September 2011

Trip to Minute Maid Park in Houston: Astros honor former ‘Cats

This past weekend Account Executive Chris Dawson and I made a trip to Minute Maid Park in Houston, the first time we had ever been to Texas. We met at “The Joe” early Thursday morning and began the trip to New York City where our flight was leaving from JFK International Airport.

photo-5After sitting in traffic on the New York State Thruway for a bit longer than expected, we did make it to the airport with reasonable time to spare. Then we boarded our Jet Blue flight sitting across the aisle from one another.


The flight from JFK to Houston’s Hobby Airport lasted approximately 3 hours and 27 minutes, but felt much shorter due to the on-board Direct TV which allowed us to watch our favorite shows (ESPN) during the flight. They also served Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, something I live on.

Upon arrival in Houston we picked up our bags and hailed a cab to downtown, about a 15 minute cab ride. The one noticeable difference between New York and Texas, as expected, was the air temperature. It was 67 degrees when we left and 92 degrees when we arrived. Here is a photo of the downtown Houston skyline as we made our way in:


We stayed at the Club Quarters Houston, which is located about 7 blocks away from Minute Maid Park. Easy walking distance for us who didn’t have a car to get around. Try to disregard the bright sun and notice the banners on the light pole outside of the hotel. It’s a photo of Minute Maid Park.

Club Quarters Houston

After checking into the hotel we went down the street to a place called the Tejas Grill to have our first meal in the state of Texas. We’ve heard nothing but great things about the popular Tex-Mex food and couldn’t wait to taste it. I ordered Chicken Fried Chicken and Dawson ordered a Mexican Sampler including a taco, chalupa and rice. We were not disappointed! Not only was the food good but the friendliness of the staff was remarkable, which was a common theme on our entire trip. As we entered we were greeted with a “How Y’all Doin’?” and a bright smile. This is a very common phrase used in Texas  and one that you can pick up quick if you hear it enough.

After our meal we made a quick pit stop back at our hotel and then began our seven block walk to Minute Maid Park. Experiencing a ballpark for the first time is an amazing feeling. Each one is different in it’s own regard and has many nuances that make it stand out from the rest.

Here are our first photos as we made our way to Minute Maid Park:

Hotel across the street from Minute Maid Park with a baseball touch to it.


Hotel Lobby


Minute Maid Park hosted the first ever All-Star Game in which the winning league received home field advantage in the World Series. Hence the "This One Counts" slogan.

Minute Maid Park was built directly next to the old Union Station, a railway hub in Houston from 1911-1975. The Astros team store and the administrative offices are both located in the building.


Union Station's Great Hall


Space between Union Station and Minute Maid Park, connected by a glass enclosure.


Union Station


Minute Maid Park



Large baseballs line the outside of Minute Maid Park next to the ticket windows







Bud Norris is "lights out"


Chris Johnson








Minute Maid Park's HD state-of-the-art video board is the fourth-largest in Major League Baseball, measuring 54 feet high and 124 feet wide



The retractable roof opens and closes in approximately 13 minutes


Former manager Art Howe (R) is a member of the FSHouston broadcast team


A train sits on a track in left field, manned by a real life conductor, and moves back and forth at the beginning of the game, after an Astros home run and after a win. The back of the train is carrying "Minute Maid" oranges.


Train track


View from our seats behind the Astros dugout


Former 'Cats Bud Norris, J.B. Shuck and Brian Bogusevic. How far they've come!

The Astros won the game 9-6, with the help of many former ‘Cats in the lineup:




There are many other photos from around the park that I’d like to show you, but I will first recap what happened on Saturday night. In a pre-game ceremony the Houston Astros recognized their Minor League Players of the Year. They are former ValleyCats infielder Jose Altuve (’09) and pitcher Jake Buchanan (’10). Altuve made the jump from Double A Corpus Christi to the Houston Astros in July.

Buchanan was an instrumental part of the ValleyCats 2010 New York-Penn League Championship and got to check out Astros batting practice from the field. Buchanan (far right) is standing next to Astros Player Development Coordinator Allen Rowin and Astros beat reporter for the Houston Chronicle Zachary Levine. Zachary is actually a Bethlehem, NY native that has made numerous visits to “The Joe.” On Friday morning he graciously drove us around the Houston area and brought us to lunch.



Buchanan talking to Astros manager Brad Mills





Jake and his parents Buck and Sonda


Jake with former 'Cat Jordan Lyles

After batting practice, Buchanan and Altuve made their way to the concourse to sign autographs for the fans:




Farmstros creator Mike Tauser getting autographs with his son

Here are some photos from pre-game awards presentation:







From left to right, Astros General Manager Ed Wade, Director of Player Development Fred Nelson, Player Development Coordinator Allen Rowin, Minor League Players of the Year Jake Buchanan and Jose Altuve, and Charley Taylor

Charlie Taylor currently serves as the Gulf Coast Astros pitching coach and was honored as Player Development Man of the Year.


