I traveled to Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas to watch the Cardinals take on the Astros on August 30 and 31. I had never been to the rather unique Minute Maid Park. Earlier this year, I ran across a forum where Cardinal fans were discussing how much they hated the park, so I was curious to see if my impression would be the same. I should have known better.
When I walk into a beautiful Cathedral, there is a hush and awe that comes over me, like I’m standing on holy ground, perhaps in the company of the saints that have gone before and the saints that will come after. It doesn’t matter that I’m not Catholic. I simply feel connected to all of Christendom.
This may be blasphemy, but when I walk into a major league ballpark, I feel the exact same way. In that first moment when I enter the hallowed halls, I am overwhelmed with awe for the great games and players that have gone before, and the ones that are to come. I feel connected and a part of this grand old game. In that moment, I’m not a Cardinals fan or a Cub-hater. I’m just a humble girl, who loves the game of baseball.
Minute Maid Park was no different for me. Oh sure, I hate the hill in centerfield (sprained ankle waiting to happen or a concussion from a collision with the flag pole). The outfield grass looked like it could stand the roof being open more so it could soak in real sunshine and rain.
But, in this ballpark’s young life, it has hosted an All-Star game and a World Series. The greats of our age have played here. In fact, a few of them were playing there this weekend. So, except for the hill, I appreciate the uniqueness of the park and the history in the making that happens there each day.
Astro fans never forget that Albert Pujols hit a big homer over the top of this sign.
One of the great things about the park is there are a lot of really good seats. I sat in the 2nd tier even with 3rd base the first night. I was looking down right on top of the game. The 2nd game, I sat in the Crawford boxes, which is another great view. The Crawford street entrance is right behind these seats, so getting in and out is no hassle at all. However, if the roof is closed, bring a sweatshirt. The air-conditioning blows straight down on these seats. Very weird to be cold at a baseball game in August.
As for the Astros traditions, I like that they play “Deep in the Heart of Texas” after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the 7th inning stretch. They must only play “God Bless America” on Sunday, which seems plenty to me. I didn’t test the security to see if I would be arrested for trying to go to the bathroom during the song, but I figure this is Texas, not New York City. If freedom still rings anywhere, it’s here. Don’t get me wrong “God Bless America” is a wonderful, meaningful song, but seriously when did it become the second national anthem? And since when is being apathetic akin to treason. Sorry, that’s another subject entirely. Back to baseball.
The Place to Stay
If you visit Houston for a game, and your budget allows, I highly recommend the Inn at
the Ballpark right across the street from Minute Maid Park. I had originally booked at the Hilton a few blocks away because the Inn was a little out of my budget. But, I checked rates a couple days before my trip and was able to get a room priced about the same as the Hilton room.
This is a view of Minute Maid park from the 10th floor of the hotel.
The hotel is very plush. Everything is baseball themed, yet elegant at the same time. I knew when there was a picture on my wall of a catcher that they had put me in the right room. The Lobby Bar is a great place to meet other Cardinals fans, grab a quick bite, celebrate after the game, or in our case…drown our sorrows. The fare is pricy, but good.
One of the best parts of the trip was meeting the other out-of-town Cardinals fans. Cardinals fans are among the best fans in the world. They know and love their baseball. It was nice to be among others that share my obsession.
The other thing I enjoyed was seeing the fathers and sons taking in the experience together. I had the opportunity to talk to a couple youngsters, one a Cardinals fan and one an Astros fans. These boys knew their baseball. Despite all the other distractions (TV, video games, movies, computers, other sports) there are still boys that still live, eat and breathe baseball, just like their fathers and grandfathers before them. Maybe, I’m just a sap, but there is just something beautiful about the tradition.
I missed getting a picture of it, but there was a birthday party of about a half dozen
little boys (maybe 5 or 6 years old). They were all wearing #12 Aaron Miles T-shirts. There were almost enough of them to cover all the positions that Miles can play! Which brings me to the question I’ve been asking a lot lately, how do you not put a guy batting .320 in your lineup everyday?
Here’s Miles getting ready for batting practice.
Joe Mather was giving the lineup on TV the other day, and he said Skip Schumaker was the most intense guy on the field. In watching him prepare for a game, I believe it.
Here he is before the game, getting in the zone, taking some practice swings.
