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A Texan Juice Box

Minute Maid Park opened in 2000 on the spot downtown where Houston’s Union Station used to stand – a railroad station that is credited with bringing growth and prosperity to the city in the early part of the 20th century. The park’s design acknowledges this unique history, and fans notice allusions to railroad history and character when they sit on patios and porches that resemble train station platforms, or when they enter through the Union Station lobby.

The Astros moved from the Astrodome, cutting-edge for its time but rather drab and outdated by the turn of the century, and fans seem to appreciate the upgrade: the retractable roof that keeps out the rain and blistering summer heat and humidity, and the natural grass playing surface. Even with the roof closed, huge windows beyond left field that extend from the roof almost to the ground offer views of downtown and the George R. Brown Convention Center. And it’s hurricane-resistant glass.

The ballpark may be named after a major national brand of juice products – hence the nickname ‘the juice box’ – but there are touches of Texas culture around Minute Maid. There is the Conoco Philips Home Run Pump, a large model of a gas pump, on the short porch in left field; it’s a great location to snag a home run ball. And a replica of a 19th century locomotive runs along a track above left field in honor of the site’s former purpose.

Maybe the park’s most unique feature is on the field, though, up against the wall in straightaway center field. That’s the location of Tal’s Hill (named for team president Tal Smith), a slight slope leading up to the wall that’s topped by a flag pole, all of which is in play. Opposing centerfielders love it – not.

Fans looking for some off-the-field entertainment can hit the 9 Amigos restaurant and bar located in center field, or take the kids to the Squeeze Play area along the right field line. And speaking of kids, here’s a pretty cool little promotion from the Astros: children 14 and under can purchase $1 tickets for seats in the Outfield Deck section.

Like most ballparks, it’s the fans who make the scene, and at Minute Maid a group named Los Caballitos have become a staple at ‘Stros games. Los Caballitos, or “the little horses,” now have a reserved spot in Section 100, just above El Caballo himself, leftfielder Carlos Lee. They are recognizable by their straw hats and No. 45 Carlos Lee jerseys.