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These Houston Astros hacks are a grand slam to beat inflation

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Last week, a website called The Hustle reported the 2022 MLB Fan Cost Index, revealing the typical cost for a family of four to attend a Major League Baseball game for all 30 teams. Like we need more reminders that prices are crazy high these days?

The Fan Cost Index's criterion was the total price of four tickets, two sodas, two beers and parking. The Astros finished fourth most expensive with, as the Price is Right would say, an actual retail price of $293.74. That included four tickets at $58.61 each, two sodas at $5.50, two beers at $7.50, four hot dogs at $6 and parking for $9.30.

The most expensive team for a family of four is the Boston Red Sox at $324, the cheapest is the Arizona Diamondbacks at $126. There is a problem with attending a D-Backs game at Chase Field in Phoenix, though - the seats face the field.

The Fan Cost Index's rankings got a ton of responses by media commentators. Most missed the boat: the findings were misleading and meaningless. Here’s why:

We hear warnings about visiting some cities, say Tokyo, “where hamburgers cost $50.” It’s a ridiculous statement. Answer me this - how much is a hamburger in Houston?

A few years ago, I ate the “Bistro Burger” at a restaurant called 60 Degrees Mastercrafted on Westheimer. It was made from chopped ribeye steak and topped with foie gras, onions, bordelaise, mushrooms, caviar, and shaved white truffles. It was wrapped in a 24-carat gold leaf.

The burger cost $200 (don’t worry, I expensed it). While it did come with fries, it still was obscenely overpriced and frankly awful. Caviar is disgusting on a burger, and foie gras is cruel, and you shouldn't eat it on anything. Bordelaise? I have no idea what that is.

Last week, I ate a couple of Rodeo Burgers with onion rings and bbq sauce at Burger King - $1.49 each. OK, the patty was the size of a poker chip and the o-rings were made with reconstituted onions, but no complaints.

So how much is a burger in Houston? It's really whatever you want.

I once ate a $125 hot dog at B&B Butchers on Washington Avenue. It was made with Wagyu beef and topped with truffle-infused honey, bacon and bleu cheese. I scraped off the honey and bleu cheese, and rescued the dog with spicy brown mustard. It went right on my expense report, too.

The hot dogs at Minute Maid Park are a much better deal. They taste better, too. Plus at MMP you get to watch Jose Altuve hit a leadoff homer instead of some fat cats sitting in a dark corner with their daughters.

Yeah, their “daughters.”

Let’s break down the Fan Cost Index's methodology that came up with $293.74 for a family of four to attend a game at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros are hosting the Seattle Mariners on Thursday night. That’s a pretty attractive game against the Astros chief, though ego-crushed, rivals in the American League West. The Fan Cost Index says tickets are $58.61 each. I’m sure there are tickets at that price, even higher. But I went on astros.com and found seats in Row 8 in Section 420 for $21.36 each. Yes, that’s the upper deck, but Minute Maid Park is an intimate stadium and the upper deck provides a good view of the game. Besides, who’d you rather sit near, real fans on the 400 level or those 1-percenters who show up late and leave early in the Diamond Club. Give me the nose bleeders.

You can get an even better deal on secondary market sites. I found four seats in Row 8 of Section 420 for $16 each.

I also found tickets in the second row of Sec. 313 on the Terrace Level, a really terrific place to watch an Astros game, for $33.23 each. The Terrace Level is a prime area for catching foul balls. I used to bring a baseball glove to games until friends begged me to stop.

As Dr. Rick warns at movie theaters, food is expensive at baseball stadiums. The Fan Cost Index says beer is $7.50. But Minute Maid Park has a happy hour when beer is $5.79. Also, the Astros have Dollar Dog Nights on Tuesday when franks go for a buck. The Astros allow fans to bring in food as long as they keep it reasonably sized, like sandwiches and bottles of water. Don’t try to bring in a picnic basket, charcuterie board, ice chest and hibachi grill.

The Fan Cost Index says the parking rate at Minute Maid Park is $9.30, which they cite as the lowest in the Majors. I have attended hundreds of Astros games at Minute Maid Park. I have never paid a penny to park. There is parking on the street in downtown Houston if you don’t mind walking a few (sometimes many) blocks. If you choose to use a private parking lot, that’ll run you $10 to $30. For some attractions up to $50.

Bottom line, and that’s what the Fan Cost Index was addressing, a family of four doesn’t have to pay $293 to watch the Astros punish the Mariners. Astros games are on the open market, it’s up to fans to dictate their price tag.

The real value of watching the steamrolling Astros in 2022, though … priceless.

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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