This is part two of the Houston stadium series. You can find part one — Minute Maid Park — here. This story was originally posted before basketball season started.
We’re peeling back the layers of Toyota Center, home of the only team in Houston that refuses to accept mediocrity — the Houston Rockets.
Seriously, look at the team. In the past 30 years, the Rockets have had three losing seasons. Three. It’s the only team that Houstonians sound pretentious being mad at. I’ll admit, I was disgusted at last season’s 41-41 record, despite the fact that they still made the playoffs. That’s essentially equivalent to that one insufferably good-looking friend we all have complaining about only getting hit on twice at the bar instead of four times. You still got hit on, bro. You’ll be fine.
Make no mistake; the Rockets will be insufferably good-looking this year, too. They are ridiculously fun to watch with all the three pointers they drain, not to mention they added Chris Paul. Oh, and then there’s James Harden. Let’s talk about James Harden. He’s playing out of his mind and is worth the price of admission.
You should be going out with the insufferably good-looking Rockets. Hang out with them. I guarantee you’ll have a great time.
Where to get tickets
Absolute no-brainer here. Flashseats is the way to go. You can find seats as low as $15, and you can also bid a lower price if you’re so inclined. If you pay face value you’re looking at $50 aticket at least. It’s definitely supply and demand-driven so don’t expect anything cheap when the Cavs or Warriors head into town.
Where to park
Once again, park south of Highway 59. Polk Street is mainly free to park on, as well as Hutchins Street. Parking here will set you up in great position for the most important step.
Where to pregame
If you want to show out, you can always just pull up a seat at the bar at Pappasito’s across the street from the arena. Don’t do that. There’s a Pappasito’s near home, guaranteed. Just go to that one. Instead, go see the neighborhood.
If you parked where I suggested, guess what? You’re right in front of 8th Wonder Brewery. It doesn’t get more Houston than pregaming at a brewery whose entire image is predicated off of Houston sports. Toss back a Rocket Fuel coffee porter or a seasonal Dream Shake stout while lounging in seats pulled straight from the Astrodome itself and grab some Slab fries from the Eatsie Boys food truck parked out back.
If beer just isn’t your thing, then head northwest one block to The Secret Group. Most Rockets games start by 7 pm, and The Secret Group has a happy hour from 5-7 pm. Three dollar wells, people. You do the math.
Where to get beer
From either of these pregaming spots, head up Polk Street and enter at the corner of Polk and Jackson Street. There’s a full-service bar behind sections 112 and 101. There aren’t any hidden gems like Minute Maid, so it’s usually Bud Light or Zeigenbock. Upstairs there’s a Tito’s bar behind section 411 and another full bar behind section 424. If possible, avoid sitting in sections 416 to 420. There’s a children’s play area over there and you have to walk at least a quarter of the way around the arena to get anything.
Where to eat
HTX Brew and Grub in section 108 is the Toyota Center equivalent of Minute Maid Park’s Street Eats stand. Good grub, start there. Sections 125 and 403 will satisfy your barbecue cravings fairly well with HOU BBQ, but other than that, pickings are slim at Toyota Center outside of the standard fare.
For those of you with a sweet tooth, be sure to go to Clutch the mascot’s annual birthday celebration. They give out free cake to everyone in attendance.
Where it gets rowdy
The entire upper bowl, honestly. They’ve priced out the diehard fans from downstairs, so it’s not uncommon to see a sparsely seated lower arena contrasted by a packed upper concourse. The only real exception to the lower concourse is section 114, home of the Rockets’ diehard fan group, the Red Rowdies. The Red Rowdies were the creation of then head coach Jeff Van Gundy. He held tryouts for the craziest fans and gave the best ones season tickets. They’ve been going nuts ever since, despite their hilariously outdated page on the Rockets official site (I never knew Chase Budinger had his own chant. That’s on me).
Toyota Center is a great venue, but it certainly lacks the Easter eggs that Minute Maid Park has stashed across the place. It doesn’t need them though, because you should honestly just be watching those insufferably good-looking Rockets wreck shop.
While most of the Astros roster is returning for the 2024 season, there are still some areas of uncertainty for the club. Astros manager Joe Espada will have some tough decisions to make in his first season managing the team.
The Astros infield is set, so we know who will be playing on a nightly basis, assuming health. The outfield is where things get tricky. Espada told the Houston Chronicle last week that he hopes to play Alvarez more in left field this season, which would open up the DH spot for Chas McCormick and players he would like to rest while keeping their bat in the lineup (Yainer Diaz, Jose Altuve, etc).
Astros GM Dana Brown would like to see if Jake Meyers can hit well enough to play regularly in center field. This is a team that stresses defense, which Meyers provides. But if defense is the top priority, wouldn't that mean Chas McCormick should play left field with Yordan Alvarez hitting in the DH spot?
Certainly, there will be nights when that's the case. The reality of the situation is all these guys are going to play, but how much and where is yet to be seen.
Houston plays 20 games in 21 days to start the season, so it's not going to take long to see if Meyers is providing enough offense to play regularly. If we get into the month of May and Meyers is an offensive liability in the lineup, we won't be surprised if his playing time starts to decrease. But by how much?
Don't miss the video as we examine how Joe Espada will deploy his outfielders and get the most out of the DH this season!
Watch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.