With each week that goes by, we are getting closer and closer to being back to the full pre-pandemic "normal" in the world of sports. The NFL has some major announcements within the last week where they disclosed that all but two of the 30 NFL stadiums are approved for a return to 100 precent capacity. (The two still seeking approval, Denver and Indianapolis, expect it to happen soon.) Fans will be allowed at training camp again, as well, another big step to sports feeling like SPORTS again.
More currently and Houston-specifically, the Houston Astros welcomed back full crowds last week to Minute Maid Park for a monster homestand involving three of the best teams in baseball as the opposition — the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, and the Boston Red Sox. Additionally, the Astros now house their AAA affiliate in Sugar Land, where the Skeeters have gone from being an independent ball club to the highest level of minor league feeder for Houston's MLB team.
The end result of these developments is a mini-metroplex of great baseball experiences once again, with the two local professional clubs now inextricably linked through organizational affiliation. If you're thinking of getting back out to see live baseball, you've come to the right place, as I have done the research for you, having attended IN PERSON the Skeeters game against Albuquerque last Friday and the Astros' 12-inning loss to the Padres on Saturday (damn you, Fernando Tatis!).
Here are a few things you should know:
If cost is an issue, Sugar Land provides an AWESOME alternative to seeing an MLB game
With tickets in the outfield exceeding the most expensive tickets to a minor league game, a Major League Baseball price tag can be tough for some folks, especially when you add in the $30 cost for every trip to the beer stand for beverages for you and your date. The Skeeters have an awesome ballpark experience, with lots of family friendly features (swimming pool, kids play areas) and beer drinking adult fan features (ice house in right field!). My wife and I attended the game in the Insperity Club box, which, if you can swing $60 per ticket, is completely worth it with a buffet included and an air conditioned indoor area to seek shelter from the elements (heat, rain, etc). The staff is very hospitable, as well. Also, with the Astros' affiliation, they now sell Astros gear in the team store, have the same giveaways as the Astros (Alex Bregman bobblehead night!), and if you're lucky, you might see an actual Houston Astro there on an injury rehab assignment. It's taken the whole "Skeeters experience" up several notches.
Warning, though — minor league baseball things can still happen
That said, part of the charm of minor league baseball is that, well, stuff breaks sometimes! It happens! Like this instance for me on Friday:
So I just missed a home run by Meyers @SL_Skeeters because the dude behind me broke his seat. Now we are in a delay because the power went out on the stadium lights .... MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL!!! pic.twitter.com/Jhb2sVEl7F— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) May 29, 2021
I got no issue with any of this. Not after a full year without sports being fully back. Let there be power outages!
At Astros' games, the buzz in the crowd is playoff level
It was the first thing that jumped out at me when my wife and I arrived at the game in the middle of the top of the first inning — that vibrant buzz that you can hear and feel during what should be low key lulls of a baseball game, the type of buzz that is generally reserved for playoff baseball, it was there on Saturday. Fans were into the game, the cheers were loud, and both teams were dialed in. I don't know if this will hold up in the middle of July when a far lesser team than the San Diego Padres are in town, but man, from an atmosphere standpoint, being ACTUALLY AT THE GAME LIVE felt like it was worth every penny.
Here is a necessary "cheat code" for those of you who want to drink after the seventh inning
With the Astros' bullpen making a case for being the worst in the league, and certainly the worst iteration of a bullpen during this recent title window — they gave up a combined 22 runs from the eighth inning on in the three games against the Padres — you're going to need a solution to (a) get enough alcohol to cope with the soul-crushing pain they inflict on your psyche, and (b) availability of said alcohol well past the seventh inning, when alcohol sales shut down around MOST of the ballpark. That's the key word. MOST. What my wife and I learned was that there is a special alcohol "cheat code" called the Budweiser Patio, a second story bar out in the centerfield area. They will be happy to serve you $13 beers, and $20 mixed drinks until the last out of the game is recorded, even if it goes 12 innings. So make a note, and soak your troubles away!
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