Behind the Scenes Series: “The Wall”

Every Astros game, you can always count on the manual scoreboard to keep you informed on the scores of other games. This is especially important during this time of season when several teams are in the hunt for the Postseason. For the latest post in our “Behind the Scenes” series, we decided to give you a look into the team that manages the Astros Manual Scoreboard, known affectionately to them as “The Wall”.

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We spoke with David Schoen, one of the scoreboard operators, to get better insight into what goes into managing the manual scoreboard:

How did you get this position?

I was retiring from teaching as a Band Director and a colleague that I taught with thought it would be a great retirement job for me.  Her husband, who has been with the scoreboard production department since the Astrodome days, put me in contact with the Astros for an interview and the rest is history.

Do you have a nickname for the scoreboard?

Over the years it’s probably had different nicknames, but to me, it’s “The Wall”.  There is only one way in, and there is only one way out.

How do you prepare for the games?

All parts of the operation are fun, unique and historical.  It takes about an hour to move all the team names around and set out the pitcher numbers at the start of each new home stand.  And then after each game we move some teams around and change the starting pitchers’ numbers. We move some games from one level to the other to make the management of the games smoother.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The body does get a bit tired after spending five hours going up and down the stairs and bending to change nine plus numbers for about 30 teams each evening.  But it is fun for people of all ages.  There have been lots of people that have worked in this manual scoreboard over the years and a few that worked the manual scoreboard at the Astrodome.

How do you keep track of where each team is positioned on the scoreboard?

When you see the team name on the outside of the board, there is a second nameplate behind it facing inwards.  As with the numbers, they are solid green on one side and have a number on the other side.  Our numbers go from 0-9.  We also have some number plates that go from 10 to 20 in case a team hits double digits in one inning. We have used an 11 or 12 a couple of times this season.

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How do you keep track of what’s going on in other games while behind the scoreboard so you can update accordingly?

We mainly use a laptop we have that is hooked up to the internet but also use iPads hooked up to the stadium’s Wi-Fi.  We go to several sites like MLB.com and use the MLB At Bat app to look up inning-by-inning box scores.  We also use our phones later in the game for quick reference to keep up with constant changes.

Is it completely dark back there?

There are some shaded fluorescent lights on the upper level of the scoreboard so it’s not too bad.

Have you ever had a ball go into the scoreboard?

I have not personally but some others have had number plates broken by a ball in play and the plastic material shattered and flew around inside the scoreboard. It is loud when the baseballs bounce off the numbers and metal sections during the game, but that is part of the mystique and fun.

Do you also have the Astros game streaming on a TV?

We do not have a TV or monitor in The Wall.  Our view of the game is through the half dollar size finger holes in the number that are meant for changing the numbers.  The neat part of not being able to constantly watch what is going on is that you get to hear all the sounds of the ballpark and the crowd.  You can tell if it’s a foul ball, a double play or three seconds from being a home run.  You can also tell when there are great defensive plays being made by our team or the visitors.

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How many levels are in The Wall?

There are two levels.  There are four rows of games that are at field level.  There are also four rows of games on the second level. The second level is a metal grating that goes all the way from the left edge of the scoreboard to the far right.

Have you had any celebrity guests come visit behind the wall?

We do get quite a few visiting pitchers who come up to get a unique perspective of the field and the game. It is fun to watch them come up to the second level to see the scoreboard and realize there is not much headroom on that level. The cement above our heads is the bottom of the Crawford Boxes.  A lot of the pitchers are well above 6 feet tall so they are taken back a little at how low the ceiling is up there.

Are there any autographs of visiting players or celebrities anywhere behind the wall (like at Fenway Park)?

The back wall on the second level is starting to get quite a few player autographs.  We have a permanent marker ready for when any ball players wander up and we ask them if they would like to sign the wall. It is nowhere close to Fenway yet, but it’s exciting to watch the number of signatures increase.

