Latest evaluation of Houston stadiums is giving us Oilers vibes

It's hard to believe Minute Maid Park has been around for 22 years. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

One thing about Houston, we have really great sports venues, especially for our three major sports teams. Each has a distinctive personality, from nostalgic throwback Minute Maid Park, to ritzy palatial Toyota Center, to technological wonder NRG Stadium.

But two of our venues got some failing comments at the recent State of the Stadiums and Arenas conference in New York City. According to Hunden Strategic Partners, a real estate development group, there are 20 major sports venues in the U.S. that are overdue for big ticket updates.

By that, Hunden Strategic Partners means they haven’t had major renovations ($100 million plus) in 20 years or more. Fifteen of those venues have had no significant renovations of any kind in the past two decades. Five have had only minor “reno,” as they say on those Home and Garden fix-it shows.

The worst violator is Angel Stadium of Anaheim, which hasn’t had any material updates in 56 years.

Both Minute Maid Park and NRG Stadium made the list for having only minimal cosmetic work, you know, like Tom Brady. Allegedly.

Being called out at the conference on stadiums and arenas is like getting a letter from the HOA saying your garage needs painting and your landscaping won't win the Lawn of the Week anytime soon.

Minute Maid Park opened as The Ballpark at Union Station in 2000. NRG Stadium debuted as Reliant Stadium in 2002. Toyota Center opened in 2003, which perhaps is why it didn’t make the list. It’s not 20 years old yet.

The thing is, all three of the venues are in excellent condition. It’s like the saying, if you stay in shape, you never need to get in shape. I visit them regularly and don’t see dire need for major updates, certainly not $100 million worth, which would start a heated debate in Houston – who’s going to pay for the improvements? Please, not the taxpayers. If Floyd the Barber wants more luxury suites, he can foot the bill himself. The Texans are worth $4.7 billion. Enough already.

I’m glad I live in a city with professional baseball and football and basketball teams, and we have beautiful homes for them. I've heard it from several Astros front office people - owner Jim Crane is a clean freak. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is all about the hospitality industry. Our facilities compare favorably with other cities. All three of ours are better than all three (four) of New York's. Madison Square Garden would be the "before" and Toyota Center the "after" on Fixer Upper.

I put together a list: my favorite sports and non-sports experiences at Houston venues. What are yours?

Minute Maid Park

Favorite sports moment: The 2005 World Series ended with Astros pinch hitter Orlando Palmeiro grounding out to complete the White Sox 4-0 sweep. The official World Series video captures the throw from short to first. I was sitting behind first. I’m in the video. Silver lining.

Favorite non-sports moment: I caught my one and only foul ball at Minute Maid Park. Sort of. I was sitting in the fifth or sixth row behind first base. A foul ball landed in the photographers’ pit. Announcer Greg Lucas picked up the ball, pointed to a little girl sitting a couple of rows behind me and unleashed a really weenie throw. It would have beaned me if I didn’t catch it. What to do now? If I kept it, I’d be the most horrible person of all time. I gave the ball to the girl. But I promise, if I ever catch a foul ball fair and square, even if I’m sitting in a group of children who just got out of the hospital, I’m keeping it.

Toyota Center

Favorite sports moment: I was in the stands for the Rockets first game at their gleaming palace on Oct. 30, 2003. The Rockets defeated the Denver Nuggets, 102-85. Cuttino Mobley scored 21 points to lead the Rockets. Yao Ming chipped in 19. To show you how the NBA game has changed, the Rockets made four of seven 3-pointers that night. These days, the Rockets jock up that many 3-pointers during the national anthem.

Favorite non-sports moment: I was there for Paul McCartney’s 37-song, 3-hour concert on Nov. 19, 2005. He did Yesterday, maybe the biggest pop song ever and one he no longer performs. It was like watching Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa.

NRG Stadium

Favorite sports moment: I had a Sherpa guide me to the press box for the Houston Texans’ first exhibition game on Aug. 24, 2002. The Dolphins won, 24-3, in front of 69,432 fans.

Favorite non-sports moment: I was there for the stadium’s first big concert, the Rolling Stones on Jan. 25, 2003. I was in the eighth row – on Keith Richards’ side of the stage. Their opening song was Brown Sugar, which they no longer perform because of racial connotations. They closed the show with Satisfaction.

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With the end of the regular season in sight, the Houston Astros host the Kansas City Royals on Friday night, coming off a huge walk-off 2-1 win against the Orioles.

Two players from the finale against Baltimore really stood out for the 'Stros. Jeremy Pena, who had a clutch double late in the game, and Cristian Javier.

Javier struck out 11 batters over 5 innings surrendering only one run, which was exactly what the Astros needed in possibly the most important game of the regular season.

Both Pena and Javier were critical pieces to the Astros title in 2022, and it looks like they're rounding into form at just the right time.

Javier's struggles have caused many to question who would be the team's third starter in the postseason, behind Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander. Let's put this to bed right now, it's Javier.

This should be everything you need to know. Let's start with Hunter Brown. Brown has given up 5 earned runs or more in 4 of his last 7 starts.

How about JP France? France has surrendered 5 or more earned runs in 3 of his last 5 games.

However, Cristian Javier hasn't allowed 5 or more runs in a start since July 3. Javier may only give you 5 innings, but that's actually pretty common for starters in the playoffs. Teams typically remove their starters before the third time through the order.

Prime Time Pena

While the power hasn't been there for Pena this year, he is swinging the bat much better of late. Over his last 30 games, he's hitting .325 while slugging .453. Pena may only have 10 bombs on the year, but he's getting on base and hitting plenty of doubles.

If these two can contribute at a similar level to last postseason, the sky is the limit for the 2023 Astros.

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