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June 2, 2014

This is Not Your Father's Baseball Road Trip

Days Five and Six: Houston

by Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman


Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, the proprietors of Cespedes Family Barbecue, are taking a baseball road trip and chronicling their travels at Baseball Prospectus. You can find the series introduction and itinerary here.

Day One: Lynchburg
Day Two: Asheville and Hickory
Day Three: Huntsville
Day Four: LSU

Started in: Lafayette, LA
Slept in: Austin, TX
Today’s Mileage: 379
Total Mileage: 1,908

Overview by Jake Mintz
There’s a first time for everyone. At some point in a man’s life, he makes an important decision that impacts his future, livelihood, and happiness. It’s a terrifying moment, as exhilarating as it is intimidating. You think through it in advance, planning out your actions and figuring out what you are going to say. But when the time comes, preparation becomes irrelevant. Putting it off only makes it worse, so the best thing to do is lock the doors, put on some good music, and enter Texas.

The instant we crossed over the border we could feel the confidence and pride seeping into the car like a hot gas. To avoid suffocation, we counteracted the essence of our environment by blasting some Michelle Branch. As the behemoth of a structure that is Minute Maid Park came into view, we realized that we weren’t in America anymore. The whole state is like a backward version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. This is Texas’ world, and we’re all just living in it.

Our first game in Houston was on Saturday afternoon. We were without credentials, which allowed us to roam the stadium like a pack of ADHD-riddled wolves. We spent at least half an hour in the amazingly extensive team store sifting through the absurd array of Astros gear. The “Big and Tall” section was particularly Texas; we tried on the enormous XXXXL shirseys. Speaking of shirseys, we both purchased L.J. Hoes Astros shirseys, not because his name is funny, but because we are huge fans of quad-A corner outfielders.

The game itself was relatively unremarkable except for one wow moment. In the eighth inning, with the Orioles already up 3-1, Nelson Cruz took a low sinker from Jerome Williams and put it in an irresponsibly distant location. It was one of those bombs that you know is a dinger by the sound of the bat. The thundering thwack of the boomstick sent a shiver through the bones of everybody in the stadium.

After the game was done and dusted we made our way to the house of baseball Internet legend Daren Willman. After sleeping in Red Roof Inns for the previous week, Daren’s beautiful home was reinvigorating. We even got to play some NHL 10 to decide who slept on the bed and who slept on the couch. My German team prevailed 6-2 over Jordan’s Finns to capture the slightly more comfortable sleeping situation. There is absolutely no relationship between the fact that we had access to video games and didn’t put out a recap the following day.

We woke up early but rejuvenated. We were headed back to Minute Maid, this time with major-league credentials waiting for us at the park. It was our first time with such an opportunity, and it’s an understatement to say that we were both a little bit wide-eyed when we were admitted access to a baseball stadium four hours before the start time. Confused and concerned about why Major League Baseball was comfortable granting us credentials, we entered the empty concourse. It was a striking sensory experience to see a stadium, a place usually filled with so much noise, lying dormant to almost everyone except us. After getting our “why are we here” moment out of the way, we made our way down to the Astros dugout for some interviews.

Interviews by Jordan Shusterman
We requested to speak to two Astros players: first baseman Chris Carter and center fielder Dexter Fowler. Despite his high strikeout totals, Carter is one of our favorite power hitters to watch. We’d also heard from several sources that he is an all-around great dude, which we now CAN CONFIRM. Fowler had a busy offseason, as he was traded to Houston from Colorado in one of the more surprising deals of the hot stove season. More interestingly, he spent a lot of time over the winter working with the player who hit more home runs than all the rest of the players.

Chris Carter
On the craziest place he’s hit the ball at Minute Maid Park: “All over. There’s not a spot where you can’t hit it out. Citgo sign, the windows, the train, all the signs. I haven’t hit the lights. I’ve heard someone like Sammy Sosa hit a ball through the lights or off them or something, but I don’t know, that seems like it would take a lot.”

On hitting any home runs to dead center field at Minute Maid: “I hit one this year on top of the hill in center field, and I got a triple out of it. It’s hard to get it out to center field here.”

On the hill in center field: “I don’t think any of the outfielders complain. I think it’s just more of the hitters that hit balls out there up around the hill and get a double when anywhere else it’s a home run.”

On what home run he remembers most often: “I hit a ball last year in Chicago, against the White Sox, that went probably 20-30 rows up in the stands and people were actually running up to go get it.”

On if he would compete in the Home Run Derby who he would want on his team: “If I got in, I would do it. [George] Springer for sure would be one. He’d definitely be on my team. Gotta get [Yoenis] Cespedes in there because he won it last year. Springer’s got a lotta juice.”

Dexter Fowler
On how he found out he was traded to Houston: “My GM from the Rockies called me and they traded me to the Astros. I didn’t even know, I was driving from San Diego to LA. Honestly, I was excited. My time in Colorado was great, but I’m glad to have a new beginning.”

