TRIPLE PLAY TREATS!

Astros introduce tasty additions to stacked lineup of stadium grub

Torchy's has been replaced by Top Taco. Photo via: Mat Drain.

Baseball, with full stadiums someday soon (hopefully), is back.

Best of all, fans can cheer on the Astros while enjoying hot dogs, beer and ice cream sundaes in miniature batting helmets at Minute Maid Park. Food, glorious baseball food.

Here's our annual 10 Questions for Mat Drain, the Baron of Butterfingers for Aramark, which runs all the concession stands at the ballpark.

1.SportsMap: On a personal level, how does it feel to have fans back in Minute Maid Park?

Mat Drain: I am absolutely ecstatic to have fans back in the ballpark enjoying a hot dog and a beer. When you get the opportunity to work in a stadium like Minute Maid Park you thrive off the excitement of fans which was missing last year with the shortened season and empty stands. The hardest part of not having fans in the ballpark was missing our extraordinary game day staff who are so instrumental to the fans' experience. They had been away from the ballpark since the last game of 2019.

2.SM: What did you do last year without fans to feed?

MD: We worked on COVID plans in case it was determined that fans could return safely to the ballpark in 2020. Many of our team members and creative culinary team still were responsible for feeding the home and visiting players, umpires and media who attended games.

3.SM: So far, the ballpark is restricted to 50-percent capacity. How are you accommodating that? Do you have a full menu with all concession stands open, or have you scaled service back proportionate to the crowd size?

MD: We are opening stands based on where fans are sitting in the ballpark and keeping in mind giving fans enough space to safely distance. The majority of our items are still available, but we've reduced the number of portable locations which has slightly impacted the variety. We still offer favorites like Shake Shack, Pluckers and Jackson Street BBQ and ballpark staples like hot dogs and nachos. Our fans on the club level still have branded options like Osso & Kristalla and Papa John's.

4.SM: Describe the cashless system you're using now.

MD: All food and beverage and retail transactions are cashless. You can use contactless payment like Apple Pay or Google pay, your major debit and credit cards, or use our reverse ATMs where you put in cash and it gives you a debit card that can be used anywhere inside Minute Maid Park. We are also providing mobile order pick-up as the only way to order at Killen's BBQ at Section 109.

5.SM: Are fans' eating habits the same, or have tastes changed coming out of 2020's pandemic year?

MD: After the first few games we are seeing the same eating habits. I think folks are really excited to be back in the ballpark. I forgot how much better a hot dog tastes when you are watching your hometown Astros.

6. SM: How are you implementing social distancing at concession stands? Are fans following the rules?

MD: We are opening stands and registers based on demand. We are ensuring that our staff has a safe work environment which, in some cases, results in closing some registers and providing reduced stand staff.

7.SM: What happened to Torchy's Tacos on the outfield mezzanine?

DM: After a three-year run Torchy's, a fan favorite, is no longer available. Torchy's has been replaced by Top Taco, which is an Aramark concept.

8.SM: Will Dollar Dogs be back this season?

MD: Yes, every Tuesday night. We had our first one this week and it appeared that fans have been saving their dollars as they did not skip a beat. The next Dollar Dog Night is April 27 when the Seattle Mariners are here. The unofficial record for most hot dogs sold is 46,000 hot dogs during a game against Boston. Like years past, we will sell our regular full-sized hot dogs on Dollar Dog Night.

9.SM: What are fans saying to you? Are they requesting anything special on the menu?

MD: The best part about having fans again is being able to talk to them around the stadium. Most fans are excited to back in the ballpark and are adjusting to the 2021 season protocols. Our fans are very engaged in the ballpark experience so I anticipate as we settle into the season we will start to get some feedback on food items they would like to see or inquire when their favorite item might return. We are ready for the challenge and can't wait for a full season of baseball.

10.SM: So what's new for 2021?

MD: We have two new chicken and taco concepts.

Tenders Love and Chicken (Section 418).

Premium chicken tenders or jumbo wings for $10.49. Both are available with hand-cut fries for $16.99.

Top Taco (outfield mezzanine).

Your choice (pick 2) of Korean Brisket, Adobo Chicken, Harissa Cauliflower or Pork Carnita tacos, served on either corn or flour tortillas, plus tortilla chips and salsa for $13.85.

TLC premium chicken tenders.


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Houston went yard several times

Astros take series from Angels with a home run parade

Houston homered their way to another series win Wednesday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

After losing the opener then winning an exciting game Tuesday night, the Astros were seeking another series victory by winning the rubber match on Wednesday. They would blast homers all through the night, pushing them over the Angels in the finale.

Final Score: Astros 9, Angels 1

Astros' Record: 20-17, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (2-2)

Losing Pitcher: Andrew Heaney (1-3)

Astros grab an early lead, Urquidy exits with injury

Houston made early noise in Wednesday night's game, with Jose Altuve turning around the very first pitch of the bottom of the first inning for a solo homer. A two-out single later in the inning set up Yuli Gurriel for his seventh home run and 30th RBI of the season, putting the Astros out to an early 3-0 lead.

Jose Urquidy looked in control through the first three innings, allowing just two hits while maintaining the lead. However, after recording the second out of the fourth, he would be visited by training and coaching staff on the mound before being removed, later diagnosed with posterior shoulder discomfort. Brandon Bielak would quickly enter the game, picking up where Urquidy left off by keeping the Angels off the board.

Tucker stays hot as Bielak locks in out of the bullpen

Still 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Kyle Tucker would extend his recent hot streak by putting two more runs on the board with a blast to extend the lead to 5-0. Bielak remained in the game in the top of the seventh, having allowed just one hit while retiring all other batters since entering in the top of the fourth. He made it through that inning, putting Los Angeles down 1-2-3, and stayed on the mound in the top of the eighth.

He wouldn't be able to get any further, allowing a leadoff walk followed by a single, putting runners on the corners and prompting Dusty Baker to go to the third pitcher of the night, Andre Scrubb. The Angels would get on the board with a sac fly to make it 5-1, but Scrubb would finish the inning with no further damage.

Astros continue the home run barrage to take the series

Yordan Alvarez would get the run back with Houston's fourth dinger of the night, a solo shot to make it 6-1. They continued to pour it on, with Chaz McCormick joining the home run parade with a three-run blast later in the inning, making it 9-1. Joe Smith would take over on the mound in the top of the ninth, finishing off the lopsided win to give Houston the series victory as they turn the page to another division opponent.

Up Next: Having already faced the rest of the division in 2021 multiple times, the Astros will have their first series against the Texas Rangers starting Thursday at 7:10 PM Central at Minute Maid Park. In the opener, Cristian Javier (3-1, 2.90 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston, going up against Mike Foltynewicz (1-3, 4.50 ERA).

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