Astros annual FanFest is a great way to celebrate baseball

Astros FanFest is a lot of fun. Paul Muth/SportsMap

For the past three years since I’ve been back in Houston, the Astros annual winter FanFest has been a tradition amongst myself and my baseball buddies. It’s always served as sort of an oasis during the offseason for us, just having the opportunity to be back in the ballpark for an afternoon. This year was no different in that regard, but wildly different in just about every other.

After putting out a few feelers I was lucky enough to land a voucher for the sold out event this past Saturday. Doors opened at 11 a.m., but based off of the fact that this was the first time I had ever heard of a FanFest being sold out, I decided it would be a good idea to show up early. I arrived around 10:30 and by then there were already lines curling around the corners from each entrance. The doors opened and fans spilled into the park.

On the field, children played catch in the outfield, took turns in the bullpen, and ran the basepaths while player interviews in the Diamond Club were broadcast on the jumbotron. Fans poured into the team stores to cash in on the annual clearances and to stock up on their World Series Championship gear. Lines piled up for parents to sign their kids up for the Astros’ Buddies Kids Club and photo ops with the players. I, on the other hand, had my sights set on one line and one line only.

If you’ve never made it to a FanFest, then you’re missing out on the Garage Sale, which is the greatest part of the entire event. The Astros take all of their leftovers from the past season’s giveaways, stack them up on tables, and slap a price tag on them. The garage sale was my number one priority and my plan was to head straight for that specific line. By the time I made it, the line was stretched over eight seating sections of the ballpark.

As I waited in line, we inched past the player photo op station and watched as fans passing by rubber-necked to find pitching prospect Forrest Whitley posing with fans. Moments later Whitley was replaced by the do-all Astro Marwin Gonzalez who was greeted by a cheering crowd. Gonzalez took pictures and was eventually replaced as well. His replacement? Shortstop Carlos Correa. The entire walkway suddenly seized up with fans exploding into excited cheers as camera phones were simultaneously jettisoned to the air to snap pictures of the young star.

Nearly two hours later I had made it through the line (worth it) with a bag of Astros goodies to claim as my prize. I met with a group of friends after and we spent the remainder of our afternoon sitting in the bleachers soaking in the atmosphere and debating over the best issue a fan could have: where will the team’s championship banner go, and what will it look like.

We finally departed (after an obligatory hot-dog stop), knowing it will be another 79 days before we’re back in the stadium for opening day. Leading up to today there was well-founded skepticism over whether Houston would remain gripped with baseball fever. After the impressive turnout this afternoon I can say with confidence that juicebox will be packed and rowdy.


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The Astros have assigned left-handed reliever Matt Gage to minor league camp, which means Houston's pitching staff is likely to head into the season without a lefty in the bullpen.

Ronel Blanco and Seth Martinez are expected to be the last two pitchers in the Astros bullpen now that Gage isn't expected to fill a spot on the club. With the Astros playing so many games in the month of April, could we see Blanco or Martinez making some starts with Lance McCullers still on the shelf?

Plus, should the Astros check in on Yuli Gurriel for some depth considering his versatility and the loss of Jose Altuve for the first couple months of the season? Gurriel still hasn't been added to the Marlins 40-man roster, which means he can opt out of his deal on Saturday if nothing changes.

Based on how things played out for Carlos Correa, the guys aren't very confident the Astros would change their stance on Yuli. But you never know.

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