Sunrises and Sunsets: A Minnesotan’s Land-Trek to Minute Maid Park – Balls 489-497 (September 19, 2015)

Oakland Athletics 6 – Houston Astros 10

Minute Maid Park – Houston, TX

September 19, 2015


Please raise your hands if you have experienced the following:

A sunrise in Minnesota and sunset in Texas… on the same day.

A sunrise in Texas and sunset in Minnesota… on the same day.

The number of hands is probably measured in the dozens, especially if you take into account the method of travel – automobile.

At the beginning of each baseball season I plan road trips in my head.  Heck, I’ve even planned one for 2016 already (the preliminary schedules were released and I had some free time).  Houston always makes the list, but due to its long distance from home and relatively nothing in between, the trip never makes it past the planning stage.  But things change, reasons come and go, and road trips can be made in haste.

This story is only made possible due to the fact that the Astros announced a major change to their ballpark… the removal of Tal’s Hill.  My fascination with this feature/quirk is longstanding; it ties together old-school baseball stadiums with modern cookie-cutter ballparks.  But if you want to listen to me gush more about this, listen to episode three of “At The Gates” (embedded below).

So let’s actually talk about the trip, a nearly 2400 mile journey…

Friday: The first 1200 miles…

I left at 6 in the morning, on the dot.  This was coming off of a late night caused by one of the slowest baseball games I’ve witnesses (see previous post).  With less than a handful of hours of sleep, my almost 18 hour trip began in the dark morning of the Twin Cities suburbs.  By the time I got towards the Iowa border I saw the sun rise; I was finally awake.

Rain in southern Iowa/Northern Missouri turned into warmer and more humid conditions the further south I traveled and once I reached Joplin I became rather excited.  I was going to visit Oklahoma for the very first time!  The excitement soon wore off after encountering some stupid drivers and the realization that there was next to nothing to see in my hours of Oklahoma travel.  Still, it was nice to put down the windows and channel the inner “early teenage rebel boy from the 90s” in me – I drank a Surge and listened to some death metal at a rather high volume.  Yep, I made the best of Oklahoma.

By the time I arrived in Dallas the day was ending and the night was starting to request its own appearance.  It was here that I experienced the wonder of witnessing a Minnesota sunrise and a Texas sunset in the same day, while viewing over 1000 miles of America in between.  I mention it in the podcast, but I will say it again here (and hopefully clarify any awkwardness that may make me sound anti-American):

While I do not classify myself as patriotic, there is something about driving 18 hours and seeing how different and huge this country is… and how similar it can be.  My political and social views align with a more “global community” way of thought.  However, as I reflect back on my journeys – this trip from MN to TX, my numerous trips from MN to FL, and a couple from MN to CO – I cannot help but feel more connected with this land.

Thanks for letting me profess that to you.

The rest of the trip was dark and uneventful, Dallas to Houston is pretty bare, especially when you add nighttime to the mix.  I pulled into the hotel shortly before midnight and even though my body and mid wanted to pass out, the excitement of tomorrow’s adventure and the adrenaline of the trip kept me up another hour.

Good morning, Cactus Music!

When I am in a new town I want to know two things:

  1. Do they have a major league stadium? If so, can I attend a game?
  2. Where is the best (or at least closest) record store?

I already knew the answer to #1, but as I planned my 3-day, ultra-quick adventure, I had to do some research to find #2.  It turns out that the people of Houston have spoken and elected Cactus Music as the best of the best.  The next step was to look at the hours of operation – I gave myself a “have to be at the game before noon” ultimatum.  The shop opened at 10 and was less than 15 minutes from Minute Maid Park, PERFECT!

Oh, I also found out that it was only 5 minutes from the hotel (less than 2 miles).  This was also good news, but would have been better had I planned out things better.  Instead, I found myself able to record an “At The Gates” podcast outside of the record store if I had really wanted to do so.  Showing up more than 30 minutes before they open the doors at a record store (without a Record Store Day promotion) is pretty boring and unnecessary.

Here’s what it looked like inside and out:

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That is Rufus, an employee of the store.  He is the guard… and also the companion of one of the actual employees.  This made me happy to see a puppy, but also sad, since mine was more than 1000 miles away.