The only thing that would have made the trip perfect would have been a couple Cardinal wins. However, there were some great performances to be noted:
In Saturday’s game, Albert Pujols went 4 for 4, collecting career hits 1499, 1500, 1501 and 1502. Number 1500 was a double in the third. It’s fun to be able to say, I saw that.
Also, in Saturday’s game, Braden Looper had a dismal first inning…career high dismal…giving up 6 runs. He managed to pull it together and get 3 outs in a row to end the inning. Then, he pitched three solid innings. My hats off is off to him. It’s one thing to start a game pitching well and keep that going. It’s another thing to be on the ropes and battle your way back. He’s a professional.
In Sunday’s game, Todd Wellemeyer turned in as good a game as you could ask of your starting pitcher. In seven innings, he gave up 4 hits and 1 run. He had three innings of 3 up, 3 down. He struck out 4, walked no one and hit no one. He even laid down a nice sac bunt. Yet, he still got the loss.
Todd Wellemeyer is ready to go, as he, Dave Duncan and Yadier Molina make their way from the bullpen to the dugout.
Ya’ll are going to be sick of me talking about Aaron Miles, but that’s too bad. Aaron Miles got one at bat on Saturday and four on Sunday. He was 3 for 5 with a stolen base, and the only Cardinal I saw get a hit off the Astros flame-throwing closer, Valverde. Here it comes again…why is he not in the lineup everyday?
Speaking of guys batting over .300, the Cardinals have more than their fair share: Pujols, Miles, Molina, Schumaker and Ludwick. When you have that many guys getting on base a high percentage of the time, I have to believe the common denominator is hitting coach, Hal McRae. Some of our guys are having the best year they have ever had at the plate. A big nod to Hal McRae.
The Cardinals traveled to Miami to take on the hard hitting Florida Marlins team. They took 3 out of 4 in front of a sparse crowd at Dolphins Stadium. It’s rather a shame that the winning Marlins can’t pack in a crowd in a city the size of Miami. However, except for the Marlin fans that stuck out the rain delay in game three, the fans that did show up this series would be disappointed.
8/11/08 Cardinals 4, Marlins 2
Well, ya’ll were going to figure it out sooner or later, so I might as well come clean. If the Cardinals are my favorite team and catching is my favorite part of the great game of baseball, then it’s no surprise that the Cardinal jersey I own has a number 4 on the back.
Yadier Molina. There are so many things I love about this player. From his work ethic to his enthusiasm, he’s the type of player that makes the game great. As a great contact hitter, he doesn’t get very many homers. So, I loved watching him get his 2-run dinger tonight. Not just because it was the difference in the game, but because hardworking, good defensive, catchers batting over 300 just don’t get as many moments in the sun as power-hitters. And, no one deserves the spotlight any more than Molina.
You cannot over-estimate what Molina brings to this team, especially in terms of leadership and game-calling.
I enjoyed the homerun for him and for the team, but the part I loved the most was watching him catch Uggla stealing second…twice. Uggla must be a slow learner. It will be fun to see if he tries it again in the series. Helping Molina gets those plays was Aaron Miles, my favorite utility player, who finally got the start at 2nd tonight.
Great to see Ankiel back in the lineup, and contributing offensively. It looked like he was a little rusty in the outfield scoring to E’s on one play. Brutal. But, it didn’t matter because….
…Kyle McClellan got three outs stranding the runner on third. Great bullpen pitching tonight between McClellan and the closer, Chris Perez. Oops, did I call Perez, “the Closer”. I mean, if you hear the door slam, somebody must have shut the door, right? I don’t know if we’ll ever get LaRussa to call Perez, the Closer, but I guess as long as he’s closing, I don’t care. It was great to see him do well in basically his hometown in front of family and friends.
Wins have not come easy for starting pitcher, Joel Pineiro this year, often being a victim of the no-decision, but tonight Pineiro got it done and got the win to show for it.
Finally, how about that Joe Mather, pinch-hit homer? Pretty sweet.
8/12/08 Cardinals 3, Marlins 4
Field got wet; bats got dry.
8/13/08 Cardinals 6, Marlins 4
I believe I saw somewhere that LaRussa called this one a real “grinder”. I can’t think of a better word.
Nothing came easy. Lots of hits producing a few runs. No homers for either team. Pitchers getting out of tough innings. In the end, we had more runs than them, and that’s all that matters.
Looper pitched an excellent 7 innings only giving up two runs. Hats off to him for keeping all the Marlins in the park. That is huge with this team.
