Last year, Houston’s baseball dreams came true when our team won the World Series. Now, as the season kicks off again, excitement is at an all-time high. Below, everything the city’s rabid fans need to know as they cheer on their beloved team.
The Season Ahead
What are the Astros' realistic chances of winning the World Series again this year?
Sports fans are greedy. Sure, we’re super-happy when our team wins, and even more so when they win a championship. But among enthusiasts, there’s always a feeling of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. One championship is nice, yes, but now we want another. Better yet, give us a dynasty.
Last fall, after the Astros beat the Dodgers and won the World Series for the first time in the city’s history, it was natural to want to bask in the glory of it all. But, the wonderful and tragic thing about sports is this: Neither players nor fans get much time for reveling. The Astros reported to spring training just a few months after the champagne was uncorked in Los Angeles.
Now, fans are feeling antsy. Can the ’Stros do it again? What are their chances? The good news is, the team remains very, very good. The bad news is, historically, winning two consecutive titles is very, very difficult.
Even great Major League Baseball teams can succumb to the grind of a 162-game season. In fact, a repeat has happened only 14 times in the sport’s history. Most recently, the Yankees won three straight titles between 1998 and 2000.
However, this Astros team is unique. All the core players—including José Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers, Jr.—are returning this season. They’ll have ace pitcher Justin Verlander for a whole season instead of just a month, and the team’s added starter Gerrit Cole and a pair of relievers, to boot. Meanwhile, the Astros’ farm system is deep and talented.
Even though teams like the Yankees have made their own high-profile additions during the offseason, the Astros remain the team to beat. Vegas odds-makers have the ’Stros finishing the season behind only the Dodgers—who, again, they beat in the World Series—and by mere percentage points at that. In other words: If any team can repeat, it is most certainly our Astros. —Jeff Balke
Three Houston Series You Need to Buy Tickets for Right Now
April 30–May 3
v. New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers visit Minute Maid only once each regular season, and this year brings an early-season test of how well the ’Stros match up against the Yankees’ powerhouse lineup, including recently acquired outfielder/homerun ace Giancarlo Stanton. During this full four-game series, fans are likely to see both teams’ strongest pitching rotations, fresh and on full display.
v. Cleveland Indians
There are some who believed the Indians were the team to beat entering last year’s playoffs, especially as they were coming off a 22-game winning streak—one of the longest in Major League history, which bumped them ahead of the Astros in the standings. We didn’t have to face Cleveland in the playoffs—they were knocked out of the running in the first round division series against the Yankees—but the ’Stros were 1-5 against the team last season. All of which makes this particular series a very big deal.
v. Texas Rangers
This, the last matchup of the year between the I-45 rivals, right in the dead of summer, should be fun. There is no love lost between the two franchises, particularly thanks to a bit of post-Hurricane Harvey nastiness on the Rangers’ part, when they refused to switch home series with the Astros as Houston put itself back together. The Astros took that very personally, and fans can expect that to carry over into 2018.
The Best Seats in the House
Conventional wisdom suggests that fans always want to be as close to the action as possible. That’s why people pay the big bucks to sit up front at concerts, the theater, and sporting events, including baseball. There’s nothing like sitting right behind home plate. Right?
Wrong. If you’re watching the Astros play at Minute Maid Park, go ahead and toss conventional wisdom aside. Given the way this team hits homeruns, the best seats in the house are the Crawford Boxes. No area of the ballpark sees fans cheering harder or having more fun than these sections in left field. What’s the distance from home plate to the Boxes? A mere 315 feet. Bring a glove. —Cory Garcia
How an Astros Radio Broadcaster Became a Fan Favorite
“Brian McCann has a pear body!” It was a surprising outburst, to say the least, from Astros radio broadcaster Steve Sparks, who was getting soaked in the clubhouse after the team clinched their trip to the World Series. “Oh good, the massage therapist is dousing me with Budweiser,” he added, his voice crescendoing into full falsetto.
During last year’s playoffs, the normally subdued, analytical former pitcher—who shares Astros radio duties with Robert Ford—turned into a hilarious witness-slash-interviewer-slash-participant in the team’s postgame celebrations, much to fans’ delight, if their reaction on Twitter was any indication. And Sparky, as many call him, says that’s actually who he really is. His kids know better than anyone. Ask them and they’ll say, That’s every day in our house. He’s kind of a maniac.
