Baseball Extravaganza

What started as a birthday present from my parents to Dan one year has become an annual tradition that we look forward to every summer.  My parents are big fans of the Houston Astros and enjoy attending as many games as they can.  Several years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the Astros in Houston, and my parents gifted their Pennsylvania native son-in-law with tickets for us to join them for 2 games of the weekend series.  We decided to stay at the baseball-themed “Inn at the Ballpark,” located less than a block from the Astros ballpark in downtown Houston.  At the time, staying at a baseball hotel and attending 2 baseball games in the same weekend seemed like a lot of baseball, so we nicknamed the experience the “Baseball Extravaganza.”  We had such a good time that weekend that a tradition was born.  Our baseball weekend has become a rite of summer for us — usually falling on Labor Day weekend and always including a wonderful stay at the Inn.


At the main entrance to the Inn, you’re greeted by a statute of a ball player throwing a pitch.  You might think that a baseball-themed hotel would be filled with cheesy baseball trinkets and gimmicky decor.  But not so at the Inn.  This tasteful statue is about as over-the-top as this hotel gets with the theme-related styling.  The baseball touches throughout the hotel are subtle and charming — things like a baseball instead of a knob on a handrail and the base of a lamp shaped like a bat.


Dan and I have traveled a fair amount and have stayed at many nice (and a few not-so-nice) hotels.  One of us, whose name rhymes with spaniel, has even been accused of being a hotel snob.  We can honestly say that the lobby area at the Inn is one of our top 5 favorite hotel lobbies ever.  It has a cozy, yet open feel with lots of seating areas where you just want to pull up a leather couch or chair and stay a while.  Sort of like visiting your favorite neighbor’s better-decorated home.


Aside from the baseball, the overall theme of the Inn at the Ballpark is outstanding service.  Every employee we have encountered there has always been out-of-their-way friendly and accommodating in every respect.  Even if you’re not a frequent visitor like my parents (schmoozing with Chris, the Food & Beverage Director extraordinaire), expect VIP treatment if you ever visit the Inn.  That’s just how they roll.


The main feature of the center area of the lobby is a large clock, flanked by several tall artificial trees that you have to touch to determine they aren’t actually real.  Skylights provide tons of natural light, giving the whole place an airy, courtyard feel.


This center area of the hotel features the Ballpark Bar and the Ballpark Cafe, both of which feature delicious food.


The shrimp club sandwich is one of our favorite menu items (among many) at the Inn.  We order it every single time we go there.  Fresh plump shrimp cooked perfectly + generous slices of creamy avocado + crispy bacon + juicy tomato + provolone cheese + lettuce on toasted sourdough = Love.


The regular club sandwich is equally delicious.  And don’t get me started on those house-made chips.


One of the many special touches at the Inn — all of the tables have fresh orchid centerpieces, always.


Appetites more than sated, it was time to go to the game.  On game days, they block off the streets around the ballpark and we walk the 100 or so feet across the way from the Inn to the park.


My parents are awesome and treat us to Club Level seats.  We love Club Level.  If we’re ever blessed with a child and he’s a boy, maybe we’ll name him Club Level Conrad, “C.L.” for short.  Nice ring to it, no?  Even if you don’t have seats in the upper levels, Minute Maid park is a beautiful facility with tons of great seats, friendly staff and lots of amenities.


Oh, and they have baseball.  The Astros did not have their best season this year (to put it mildly), but die-hard fans like my parents and their other frequent-attending friends still support the team and cheer them on no matter what (albeit sometimes with maybe a little less enthusiasm than other times.)


One of the many fun features at the ballpark is the train that runs along one side of the park whenever the Astros hit a homerun.  Or, depending on how well the season is going, you can just take a picture of it sitting there.


Adding to the fun, it was “bring your dog” day at the ballpark that weekend.  No one near our seats brought dogs, but they showed a few up on the jumbo screen.


When the home team isn’t having a very good season, the folks at the ballpark come up with other ways to entertain the fans.  Trivia is a crowd-pleaser.  (Or a handful-of-people-pleaser.)


Also, who doesn’t love the “Kiss Cam?!?”  Perhaps these players on the opposing team don’t enjoy it so much (although I’m kinda thinking the dude on the right is seriously considering his options…)


If all else fails and the score gets a little dismal, how about a check of the weather during the game??  Hey, the home team may be behind, but at least it we know it will be cooler than 100 degrees for the next 3 days…


Although the Astros did not win the weekend we were there, the accommodations at the Inn did not disappoint.  The rooms are nicely appointed with dark wood and leather furnishings, green marble counter tops, a forest green and maroon color scheme and dark hardwood floors.  Each room also features artwork showing baseball players in action — all combining to create a very comfortable and relaxing atmosphere.


Our breakfast the next morning is one that we have re-created many many times at home — “Coach’s Favorite.”  Take a toasted English muffin, spread some cream cheese on each side and top with bacon and fresh tomato slices.  So simple and so perfect.  We also ordered a plate of fresh fruit to split and ended up with enough fruit (and extra bacon) to share with my parents.  Generous portions to say the least.  They also have an amazing breakfast buffet at the Inn, if you’re in the mood for a lot of food.


Splitting our still-huge breakfast allowed us to sample a few appetizers at the Inn before heading to the afternoon game.  The calamari was delicious — cooked through but not rubbery, with well-seasoned breading that didn’t even need sauce (although the marinara-ish sauce was also good.)  Among the calamari were slices of pickled jalapeno fried in the same breading.  A nice, spicy addition.


The short ribs were melt-in-your-mouth tender with a slight Asian flavor.  Amazing.


Just when you thought we couldn’t possibly eat any more food over the course of a weekend, we had an epic dinner at Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse on our final evening of the trip.  We have dined there before, and loved one particular dish so much that we made our own version at home.


Among the countless steak restaurants in Texas, Vic & Anthony’s is top of the line.  The ambiance is fancy and romantic enough to bring a significant other for a lovely date, yet stately and sophisticated enough to host an important business dinner.


Also, it was very dark in there.  Hence the absence of any decent pictures of our food, other than this one of the quail special that we all declared to be our favorite bite of the evening (among many other truly amazing dishes.)  The quail was cooked with a maple glaze that had a touch of sriracha for spice.  The result was a crispy (not at all burned) outer layer with moist and tender meat.  You better believe we will attempt to recreate this beautiful dish at home soon (and will share it here if we’re successful.)


Many thanks to my parents for yet another fantastic Extravaganza, and time well spent together.  We love you and look forward to next year!


One final thought.  Since baseball is our national pastime, it seems somewhat fitting to publish this post on such a significant day in our nation’s history, and in our hearts.  Everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing on this date 10 years ago — no need to rehash that here.  Many others have spoken and written about that day and this anniversary far more eloquently than I ever could.  All I can express is hope that we as a country and as individuals continue to try our best to honor the fallen, their loved ones, and all those who expend every effort to keep our country safe and strong.  God Bless America.

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