Ever wonder what kind of work goes on behind the scenes at Minute Maid Park? We are going to give you a glimpse into the roles of some of the people who make the Astros experience one of the best in baseball.
For the first post of our “Behind the Scenes” series, we’re going to take a peek into the work of the Astros grounds crew.
Every morning at 9AM, the Astros grounds crew starts to prepare the field for the game that night. All of the critical field maintenance (mowing, infield dirt work, mound and home plate work) is performed in the morning, and by early afternoon, it’s time to set up batting practice.
Willie Berry, a grounds crew member who has been with the Astros for over 40 years, works all day on the mound. It is an exacting process to keep the mound within MLB specification, and Willie and the grounds crew keep after them on a constant basis.
We caught up with Dan Bergstrom, Senior Director of Major League Field Operations at the Astros, for some questions:
- Who decides the pattern on the field and what motivates it?
We keep our mowing patterns simple (straight lines only, no artwork) in Houston to limit the stresses to our grass by the mowers due to our challenge of trying to grow the grass indoors with limited sunlight. We minimize the time our mowers are on the field. We also keep our mowing patterns lined up with our fielders so the grass does not cause the ball to hop or move side-to-side as it rolls towards a player.
- Do players have patterns that they prefer over others?
They prefer the ball rolls and bounces ‘true’, in a fashion that each hop can be expected. If a mowing pattern moves the ball around, the players or coaches will speak up and request a change.
- What was your most challenging day on the job?
I remember a day a few years back we were surprised by an unexpected pop-up thunderstorm on a game day morning with the roof open. The infield dirt was under water and we only had a couple of hours to recover before batting practice. We pumped the water off the infield and somehow dried the top of the clay enough to play, even with the roof closed and with no sunlight to help us dry.
- How is Minute Maid Park different than other parks?
You mean aside from our amazing fans??? Of course our field dimensions and fan amenities are unique. Our retractable roof is a very valuable asset which offers great benefits to our fans and players in the summer heat. Our turfgrass (Seashore Paspalum) is very unique and other teams are beginning to follow our lead on that.
- What’s the oddest player request you’ve gotten?
We are rarely surprised! We did have one player in the past who loved the dirt very wet at game time, so wet in fact, that it was mud and nearly impossible for the grounds crew to drag smooth in the 3rd and 6th
- What do you think is the future of baseball fields?
The sports turf industry continues to grow and improve at an amazing rate. We’ve seen advances in artificial lighting sources for natural grass (we use this in Houston), and we’ve seen great advances in the quality of sod grown for athletic fields. We are now able to install sod that can be ready to play very quickly. Repairing fields took weeks to months in the past, now we can repair a field in days if the planning is on point. The science of infield dirt continues to grow each year.
Thanks, Dan, for giving us a sneak peek into what goes into preparing the field.
We strapped a GoPro to the front of an aerator (a machine that systematically pokes small holes in the grass to allow oxygen to more readily reach the roots) to give a quick view into one of the many steps that goes into maintaining the field at Minute Maid Park.
In preparation for Opening Day 2016, the Astros held a competition to give fans the opportunity to hold the American flag during the Opening Day pregame ceremonies.
The response was tremendous. Check out a few of the hundreds of submissions:
Five people were selected to hold the flag along with a guest. The remainder of the flag was held by Astros special guests and active military members.
Sandy Ballard and her son Brandon were two of the winners and wanted to share their incredible story.
“I saw a Facebook post on the Astros page and I entered a contest. I said I’d love to be a part of this spectacular event and also to be able to say thank you to those who are here who have served their country. Being able to hold the flag would be really cool and I love having the chance to tell those who have served Thank You.” –Elizabeth Smith
Thank you to everybody who submitted an entry and most importantly, thank you to everybody who has served our country!
Special Guest Post from Orbit!
Spring Training 2016 is officially in the books and we had a BLAST! From meeting celebrities, visiting Mexico City, seeing old friends, and even making a few new ones, this last year in Kissimmee couldn’t have been more fun.
Here are a few of my favorite highlights:
Thanks to everybody who came down for Spring Training. We hope to see you all at the Astros Home Opener on April 11th. GO ASTROS!
Houston, we have liftoff! The official Houston chapter of WISE, Women in Sports and Events, kicked off on February 29th with 175 guests gathering at Minute Maid Park! Among the guests were the Presidents of our founding partners the Houston Astros, Houston Rockets, Houston Texans, Houston Dynamo, and the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority.
The event featured networking and a live question and answer session with some very special guests. KHOU Meteorologist Chita Johnson emceed the panel of speakers including Astros President of Business Operations Reid Ryan, Texans President Jamey Rootes, Dynamo President Chris Canetti, Rockets CEO Tad Brown, and CEO of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority, Janis Burke. Attendees even had chance to take photos with their favorite Houston Mascots!