Sparks joined the radio team in 2013, after the retirement of the long-time Astros voice Milo Hamilton. Hamilton, Sparks recalls, encouraged him to show more emotion during broadcasts. “As a player, you’re supposed to stay on that even keel. Milo was always pushing me to be more of a fan and not so much of a player.”
But the funny thing is, the new side of Sparks fans got to see was really his player side. “As a player, I was the loudest guy in the clubhouse,” he says. “That was natural.” This particular team, he adds, is already a fun group. “What we see in the dugout, that’s the way they really are,” Sparks says. “That’s what I’m trying to convey.”
While fans thought Sparks was partying with the players, he was actually stone-cold sober. “Contrary to popular belief, I’m not drunk when I’m doing it,” he says. “If I was drunk, I couldn’t form a coherent thought.”
And yes, that includes the celebrated postgame segment when Sparks asked George Springer if he shaved his chest. “Sometimes, there’s no filter,” he laughs. “A guy doesn’t have a shirt on, and it surprises you there’s no hair there.” —JB
The Best Place to Park
Considering Minute Maid Park’s downtown location, the parking situation—while not exactly painless—could be worse. And actually, it will be, once TxDOT starts messing around with I-45. But let’s not worry about that yet. For now, we’ll share our current (secret!) very best spot to park on game night: the Avenida Central Garage next to Discovery Green, a mere three blocks from the stadium.
Yes, it’ll cost you between $10 and $18, but you’ll avoid having to cross busy roads and freeway underpasses and have a truly pleasant, well-lit walk over. Get there early and enjoy the park before the game, or hang out there afterward to avoid traffic. The garage really is the best mix of proximity and price. —CG
A Love Letter to Orbit: He's Green, He's Goofy, and He's Ours
Sports can be an emotional roller coaster for fans. One minute, your team is losing 100-plus games. Then you look up, and they’re winning a championship for the first time in the city’s history. Exhibit A: our Houston Astros, who faced exceptional lows before, last season, reaching the ultimate high. But over the last few years, one thing has continued to bring smiles to the faces at Minute Maid Park: Orbit.
The goofy, furry, green alien, who races around ballgames taking selfies with fans, taunting the Astros’ opponents, and otherwise entertaining crowds, is beloved by kids and adults alike. In fact, it was the fans who encouraged the Astros to bring Orbit back after his hiatus during the team’s first decade at Minute Maid, when he was replaced by Junction Jack. Houstonians were delighted when the alien reappeared in 2012.
As fun as he is, the stunts may be the most impressive part of Orbit’s routines. During his tenure, the mascot has rappelled from the Four Seasons Hotel near the ballpark, ridden in the MS 150 bike ride, and run relay in the Houston Marathon with other area mascots, all while wearing his burdensome costume.
There’s just something charming about the guy. Fans love to post animated gifs of him on Twitter after wins, and the Astros do too, always sharing the same bit, of Orbit streaking across the field in his giant tighty-whiteys. And when we do lose—which, thankfully, has been rare lately—the jolly green alien makes the sting a little less painful. —JB
Houston’s Media Stars on Where They Catch the ’Stros
"There is no better place to watch the Astros than on my couch with my family. Sharing those moments with my kids is the best.”
—David Nuño, sports reporter, KTRK-TV
“My favorite place has always been 8th Wonder Brewery.”
—Ryan Dunsmore, managing editor, The Crawfish Boxes
“When I wasn’t at Minute Maid during the World Series, I would catch the games on TV or radio, like everyone else. After the Texans played Seattle, we consumed game five in any way we could on the plane, and then caught the end of it on our phones on the bus back to NRG stadium.”
—Marc Vandermeer, radio voice of the Houston Texans
“On my couch.”
—Bill Worrell, play-by-play announcer, Houston Rockets
“I’ve got a great television and love to watch with my kids, since they are the next generation of Astros fans and view the game with joy and excitement—and very little cynicism.”
—Lance Zierlein, co-host, The Bench, ESPN 97.5 FM
“I don’t live in the Houston area, but I’m still in the blackout region, so I have to be creative. Also, my wife is a huge Astros fan, but she’s not about to let me have the TV 162 times in a six-month span. So I watch the games on my laptop, propped up in front of the couch. I can sit next to her, and we’re both happy.”
