Things are looking up for the Astros in 2017. After just missing the playoffs last season, the offseason acquisition of seasoned veterans like Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, and the return of Carlos Beltran has made the team a trendy pick to represent the American League in the World Series.
While the product on the field will always be the primary driver of fan interest, the team completed a series of renovations in center field that will enhance the experience for anyone who visits Minute Maid Park. Removing Tal’s Hill and pushing the center field fence in to 409 feet (instead of 436) will not only result in 10 to 20 more home runs per season, it also brings new seating and dining options.
“Last year when the season ended we had a hill, and we had a lot of dead space back here, but thanks to the vision of Jim Crane and the hard work of a lot of folks, today, we’re opening this area for the first time,” Astros president Reid Ryan stated during a press conference last week. “Jim had a vision for a communal gathering spot, a place in this ballpark where people could come, where they could visit, they could hang out, they could enjoy all the great things that Houston has to offer.”
Shake Shack and Torchy’s Tacos highlight the new additions. Located in the space that used to be the FiveSeven Grille, Shake Shack offers all of its signature items at the ballpark, including ShackBurgers, chicken sandwiches, mushroom burgers, fries, and shakes.
Austin-based Torchy’s brings many of its signature items, including the Trailer Park taco, fried avocado taco, and queso to a location on the mezzanine level that’s accessible by a new escalator. The area features a mural that includes all of the Astros players who have had their jersey numbers retired, as well as a few other familiar faces from outside of baseball.
Some people on social media have questioned the decision to utilize restaurants that originated outside the Houston area, but Ryan told CultureMap that the team decided to work with Torchy’s and Shake Shack after surveying its fans about which brands excited them.
“As we talked to different people about what would be the right fit, it’s quite an undertaking for a brand to come in and either staff or man this for an entire game as Torchy’s is going to do,” Ryan said. “As far as Shake Shack is concerned, Aramark has the franchise for that. They’ve had it at Citi Field in New York. They’ve made a presence in Houston (and) really the state of Texas opening a couple . . . It was a combination of, who wants to dance and who wants to dance that our friends have some affection (for). We were able to pair those up.”
Other improvements include a new Five/Seven Market with grab-and-go items like drinks, salads, and candy; the Lexus Field Club, a 100-person group space that’s located behind the Astros bullpen where fans can shag balls (field them and throw them in to a coach) during batting practice; and a street art mural by by local artist Franky Cardona that displays the team’s past, present, and future. Even fans who only watch games at home will benefit from the renovations, thanks to a new center field camera position that will more accurately depict balls and strikes.
Taken together, the center field renovation gives Astros fans a new gathering place with lots of intriguing options. Hopefully, the city’s baseball fans will get to enjoy them all the way until November.