WISE is the leading voice and resource for professional women in the business of sports. The organization provides information about issues, challenges and opportunities impacting all stages of their careers—from entry level to senior management and those in between.
“We are thrilled to bring this organization to Houston and provide resources for women in the sports and events industries. Through mentorships and networking, WISE will truly be valuable in providing insights and connections that will help support and enhance career growth.” – Christie Feliz, Director of Promotions and Marketing at the Astros (VP WISE Houston Board)
WISE Houston provides programming and valuable networking opportunities to help carry out WISE’s mission at a local level, and works with the WISE National Board to deliver initiatives such as the WISE Within Mentor Program.
“I thought this event was a great chance to interact with my colleagues at other teams and meet other sports and event professionals from around the city.” – Adrienne Saxe, Sr. Community Development Manager at the Texans
For more information and to join this fantastic organization, please visit WiseHou.org.
Each January, as we come back from the holidays and start to look forward to spring, it’s time to start thinking Astros baseball. And what better way to kick off the excitement of the upcoming season than with the annual Astros Caravan and Astros FanFest? This annual celebration starts with a day of service in the Houston area and concludes with Astros FanFest at Minute Maid Park. During this special week, Astros players and fans gather for a chance to meet their favorite players and participate in Astros fun.
The 2016 Astros Caravan presented by Academy Sports & Outdoors featured Astros players, the Coca-Cola Shooting Stars, Orbit and team staff traveling to interact with our loyal fans throughout the state. This year’s Astros Caravan visited the great cities of Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Galveston and areas around Houston including The Woodlands, Pasadena and Katy. Highlights from the week included a special trip to NASA, visits to local schools, serving food at Chick-Fil-A and Whataburger, interacting with fans at autograph sessions at Academy locations, and participating in our brand new Caravan Jams! To see more photos from the 2016 Astros Caravan, please visit Astros.com/Caravan.
Following Astros Caravan, Astros fans gathered together for a one-of-a-kind event at Minute Maid Park to meet their favorite players and participate in a fun-filled day at Astros FanFest. This year’s Astros FanFest on January 23 brought a record crowd of over 11,000 fans. Despite the chilly weather (hey it’s Houston, we get cold easily!), fans flocked to Minute Maid Park to support their favorite team and celebrate the upcoming season. Fans took batting practice in the cages with Colby Rasmus, met mini-horses at the petting zoo in the Plaza, threw in the bullpen with Collin McHugh, took selfies with Orbit as part of the Selfie Scavenger Hunt, and even played ping pong with Jose Altuve!
Here’s a review of the highlights of Astros FanFest:
Fans of all ages could create custom Astros Baseball cards in a new feature also presented by The Smile Generation.
The free FanForum sessions throughout the day in the Diamond Club included the highly anticipated reveal of the new 2016 Astros alternate jersey and cap to be worn during Spring Training and Sunday home games.
Thanks to everybody who came out for the 2016 Astros Caravan and Astros FanFest. We can’t wait to see you here at Minute Maid Park for the Astros Home Opener on April 11th against the Royals!
Craig Biggio’s name will always be linked with two organizations – the Houston Astros and the Sunshine Kids. What’s the Sunshine Kids? It’s a wonderful nonprofit dedicated to helping children with cancer. The organization provides a variety of events and programs across the country, free of charge, to kids who are battling cancer. Biggio has supported The Sunshine Kids since the early days of his Hall of Fame career with the Astros and continues as a spokesman for the organization today.
Throughout the baseball season, the Astros host Sunshine Kids and their families for several meet-and-greets with players, volunteer at hospitals in Houston and after the season, Craig and his wife Patty host an annual baseball party on the field at Minute Maid Park.
Each year during the holiday season, Sunshine Kids and their families come to the Children’s Museum of Houston for the Annual Sunshine Kids Holiday Party. On December 11, the tradition continued with hundreds of Sunshine Kids joining the Biggios, Astros volunteers, the Astros’ mascot Orbit and Olaf from Frozen for a great night of arts and crafts, visits with Santa and the chance to explore the Children’s Museum.
The night gives the kids a chance to enjoy the holiday season and also provides the Biggio family with another opportunity to give back. Craig’s wife Patty and two of their children, Conor and Quinn, joined the celebration.
“My dad’s been a part of this basically since he started playing,” Conor said. “It’s part of our family. This is such an awesome event seeing all of these kids having fun and loving life.”
Today the Astros and MLB released the 2016 regular season schedule. The Astros will open the 2016 season at Yankee Stadium on April 4, 2016 and host the Royals for our home opener one week later on April 11. The 2016 schedule features interleague play against the team’s former NL Central rivals including visits to Minute Maid Park by the Cubs and Cardinals. Full press release below:
HOUSTON, TX — The Astros will begin the 2016 season on April 4 vs. the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, marking the first time Houston has ever opened a season on the road vs. the Bronx Bombers. Major League Baseball announced the Master schedule for 2016 today.
