FAN FRIENDLY

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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Houston drops the game to Arizona

D-backs outslug Greinke and Astros to take series opener

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

With the series win over the Rangers by taking two of three games in the middle of the week, the Astros welcomed the Diamondbacks to Minute Maid Park for a three-game weekend series, Houston's final three regular-season home games. Here is how the opener unfolded:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 6, Astros 3.

Record: 25-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Zac Gallen (2-2, 3.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luis Garcia (0-1, 2.53 ERA).

Houston scores first, but Arizona grabs a lead against Greinke

Houston would get on the board first on Friday night, with George Springer reaching base in the bottom of the first on an error, moving to second on a walk, then to third on a single, as the Astros loaded the bases with no out to threaten a big inning. Instead, they would come away with just one run, with Springer taking home on a wild pitch, grabbing the 1-0 lead, but leaving runs on the table.

They doubled their lead in the bottom of the third, getting a two-out RBI-double by Kyle Tucker to make it a 2-0 Houston lead. The D-backs responded in the top of the fourth, getting back-to-back singles to lead off the inning before a three-run homer by Kole Calhoun off of Zack Greinke would put Arizona in front, 3-2. Greinke would finish one more inning before Houston would move to their bullpen, striking out the side to bring his total to nine on the night, making the bad fourth inning the one blemish on his night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 1 HR, 89 P.

Astros tie it, but D-backs take the opener

George Springer would get Greinke off the hook in the bottom of the fifth, leading off the half-inning with a solo bomb to tie the game at 3-3. Luis Garcia was first out of Houston's bullpen and retired Arizona in order for a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh but would allow a leadoff single, RBI-triple, and wild pitch to bring in two runs. He would face two more batters, allowing a double and getting a strikeout, before Dusty Baker would come out to get him, now down 5-3.

Blake Taylor would make his return from the IL after Garcia, getting back-to-back outs to finish the inning. He continued on in the 5-3 game in the top of the eighth, but allowed a one-out solo homer to Calhoun, his second of the night and fourth RBI. That made it a 6-3 D-backs lead, which would go final as Houston would go scoreless after Springer's home run back in the fifth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start Saturday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Luke Weaver (1-7, 6.70 ERA) for Arizona and Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.22 ERA) for Houston.

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