Thanks so much for the great insight, David! Here’s a quick look at some of the action that goes on during a game:

Behind the Scenes Series: Bobby Dynamite

You see him at every ballgame. You’ve probably wondered who he is and how you could get that job. In our second post in our “Behind the Scenes” series, we’re going to give you a glimpse into the life and legacy of Bobby Dynamite, known affectionately as the Astros Train Guy!

Bobby Dynamite (real name: Bobby Vasquez) first started at the Astros as a tours intern in 2001. Funny enough, Bobby wasn’t the original train conductor. That honor lies with Astros Director of Guest Services Michael Kenny, who was the train conductor in the Astros inaugural season at Minute Maid Park in 2000 when he was the Tours Manager. Bobby grabbed his conductor’s hat and overalls right before the 2001 season and has been there ever since.

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Bobby’s claim to fame came in 2005 when he mimicked a dance scene from the movie Napoleon Dynamite. “We decided to go for it one Sunday and the crowd reaction was incredible. I got a standing ovation from our fans. We decided to stick with it and our ballpark entertainment staff called the routine Bobby Dynamite. That name has stuck with me ever since.”

We sat down with Bobby for some hard-hitting questions:

1. How does the train work and how fast does it go?

It’s a huge electric train. It was custom made for Minute Maid Park by Unisystems out of Minnesota. I control all the bells, whistles and movements and it runs at a steady 2.75 miles an hour.

2. Who is the coolest visitor you have ever had visit the train?

Mario Williams, who was the first pick of the 2006 NFL Draft.

3. Rumor has it that you are afraid of heights? Are you, and if so, how does that work with your position?

I’m deathly afraid of heights. I just get over it when I’m on the train because I love being there so much.

4. Have you ever tried to grab a fake orange out of the back of the train when you’ve been hungry in an extra-innings game?

They’re fake? Just kidding.

5. Have you ever been hit by a ball?

Yes. Last year, a couple of Astros hit the train with homerun balls. Several years ago Rickie Weeks, then of the Milwaukee Brewers, hit a home run off my arm. I tried to catch it but missed.

6. Do you keep track of home run balls up there? If so, how difficult is it?

Yes, I keep track of them. It’s not that hard. I keep the homerun baseballs separated so that the right ball goes to where it’s supposed to go. Sometimes the player wants the homerun ball back. Sometimes Astros Authentics wants it back. If it was hit by the opposing team, I also do my best to offer it back to the player who hit it. You never know when it’s a milestone home run or if it was a special hit for a friend or family member

7. What’s it like being a Houston celebrity?

I’m not a celebrity. I’m just a life-long Astros fan that got really lucky. I can’t say that when I was a kid, this is what I wanted to do when I grew up because this train and the ballpark did not exist at that time.

8. Anything else you’d like us to know?

I love what I do. I love that I get to do it. The Astros are my ride or die team. They have been my whole life. It’s extremely humbling when fans ask to take a picture with me or sign an autograph because I’m one of them. I’m a fan. I’m very thankful that the fans have supported me as much as they have. It’s the coolest thing in the world to have kids come up and tell me that they want to be me when they grow up. It makes me work harder and cheer louder when I’m up there because I’m living a kid’s dream. When you see me up there yelling and trying to pump up the crowd, that’s all real emotion.

Thank you so much Bobby for letting us learn about what goes into being Bobby Dynamite the Astros Train Guy! We can’t wait to see you even more at every home game at Minute Maid Park.

We know Bobby has the best view in the ballpark so we wanted to give you a sneak peek! Check out this footage from the train during the walk off win on July 10, 2016.

Behind the Scenes Series: Astros Grounds Crew

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.

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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.

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The Astros grounds crew has more than 20 machines they use to keep the field in tip-top shape

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. 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.

Opening Day Flag Holding Sweepstakes

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.

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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!

Orbit’s Recap of Spring Training

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:

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Got to hang out with my pal the Philly Phanatic for the first Spring  Training game in Clearwater, FL. Green guys united!

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It was hot that day….

