It's been a big year for me and ballparks I've never seen. I've already been to a game at Dell Diamond and Busch Stadium and should cross off Kauffman Stadium sometime in August with the possibility of knocking off Coors Field too.
Saturday, my family and I took our first trip to Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi. I have to say, it rivaled the Dell Diamond as the best minor league park I've attended. I was very impressed with how the stadium looked, how close we were to the action on the field, the gameday presentation and more. Since I had just gone to an Astros game last weekend, it was a nice change from the big league setup.
Many, many more thoughts on the game, the stadium and more photos after the jump...
Whataburger sure does get its moneys' worth in advertising. Whataburger has one of two concessions stands behind the main concourse, they sponsored at least two of the on-field giveaways and had signage all over the park. Just look at this entrance.
They were giving away Nolan Ryan bobbleheads to the first 2,500 fans. When we walked in the gates, there were no bobbleheads to be seen. Instead, we each were given a ticket to be redeemed at a later date for the little guy. It seems the batch that was sent to them were defective. Since we live five hours away, this could've proved a problem for us, but my intrepid wife tracked down a customer service rep, who took our addresses and the stub from our vouchers and promised to mail us two when they finally arrived.
Crisis averted...I just thought the gods didn't want me to have a Nolan bobblehead. After all, I got to the Astros game 45 minutes early last Saturday and didn't come close to getting one from them. Instead, all those silly Rangers fans who had come in for the game stocked up on them. I was not pleased.
Speaking of the Rangers, I thought it was funny that Corpus was playing Frisco, the Rangers Double-A affiliate this weekend, what with the Silver Boot being up for grabs and all. Turns out, the Hooks played about as well as the Astros did. They lost 4-0 Friday night despite a strong outing from Jordan Lyles and fell 3-2 Saturday.
There were surprisingly few Rangers fans there, aside from some people who were obviously either friends of or related to some of the Frisco players. I guess it's a harder drive to get from the DFW area to Corpus Christi than it is to drive down I-45 to Houston.
That view is one of the reasons why I liked this park so much more than the Dell Diamond. Both were pretty stadiums, but Corpus has Round Rock beat for scenery. It was a really nice day, and even though the temperatures were up in the 90's, there was a cool breeze blowing off the shipping channel just behind the outfield. That made it so I hardly even noticed what the temperature was. Of course, we were also in the shade for the entire game, which helped with that too.
Another difference between this stadium and MMP?
That is a Flock of Seagulls (I ran, I ran so far away...) gathered in the outfield, in the middle of an inning. There were actually two groups on the ground at this point and more circling the air. Players were obviously used to them, because they didn't even flinch as the birds swooped and dove by the fence.
The other area where the Hooks have the Astros beat is in the between-inning entertainment. You all probably know of my dislike for the Hot Sauce Packet race. I've been up front about it since I heard about this terrible idea. I will now present to you two different ideas which promote a product without making my eyes bleed.
First, a simple game of Throw the French Fry Into The Fry Box.
Each of the tossers was trying to win his section a free taquito at Whataburger. The second guy won and got to throw one last fry to win the entire park a delicioius, delicious taquito. Unfortunately for me, he sucks and couldn't make it in on that throw. So, no breakfast goodness for me. But, isn't this a good idea? You even get branding for the boxes and such. And you don't have stupid hot sauces running laps around your field. It's a win-win.
But, if you insist on having a race, why not do something like this?
Two guys, racing on oversized tricycles. It was glorious. Well, maybe not glorious, but it kept me entertained instead of offending my sensibilities. I count that as a win. You're telling me some car dealership around Houston isn't wiling to shell out the money to sponsor a big-wheel race? Has anyone asked Rocky McCullough? Talking about this only makes me sadder...let's just move on.
One of the nicest surprises was this:
I saw this guy running out to coach first base with a stop watch in his back pocket. Nahh, I thought, that can't be him. He just kinda looks like him and just happens to be coaching first base. That's why I think...wait, that IS Jose Cruz! He was apparently in town with Enos Cabell to evaluate the Hooks. Cruz had thrown out the ceremoonial first pitch the night before and stayed on to work first base for a few innings Saturday night. My favorite shot of him was this one:
That's him coaching up Jhon Florentino after he walked to get on base. In case you're wondering, Cruz is a special assistant to the general manager and not an actual coach for the Hooks. That'd be quite the demotion, from big league first base coach to Double-A....
