Minute Maid Park
The ballpark was Houston's first retractable-roofed stadium, protecting fans and athletes from Houston's notoriously humid weather as its predecessor, the Astrodome, did, but allowing fans to also enjoy outdoor baseball during favorable weather; something they couldn't do in the Astrodome. The ballpark also features a grass field, compared to the Astrodome's artificial AstroTurf, which was generally disliked by professional baseball players. The largest entrance to the park is inside what was once Houston's Union Station, and the left-field side of the stadium features a train as homage to the site's history. The train moves along a track on top of the length of the exterior wall beyond left field whenever an Astros player hits a home run, or when the Astros win a game. The engine's tender, traditionally used to carry coal, is filled with giant oranges in tribute to Minute Maid's most famous product, orange juice.
The ballpark was first christened as Enron Field on April 9, 1999, with naming rights sold to the Houston energy and financial trading company in a 30 year, $100 million deal. Astros management faced a public relations nightmare when the energy corporation went bankrupt in the midst of one of the biggest corporate scandals in American history in 2001, and they bought back the remainder of Enron's thirty years of naming rights for $2.1 million, rechristening the ballpark as Astros Field on February 7, 2002. The field was unofficially known as "The Field Formerly Known As Enron" by fans and critics alike, in wake of the Enron scandal. On June 5, 2002, Houston-based Minute Maid, the fruit-juice subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company, acquired the naming rights to the stadium for 28 years at an estimated price of $170 million.
Based on its downtown location next to the old Union Station buildings, one of the suggested names (and nicknames) is the Ballpark at Union Station, or the BUS. During its days as Enron Field, it was also dubbed "Ten-Run" or "Home Run" Field due to its cozy left-field dimensions. In keeping with this theme while paying homage to its current sponsor, the nickname "The Juice Box" is colloquially used today. The dubbing of the park as an extreme hitter-friendly park has been called into question in recent years. In fact, the 2009 season saw the park ranked 24th out of 30 Major League parks in terms of runs scored in the park, meaning only six other stadiums saw fewer runs scored during the season, and ten other ballparks saw more home runs hit. The extremely-deep center-field and left-center-field dimensions help to balance out the park significantly, and Minute Maid's Batting park factor is consistently very near average.
In dramatic contrast to the Astrodome, the most pitching-oriented stadium in Major League Baseball for most of its existence, Minute Maid Park is known for being particularly hitter-friendly down the lines, especially in left field where it is only 315 ft (96 m) to the Crawford Boxes, though the wall there is 19 feet (5.8 m) tall. In a challenge to home run hitters, Drayton McLane's office windows, located in the old Union Station and directly above the Crawford Boxes, are made of glass and marked as 442 ft (135 m) from home plate.
In contrast to the ease of hitting a home run to the Crawford Boxes, it is quite difficult to hit a ball out in center field, as the dead-center wall is 436 ft (133 m) from home plate. Fielding is a challenge there as well, due to the 90-foot (27 m) wide center field incline known as Tal's Hill, for team president Tal Smith, an element taken from Crosley Field and other historic ballparks (in a bit of gallows humor, the hill is also known as the "Grassy Knoll"), and the flagpole in play, an element taken from Yankee Stadium before its remodeling in the mid-'70s and Tiger Stadium among others. Milwaukee Brewers player Richie Sexson once hit a ball off the flagpole and there is still a mark there.
While Crosley Field's infamous left field terrace, which was half as steep (only 15 degrees) as Tal's Hill (30 degrees), was a natural feature of the site on which the park was located, Tal's Hill is purely decorative. Both structures have been held in equal disdain by the respective outfielders who have had to patrol those areas. This hill has caused some of the most replayed catches in recent baseball history, and plenty of controversy as well. Lance Berkman said, "If the ball rolls onto the hill, it's not steep enough to roll back, so you have to go get it. Then there's the chance of running into the flagpole that's on it and getting hurt.” Fans started an online petition to remove the hill and flagpole, though the petition has since been discontinued.
A concourse above Tal's Hill features the "Conoco Home Run Porch" in left-center field that is actually over the field of play, and features a classic gasoline pump that displays the total number of Astros home runs hit since the park opened.
