Article and all photos by Joe Mock, BaseballParks.com
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BASEBALLPARKS.COM attends the mid-season classic at Minute Maid Park
Attending the MLB All Star Game is something that every fan needs to do at some point. In case you weren’t on hand for the festivities in Houston on July 13, 2004, this pictorial essay will let you know what the evening was like.
On the way to the game
Even before you’ve plucked your suitcase off the belt in the baggage claim area of the airport, you’re reminded of two very important things: the All Star Game is in Houston, and that This one counts. But, hey, didn’t the previous year’s game “count,” too, when the American League gained home-field advantage in the World Series when they beat the NL in the 2003 All Star Game?
Right on your way from Houston Hobby Airport to Minute Maid Park, there is a store that you need to visit. No, they don’t sell souvenirs. Instead, all they offer is furniture! The Finger Furniture Center is just off I-45 at Cullen Blvd., and it happens to be located on the very spot of Houston’s old minor-league ballpark, Buff Stadium. There is a wonderful area in the basement of the store that not only provides a beautifully displayed history of pro sports in Houston, it also shows you the exact spot of the park’s home plate.
Lines, lines, everywhere lines
Security was tighter than for a typical game, and the lines waiting to enter the park were quite long.
Inside, the longest lines were in the souvenir shops. A veritable buying frenzy was going on, as fans snatched up caps, shirts, and every manner of souvenir of the night’s big game.
Your opinion counts; pre-game show
Major League Baseball conducted a survey of the fans to find out if the All Star Game experience measured up to their expectations. Instead of having researchers ask the questions, fans were invited to use this touch-screen kiosk to register their opinions.
On the right, the Fox TV crew broadcast the pre-game show from a set on the field near first base.
A bad idea and a good idea
I’ve always enjoyed the player introductions before big sporting events. The introductions before tonight’s game included a very bad idea and a good, novel idea. First the bad: when the two managers were introduced, pyrotechnics were set off. This might look cool on TV, but it’s a dumb idea to do this in an indoor space (Minute Maid Park’s retractable roof was closed) because the smoke lingers and lingers.
The clever idea involved having the players arrive on the field not from the dugout, but from out of the stands. As their names were being announced, the players made their way down an aisle, onto the top of the dugouts, and down a special set of stairs onto the field. In the lower left corner of the right-hand shot, Sammy Sosa has emerged from the crowd and is navigating the top of the dugout before stepping down onto the field. I’ve never seen player introductions done this way, and I liked the idea a lot.
Taking the field
As the scoreboard and video screen indicates, Muhammed Ali was helped to the mound to assist in the ceremonial first pitch.
On the right, the National Leaguers take the field before the top of the first inning. Note the bizarre artwork on the infield dirt between the bases. Let’s hope this doesn’t because a fad!
The Rocket gets rocked, and honored
As flash bulbs popped around Minute Maid Park, Houston resident Roger “Rocket” Clemens delivered the first pitch of the 75th All Star Game. As it turned out, this moment was the high-point of his stint in the game, as he was rocked for six runs in the top of the first.
Several innings later, a ceremony was held in his honor. Commissioner Selig presented Clemens with a Historic Achievement Award, all the more fitting because it was done in his hometown.
Alfonso is your MVP
By no means did he have the most famous name among the Stars playing in this game, but the AL’s Alfonso Soriano was the star that shone the most brightly. On the left, he is rounding the bases after blasting a two-run homer in the first. He added another hit in the third inning, and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
The retractable roof remained closed until the 7th inning. In the shot on the left, the massive roof panels have started their slow trip to convert Minute Maid to an open-air park. By the way, the NL is turning a double play in this shot.
Following God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch, a long-standing tradition at Astros games was upheld. That’s when the fans join in the singing of Deep in the Heart of Texas. At this point, the final roof panel has almost completed its trip across the field.
The view from above
For a change in scenery, I moved to the upper deck to take some photos. On the left is the seating section known as the Crawford Boxes. They are called this because Crawford Street runs just beyond the wall behind left field. Also, these seats are simply too close to home plate. Home runs fly into the Crawford seats with alarming regularity. As proof, consider the location of the left fielder as “exhibit A.” He’s virutally sitting in the Crawford seats!
The other photo shows a panoramic view of Minute Maid Park — with its bizarre outfield walls — from high above home plate.
I like the nightlife, baby
Within just a few minutes of the final out of the 9-4 AL victory (remember, this one counts!), journalists had flooded the field to conduct post-game interviews and “stand ups” for local-news shows.
The fans have flooded the streets surrounding the ballpark on the right. Here, the nightlife directly across the street from the park on Texas Street is beckoning.