The 2016 season will mark the second time in three seasons that the Astros have opened a season vs. the Yankees, with the first coming on April 1, 2014 at Minute Maid Park (6-2 Astros win).
The Astros 2016 Home Opener will be on April 11 vs. the Kansas City Royals, who currently have the best record in the American League.
Interleague play will be another highlight from the 2016 schedule as the Astros will take on their former rivals from the N.L. Central Division. The Cincinnati Reds (June 17-19) Chicago Cubs (Sept. 9-11) and St. Louis Cardinals (Aug. 16-17) all will return to Minute Maid Park for the first time since 2013. The Astros will also take on the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates on the road in 2016.
As in past years, the Astros will face off vs. their in-state rivals, the Texas Rangers, 19 times in 2016 as the battle for the Silver Boot continues. The first of three home series vs. the Rangers is scheduled for the weekend of May 20-22. The other two three-game sets at Minute Maid Park will be August 5-7 and Sept. 12-14. The Los Angeles Angels will visit Houston three times as well for a total of 10 games (June 20-22, July 22-24 and Sept. 22-25).
Additional highlights from the 2016 schedule include home matchups vs. the Boston Red Sox (April 22-24), Yankees (July 25-27) and Toronto Blue Jays (August 1-4).
Season Tickets, Group Tickets, and Individual Game Suite Rentals are on-sale now for the 2016 season. The purchase of 2016 Full Season Tickets also guarantees access to 2015 Postseason ticket options. Fans can purchase tickets by calling the Astros ticket sales office at 1-800-Astros2 or by visiting http://www.astros.com.
As always, the Astros 2016 schedule will be filled with several promotional events and popular giveaway items. Please note that information pertaining to the on-sale dates for 2016 Astros individual tickets will be announced at a later time.
Last month the Astros, Astros fans and the City of the Houston celebrated the long-awaited official induction of Craig Biggio into the Baseball Hall of Fame. We’re capping off the celebration this weekend with a special pregame ceremony on Saturday featuring Craig Biggio in his first opportunity to address Astros fans since he was inducted into Cooperstown. Details about the pregame ceremony can be found at our Biggio HOF landing page — gates open at 3:30 pm, fans should be in their seats at 5 pm, Biggio’s Hall of Fame plaque will be on display at Union Square Station and we’ll have special postgame fireworks. But we wanted to share a guest post from our MLB.com Real-Time Correspondent, Ryan Gonzalez, who was in Cooperstown last month for the induction.
By Ryan Gonzalez, Special to Mission Control
Last month, I checked something off the top of my bucket list: go to Cooperstown. My dad always said when either Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the first Astros player, we would be there.
Like many kids, my dad is the reason I got into baseball. He took me to my first game at the Astrodome when I was five, and I couldn’t believe there were men playing a game that I had just started playing myself. I remember him saying, “Do you see those guys in the blue and gold? They’re from Houston, they’re who we go for.” I instantly said he was lying as I couldn’t believe there was a team from Houston that I got to cheer for. I wanted to learn everything about the Astros from that day forward, and I did. I grew up cheering on the Killer B’s and seeing the Astros fall just short of winning a World Series with them. We weren’t going to miss it when any of them entered the Hall of Fame.
It seems like many others had the same idea. On our flight to Albany on Thursday, we had to take a stop to Tampa first and 85 people remained on the plane to continue their journey to Cooperstown. The moment we stepped off the plane and walked through the airport, we started hearing “Wow, that’s a lot of Astros fans.” This would continue to be a common occurrence all weekend as that was heard at the Hall of Fame Museum, at the Induction Ceremony, and even the nearby sports bar where all Astros fans congregated for their games against the Red Sox and Royals.
— Houston Astros (@astros) July 25, 2015
Seeing that many Astros fans make the trip all the way to New York made the experience even better. Biggio’s play in the field made fans love him, and his work off the field made fans respect him. Biggio is the reason I played second base growing up and the reason my uniform was always dirty. He helped turn Houston into a baseball city, and we were out in full force to support him.
On Saturday, we finally made it out to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Museum and the 2015 Hall of Fame Parade. Of course, there were many great things to see throughout the exhibit, and right on the first floor with the Plaque Gallery was an area for this years class. Craig Biggio’s section had his hat from the game he got hit 3,000, his bat from that season, his Opening Day 2003 jersey, and even some awards he had received over the years.
As we moved through the Hall, there were plenty of more items belonging to the Astros that had everybody smiling. In the Astros section on the second floor was Jeff Bagwell’s 2005 World Series jersey, Jose Altuve’s bat from the final game of the 2014 season, and Lance Berkman’s grand slam ball from the 18-inning game in the 2005 NLDS. Chris Burke’s 18-inning home run ball was also on display a little further along the way.
