Changes at Minute Maid

Astros add new dining options at Minute Maid Park — Shake Shack and Torchy's join the team

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.

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Originally appeared on CultureMap

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All systems go for the Astros!Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

10 days ago I noted that the Astros had finished an amazingly lengthy schedule stretch that would have needed to harden up to become powderpuff soft.
I Tweeted this:

Well, seven wins against just two losses later, whip up is what they did. Sweeping four games from the Mets in which the Mets never led at any point? Not exactly payback for older Astros' fans who remember 1986, but sweet nevertheless. Taking three of five from the Yankees in all compelling games looked like a fabulous precursor to a highly possible third Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series matchup in six years.

Despite their present 48-27 mark the Astros are still seven games behind the Yankees and their crazy 56-21 ledger. The Yanks are absolutely catchable though. Not because the Astros are the flat out better team, nothing indicates that. It's the schedule. There are four losing teams behind the Astros in the AL West. Behind the Yankees in the AL East, three winning teams (Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays). Even the woebegone for years Orioles are much improved, with the best last place record in Major League Baseball (as a reference point, the Orioles' record is 10 games better than AL West laughingstock Oakland). Over the coming dog days of summer the Yanks have the substantially higher intradivisional hurdles. The plot reeeeally thickens if the Astros sweep the doubleheader with the Yankees at Minute Maid Park slotted July 21 right out of the All-Star break. That's it for regular season matchups between them.

The Astros enter the weekend exactly as far ahead (seven games) of the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins as they are behind the Yanks. That's a very strong position for the Astros to secure a bye past the best-of-three Wild Card Series. Remember, with the newly expanded postseason format byes go to the top two division winners in each league.

Now for the Astros it's back to a marshmallow opponents parade. They have 16 games remaining before the All-Star break, all vs. losers: six with the Angels, six with the A's, four with the Royals. Let's reasonably posit that the Astros successfully take out the trash more regularly than they did in the 34 game stretch. 12-4 is certainly plausible. That would get the Astros to 60 wins at the break with a record of 60-31, which would be on pace for a season total of 106.8 wins. Let's round up. 107 wins is the franchise record they set in 2019.

This team is outstanding, but still can use an offensive upgrade. The lineup just had its best month of the season but that didn't take a whole lot. Alex Bregman has finally perked up some. Yuli Gurriel, not so much. Martin Maldonado, pretty much unperkable. Heed this James Click: more potent lineups than the 2022 Astros came up short in the World Series in both 2019 and 2021.

Barring a huge second half of the season, Gurriel should not be in the Astros' 2023 plans. I'd say the same for Maldonado but he is on course to have a five million dollar option next year become guaranteed. He's played in 54 games this season, the option vests at 90. Ideally he's a backup. At the risk of some charging heresy, Maldonado's defensive imperativity (is that a word?) is overblown. Pitch-framing metrics do not rate him highly. He does not eliminate opposition running games. One, very few teams run much at all. Two, Maldonado has thrown out 26 percent of would be basestealers this season. Jason Castro has thrown out 25 percent. The big one last. With Maldonado behind the plate this season, Astros' pitchers' earned run average is 3.23. With Castro, 2.37. Would that hold up for Castro if he was the primary catcher? No chance. But sample size issues accepted, that Maldonado's defensive savant-ness renders his offensive ineptitude inconsequential? Nah. Certainly not in a lineup not up to recent past Astro teams.

Two weeks ago, this column covered Yordan Alvarez's chance at the greatest individual offensive month in Astros' history. Yordan's June ended with his scary collision with Jeremy Peña that knocked both out of Wednesday's matinée at the Mets and kept both out of Thursday's win over the Yankees. That was a harrowing smash as opposed to the delightful smashes that Alvarez busted out all over June. He finished batting .418 with an OPS of 1.346. Real and spectacular, but not quite ultimately as awesome as Jeff Bagwell's June or July 1994, or Richard Hidalgo's closing month of the 2000 season.

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