Award recipients Jake Buchanan, Jose Altuve and Charley Taylor


Charley with his wife Pam and Director of Player Development Fred Nelson


Jake with his parents Sonda and Buck


I’ll provide a more in-depth look at our trip to Houston in the next blog post, including a behind-the-scenes tour of Minute Maid Park. Thanks Y’all!

-Chris Chenes

Headed to Houston!

Media Relations Manager Chris Chenes and ‘Cats Account Executive Chris Dawson are going to be making a trip to Houston this weekend. It will be the first time that both of them have ever been in Texas and they will be taking in all of the sights and sounds of the area and Minute Maid Park.

In a pre-game ceremony on Saturday, the Astros will be honoring their Minor League Players of the Year including infielder Jose Altuve (made the jump from Double A to the big leagues in the middle of July) and pitcher Jake Buchanan. Buchanan, a member of the 2010 championship ValleyCats, posted a 5-10 record with a 3.80 ERA in 26 starts between the Class A and Double-A levels. He finished his season ranking second in the league in WHIP (1.21), fifth in ERA (3.91) and tossed one of only three shutouts in the California League this season. Buchanan is also the first Lancaster pitcher to start at least 20 games with the club and end the season with an ERA below 4.00 since Brandon Webb did so in 2001.

They will post a complete recap upon the return of their trip on Monday, so stay tuned!


Wrap Up: Season-long charity donations

The ValleyCats 2011 season ended on a bittersweet note as they were swept in a doubleheader by the Lowell Spinners, leaving the ‘Cats with slim hopes for a playoff berth.

However, the ValleyCats set a single-season attendance record for the eighth straight season drawing 156,279 fans to “The Joe”, up from 155,315 in 2010.

Also, throughout the 2011 season, the ValleyCats partnered with numerous organizations for unique season-long promotions to help local charities.

Below is a recap of the donations made:

BlueShield K’s for Kids Program:

The Tri-City ValleyCats are proud to have teamed up with BlueShield of Northeastern New York to strike out bullying with the K’s for Kids program. For each strikeout ValleyCats pitchers have recorded at home, BlueShield donated 10 dollars to the Capital District YMCA to help fund the Y’s Reach Out For Youth Scholarship program, which provides access to Y programs and services for children in need in the Capital Region.

On the field during the last regular season home game,  BlueShield made a donation of $3,110 to the Capital District YMCA.

From left: Tri-City ValleyCats Mascot Southpaw; Jackie McDonough, VP of Financial Development, Capital District YMCA; Brian O'Grady, VP, BlueShield of Northeastern New York; Dave Brown, President/CEO, Capital District YMCA

Dunkin’ Donuts Double Plays:

Following the 2011 season, Dunkin’ Donuts donated 100 pounds of coffee to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. The donation – the equivalent of more than 5,000 cups of coffee – was fueled by a season-long partnership between the reigning New York Penn League champions and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Dunkin’ Donuts pledged to donate one pound of coffee to the Regional Food Bank for every double play turned at home in 2011 by the ValleyCats. Led by a cast of infielders, the ValleyCats averaged nearly a double play per game while generating 30 pounds of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for the food bank during the regular season.

Dunkin’ Donuts and its Capital Region franchisees tripled the donation to bring the final total to 100 pounds of fresh brewed Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee Ivo Garcia (front right) waves to the crowd as Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York Volunteer Coordinator Kathleen Samaniuk-Hayes (front left) holds up a pound of coffee after DunkinDonuts donated 100 pounds of coffee to the food bank at the Tri-City ValleyCats final regular season home game on Monday, August 29 at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. The donation was a culmination of the season-long “double plays for coffeeinitiative. DunkinDonuts pledged to donate one pound of coffee for every double play turned by the ValleyCats during a home game. ValleyCats General Manager Rick Murphy (back right) and food bank volunteer Jennifer Hinterberger-Taylor (back left) also took part in the donation ceremony.

JCB Pass the Plate Promotion:

In 2011, the Tri-City ValleyCats, JCB Specialties and the Regional Food Bank partnerned once again for the “Pass the Plate” promotion in which JCB Specialties would donate $20 for every run the ValleyCats scored at home during the season.

The ValleyCats scored 196 runs at home in 2011, and JCB Specialties donated a total of $3,920 to the Regional Food Bank.