READY TO EAT

World Series pressure has Minute Maid Park concessions working overtime with new food items

World Series pressure has Minute Maid Park concessions working overtime with new food items
With sellout crowds ready to cram Minute Maid Park this weekend for the World Series, Mat Drain and his crews are putting in serious OT getting ready. MLB.com

Originally appeard on Culture Map/Houston.

The World Series isn’t only the biggest thing ever for Astros players, the pressure is on Minute Maid Park’s No. 1 popcorn popper, too.

“This weekend, with World Series games in Houston, will be the most important event of my career, and I couldn’t be more excited,” said Mat Drain, Head Honcho of Hot Dogs for Aramark, which runs all the food concessions at Minute Maid Park.

“I’ve been a supporting manager at big events during my career with Aramark. Most recently, I worked the Super Bowl at NRG Stadium here in Houston, NCAA Final Fours and NBA Finals, but nothing comes close to hosting the World Series in your own building."

With sellout crowds ready to cram the stadium, Drain and his crews are putting in serious OT getting ready.

“This is a career milestone and I’m having the time of my life. I’ll be working 18-hour days this weekend. We’re working 12-hour days preparing for the World Series. Working those other events was fun, but Minute Maid Park is our home. I would rather be working long days and nights than the alternative, which would be watching the Yankees play the Dodgers on TV at home. My off-season can wait another month,” Drain said.

The Minute Maid Park test kitchen has been in overdrive creating new items for the stadium’s World Series menu.

“Because the gates will open earlier than usual, and fans will stay until the final out, we expect fans to eat and drink big time. Don’t forget, this is only the second time in the Astros’ 55-year history that they’re in the World Series, so fans will want to savor every moment,” he said.

It also will be Drain’s job to deliver champagne and beer to the winning team’s clubhouse should the World Series end in Houston.

“My fingers are crossed that it’s the Astros clubhouse, otherwise it won’t be a happy delivery,” Drain said. 

So you know: there won’t be any fireworks following the game Friday night, like during the regular season. The only fireworks will be Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa swatting home runs into the Crawford boxes and Lance McCullers making Dodgers whiff at curve balls in the dirt.

You like predictions? Astros in 5 sounds about right. And if Dallas Keuchel out-duels Clayton Kershaw in Game One, possibly an Astros sweep.

Here are the new food items awaiting World Series crowds at Minute Maid:

“Earn History Burger” – A two-patty bacon burger with Cheddar cheese and a split brisket sausage served on a fresh-baked Challah Bun with crispy jalapeno strips.  ($18.25, Texas Legends stand behind Section 134)

“L.A. Queso Stak” – Fresh-cut fries topped with house-made green chili queso, pork carnitas, fresh-made pico de gallo, fresh-cut jalapenos and drizzles of sour cream. ($12, Brewhouse Fries stand on the concourse behind centerfield)

“Green Chili Chicken Stak – Fresh-cut fries topped with green chili chicken, pico de gallo and cotija cheese. ($12, Brewhouse Fries stand on the concourse behind centerfield)

“Street Taco & Salsa Bar” – Featuring Suckling Pig Pulled Pork Tacos, served with pineapple chunks and mango habanero glaze. ($13, FiveSeven Market behind centerfield and several locations on the Honda Club Level)

“Braised Brisket on Flour Tortillas” – Served with pickled red onions, fresh jalapenos, cilantro and chipotle aioli. ($13, FiveSeven Market behind centerfield and several locations on the Honda Club Level)

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Have the Astros turned the corner? Photo by Jack Gorman/Getty Images.

One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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