Minute Maid Park gets fresh makeover
HOUSTON -- The rebranded Houston Astros have new uniforms, new logos, a new color scheme, a new mascot and practically an entire new team, beginning with new manager Bo Porter.
New, new, new. It's a buzzword that followed the Astros through the offseason and into Spring Training and even crept into their 2013 slogan: "It's a Whole New Ballgame."
New league. New players. New front office.
What else is new?
The ballpark, for starters.
Well ... not technically. Minute Maid Park is still the same downtown facility that opened its doors for the first time in 2000, the same venue that hosted three playoff appearances, one All-Star Game, a World Series and a handful of sold-out concerts. But it sure looks different.
Yes, Minute Maid Park has undergone a facelift of Joan Rivers-esque proportions. The structure is the same, but the insides -- or, at least, certain areas -- are largely unrecognizable.
That's what happens when a huge chunk of a 1.2-million-square-foot structure undergoes a little nip here, a large tuck there. Except instead of Botox, the Astros are using paint -- gobs of it.
For the last 13 years, Minute Maid Park sported the team colors the Astros adopted when they moved from the Astrodome to downtown. Brick red as far as the eye can see -- walls, banners, carpet, signage and on and on. Nearly every inch of the ballpark followed the red-and-beige scheme, which served the Astros well during the first era of modern-day Astros history.
But that's all in the past. The team's colors are now blue and orange, and naturally, the ballpark has to follow suit. That would be easy enough if we were talking about a five-bedroom house in The Woodlands. But a 42,000-seat stadium requires more attention, which is why the redecoration began soon after the Astros played their final home game of the 2012 season last September.
As of a week before Opening Night, 4,500 gallons of paint had been used, according to Bobby Forrest, the club's VP of building operations. The walls have been repainted with orange on top and dark blue on the bottom. More than 1,000 signs have been replaced, including the retired numbers that hang over right field and the playoff banners that hang near the Crawford Boxes in left and left-center.
The warning-track dirt is different, too. A new sand and dirt mixture -- dust-free and softer for the players -- has been installed around the circumference of the field, totaling 225 tons.
BY THE NUMBERS
|NO.||WHAT IT IS|
|4,500||Gallons of paint|
|1,000||Signs replaced with new logos and colors|
|21||Miles of wire cabling installed|
|17,000||Square feet of new Diamond Club|
|225||Tons of sand and dirt in new warning track|
|2.5 million||Dollars spent on renovations|
The concession experience has changed as well. ARAMARK, the official vendor of Minute Maid Park, has upgraded the process to include a "belly up" dynamic with the customers: think more made-to-order options and less prewrapped meals.
The obvious elements around the ballpark are easy enough to identify: directional signage, high walls and the Astros Team Store entrance. But that's only half the job. Even the tiniest details may have contained the old star or the old brick red, and slowly, all will be replaced.
"There are things you don't notice at first," said Astros director of marketing and broadcast Scott Wakeman. "The [red] blinds on the ticket windows, you don't notice until they're down. Things like that -- there's so much. We're working through it."
The remodeling will be done in two phases. The first phase is, for the most part, complete, and will be noticeable to the fans upon entry to the main concourse on Opening Night. Phase 2 will be completed as the team moves into 2014 and will involve "more noticeable renovation on suite and club levels," according to marketing manager Christie Miller.
For now, the red walls in the suites have been painted with neutral colors, and the star logos have been replaced by the new primary logo. After the season, the club and suite level hallways will include the new blue and orange color scheme.
In addition to transforming the general areas of the ballpark, the Astros have also focused their energy on two more areas of the operation they view as priorities: their high-end clients and their players.
The Diamond Club has been gutted and redone. Formerly 10,000 square feet, the new club is 17,000 and can entertain 400 clients, up from 200. A new dining area (which isn't visible from the seating area) includes a high-definition screen that provides a live feed from behind the plate so that fans don't have to miss any of the game action.
"We want them to understand we are making an investment into their game experience," Miller said.
Along those lines, after the completion of the first homestand, the team will install a special entrance exclusively for season-ticket holders.
"We never had a place for them to go before," Miller said. "It will be staffed every game."
Down the hall, the Astros' clubhouse underwent a massive overhaul. The weightroom has been furnished with brand-new equipment. The players' dining room was demolished and redesigned and will house a full-time chef -- all part of a grand plan to place more emphasis on nutrition and maintaining healthy eating habits throughout the season.
The carpeting has been replaced, red tile has been removed in favor of blue, and the lockers have been upgraded as well, complete with locked safes for personal belongings, outlets and, to make life easier for the high-tech generation of ballplayers, USB power connections.
Approximately 30 motivational signs Porter posted in the Astros' clubhouse at their Spring Training facility in Florida have been shipped back to Houston and will be visible in the living quarters at the home ballpark. There are six more quotes Porter has asked be worked into the paint around the rim of the locker room.
Whether "It's a Whole New Ballgame" is worked into Porter's quotable collection remains to be seen. Regardless, it really only takes one glance around the Astros' ballpark to get the message: a new era is under way.