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After completing my purchase, I made my way over to Minute Maid Park.  Admittedly, I missed an exit and got a little turned around, but nothing one exit later couldn’t solve.  However, the parking situation (especially with a Mexican Heritage Parade going on around the stadium) was extremely frustrating and difficult.  Sure, there are TONS of parking lots around the stadium, but when you are nearly 7 hours early for the game, many of them have certain issues.  In MN we either have easy to use machines that take cards or we have attendants that take your cash and give you a parking slip.  Houston had machines that take cards, but either they don’t work or they had 3 hour rates only (no game-time rates available yet).  And attendants?! NOPE, they don’t believe in them, they just use a “put your cash in a slot and poke it through with a metal stick” approach.  This approach concerned me, as I wanted a slip to place in my dash and feel safe knowing I wasn’t going to get towed.  When you are taking off from the stadium and want to get a few hours out of town in order to get back in time, you try for the safest and most legal parking.

AT THE GATES!!!

After a half an hour of parking mayhem, I reach gate number, ummm, the gate’s name was, ahhhh.  Wait, they don’t number or name their gates?!  What the hell?!  So stupid.  Anyway, I was at the gate in centerfield; I could see my first glimpse of the actual field, and it was glorious.

It was at this point that everything felt real.  My anxieties were all but gone and my excitement and happiness was at a rather high level.  No more worries about getting there, or about being late, or about… well, you get it.  I could sit down, take some photos, and record a podcast in peace.

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A few days earlier it was announced that the Astros were doing a bobblehead giveaway for this game.  All I could think of is “crap!” but the fans down there were surprisingly chill about it all.  The Twins have folks that camp out for bobbleheads, but at Houston I was first in line and only one in line for a couple hours.  I still worried about “getting a ball” and how that would all work, but those worries were only slightly more elevated compared to going to my home park.  It was cool to feel almost at home in Houston – even if it was my first game there and on a weekend bobblehead day, with their team in a playoff spot.

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After about 4 hours of waiting in line, the gates opened, I got my bobblehead(s) and…

Ball #1:

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…Ran over to the bullpen area in right-centerfield.  With only a handful of fans waiting, I flashed my glove at an Astros player walking by.  He picked up the ball laying by the warning track and helped get me on the board.

Ball #2:

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An Astros player hit a BP homer into the bullpen and it bounced once and landed in the seats behind the pen.  I ran over and picked it up.

Ball #3:

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Carlos Muñoz was down catching for a few guys and was putting his gear away.  A ball was sitting near him so I asked for it.  The day was going to be a good one.

Ball #4:

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I had a sign that said “2400 mile road trip for my 1st Astros game.”  Pat Neshek saw it and I told him I was from Minnesota (his stomping grounds as a young man, both growing up and early in his MLB career).  Later on he came back towards the wall wear I was standing in order to pick up a ball on the warning track.  I wanted the ball, but didn’t ask, since I had already talked to him and didn’t want to bother him.  Plus, with a few children nearby, I thought my chances were low.  I stood back, but he looked at me, pointed and then tossed it up.  AWESOME!

Ball #5:

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I wandered away from the bullpen, since it was filling in with people at this point, and headed over to right field.  George Springer caught a ball and all the fans were yelling.  He didn’t look back, but instead just threw it over his shoulder and a few rows deep… directly to me.  There was no one around for a good 10 feet.  It was almost too perfect/easy.

My goal was to try for 5 balls, since that seemed like a respectable total for a new park.  Achievement Unlocked.

Ball #6:

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With Astros BP winding down, I made my way towards their bench.  I was hoping to see Javier Bracamonte in order to say hello.  I successfully navigated my way over and got his attention.  We said hello and he said it was nice to see me make it down safely, then he grabbed a ball and tossed it up.  The dude is AWESOME!

Ball #7:

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The Astros were nearly finished and their dugout area was a zoo.  I could have tried to go back into the outfield area for the Athletics BP, but since it was bobblehead night, the place was quite packed.  However, the visitor’s dugout was surprisingly empty by comparison.  Usually at Target Field the opponents even get a large showing behind their dugout.  Here at Houston it wasn’t even 1 deep.

