Get your Shake Shack fix at Minute Maid Park. Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group
Things are looking up for the Astros in 2017. After just missing the playoffs last season, the offseason acquisition of seasoned veterans like Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, and the return of Carlos Beltran has made the team a trendy pick to represent the American League in the World Series.
While the product on the field will always be the primary driver of fan interest, the team completed a series of renovations in center field that will enhance the experience for anyone who visits Minute Maid Park. Removing Tal’s Hill and pushing the center field fence in to 409 feet (instead of 436) will not only result in 10 to 20 more home runs per season, it also brings new seating and dining options.
“Last year when the season ended we had a hill, and we had a lot of dead space back here, but thanks to the vision of Jim Crane and the hard work of a lot of folks, today, we’re opening this area for the first time,” Astros president Reid Ryan stated during a press conference last week. “Jim had a vision for a communal gathering spot, a place in this ballpark where people could come, where they could visit, they could hang out, they could enjoy all the great things that Houston has to offer.”
Shake Shack and Torchy’s Tacos highlight the new additions. Located in the space that used to be the FiveSeven Grille, Shake Shack offers all of its signature items at the ballpark, including ShackBurgers, chicken sandwiches, mushroom burgers, fries, and shakes.
Austin-based Torchy’s brings many of its signature items, including the Trailer Park taco, fried avocado taco, and queso to a location on the mezzanine level that’s accessible by a new escalator. The area features a mural that includes all of the Astros players who have had their jersey numbers retired, as well as a few other familiar faces from outside of baseball.
Some people on social media have questioned the decision to utilize restaurants that originated outside the Houston area, but Ryan told CultureMap that the team decided to work with Torchy’s and Shake Shack after surveying its fans about which brands excited them.
“As we talked to different people about what would be the right fit, it’s quite an undertaking for a brand to come in and either staff or man this for an entire game as Torchy’s is going to do,” Ryan said. “As far as Shake Shack is concerned, Aramark has the franchise for that. They’ve had it at Citi Field in New York. They’ve made a presence in Houston (and) really the state of Texas opening a couple . . . It was a combination of, who wants to dance and who wants to dance that our friends have some affection (for). We were able to pair those up.”
Other improvements include a new Five/Seven Market with grab-and-go items like drinks, salads, and candy; the Lexus Field Club, a 100-person group space that’s located behind the Astros bullpen where fans can shag balls (field them and throw them in to a coach) during batting practice; and a street art mural by by local artist Franky Cardona that displays the team’s past, present, and future. Even fans who only watch games at home will benefit from the renovations, thanks to a new center field camera position that will more accurately depict balls and strikes.
Taken together, the center field renovation gives Astros fans a new gathering place with lots of intriguing options. Hopefully, the city’s baseball fans will get to enjoy them all the way until November.
Originally appeared on CultureMap.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.
Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.
The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.
“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”
With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.
“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”
Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.
A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.
MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.
“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”
Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.
Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.
“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”
While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.
“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”