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Top Five: Houston Sports Venues

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Since 2000, Houston has seen each of its three primary professional teams build new stadiums, with a few collegiate additions in between. This week's edition of the Top Five chooses from the best.

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We like stadiums. Lots of stadiums. Stadiums that cost oodles of money and do everything that they can to make us forget about our ancient pals, The Astrodome and The Summit. Dare we build a new soccer stadium? Yes. Shall we re-build the stadium that currently hosts the Dynamo into another new stadium, just for giggles?

Yes, of course. Why the hell not? Let's revamp Sam Houston Racepark and Speedy's Go-Karts (fine... Fast Track Go-Karts) while we're at it, just so everyone knows that we mean business. Money grows on rafters, amirite?

Shenanigans aside, we Houstonians have always taken pride in our sporting venues, or at least we've tried to. Amidst all of the criticisms surrounding the Astrodome's pale green cement-carpet or the old Compaq Center's general existence, we've kept on trucking with our heads held high... only to ditch those places for new digs and subsequently see Clutch City's birthplace turned into a mega-church led by a friendly man who knows nothing but God and Crest.


I can't complain, though. I like our new stadiums. I'm also ineligible to be taxed, which is nice. But I figure, since we do have all of these nifty venues at which to attend a game, let's review them in our SB Nation Houston Top Five.

Apologies in advance to the University of Houston. You'll get there at some point, Coogs. For now, however, you're losing to freaking RICE.

Here we go...


No. 5 - Reckling Park (Rice Owls Baseball)

A big-time college baseball program deserves a top-notch stadium, and Reckling Park happens to be just that. The facility, which opened in 2000, is first class among it's competition, seating over 5,000 people and sitting directly in front of the Houston Medical Center, a serene skyline in its own right.

Reckling is a great spot for both kids and adults. Having attended games since the stadium opened, I never found a dull moment. There's plenty of grass for kids to run around and toss a tennis ball if the game gets too boring for their taste. Though slightly expensive, the concession stand offers plenty satisfying of in-game edibles. And, once seated in the stands, fans are treated to a comfortable, cozy setting that is mostly covered and maximizes the field itself.

For my money, Reckling Park is one of the great places to attend a baseball game in all of America, college or professional.


No. 4 - Rice Stadium (Rice Owls Football)

History gets the nod over substance -- and that's not to take much away from Rice Stadium, home to the Rice Owls football team for the past sixty years.

How often do universities with a student body of only 2,600 undergrads own a 70,000-seat stadium? In that regard, Rice Stadium might be the only one of its kind. Bluntly, as subpar as the football program has been over the last four decades, the per-game attendance normally turns out to be respectable. The stadium is a great place for simply watching a game, and doesn't divulge into much else otherwise.

Patrick Harris on echoes this sentiment in his review of the stadium back in 2008.

For REAL MEN, Rice Stadium may be the best anywhere. This assumes you are there to watch the ball game, not gawk at a fancy scoreboard. Rice Stadium is a graceful, clean construction of concrete and brick. The seats are plain old wood benches bolted to the structure, but the sightlines are the best anywhere. There's no track or other purpose to the facility. The seating starts very near the edge of the field. No matter where you sit, (all 70,000 of "you") there's an optical effect that the field just looks too short. It is because you never sat in a stadium with such well developed sighting. Rice is the most underrated sports facility anywhere.

Agreed, sir.


No. 3 - Minute Maid Park (Astros)

I'm on record, right here, saying that I love Tal's Hill, the flagship criticism amongst most Minute Maid Park whiners. The flagpole that sits on it? Not so much, but hey, if you can dodge a ball, you can dodge a flagpole, yes? Moving on.

Minute Maid's got just about everything sans a giant playground for the kids, which doesn't matter anyway. Though it has good barbecue, adequate pizza and plenty of other goodies, the food is all over-priced. Thankfully, we here at SB Nation Houston have devised a cost-efficient plan for you to attend your next game at Minute Maid Park.

