A Day At the Ballpark: The Minute Maid Park Experience

HOUSTON - APRIL 12: A general view of Minute Maid Park from the first base side on April 12, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

If it's true that baseball is best watched in person, then here's a look at the perks of a game at Minute Maid Park.

I believe that baseball is best when you're at the game. It's even better when it's outdoors, but here in Houston, August afternoons don't lend themselves to sitting for hours outside. Fortunately, Minute Maid Park, our home for the Houston Astros, has that handy dandy roof for the long intense heat of Houston's summer.

Minute Maid Park will air-condition the game for you, but that's not even close to being on my list of my favorite things about taking in a game at Minute Maid Park.

When I head out to watch the Astros, here are some of the things that make a game at MMP fun for everyone.

The Wall of Windows: Yes, the roof is closed for a good part of the season, but I never feel closed in at MMP. The wall of glass in right and center fields still gives you the illusion of outdoor baseball. There are over 50,000 square feet of glass on that West wall of the stadium and it's a sight to see. By the way, the roof itself is a pretty cool marvel, so I have to throw it in. When the roof is open, it is the largest open area provided by any retractable roof in baseball stadiums today. The roof opens and closes an estimated 160 times per year and it takes between 12 and 20 minutes to get it opened or closed. Someday I'm going to find the switch that makes it happen. I have a secret wish to push that button.

The 1st Base Line During Warmups: MMP opens it's gates an hour and half prior to game time Sunday through Friday and two hours prior on Saturdays. Why would you want to go that early? Maybe there's a promotional giveaway you want, but in our family, it's to hang out on the first base line wall. Just outside the home team dugout you will find countless kids (and adults alike) waiting patiently during/after warmups for players to emerge and sign the ball, jersey, hat, baseball card they have clutched with a Sharpie in their hand. The guys are generally kind and willing to spend five to ten minutes signing for fans, sometimes even longer. I think our home park is one of the most fan friendly in terms of access to the players. It's a great way to make baseball and the players real for your child as well.

Minute Maid Squeeze Play: Baseball fans with kids are given the perfect place to let the little ones burn off some energy prior to game time or even during a game. Just behind section 132 you'll find a giant play area with a climbing structure, Wii batting, water fountain batting, a runner's race to home plate and much more. On many occasions when my daughter was smaller, this is what allowed me to watch all 9 innings!

The Designated Driver Booth: Near section 105 on the Main Concourse you'll find an ARAMARK booth that will give you a coupon for a free small soda at any of the concession stands if you register as a Designated Driver. Many of us love to have a beer at the ballgame, but it's nice that the person in your group who agreed to abstain and get you all home safely doesn't have to buy their drink.

El Grande: The new video board that was installed prior to the 2011 season is a high definition video board measuring 54 feet high and 124 feet wide. You can see everything on this thing. One of my favorite features on El Grande is the scorebook that displays at the bottom for each player's at bats as they come to the plate. It's a great way to double check your own scorebook or explain the game or scoring to a new fan! The vast array of information that is now available is mind boggling, but makes the game experience that much better.

The Food: Yep, the food. I'm mostly a hotdog and popcorn kind of girl at the ballpark, but MMP offers so much more. From the traditional Blue Bell ice cream helmet sundae to fish tacos to salads to peanuts and crackerjacks, there's something great for everyone. There's Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell's FiveSeven Grille out behind centerfield if you'd prefer a restaurant, and of course with the new food and drink policy you're welcome to bring in one factory one liter water bottle per person and any food you'd like, as long as it fits in a one gallon standard ziploc bag. The Astros just made your eating options truly limitless.

WiFi: These days baseball isn't always just a scorebook and pencil kind of game and our friendly neighborhood ballpark takes that into consideration. There is free AT&T wifi at Minute Maid Park. So feel free to tweet away while watching the Astros! Or, if you're like me, you may use that iPad or smartphone to uncover little known facts about a player you're less than familiar with, and the way the roster is now filled with younger players, Google, may be your best friend!

Never A Bad Seat: Now I'm sure that if you sit behind the foul pole you have a less than stellar view, but I've sat in the View Decks, the Mezzanine, the Club level, the Crawford Boxes. I've watched games from Budweiser Patio and the bullpen boxes. I've even had the chance to watch a game from just behind home plate. And although I have a favorite spot to sit (you'll generally find me along the 3B line) I've never had a bad seat at MMP. Someday, I'm going to get the club to let me watch a game from Tal's Hill.

The Family Experience: Although not a particular feature of MMP, I think all the offerings at our home ball field are what has made the Houston Astros such a fun family experience for me. My 10 year old daughter is entering her 6th year as a season ticket holder and four years ago, my parents joined in the fun. We have found that a day of baseball provides our family about three hours of time to share our love of the game and some laughs and fun with each other. You just can't beat that.

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