On working with Barry Bonds in the offseason: “Barry’s my guy. I worked with Barry the whole offseason and I’ll be working with him next offseason. I was kinda nervous the first time I talked to him. I was like ‘Man, what am I gonna talk to this guy about? I don’t even know what to say to this guy.’ I paced my room like five times and then I was like ‘All right, I’m gonna make this call.’”

On Bonds’ approach to coaching/teaching hitting: “It’s a little bit of everything. He knows the game and he’s very smart, so he’ll outsmart you whether it’s physical or mental. He’s like a big brother; he comes at me and I bounce things off of him.”

On his success against Clayton Kershaw (.421/.476/.526 in 42 plate appearances): “I really don’t have a clue. There are some guys that dominate me, and I’m like ‘I don’t know how he’s dominating me.’ But [Kershaw] is just one of those guys; he’s a great pitcher. He’s gonna give me some good pitches to hit but at the same time, I gotta go take a professional at-bat against him. I think that level of awareness goes up for me as well because it is one of the best pitchers in baseball.”

On which pitchers dominate him the most: “It’s crazy because [the Dodgers] have Kershaw, who I hit pretty well, and they got Greinke, who I can’t hit at all. Him and the guy from the Twins, Kevin Correia. He dominates me. I’m like 1-25 against him [actually 1-for-22] and I got my first hit off him last year against the Pirates in the first inning, and I was like ‘Yeah!’ running down to first base. [Ted] Lilly kinda dominated me too. It’s weird.”

On playing in Coors Field: “It’s the defense there that’s the hard part. Defense [in Minute Maid Park] is a cakewalk compared to Coors. Coors is ridiculous. When I got traded, I was like ‘Hey, good luck covering that.’”

On Tal's Hill in center field: “I haven’t had a chance to go up there yet. Nobody hits it that far.”

On his ideal Home Run Derby team: "I take [Giancarlo] Stanton for sure. [Yasiel] Puig, because I’ve seen his batting practice and it’s ridiculous. I’d probably take Prince [Fielder]. Prince knows how to do it.”

Game Notes by Jake Mintz

  • The Press Box buffet at Minute Maid Park was significantly better than the $14 hot dogs you’d find on the concourse. While the teriyaki salmon and hash browns were delectable, the highlight of the lunch was sitting one table over from the Orioles TV and radio broadcast team. Listening to Joe Angel and his angelic voice criticize the sogginess of his chips with former Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick was a moment to remember. Hearing Orioles TV and NHL 2010 announcer Gary Thorne laud the crispiness of the fried chicken was also a completely new experience.

  • In the top of the second, O’s outfielder David Lough turned on a pitch and ripped an absolute laser into the seats in right field. It was his first dinger of the year. If you spoonerize his name it becomes Lavid Dough.

  • With one out and a base open in the top of the sixth, Scott Feldman intentionally walked Nick Markakis to set up the double play. That brought up Mango Manchalupa (known to most of the baseball world as Manny Machado). Machado launched a grand slam off the Lexus sign in left center, which fulfilled Manny’s product placement contract with the car company.

  • Everybody has that one player they idolized while growing up, the special player who played a huge role in their development as a baseball fan. For me, that special player was Cal Ripken, Jr. I was born on the day Cal tied Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played. At around 5:00, my grandmother looked at her watch and informed my mother that even though my mom had been in labor trying to birth me for the last 15 hours or so, she was going to be leaving for Camden Yards. So because my grandmother missed my birth to watch Cal get 2,130, I pretty much had to be a huge Ripken fan.

    Prior to Sunday’s game, Cal threw out the first pitch at Minute Maid Park. At the time, I thought very little of it, but a couple innings later, I realized that he was doing a bit for the Astros TV broadcast. The TV rooms and the press box are next door to each other, so when the inning was over, I walked over to the lobby to wait for Cal. When he emerged from the room, it was like I was suddenly a five-year-old again. I walked toward him, put out my hand, and mumbled something that sounded more like Swahili than English. He said some things. I nodded and sweated. He said goodbye. I sweated more. It was a moment that I’ll never forget.

National Anthem: I was on it, as my guess was only three seconds north of the 1:21 anthem sung by the man in the way-too-tight blue shirt.

Purchases: As previously mentioned, we both bought Astros’ L.J. Hoes shirseys. I got some Astros socks and some pretty cool pajama pants. Jordan bought an Orbit shirsey for his 12-year-old brother.

Mascot Creepiness: Orbit is an 8. End of story. He looks like a space gorilla that got gangrene. He’s the reason kids aren’t showing up to Minute Maid anymore.

Trip Counter (We’ll be counting some of the things we run into on our travels.)

Happy Count: 6
Mup Count: 3
Life Goes On Count: 20
Fast Food Stops: 6

What’s Next: Having arrived in Austin, we are ready to tackle the best food the capital has to offer. With the help of our friends Paul Sporer and Lana Berry, we plan on destroying the culinary community of Austin from the inside out. Also, we’ll be seeing a game at Round Rock, but mainly, FOOD.

Related Content:  Houston Astros

4 comments have been left for this article.

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