1. Buy the cheapest tickets available. In some cases, these can be from one to five dollars. Let's call it $5. I know you want good seats, but keep reading.

2. Eat before the game. Go to Lefty's BBQ or to the Home Plate Bar and Grill. They've got a much better selection for a better price. You still get the whole "baseball atmosphere" thing, too, as these are situated right next to the stadium. Zero dollars spent on average food, $7.00 spent on fresh wings from Home Plate. Round it up to $10 for a drink and/or appetizer.

3. You don't need any shiny memorabilia or nameless jerseys. If you are going to buy something, buy a hat. But I'm not going to. Zero dollars spent at the team shop.

4. Sneak down. No, seriously -- sneak out of your nosebleed seats, presumably around the fifth or sixth inning. Take advantage of your bird's eye view in between innings and scope out a row of empty seats close to the field. If nobody shows up for five innings, chances are, you're all set. The Minute Maid ushers, while being very nice people, get bored after the first few innings and begin to let people in without checking tickets. If they go against their nature and try to check someone in front of you mid-sneak, go back and grab an ice cream cone - they never ticket-check someone carrying food

5. Fine - if you're still hungry after the wings, get some ice cream. That's like, what, five dollars? Yes, we'll go with $5. That's being generous, too.

Total Money Spent: $20

Dugout-level seats for half a game, delicious wings and an ice cream cone. All for 20 bucks. And the nosebleeds are quality seats as well - you get to experience just about everything.

And there you have it: SB Nation Houston's Guide To Cheap Living At Minute Maid Park.TM   If you do things the right way, this can be a very inexpensive place to attend a ballgame. There's a great atmosphere, even when the team is losing. Chalk one up to Astros fans for always showing their support.


No. 2 - Reliant Stadium (Texans)

It certainly helps an atmosphere when a stadium regularly hosts the best fans in Houston, hands down. Few stadiums get louder than Reliant Stadium on a third and long for any Texans opponent. The monster facility holds 71,000 drunk idiots, women and children. It'll be tough to find better sight lines than those at Reliant - everything is focused on the field.

Speaking of beer, Reliant has a lot of it. Shiner and St. Arnold included. Twelve-ounce bottles are $5, which isn't bad at all. Parking is somewhat of a hassle, but if you plan in advance, you should be fine.

Not only does Reliant host Texans games, but it has also welcomed international soccer clashes, the NCAA tournament and many other sporting events of note.

Wish I had more to say, but there's not a whole lot more that can be said about one of the most state-of-the-art football facilities in the country. We can't all be Cowboy Stadium or, to a lesser degree, Lucas Oil. But Reliant is no slouch. If you've never been before, you're in for a treat.


No. 1 - Toyota Center (Rockets)

As far as facilities, location, Red Rowdies, live bands, parking options and general fun are concerned, Toyota Center takes the cake. Yes, the tickets can be pricey and the beers are seven bucks for a single glass, but you'll absolutely enjoy your stay. Kids love the Memorial Hermann Sky Court, and adults have their chance to make obnoxious signs in case they left theirs at home.

If there's an underrated element to Toyota Center, aside from the cars hanging around the walkways or the palm trees adding a classy feel, it's PA announcer John Paul Stevenson. Forget the Detroit guy. Stevenson is the best of the NBA announcing crop. He has a crisp, booming voice and is always into the game as much as any regular fan.

The one complaint I have with Toyota Center resides in its club section, aka The Empty Batch Of Red Seats. If you watch a game on television, Toyota constantly looks underfilled and uninspired. That's because a good number of season ticket holders, whose seats are perched in the lower sideline club section, rarely make it to games. It's a sad representation of the organization's fan base, especially on national broadcasts. If you look to the end zones or up past the suites to the nosebleeds, you see Red Nation at its best, with screaming fans and passionate onlookers. If there's any improvement that could be made on that front, Toyota Center might just be perfect.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.