It really was a nice moment and illustrates why the Astros would want him on the field for games like this. It's probably a great way to get another opinion on how players are doing, as well as giving these guys a former player to learn from. Just a win-win situation.
This is one Krissy really wanted me to include. She took this out by the bullpen in left center field. It was of Nelson Payano getting a ball for a kid between innings. The kid apparently had called over to them, asking for it and Payano was the only one who walked over and obliged. Krissy thought this was really nice and deserved a shout-out. Also on her list of good players? Matt Nevarez, for waving to my one-year old son as he played on the playground equipment in left field.
That's a lot of talk about the mechanics of the game, though, and I'm sure you came here to get something on how the players did. Let me break down those thoughts in bullet-point style:
- Jon Gaston played a legit right field. He showed good range, getting to a ball in the corner near foul territory that I didn't think he'd get and running down a hard-hit ball in the gap, making a nice over-the-shoulder catch. He didn't quite get to a ball that one-hopped the wall in the fourth and had trouble reading the ball's bounce off said wall. A better read might have held the guy to a triple, as the ensuing throw into third was bang-bang. Didn't get to see much of his arm, so I'm not sure it'll play well there, but I definitely came away with the impression that Gaston has the range to play in right.
- J.B. Shuck goes by J.B. They announced him has J.B. I had thought that for a while, but then I saw on the minor league website roster that they listed him as Jack and wondered if he moved back to that. Nope, still being announced as J.B.
- Shuck had a typical night for him. He got a hit in his first at-bat on a ball that didn't go more than three feet from home plate. Shuck still beat it out after the pitcher and catcher had trouble getting to the ball. I didn't see him make any plays in center field as there were no balls hit out there. Still, I like his swing and his style of play. He's a gamer.
- Barry Butera started at second base. His batting average is horrendous, but he was just drafted last year as a college senior out of Boston College. Butera isn't the regular at second but may have a future in the organization. If nothing else, they thought enough of him to push him up to Double-A. In the little time I saw him at second, he did boot a ball hit directly at him, letting it get up into his chest instead of blocking it in his glove, and the ball bounced into right field.
- Koby Clemens has a nice uppercut on his swing, but no one showed much offensively. The big thing that impressed me was his plate discipline. He walked twice in this game, including once with the game on the line in the eighth inning. Clemens had a 3-0 count with a runner on first base as the Hooks trailed 3-0. Instead of swinging away at that next pitch, he held off and worked a walk. Just a heady play all around and it payed off on the next at-bat, as Jimmy Van Ostrand laced a single through the right side to score Shuck from second.
- Really liked watching Jonathon Fixler behind the plate. He made some tough blocks in the dirt on Johnson's curve and did exactly what Brad Ausmus used to do, blocking the ball off his chest protector. I can see why the Astros like him enough to move him all through the system.
- Jeremy Johnson was effective, but it was seemingly against what I was seeing. His stuff wasn't overpowering, though he was able to throw it past Frisco's hitters. He froze many of them on called strikes off the outside corner and ended up with six strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of work.
- Both Nevarez and Danny Meszaros worked in the late innings. I like both them to make the big leagues in the next year or so and nothing I saw here dissuaded that view. Each pitched well and seemed to command their fastballs.
Oh, and that reminds me of the last promotion Corpus Christi did. For every strikeout in the game, they put up a letter that spelled out Laredo Taco. If the Hooks struck out enough to spell both out completely, everyone in the stadium got a free breakfast taco from there the next day.
To top everything off, as we were walking out to our car, Krissy pointed to something in the parking lot. It was a foul ball that had cleared the top of the stadium and bounced its way among the cars. No one had seen it yet, so we picked it up as a last souvenir from a great trip to the ballpark. We couldn't have asked for a better experience. Well, the Hooks could have won or we could have seen Jordan Lyles, but besides that, it was great. I definitely would recommend that all you Astros fans try to go to a game down there if you're in the area. It's worth your time, for the scenery alone.