March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Astros' players look as pregame ceremonies are underway. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

Big League Weekend: Astros vs. Rangers — A Seasoned Sports Traveler’s View


March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Panoramic photo of the playing field along the third base line. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Panoramic photo of the playing field along the third base line. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

Astros vs. Rangers – a familiar term to most Texans but when the noun Alamodome is paired along with that match-up, it tends to make a baseball fan scratch their head.

For the first time since the Alamodome’s inception – the two teams faced each other in a two-game exhibition series that the Astros’ proudly swept.

I had the opportunity to travel to San Antone to attend the Opening Game of the series this past Friday. I’d have to describe the facility as quite cavernous for baseball – a far cry from the more intimate surroundings of Minute Maid Park. I’d liken the playing surface to an excellent rendition of bright, green shag-carpeting.

AstroTurf, LLC — the infamous company that invented the playing surface for the Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium, was responsible for the installation at the Alamodome. According to their Web site, the turf was custom-made and they describe the surface as “not your grandfather’s AstroTurf” and that the “playing surface incorporates a few distinct and advanced elements that make it truly unique.”

For guy that’s been to sporting events following my home teams on the road in multiple cities/states throughout the course of my life — including Canada — I was prepared for the unexpected. It definitely looked like something I haven’t seen before.

I sat along the third-base line adjacent to the pitcher’s bullpen. My criticism of my view of the game was that I felt quite far from the action; and, as with most modernized baseball stadiums, the seats are angled to a point to where one can see the action in just about any section of the ballpark.

March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Photo of House of Houston Staff Writer Brian K. Patterson near the playing field along the third base line. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Photo of House of Houston Staff Writer Brian K. Patterson near the playing field along the third base line. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

That was not the case with the Alamodome. This is attributed to the stadium’s rectangular shape that’s more tailored for football.

I empathized with those fans who either were sitting in the sections in the south end of the stadium or the extremely far reaches of the upper deck throughout.

They seemed to be so distant that one would definitely need binoculars to identify the members of their favorite respective teams.

The clamors of the crowd at notable moments were pronounced but not enough to feel connected to ongoing events of the game.

One of the highlights of this event that I recall though was during the pregame ceremonies Friday night where selected members of the military took part in a orchestrated descent on metal cords from the catwalk of the Dome’s ceiling to join the rest of the participants in the presentation of the colors.

March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Members of the U.S. Military descend from the scaffolds of the roof 160 feet from the floor. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Participating in the presentation of the colors before the game, members of the U.S. Military descend from the catwalk of the roof of the Alamodome some 160 feet from the floor. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

Chris Carter was the star of Friday’s show knocking a bomb to right field and bringing three guys early in the game for a lead.

Although Adrian Beltre, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Michael Choice all contributed to the Rangers’ late-game surge getting them within one run of tying, they still weren’t able to overcome the power of the Astros, who defeated the Rangers 6-5.

Starting pitcher Jerome Williams was rewarded with the win and reliever Jason Stoffel earned a victorious save.

March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Starting RHP Jerome Williams (36) warming up in the bullpen. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

March 28, 2014; San Antonio, TX; Starting RHP Jerome Williams (36) warming up in the bullpen. Credit: Brian K. Patterson

Saturday, the second and final game of the series, the Astros had a 16-hit bonanza led by sluggers Marwin Gonzalez and George Springer – the Astros never looked back after a monster fifth-inning sending the Rangers out to pasture 13-6. Newcomers Jonathan Meyer and Nolan Fontana each chipped in four and three RBIs, respectively. Dallas Keuchel, a familiar face in the pitching rotation, was able to attain the win notch on his belt.

Built in 1993, the purpose of the Alamodome contained an approach that was three-fold – to serve a permanent home from the San Antonio Spurs who were floundering in the HemisFair Arena, an aging, outdated facility; to lure a future NFL franchise and to serve as a large, modern venue for conventions.

What a difference 20 years makes. The premise for the Alamodome’s purpose does not seem to resonate as much as it used to. The Spurs have since moved to the AT&T Center, an arena built specifically for basketball, the Alamo City still does not have an NFL franchise and more focus has shifted on expanding the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center as the premier space for the city’s conventions.

Luckily, the facility continues to maintain its long-standing partnership with the Alamo Bowl and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. It recently landed two tenants neoterically – the UTSA Football program and the San Antonio Talons of the Arena Football League.

And there sits the Alamodome, sitting quietly waiting for some additional reasoning for its existence.

Until recently. Ryan-Sanders Baseball, Inc., a business partnership that is responsible for operating both the Round Rock Express, the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate and the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Astros’ Double-A affiliate organized this event dubbed as “Big League Weekend.” The inaugural event was last year and featured a title card including a match-up of the San Diego Padres vs. Rangers that attracted nearly 75,000 fans through the series.

The principal owners are Nolan Ryan and Don Sanders with current Astros’ president Reid Ryan, Nolan’s son, serving as its chief executive officer. Both principal owners are natives and have tremendous ties to Texas with Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan having a prosperous career with both the Astros and Rangers. Sanders, a prominent businessman, created Sanders Morris Harris, one of the nation’s top investment firms.

Because of last year’s success, Ryan-Sanders Baseball brokered a deal with the Alamodome that extends Big League Weekend through next season.

It remains to be seen if this past weekend’s series was considered a success – only about 50,000 fans attended the series this year – but at least it provided a fresh venue and change of scenery for pro baseball fans in Texas alike.

I, for one, enjoyed myself during my visit for Big League Weekend and I will be back next year. I’m always looking for an excuse to head out to the River City for some fun.

Would you like to see more games of these teams facing off during Big League Weekend? Or do you think this creates more dilution of the Lone Star Series? Can pro baseball make it San Antone? Comment below!

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