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St. Patrick’s Day celebration wins!

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Some pretty cool people visited me, including Marc Anthony….

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…and Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred. Apparently they’re both big fans!

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We were having a handsome contest. I won.

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!

WISE (Women in Sports and Events) Kickoff!

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.

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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!

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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.

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“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)

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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.

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Highlights from 2016 Astros Caravan and FanFest

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.

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Colby Rasmus ready to take your order!

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:

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Every twenty minutes, Astros players rotated through the official FanFest photobooth presented by The Smile Generation to take funny photos with fans. Some lucky fans even go their photo with both Luis Valbuena and Lance McCullers!

 

Fans of all ages could create custom Astros Baseball cards in a new feature also presented by The Smile Generation.

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At the expanded Social Media Zone, a few lucky fans played ping pong against Astros players, including Jose Altuve. Spoiler alert: Jose won.

 

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Several Astros players – including Colby Rasmus – stopped by the Social Media Zone for Twitter Q&A’s throughout the day. We even had custom Fathead emojis for them to sign!

 

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.

 

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Fans with select vouchers were able to meet four of their favorite players and get their autographs. Kids even had their very own free autograph sessions.

 

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Players made surprise appearances throughout the day in different locations around the ballpark including the Astros dugout

 

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FanFest wrapped up with what was surely the most entertaining Fan Forum of all-time when Evan Gattis, George Springer and Colby Rasmus discussed the clubhouse culture for the 2016 team

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!

The Annual Sunshine Kids Holiday Party

Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio with a Sunshine Kids Family

Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio with a Sunshine Kids Family

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.

Biggio and two Sunshine Kids in the holiday spirit!

Biggio and two Sunshine Kids in the holiday spirit!

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.

Astros volunteers helped with making Santa hats

Astros volunteers helped with making Santa hats

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.

Astros mascot Orbit and Olaf from Frozen delighted fans1

Astros mascot Orbit and Olaf from Frozen delighted fans1

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.

Patty Biggio with Sunshine Kid Jay Garza and his mother

Patty Biggio with Sunshine Kid Jay Garza and his mother

“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.”

Biggio and Sunshine Kids family

Biggio and Sunshine Kids family

Orbit posted with his biggest fans!

Orbit posted with his biggest fans!

Astros Meet & Tweet/Social Media Night Recap

Astros Meet & Tweet

Hi and welcome back to Mission Control! As we get down to the final home games, I wanted to take a few minutes to do a quick recap of our first annual Astros Meet & Tweet/Social Media Night which we hosted last Friday, September 18 before the Astros-A’s game. For the 45 of you who joined us, thank you! And for those who didn’t, we had a blast with our special guests and also gave away some fantastic prizes including a George Springer autographed bat, Dallas Keuchel signed baseball, Orbit-Wan Kenobi Bobblehead, Keuchel’s Korner shirts and more.

A huge thank you to our awesome special guests:

  • Astros broadcaster Bill Brown
  • Root Sports reporter Julia Morales
  • Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow
  • Astros President of Business Operations Reid Ryan
  • Astros radio broadcaster Steve Sparks
  • Astros mascot Orbit

We started off with an exclusive happy hour Meet & Greet with Astros broadcaster Bill Brown at the Saint Arnold Bar:

Then we moved to the Loft at the FiveSeven Grill for our official Meet & Tweet program, which included:

Selfies with Orbit:

Q&As with Julia Morales, Jeff Luhnow, Reid Ryan and Steve Sparks:

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More selfies!

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More fun with the Twitter Mirror:

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An exclusive interview with Orbit by Steve Sparks:

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After the pregame event, the fans headed to their bullpen box seats with their exclusive #SocialStros emoji shirts for the game.

We look forward to seeing you next season for #SocialStros. Look for information about it early in the season.

Thanks!

 

Astros Announce 2016 Regular Season Schedule

2016 Astros Schedule Released

2016 Astros Schedule Released

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.

2016 Regular Season Schedule

2016 Regular Season Schedule