I found a prime spot (by an opening where the players come in) and waited to work my magic.  Danny Valencia (former Twin) was throwing in front of the dugout and when he was done I asked for the ball.

Ball #8:

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This is the lone ball I forgot to take notes for.  I know where I was and the general time, but I do not remember who tossed it up.  I hate when that happens.  So maybe it was Rickey Henderson, who was in town visiting and wanted to see his former club.  Thanks, Rickey (or other unknown Athletic).

This was the last ball of BP.  After shattering my expectations, I wandering the stadium, soaking in some sites/scenes and picking up a drink to stay hydrated (PS: they do not have vegan food, go figure).

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(The reason for the trip: Tal’s Hill)

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(Line up and introductions)

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(Barry Zito’s farewell tour)

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(My view of the game)

Ball #9:

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Had I been greedy, this could have been number ten of the day.  Instead, I gave #9 to an A’s fan sitting next to me and kept this ball.  But it’s not just a simple story like it sounds.

I made a sign for Mark Canha and showed him in BP.  I asked if he’d throw me a 3rd out ball, since I wanted a game ball with the commemorative logo.  He said yes and told me to just hold the sign.  In the bottom of the 3rd he made the putout at 1st base and came running my way.  As he got close to the dugout his coach tossed him a pearl.  Mark caught it, looked at both balls, and then decided to give me the pearl.  DANG IT!!!  Not only was this not a commemorative, but my streak of gamers was on the line.

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After ending the top of the 4th, Mark ran back out to first base, with that game ball in his glove.  They did their infielding routine as the pitcher warmed up and then he tossed it in to Tye Waller.  The previous 3 innings saw Tye toss the ball into the crowd – something the Twins coaches do not do (they use one warm-up ball for the entire game, but the first baseman also tosses up the game ball).  Knowing this, and not yet getting a ball from Tye, I pounced on him quickly.  I called out his name a couple times within a second of him catching the ball.  The A’s hat and green shirt got me noticed and he threw it right to me.

SCORE!

However, folks in my area saw me get two balls now within a half-inning, and since there were children running down, they thought “give it to the kids!”  I know that most, if not all of the kids had or would receive balls, so I gave the pearl (still in my pocket) to the A’s fan next to me and showed them that she had one.  Most people were then quieted by this act, except for one dude.  He was then silenced by his friend and also by me explaining that I was helping an A’s fan and that the A’s were the ones throwing them to their fans.

So it all worked out.  Things couldn’t have gone any better.  The stadium, the ballhawking, and the city in general exceeded my expectations.  The Astros went on to win in a semi-comeback fashion and my night came to an end with a season-high-matching performance.

Houston, we do NOT have a problem.  In fact, I want to come back.

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Though the game was nearly 4 hours, which meant I lost the ability to make it to Dallas for the night, I still was able to remain happy and make it 2 hours before hitting one of the worst hotels in my life.  I will not go into the details, but let’s just say I saw the bugs scatter whenever I turned on the lights.

The next day saw an end to this insane tour – fans at the game, at the gates, and people back home all told me how crazy I was to do all this for just one game – but all in all, it was TOTALLY worth it.  I am not saying this from a purely ballhawking experience, but as a whole (an admittedly short 24 hours in the city of Houston).

I took off from Texas at 6 in the morning, saw a sunrise before Dallas and eventually ended with a sunset in Minnesota.

The Haul:

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Recap:

Thank You:

  • Pat Neshek
  • Carlos Muñoz
  • Javier Bracamonte
  • George Springer
  • Danny Valencia
  • Tye Waller
  • Angel Arroyo – Thanks for all the tips. Next time we will meet, just don’t lose any more body parts before then! (And also don’t lose any after that, too.  Keep all your parts.)
  • Random Security Guard – You were at the gate when I got there and in section 110 or so. Thanks for talking so much and keeping me company around noon.
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One thought on “Sunrises and Sunsets: A Minnesotan’s Land-Trek to Minute Maid Park – Balls 489-497 (September 19, 2015)

  1. Pingback: 2015: My Ballhawking Year In Review « The Astros Ballhawk

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