Behind Enemy Lines

My First experience as a road fan at Seattle's Safeco Field

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Safeco Field and the beautiful city of Seattle. As my luck would have it, our beloved Houston Astros were playing a crucial series against their AL West Rivals, the Seattle Mariners that week. When I planned my trip in May, I did not expect the AL West to be as tight of a division as it has been. This made my trip to Safeco that much more interesting.

Game One: Aug. 20, 2018, Mariners win 7-4

“You guys are wearing the wrong jerseys.”

Mariner fans were very welcoming to us as we took our seats in center field for the first of the three game series against the Astros. The open stadium of Safeco Field allowed for ash to fall from the sky; it’s been a brutal summer for the West Coast and their battles with forrest fires.

A 3-3 game in the sixth, I decided it was time to explore the food our AL West rivals had to offer. Ultimately, I settled on a hot dog that was bathed in grilled onions, sauerkraut and banana peppers. Robinson Cano would crush golden boy Collin McHugh in the eighth with a three run homer to center field to give the Mariners the lead. Almost instantly, fans turned to us with the biggest smirks on their faces, they were going to get the last laugh that night.

“Oh, better luck tomorrow, Astro Fan,” yelled a group of fans as my directionally inept self tried to make my way out of the stadium.

“I’ll wipe my tears with my World Series ring,” I yelled back as I walked through the same block for the third time.

Game Two: Aug. 21, 2018, Astros win 3-2

The second game was a big day for me. For those familiar with my twitter group, #FearTheCock Fan Club, it was an exciting day to see Bradley Peacock start his first game of the season. Yes, I was livid when Hinch pulled Peacock, but it allowed us an introduction to Framber Valdez. As the Astros had to get creative with their pitching staff, I got more creative with my food options.  Choosing between the dumplings and the lobster sandwich was like trying to choose between my love for Brad Peacock and my dying allegiance to Alex Bregman. I chose the sandwich. Whether the sandwich is Peacock or Bregman is for you to figure out. Spending $18.50 on a sandwich was suboptimal, much like the Astros’ franchise record six double plays on the day, but it was delicious, and the Astros tasted revenge as well when they beat the Mariners 3-2. Interestingly enough, Mariners fans were pretty quiet after the game.

Game Three: Aug. 22, 2018, Astros win 10-7

It was finally time for the rubber match, the ever so critical third game of the series. Day games typically mean nice weather. That was especially the case at Safeco Field. By the fourth inning, I do not know what was more annoying to the home fans, the Astros bats or me yelling “send the runner!” to Garry Pettis every time someone got a base hit (Shout out to my boy Johnny G). They were up 9-2 at the end of the fifth and the extra money I spent on lower level infield seats suddenly felt worth it. The sports Gods are never late to punish, though, as the Mariners made the game interesting, scoring five in the sixth. Suddenly, the obnoxious road fan was quiet. That was until Tyler “El Osito Blanco” White decided to take Adam Warren yard to cushion the lead to three runs and helped introduce one of my favorite celebrations of the season. Where were you the day the Astros introduced the group stare? Me? I was in the stands of Safeco Field witnessing history.

“Are you guys even real Astros fans?”

“ Yes,” I replied bluntly ending the conversation. A lion never loses sleep over the opinions of sheep.

All things considered, Safeco Field was an awesome ballpark  to visit. This was my first experience being a road fan, and rooting for the defending champions definitely gave me this extra sense of confidence. There was not a thing a Mariners fan could say that a reminder of who won the World Series could not fix. The atmosphere, the activities, and the food inside the stadium definitely did the city of Seattle justice.

All that being said, let us compare this ballpark to the mighty Minute Maid Park.

Safeco has a metered bullpen where fans can track their pitch speeds. Minute Maid Park has a display of artifacts from the 2017 World Series Champions in the Union Station Lobby. Safeco Field has a throne fans can take pictures with every time Felix Hernandez pitches. Minute Maid Park has a mural commemorating their World Series Championship. Safeco has a diverse taste of food representative of the Pacific Northwest. Minute Maid Park has BBQ, a cornerstone of the city of Houston (the city of the defending World Series Champions).