After exiting the Hall of Fame, we walked through Cooperstown and went through all the various shops selling many baseball memorabilia and souvenirs. One thing was very common though throughout all the shops selling 2015 Class items: they were sold out of everything related to Craig Biggio.
— Ryan Gonzalez (@RyanGonzalezRTC) July 25, 2015
It was a sea of blue and orange everywhere we went, and there were several “B-G-O” chants that broke out leading up to the parade. Those chants were nothing compared to when Biggio finally came out. We could hear his name all the way up the street. It was surreal to see him in the back of a truck with thousands of Astros packed in just to catch a brief glimpse of him.
Finally, it was induction day. 50,000 packed the Clark Sports Center for the 2015 Class, and it was an emotional time for many there. Biggio did what he did his entire career, and that was lead things off. The crowd cheered his name non-stop until he started speaking, and we listened to every word. By the time his speech was over, there weren’t very many dry eyes left. His speech ended with a standing ovation and one last “B-G-O” chant.
The Astros fans finally had their guy in Cooperstown.
Hello Astros fans! Orbit here, back for another guest post here on Mission Control. It’s been a crazy and exciting time here at Minute Maid Park since my last guest post back in April, and while the team’s been doing great, I’ve been keeping busy both on and off the field!
In case you missed it, me and my fur ball buddies, Clutch and Diesel, ventured into our second foray of feats of mascot strength a few short weeks ago. This time, we tackled the Cypress Triathlon to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters. If you haven’t seen our team page, check it out at https://my.reason2race.com/event/cypresstriathlonbbbstx.
For those of who aren’t familiar with a triathlon, it’s a swim, bike ride and run all in succession. You know….because doing them on their own for each of us was just too easy for fat mascots. This triathlon was of the sprint variety, meaning we had to complete a 550 meter swim, 13 mile bike ride, capped off by a 5K run.
While we’re all a little insane, we aren’t completely out of our minds, so we broke it up into a mascot relay of sorts. Since Clutch and I each have ventured into running and biking, respectively, Diesel drew the undoubtedly hardest straw to kick-off our relay with the swim. While we knew we weren’t going to break any records that day, we all had a goal in mind of being competitive. In hind sight, this proved to be a little ambitious.
As I said, Diesel kicked the race off with his open water 550 meter swim. If you guessed that water and mascots mix, you’d be exactly wrong. Poor guy fox paddled the entire way though and managed to make it through in one piece. If you’ve ever seen a meme of a cat after it gets a bath, that’s about the closest thing I can think to compare his exit from the pond. Tired, water logged, but not beaten, Diesel emerged from the water in a much faster time than any of us had thought he might and tagged me in for the bike portion of the race.
This is the part of the post where I’m suppose to tell you that my 13 miles on a bike was easier than moon walking on ice. After all, I’ve ridden a bike for 180 miles over two days. Two things I forgot to factor in….Texas heat in July and humidity. I’m going on record as saying that I love our roof at Minute Maid Park and that it really would have come in handy that day. Five minutes in I was drenched with sweat and smelled like a teenager’s laundry hamper. None the less, I peddled through and made it the 13 miles, but not without the encouragement from my fellow riders. They kept me going, and I imagine I kept them going as well. I mean, how often do you get passed by a giant green alien on a bicycle?
At my finish, Clutch was ready to tackle the final leg of the triathlon; the daunting 5K run. Now, I didn’t get a chance to see Clutch run since his course took him over several parts of the park, and truthfully, I was using that time to catch my breath from my leg. He’s the runner of the group, and like me, he’s completed more difficult races than this. At this point in the morning though, the weather is starting to warm up like the pot of water at a crawfish boil. Early on it felt nice, but by this point, it was downright balmy.
After about twenty minutes, Diesel and I make our way to the finish line to meet our favorite running bear. Yes, twenty minutes! Papa Bear Clutch was running as if there was a honey pot at the finish! Like Diesel and I, he crossed the finish line in a heap of exhaustion.
We’d officially done it! This group of tons of mascot fun managed to do what several had doubted, and we finished a triathlon in right at two hours! We couldn’t have done it without the help of each of our respective teams, race organizers, support staffs, but most of all, the fans. You guys who were out there with us pushing us forward made a difference in keeping us going, one stroke, pedal or stride at a time.
As I mentioned earlier, if you haven’t had a chance to visit our team page, please go to https://my.reason2race.com/event/cypresstriathlonbbbstx. If you have the means to donate, please do. However, if you don’t, I would encourage you to consider becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister. It’s a great organization that does a lot of good work.
Until next time, I’ll see you at the ballpark cheering on our Astros!