—James Yasko, blogger, Astros County
Events You Can't Miss
The folks at Minute Maid Park maintain an open firehose of promotions and theme nights to up the ante for fans. Here, five festive options we’re most excited about:
v. San Diego Padres
If a seventh-inning stretch just isn’t going to cut it, Yoga Day invites you to the outfield for 45 minutes of post-game relaxation.
v. Texas Rangers
We endorse this evening for its Floppy Summer Hat giveaway. The blue-and-orange statement piece coincides with Mother’s Day weekend, although you need no excuse to look this fabulous.
v. Toronto Blue Jays
Throw on some horizontal stripes and turn your cap backwards for the Sandlot edition of Movie Night. The 25-year-old classic will be screened post-game on the jumbotron, a screen so big you can count the freckles on Ham’s face.
v. Detroit Tigers
It’s Princess Day! Depending on your affinity for adorable Elsa-dressed kiddos still shrieking “Let It Go” five years after Frozen left theaters, this afternoon will be either a godsend or a nightmare. Proceed accordingly.
v. Seattle Mariners
Turn Back the Clock Night throws things back to the ’70s, encouraging fans to break out their finest leisure suits and bell bottoms. (Bonus points for gear featuring the team’s original Astrodome logo.) —Morgan Kinney
The Best New Stadium Food
What’s as fun as posting Instagram photos from your awesome seats? How about photos of the stadium’s newest, hottest, most over-the-top concessions, headed straight for your belly?
Jane Dough Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
The raw cookie dough craze hit New York last year, and now Minute Maid Park is bringing the trend to Houston. Served by the scoop, the chocolate chip variation is sort of like non-frozen ice cream topped with the promise that you won’t get sick, since there’s no egg in the dough.
Loaded Taco Salad Tots
This is deliciousness gone wild, a mountain of tots, queso, beef picadillo, guacamole, and other taco fixings, with the added bonus of Thousand Island sour cream, black bean pico, and fried tortilla strips.
BBQ Smoke House Funnel Cake
For Texans who can’t live without their barbecue and rodeo food, there’s this deep-fried funnel cake piled with meats straight from the pit—pulled pork, chopped beef, and smoked sausage. The creation gets even crazier thanks to a citrus-kale-black-bean slaw, mustard sauce, and sprinkles of salty cotija cheese. —Gwendolyn Knapp
Who Should Throw Out This Season's First Pitches?
Throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game is a hallowed tradition. And now that the team has won the World Series, we think the honor of doing so at their first home game of the season—versus the Orioles, April 2—should go only to the truly worthy. Of course, we have a few ideas for people who fit the bill:
Former First Lady Barbara Bush: Her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, has made the toss before, but we bet the 92-year-old Houston resident has a pretty great arm in her own right.
Beyoncé: Because she’s Houston’s own.
President Donald Trump: Think about it. Trump spends a lot of time in Palm Beach, and so do the Astros. And while the Commander-in-Chief turned down the chance to open the season for the Washington Nationals last year, the ’Stros are different: They’re winners.
Rescue Bae: Raz Halili—the San Leon oysterman who went out on a boat to rescue stranded people after Harvey looking so delectable, he soon had a new name—is more of a soccer-type guy, but we’re betting he can throw a ball.
Mattress Mack: The Gallery Furniture owner promised to give customers who spent more than $3,000 on a mattress or bed their money back if the Astros won the World Series, and when the team pulled it off, he ponied up, providing $10 million in rebates. Between that and his sheer decency during Harvey, he’s a shoo-in.
Bun B: Last August, an actual petition went around proposing that the legendary Houston rapper be banned from cheering on the ’Stros or any other Houston team, claiming he was a jinx. The Astros settled the matter, of course, by winning big.
Andrew Watt: The Astros superfan maxed out his credit cards to see all seven games of the World Series. Maybe it was his good juju that helped the team win big, maybe not; either way, it seems like having him around as the season kicks off is a good idea.
Mayor Sylvester Turner: The mayor handled things with such consummate flair and authority during Harvey, we’d be delighted to see him handle the first throw—while looking as dapper on the mound as he did in September, of course.
Pete Gordon: The Continental Club’s owner, known as Polish Pete, penned “The Altuve Polka,” inspired by the MVP himself.
The entire hat-toss crew from the World Series parade downtown: We’ve all seen the viral video of Astros fans in a multi-level parking garage working together to toss a ball cap up to the woman who dropped it, so just imagine that crowd handling a baseball. —Dianna Wray