Take me out to the little ball game
Sitting in the sun with a Coke and a hot dog on a spring afternoon is glorious. Adding a baseball game to the mix comes close to perfection.
And with no disrespect to Minute Maid Park, the best place to watch a game in Houston is at Rice University's Reckling Park.
As a student I would head to afternoon games religiously, sometimes bringing along a reading assignment to glance at between innings to convince myself that I was not completely blowing off the afternoon. (Not that the books were ever as much as opened, but the thought is what counts.)
We sat in the green seats behind the Rice dugout to check out the players, or sometimes congregated on the bleachers behind left field, where the views are not nearly as good but beer is allowed.
These days I'm partial to the metal bleachers down the first base line, which lie at an angle ideal for studying the pitcher, batter or infielders. Rice alums and fans make up the main constituency, but there are also a fair amount of neighborhood dwellers and baseball purists who prefer Reckling's lack of commercialism, and cozy feel and the chance to watch a game that doesn't look like it's being played by ants.
While the aluminum bats of the NCAA offer plenty of offensive pop, college ball is about the details — small ball. Base runners get aggressive, and fielders make mistakes, so there are more of those exciting is-he-safe-or-is-he-out moments.
Despite the small size of the stadium (the capacity is just over 5,000), the crowd here can get very rowdy, and that's just how it should be.
Not to mention that, alumni bias aside, Rice is one of the best college teams in the nation — the Owls have won conference championships 16 years in a row and have made it to the College World Series five times in the past 10 years and won the national championship in 2003.
There's a legitimate chance to see a future all-star, too. Rice has produced established longtime major leaguers like Lance Berkman and (the retired) Jose Cruz Jr., as well as newer talent like current Mariners closer David Aardsma and Tampa Bay starting pitcher Jeff Niemann.
The final home series of the season at Reckling starts Thursday against conference foe University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The Owls need one more victory to clench the conference title, so the games are sure to be hard fought.
But even if one turns into a blowout, there's always the chance for some sun and a hot dog in the best, little rowdy baseball stadium in Texas.