McClellan struggled, but Perez once again closed the door coming in to a mess in the 8th. In the 9th, he had to get four outs to do it with Baker advancing to 1st on a strike out/wild pitch.
Runs did not necessarily come from the usual suspects. Adam Kennedy racked up two RBI’s on two sac flies. Backup catcher, Jason LaRue, got a 2-RBI double. Schumaker scored Kennedy. Glaus scored Lopez that had a big triple in the 9th. Glaus reached base all 5 times with 3 singles, 1 double and an intentional walk
Defensively, Joe Mather saved a big inning by climbing the wall to get an out. Albert Pujols tracked a foul ball that spun fair. The batter didn’t even really run, but Pujols stayed with it and got the out. Glaus had a big double play at 3rd and 1st to end the 8th.
8/13/08 Cardinals 3, Marlins 0
TODD WELLEMEYER. The longer he pitched, the better he got. He gave up a hit a piece in the 1st and 2nd. His pitching seemed to go a little crazy, walking 3 batters in the 3rd, hitting one in the 4th. But, maybe he was crazy like a fox–he walked some serious home run hitters. After that, he settled in for 14 outs in a row.
Welly got in a bit of bind in the 8th, but Russ Springer came in and struck out Cantu for out three. Ron Villone and Ryan Franklin took out 3 batters in the 9th to finish the shut out.
There’s been a lot of talk about Cardinal pitching this year, much of it negative. But, tonight they showed what they were capable of. Wellemeyer went 8 2/3 innings– his longest start of the year. Then the bullpen got the job done. Maybe, the pitching staff is starting to peak…just in time for a playoff run.
Runs were hard to come by. Cesar Izturis’ hot streak continued. He singled twice and Ryan Ludwick knocked him in both times on a double and a homer. LaRussa put up an unusual lineup with a lot of power at the top. There could be arguments about the effectiveness of the lineup, but Ludwick and Izturis were definitely batting in the right places. Ludwick now has 90 RBI’s
Must hate the Cubs…must hate the Cubs. Repeat with me…must hate the Cubs.
As soon as I fell in love with Cardinals, it was amazing how quickly the Cub hating began. It’s like they are oxygen and carbon dioxide. You breathe in the Cardinals and exhale the Cubs. In with the good air. Out with the bad.
The loathing didn’t begin in earnest until I attended a Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis last year. The Cubs fans that had made the trip to Busch pretty much sealed it for me. There were a number of smaller things, but my biggest objection was the booing. Maybe I’m alone on this, but when you are on the road with your team, visiting another team’s park, I believe it is rude to boo the home team. When you are at home, you can boo whoever you want, but on the road you should limit yourself to simply cheering (or booing for) your own team.
Seriously, do you go to a party at someone’s house and boo the host even if the party sucks? No, you don’t because your momma raised you better than that.
Enough on ballpark etiquette, lets play ball!
8/8/08 Cardinals 2, Cubs 3
This was the kind of game good rivalries are made of: tight score, strong pitching, a few long balls, aggressive base-running and extra innings.
The Cardinals gave their old buddy Jim Edmonds the cold shoulder in July, not allowing him a hit in three games. Braden Looper struck him out twice. When he finally got on with a walk, Yadier Molina tagged him out soundly at home. In this game, Edmonds repaid the chilly hospitality by lifting two home runs off Looper and robbing Molina of a base hit to center.
Rookie Joe Mather answered the former Cardinal veteran with a home run ball of his own. He has been making a real case for himself as a big leaguer.
The Cardinals did some very aggressive base running, which I like to see even though it didn’t really pay off. In the 5th, Izturis stretched a double into three bases on a bad throw, but was unable to score on the suicide squeeze play. In the 6th, Schumaker hoofed it to third on a Mather single, which put him in position to score a run on Kennedy’s force out, tying the game. Later in the inning, Mather tried to tag up and score on a Glaus fly ball, but was put out with a perfect throw from Soriano. In the 9th, after getting on with a walk, Izturis was able to steal 2nd and 3rd, but was left there when Ankiel popped up. Pujols got caught stealing in the 10th to end the inning. So many chances…so few runs to show for it.