Looks like it is Minute Maid Park in a landslide.

 

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Texans vs. Vikings could have fans in attendance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans say it's time that fans were allowed to cheer on the home team at NRG Stadium. On Thursday, the team announced extensive safety protocols that would put 15,000 fans in the stands for the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 4.

While the Texans are awaiting permission from city and county officials to host a limited number of fans - socially distant and wearing masks – no plans have been announced how much tickets will cost, and who'll have the opportunity to buy them.

You have to love the free enterprise system: hundreds of tickets for the Oct. 4 game already are on sale on secondary market websites. Lower bowl tickets are going for $800 and up. If you don't mind sitting in the nose bleeds, tickets can be had for around $250.

So the question becomes, if you had the chance, would you attend the Texans game in early October? The tickets are big bucks, and there is a whammy – COVID-19. While the rate of COVID-19 infections is on the decline in Houston, the virus remains a major factor in our daily lives, and there's no guarantee that the pandemic won't spike here again.

Here's the rub, at least for me. Of all the sports we have in Houston, a Texans game might be lowest on my wish list of attending in person. Television does NFL games the best. There are dozens of cameras, so when a receiver catches a pass on the sidelines, we get several views, in slow motion even, to see if the receiver's feet were in bounds. We can almost feel the crunch of a quarterback sack. We get highlights of other games. You don't have to sit next to a face painter like David Puddy.

The NFL is a made-for-TV production. Which is, I suspect, part of the reason the Texans rarely open the roof at NRG Stadium. With the roof closed, the field becomes a controlled TV studio, with no worries of weather pranks.

Television doesn't do basketball or baseball nearly as well. Conversely, the experience of attending those games is terrific fun. What beats eating a couple of dogs at an Astros game? Is there even a traditional food at NFL or NBA games?

The Texans promise that strict safety rules will be enforced. And I believe them. Fans will be scattered over the 67,000-seat stadium. I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage that will be. Most of the crowd noise will come from pre-recorded tapes.

Here's one worry. Sure fans will sit apart and socially distanced. But what will happen when the game is over? Will fans file out in orderly, non-contagious single file? I flew Southwest a few weeks ago. The airline makes a big deal – we don't sell the middle seat. Passengers kept their distance during the flight. When the landed, you know how it is, everybody got up and piled into the aisle, shoulder to shoulder for several minutes.

What will happen if some goofball takes off his/her mask during the Texans game? Will there be enough security to handle each case?

Baseball is planning to have some fans attend post-season games at Minute Maid Park next month. UH Cougars, the Dynamo and Dash are playing in front of small crowds. It remains to be seen how safe – or how risky – allowing fans at sports events will be.

Will parents let their kids attend? Is waiting for a vaccine the smart play? If President Trump is right, that could be only a matter of weeks away. If scientists and doctors are right, nestle in for pandemic life another year. Even if scientists do come up with a vaccine, how many Americans will roll up their sleeve? Some believe, in the case of COVID-19, the cure may be worse than the disease. Not me, the moment Dr. Fauci says the vaccine is safe and effective, I'm sprinting to CVS.

The thinnest of silver linings, if ever there was a year worth sitting out, 2020 has been it for Houston sports fans. The Astros are scratching to stay above .500 (their present position), Jose Altuve hasn't had an extra base hit or RBI in almost a month, and Justin Verlander is throwing bullpens on his way to recovery. The Rockets are searching for a new coach, and possibly another team willing to take Russell Westbrook in a trade. The Texans season could go either way, we'll know if a few short weeks.

Why the rush to fill stadiums? The NBA is thriving in a bubble. Why not baseball and football? There's a fine line between safe and sorry.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo already has safety plans for next year, including masks and distancing. That will be interesting. Good luck controlling crowds pushing and shoving for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

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