, whether you’re an Angels fan or not. And man, he’s a badass at baseball! He’s just a year or two older than me but he’s been in the majors since he was in his early 20s, I believe. It’s crazy to think someone my age is THAT good.
I did get to see an Angels home run though. You’d be surprised how many Angels fans were in attendance… we even sat next to some people that came all the way from Los Angeles, too.
This was the kid I really wanted to see though! Got to see him play in college and now I get to see him play professionally. Not to mention he’s just absolutely killing it!
Even with the losses this weekend, the Astros still are 1st in their division and have every intention of making it back-to-back World Series Championships. That’d be a sight for sure!
Tomorrow kicks off the start of college football and the best time of the year! Make sure you check out some of the top games of the week:
Michigan @ Notre Dame
Alabama vs. Louisville
I’ll personally be attending the Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech right here in Houston at the Texans stadium! Make sure you check out that stadium as well as my trip to Phoenix, Arizona next weekend! I’ll be taking a little solo trip to cross the Sun Devils off of my bucket list. They take on Michigan State, whose always a solid team.