The stadium can also be fully air-conditioned when required.
Larry's Big Bamboo is a bar based on the popular Big Bamboo Lounge in Kissimmee, Florida near the Astros spring training facility. The simple bar was well known to Astros players, staff and fans who frequented the Florida bar after games.
In 2004, the Astros launched Wi-Fi throughout the ballpark, allowing fans to use the Internet while attending a game for a fee. In addition, the ballpark is the first major sports facility to have a closed captioning board for the hearing impaired.
The visiting team's bullpen is housed entirely in the exterior left field wall, next to the Crawford Boxes, making it one of the few bullpens in Major League ballparks to be completely indoors. Although windows in the outfield fence offer a view into and from the bullpen, its entrance is actually built into the side of the Crawford Boxes.
In 2006, the Chick-fil-A cows were unveiled on the foul poles, saying EAT MOR FOWL, and the cows have Astros caps on. Anytime an Astros player hits the pole, the fans in attendance get a free chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A. Hunter Pence is the first and second Astro to hit the left field "Fowl Pole" when he did it twice in the 2007 season. Ty Wigginton became the third Astro to hit the left field pole on September 16 2007. Kazuo Matsui hit the right field foul pole on August 3, 2009 with a 2 run homer in the 6th inning to beat the Giants.
After the 2008 season, the Astros' groundskeepers began installing 2.3 acres of a new turfgrass playing surface at Minute Maid Park. The new sod is called Platinum TE Paspalum. The Astros are the first sports organization in the world to use the product. The Astros also became one of the first to use the new Chemgrass, later known as AstroTurf after its first well-publicized use at the Houston Astrodome in 1966.
* On July 13, 2004, Minute Maid Park hosted the 2004 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which the American League won 9-4.
* On October 9, 2005, Minute Maid Park hosted the longest postseason game in Major League Baseball history, both in terms of time and number of innings. The Astros defeated the Atlanta Braves 7-6 in a game lasting eighteen innings, which took 5 hours and 50 minutes to play.
* On October 25, 2005, Minute Maid Park hosted the first World Series game ever played in Texas, and the longest World Series game ever played, which the Astros lost to the eventual World Series champion Chicago White Sox 7-5 in 14 innings; this game lasted 5 hours and 41 minutes.
* On June 28, 2007 Craig Biggio hit his 3000th career hit, the first Astro to do so. The hit was a 2-out RBI-single against the Colorado Rockies.
* On September 30, 2007, on Craig Biggio's last game of his career, Minute Maid Park hit the highest attendance in its 8 year history by selling 43,823 tickets, 107% of its total.
Events other than baseball
While primarily a baseball venue, Minute Maid Park can adequately host sports such as American football, soccer, and both codes of rugby. The venue can also play host to large-scale rock concerts.
Its debut as a soccer venue happened during the 2006 edition of the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The stadium hosted the first leg of the quarterfinal between Portmore United of Jamaica (the "home" team) and Club América of Mexico. Portmore United effectively sold the rights to their home leg (Portmore's usual home stadium is the 2,000 seat Ferdi Neita Sports Complex in Portmore, Jamaica) to an American sports marketing company who placed the tie in Houston hoping to attract Mexican-Americans to the match. 12,988 (a "home" record for Portmore) saw America run out 2-1 winners with goals from Christian Gimenez, and Aaron Padilla after Remeel Wolfe had given the CFU side a shock lead.
The stadium also is the host of the Houston College Classic college baseball, part of the winter fan festival held in February. The tournament features local schools the University of Houston and Rice University every year, a pair of Big 12 schools, alternating between the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech University, and Texas A&M University and Baylor University, as well as two other teams from around the country.
Madonna performed a concert as part of her Sticky & Sweet Tour on November 16, 2008, marking her first Texas appearance in 18 years. The attendance for the concert was 41,498.
The nationally-syndicated TV talk show Rachael Ray held a mass wedding at the park following Hurricane Ike for 40 couples who were unable to get married after a company they paid to hold the weddings went bankrupt. Comedian Jeffrey Ross served as best man for all 40 couples. The ceremony was aired as part of a special episode of the talk show on November 21, 2008.
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