Our Downtown Baseball State of Mind


Downtown Baseball. Most often, it's an easy drive, in and out.


My barber asked me the other day if I had gone to the rodeo this year. Beyond the fact that I am not now, and never have been, a rodeo guy, the thought of the drive from the west side to that congested monster site next to the Astrodome alone is enough to steer me away from such a trip. My barber admitted to the same feelings about the bottle-neck traffic that still controls Kirby at the 610 Loop South area. That problem was one of the same reasons I was happy a few years ago when plans materialized for the downtown baseball park at Union Station. I don’t know how many times I got caught in one of those one or two gate exit traffic clogs at the Astrodome parking lot and went away mumbling “never again.”

Of course, the call of baseball for people like me was strong enough to get me back on a temporarily erased memory of the last traffic jam, but the general effect of Astrodome parking lot and area street congestion was impacting how often I attended games as the years went by. It was just awful. And there wasn’t really any way for it to get better. Texans football fans have the same problem in 2011. Only the tailgaters escape it by arriving early and leaving late. Baseball isn’t a tailgater’s game. At least, the last time I looked, it wasn’t.

So, why is downtown so much better for auto traffic?

The big difference is easy to see. Downtown offers a far more diffuse traffic  situation, one serviced by the same freeways that all serve downtown for daily business, but without the density impact from all those other cars that are involved in our weekly morning and afternoon rush hour traffic. Downtown is a grid of about twelve streets moving north and south and a like number moving east and west –  and they all connect, one way or another with freeways departing downtown in every direction. When baseball schedules itself for a game downtown in the evening, or on weekends, the traffic infrastructure is set up to make the drive to and from the ballpark as easy as it can be for fans coming from and going to all points on the compass.

I can’t help but think of the one condition that would make going to a major league baseball game in Houston even easier – and that would be to live downtown in one of the overdeveloped high rises that sprouted up faster than the area could develop the other kinds of residential services for the neighborhood that are needed to make the downtown residential life an attractive option. For now, there aren’t enough grocery stores and convenient shopping centers and other entertainment/eatery places, not to mention medical, dental, and veterinary services, and gas stations, to get people to cut the cord on their present suburban area dependencies.

Change is big. It comes in parts of letting go of the old and grabbing on to the new. Today, downtown needs a few more amenities we can grab onto and finally say, “That’s it. That’s all I needed. Downtown, here I come.”

For me, for now, the easy ride, to and from the west side out either I-1o or Memorial Drive will have to do. It’s worked for me, so far, since the year 2000.



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6 Responses to “Our Downtown Baseball State of Mind”

  1. Mark Wernick Says:

    We took the park-and-ride shuttle from Braeswood at Post Oak into the rodeo. As we boarded that bus I was acutely interested in seeing how – or if – it was going to get to the arena without sitting in the same bottleneck traffic as all the cars. It took 610 down to Almeda, turned left, and took another left onto one of those streets behind the V.A. Hospital that cuts through all the apartment complexes back there, and presto, slid right up into the parking lot of the stadium with ease. Apparently, not many people think of going that way; and it’s abundantly clear that the traffic organizers have no investment in attempting to route regular vehicular traffic that way. It would only take a few hundred additional cars on that route to back it up as bad or worse than the traffic backed up at Kirby (and to a lesser degree, Fannin). The rodeo is a lot like the Rennaisance Festival. Apart from being a place to buy all kinds of food and unique merchandise, it offers (an admittedly fun) opportunity for people to dress up in costume, essentially, and look at each other. I couldn’t help but notice that quite a few teenaged girls this year opted for the costume of very short dresses and cowboy (cowgirl) boots.


  2. Bob Hulsey Says:

    I tend to be an early arriver and (when allowed) late stayer to sporting events. I enjoy observing batting practice, watching players mingle, watching the crowd arrive and feeling like I beat the crush of humanity there and will wait patiently for them to depart before I do.

    I thoroughly enjoyed having that spacious Astrodome parking lot and even needed the assistance of lot attendants a time or two and found them very helpful. At Minute Maid, you pay three times the cost to park, you have no idea whose responsible for where you’ve parked or any assurance that your vehicle is safe while you’re enjoying the game.

    I, frankly, don’t see Downtown as any easier to get to/from than the Dome was but I also found alternate routes than the 610 Loop or Kirby Drive to get there. Granted, I didn’t attend as many events at the Dome as the years passed but it wasn’t the traffic as much as it was residing in Austin so the effort to see a game in Houston made trips infrequent.

    Largely, I’m a happy suburbanite that sees traffic as part of the price you pay to live in a big city. The trick is in learning how to get around on the side streets and not arriving at the last minute or choosing to leave right after the event is over. That’s my low-stress strategy that has served me well most of my adulthood.

  3. mike Says:

    As a native Houstonian who was born at roughly the same time as Major League Baseball in Houston, I completely agree with you Bill. Minute Maid downtown is a vastly superior experience. The first downtown ballpark I ever attended was the Jake in Cleveland. They had us staying in a hotel about 15 blocks away, so I walked to the sold out Sunday afternoon game. As I got closer to the ballpark, the sidewalks became more crowded. A few blocks away were vendors selling cheap knock off Indians swag and big bags of peanuts. It built excitement as you got closer. I love downtown baseball. And the traffic is exponentially easier.

    Having said all that- we’ve got to save our Astrodome!

  4. David Munger Says:

    If they could devise a summit like parking system Downtown, it would
    make Minute Maid Park a more enjoyable experience.

  5. John Watkins Says:

    IMHO, baseball belongs downtown. I haven’t been to a game in Houston since the Astros departed the Dome, but I go to several games a year in St. Louis, about a five-and-a-half hour drive from my home in Northwest Arkansas. (I’m a native Texan, by the way, and a life-long Cardinals fan — from the era when the Buffs roamed as a St. Louis farm club.) If I can’t get a reasonably priced hotel room near Busch Stadium, I can always find one a short ride away on the light-rail line. Or, if I just have to drive, there are parking garages immediately adjacent the stadium, and others a short walk away.

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