2012 Summer Guide

A new minor league baseball team, a new amusement park, the urban wilderness of Buffalo Bayou, food, concerts and plays — Houston, prepare to get your summer on.

If you aren't opposed to the heat, you can enjoy a hot dog at Discovery Green, whether you decide to grab-and-go from The Lake House or get something fancier from The Grove. At The Lake House, you can top your all-beef dog with more all-beef chili, but the queso-topped dog is a messy favorite that's perfect for eating outside. Just across the park, you can indulge in an American Kobe beef hot dog with homemade mustard and chow-chow at lunch with a view from The Grove's broad, beautiful patio onto the verdant park and glittering skyline beyond.

But what does a hot dog fan do if they just want something simple? Head on out to partake in another summer pastime: a ballgame. Minute Maid Park sells nearly 10,000 hot dogs per game, most of which are simple ketchup-or-mustard-topped affairs. But not even the ballpark is exempt from over-the-top hot dogs anymore: The stadium has introduced the Astros Sizzling Extreme Grill this year in sections 125 and 154, which specializes in everything from Chicago-style and New York-style dogs to spicy Diablo Dogs and chili-topped Cincinnati dogs. And starting this year, you can download the At Bat app onto your iPhone and order hot dogs (and other ballpark food) right from your seat.

Ordering your franks may not be that simple anymore, but the joy of eating a good hot dog always will be simple indeed.

Buffalo Bayou is a little strip of wilderness in the heart of the city.
Daniel Kramer
Buffalo Bayou is a little strip of wilderness in the heart of the city.
The Clucker is 
Happy Fatz's answer 
to a breakfast sandwich.
Allison McPhail
The Clucker is Happy Fatz's answer to a breakfast sandwich.

Batter Up!
Sugar Land gets Minor League Baseball team the Skeeters — and a whole lot more.

By Sean Pendergast

"We are going to have a guy who lights himself on fire and then runs around the bases. It's gonna be amazing!" — Bryan Hodge, marketing communications manager of the Sugar Land Skeeters

If there is a nexus of the entertainment universe where sport meets spectacle, there's a decent chance that it's probably in a Minor League Baseball ballpark somewhere. For years, in market sizes ranging from secondary to "back woods," minor league baseball has provided a cost-effective alternative to Major League Baseball by combining the basics (cheap tickets, cheap beer) with the bizarre (cowboy monkeys, anyone?).

Finally, this unique brand of diversion has made its way to the Houston area.

The Sugar Land Skeeters officially opened for business in late April as a member of the Atlantic League. Just to give you a little background, within the various species of Minor League Baseball, the Atlantic League is a bit of a different animal in that its teams don't each directly feed their own major league franchise. Instead, the AL is actually what's called a "free agent league," in which individual players can and do get noticed by major league franchises. In fact, more than 600 players have been sold back to major league organizations, and 71 have gone on to play at the highest level in the major leagues.

To the average Skeeters fan, though, where the players on the field come from and eventually wind up is secondary to the game day experience at palatial Constellation Field. Does the team want to win? Absolutely. But that's just part of the overall goal, which Bryan Hodge will tell you is to "provide a fun, affordable, unique entertainment package for families and baseball fans."

It starts with the facility. Constellation Field has an uncanny ability to give almost 6,000 seats the coziness of 2,000 seats and the "big time" feel of 30,000 seats. Whether it's the reserved seats in the lower part of the park (a steal, with the most expensive seats at $12), the grass hill in right field ($8 general admission and a perfect place to catch home run balls or banter with relief pitchers), the Ice House bar in center field or one of the 25 luxury suites, there's not a bad vantage point in the house.

Visually, the park is gorgeous, combining certain characteristics of ballparks across the sport. As someone who has been to roughly two thirds of the stadiums in Major League Baseball, I would say if Coors Field were to have a "stadium baby" with Fenway Park, Constellation Field would be that facility.

If it feels as if, for a team that's brand-new, the Skeeters seem to know what they're doing, it's because their owners have done this before. "Our ownership has opened up over 15 ballparks. They know what they're doing," says Hodge. And while there is a blueprint that clearly works, the owners want the Skeeters "experience" to have some nuances unique to their being the Atlantic League's first franchise in Texas. "We've got some things that are different from other Atlantic League teams to set us apart. For example, we have the Texas board (a monstrous high-def screen in center field). We have the splash pad, because it's Texas and people need to cool off."

And in case you think they hadn't thought of literally every weather-related detail in constructing the ballpark: "We even set up the stadium so the sun sets behind it and fans are in the shade in the summertime."

In fact, the only thing that's not major league about the facility itself is the price of parking — free.

Perhaps as a baseball metaphor of sorts, the charm in Sugar Land Skeeters baseball is in its entertainment versatility, a true leisure-time utility player, if you will.

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