Other than the long balls, Looper pitched a beautiful game. McClellan gave up only 1 hit in the 8th and struck out two. Perez came in the 9th, gave up 1 hit and struck out the lead off batter. (But, remember, he’s NOT “The Closer”). Unfortunately, Franklin did not get one out in the 10th, giving up two walks, two hits and the winning run.
8/9/08 Cardinals 12, Cubs 3
Game 2 of the series was a home run derby, which I sure didn’t expect with Zambrano on the mound. Cubs got their two home runs and not much else. Edmonds followed up his two home run day by going 0 for 4, striking out three times. Pujols and Shumaker got solo shots. But, nobody can snap a slump like Troy Glaus.
He came into the game 0 for 29 against the Cubs this year. If I was the manager, I probably would have given him the day off. I would have been wrong. He left the game 3 for 34. Glaus hit two back-to-back home runs, for 5 RBI’s and a 9th inning single.
As exciting as the home runs were, I was more excited to see the string of hits the Cardinals put together in the 9th. I can’t remember seeing any team this year with more people hitting above .300 than the Cardinals. Yet, it seems like we’ve had trouble stringing those hits together in a way that produces runs. The 9th went down like this:
Pujols: 1B (Izturis to 3rd)
Ludwick: Sac Fly (Izturis scores)
Ankiel: PH-1B (Pineiro pinch runs)
Glaus: 1B (Bases loaded)
Molina: 1B (Pujols and Pineiro score. 2 more 2-out RBI’s for Molina)
Total Result: 3 runs on 5 hits
Hats off to Todd Wellemeyer. In his last two starts, he’s finally seemed back to form after his injury. He gave up two long balls and not much else. Russ Springer did some fine pitching as well, giving up 1 hit and then proceeding to strike out 4 Cubs in a row. Thompson finished off the job in the 9th.
The Cubs don’t lose many games at home, but it’s not everyday they play the best road team. Everything came together for the Cardinals like the perfect storm of hitting, pitching and defense.
8/10/08 Cardinals 2, Cubs 6
What started out as a nice tight pitching battle, turned into a heart-breaker in 6th. Chris Carpenter was efficiently putting away batters, giving up 2 runs, only one of them earned, when he left the game with a strained triceps.
After that, the Cardinals fell apart for the rest of the inning. An error was made on a double play ball that would have ended the inning. Instead, the inning continued and the runs tallied in surmountable lead. The Cardinals finally got it together, but the damage had been done.
What about Carp? It’s been such a shot in the arm having him back. We’ve been waiting for it FOREVER. I was just getting used to seeing him in the line-up again.It seems like the Cardinals can’t catch a break.
I want to say, “Maybe, it’s not that serious.” But, I’m reminded of the scene in Apollo 13 when they are working to overcome all these obstacles: the CO2 problem, the trajectory correction, how to power up the command module, etc. Then, this guy says there is a typhoon warning near the landing site. He says, “Maybe, they’ll miss it.” Deke Slayton replies, “Only if their luck changes.”
The Cards could use some new lucky cards. Maybe, they’ll get them this time.
I run into a lot of Braves fans down here in Oklahoma. Much of that is owed to fact that the Braves used to be on cable TV all the time. My grandpa watched them every night while listening to whatever other game he could get on the radio. I was looking forward to seeing the great Chipper Jones, although we were probably better off with him on the DL. I hadn’t heard the good ol’ “tomahawk chop” in years. I still think it’s one of the best battle cries ever.
With Chipper on the DL, the All-Star catcher McCann’s head still spinning from a collision on Sunday, big hitter Teixeira traded to the Angels after the first game and the long awaited return of Cardinal ace, Chris Carpenter, this was a series with a lot of potential.
7/28/08 Cardinals 12, Braves 3
There’s nothing like winning the hard fought close game. Unless of course you’re coming off a string of hard fought close games coupled with some disappointing loses. Then, a blow out is a welcome relief for both the players and the fans.
Yadier Molina and Joe Mather teamed up for a single and a homer to get 2 runs in the second. The rookie, Joe Mather, had a big league night where he was one-oh-so-elusive-triple short of the cycle.
In the third, Troy Glaus knocked in Skip Schumaker who had walked (always bad news to walk the lead off guy). Then with Pujols on with a walk and Glaus on with a force out, Molina hit an in-the-park 3-run homer. OK, fine. It was technically a 2 RBI double, with Molina scoring on a throwing error, but the effect was the same and it was just as exciting. All those runs were two out RBIs. Very clutch.
It was great to see Izturis reach on a walk, 1B and 2B, picking up an RBI. Pujols picked up 3 RBIs. Miles got on and scored twice. Ludwick went 3 for 5 with an RBI. Wveryone was having a good night.
Looper put in one of the best starts we’ve seen in a while. Seven innings, 2 runs. With no walks and only 3 strikeouts, he had help from a solid Cardinals defense. Ron Villone got two outs, got in trouble, gave up a run, but was relieved by Russ Springer who with the help of centerfielder Skip Schumaker, pitched a perfect 1/3 of an inning. Flores faced three batters in the ninth giving up a hit, but getting his third batter to ground into a good old 6-4-3.
7/29/08 Cardinals 8, Braves 3
There’s nothing like winning the hard fought close game. Well, it was a hard fought close game until the Cardinals put up 5 runs of insurance in the ninth.
It was a game with a little bit of everything. Good pitching. Good hitting. Good plays. Bad plays (2 errors a piece). For Wellemeyer’s second time out he’s proved that if you just hang with him and have a little faith, he’ll finish stronger than he started and keep his team in the game.
Favorite play of the game: With Brave runners at 1st and 3rd, Wellemeyer throws a K for out number two. Yadier Molina fakes a throw to 2nd and gets the runner at 3rd to bite. Then, he throws to 3rd and the Cardinals get Kotsay in the run down. It was a HUGE play to end the inning in a 2-2 game with two runners on.
Second favorite play of the game: Albert Pujols hits a big lead off double at the top of the 8th. Then he steals third base and scores when the Braves catcher’s throw went to left field. In the 6th, Pujols led off with a solo home run. Pujols is a great player, but geez does he have to do it all himself?
Both of those plays are the epitome of why I think having a great defensive catcher is so important. We are so fortunate to have Yadier Molina, and Jason LaRue for that matter.
7/30/08 Cardinals 8, Braves 2
Just like old times. Carpenter on the mound. A Cardinal win. Life is good.
Since April, 2007, most conversations about the Cardinals that go beyond the depth of “how ’bout them Cards’ have included phrases like, “when Carpenter comes back” or “if we could just get Carpenter back” or “have you heard how Carpenter’s doing?”. To say his return was much anticipated would be an understatement.
Everyone in Cardinal’s country from the front office to the coaches to the players to the fans to Carpenter himself was filled with excitement and anticipation as he took the mound. We all wanted him to succeed so badly because he’s worked so hard to get there, and we need his ace arm and his leadership.
There were no disappointments. Other than maybe Carpenter’s that he wasn’t allowed to pitch longer, but he knows realistically that he shouldn’t push it. It was a fine outing, giving up only 1 run, getting out of tight innings and the most important thing: giving the Cardinals a good chance to win. Is Carpenter the best he can be? No. But, he’s still one of the best out there, and he’ll be even better next time.
Carpenter seemed to be fuel for the fire that has been building in the Cardinals. Everyone seemed to up their game last night. Great hitting, great defensive plays and a bullpen that delivered. And, now we’re looking forward to seeing him again in just a few days against the Dodgers.
Two nights ago, I loved the lineup with Mather behind Molina. I was excited to see it again tonight. Often, Molina often gets on base without a power hitter behind him to knock him in. On Monday, Molina and Mather tag-teamed with a Molina single and a Mather home run. They did it again tonight. If a LaRussa line up basically has two leadoff hitters, it seems like it should have two cleanup hitters, too.
7/31/08 Cardinals 4, Braves 9
Trade deadline day. I wonder if Griffey will get a world series shot with the White Sox. I wonder if California is big enough for Manny’s ego. I wonder how many catchers the Yankees need. But, I know I was happy to see the trade deadline come and go without the Cardinals making a major league move. In my humble opinion, I believe with everyone healthy, we have all we need to make an October run, although it may not have looked like it tonight.
The last three games were those magical nights when everything comes together: hitting, starter pitching and relief pitching. Tonight was one of those nights that it magically comes together for the other team.
Yes, we gave up way too many runs, but with Schumaker, Ankiel, Glaus and Molina not in the starting lineup? Well, that’s a lot of bat left on the bench. Even so, the Cardinals got the four runs that would have won any other game in this series.
Cesar Izturis deserves a big hand. He did a great job of holding down the lead off spot tonight going 3 for 6. It’s so great to see him getting hot.