Arriving in Houston: All-Star Saturday

All-Star Saturday, July 10, 2004, Houston

For my first All-Star Game, I don’t think it could have gone much better than it did in Houston. From the outset, I was worried about the heat. I don’t do well in the heat and I’ve been to Houston in July before. It’s not pretty. But out of nearly four days there, I spent maybe a total of 30 minutes outside between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and that was just walking from one air-conditioned building to another. The Saturday night beers with Laura and David at the icehouse were during the cooling evening hours and Monday night’s All-Star Gala was at the Downtown Aquarium, both inside and out, after 10 p.m. So I managed it well.

Thank goodness, though, that Minute Maid Park has a roof. Sunday’s Futures Game and Celebrity Softball Game would’ve been unbearable in the summer sun. The lack of a roof at Detroit’s Comerica Park has me less excited about the possibility of attending next year’s All-Star festivities in the Motor City. But, if the opportunity presents itself again, I think I’ll manage. Seriously, having this gig year in and year out is almost enough to keep me at this magazine indefinitely. Almost. We’ll see what comes along in the next year.

Laura and David were a big part of the enjoyment. We went to college together — Laura in my class, her husband David a few years behind us — and so getting together again is seamless. They picked me up at the airport and drove me to the Hyatt Regency through a driving rainstorm. When they dropped me off to check in and regroup before we all went to dinner together, Laura’s last words to me were, “Let me know if you see anyone famous!” I was staying at the media hotel, which meant the chances were decent of spotting at least the sports celebrities of ESPN.

Immediately upon entering the hotel, I spotted a tall, lanky figure walking toward me. Kenny Mayne. As my eyes adjusted to the light inside and I recognized him, my first thought was, “Oh! Someone I know! I should head over and say hello.” But another part of my brain realized what was happening and said, “Hang on a second there, buddy. You know this guy from TV. He doesn’t know you from a stalker.” So in the end, I apparently ended up staring at him as if in awe, and Kenny caught on. “Hey,” he said as we passed. “Hey there,” I replied, continuing on to the front desk. I turned around and saw another man approach him and say, “Are you Kenny Mayne.”

Laura, David and I went to dinner at a Tex-Mex dive in the suburbs, then on to the icehouse — a bar with garage doors in the wall to make it an open-air patio bar in nicer weather, an enclosed and packed pub in less-than-ideal conditions. Houston boasts that it is 600 square miles, but as Laura pointed out, the city has something like six separate downtown areas. With all that open space in Texas, the city just sprawled. You can drive 10 or 15 minutes from downtown — and from here on out, “downtown” refers to the section of the city where I stayed, less than a mile from Minute Maid Park — and the condos and apartments and houses are telling you you’re in the suburbs, but the zip codes will tell you you’re still in Houston. It’s like if Boston claimed Concord as part of the city, or Seattle annexed Redmond.

After the icehouse, they dropped me off at the Hilton Americas, where the celebrities for the softball game were staying as well as much of the employees of Major League Baseball, I assumed. Across the street was the Four Seasons, where the players would stay beginning Sunday night, and joined to the Hilton on the other side by a skybridge over the road was the George R. Brown Convention Center, where the All-Star FanFest was held. And down the street sat Minute Maid Park.

Inside one of the Hilton restaurants was the first party of the weekend. I walked in early and roamed the empty establishment and secured myself a seat at the bar. It’s hard doing these events by yourself when everyone else has someone to talk to. I’m not good at starting up a conversation with a complete stranger, so I settled in at an end of the bar near the piano player and a photo booth that was set up for people to have their picture taken against a backdrop that made it look like they were snatching a home run from an outfielder. They really should have had Tony Tarasco of the Orioles as the outfielder, allowing all the people having their picture taken to play the role of Jeffrey Maier, the Yankee fan who gave Derek Jeter a home run in the playoffs a few years back.

I sat at the bar and drank Budweisers until Laura and David joined me from the work function they had to attend. By then I was well on my way to inebriation, and I pointed out the famous faces I’d seen already: former Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn, actor Matthew Modine and former Mariner second baseman and current ESPN analyst Harold Reynolds. Shortly after Laura and David arrived, Miss USA Shandi Fennesey strutted in, and Laura insisted on having her husband and friend pose for a picture with her. We were finally convinced. (There are a lot of photos for me to go through — eight rolls taken on my SLR and 40-something on the digital point-and-shoot — so I hope to get those up on the site soon.) Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman made an appearance just after midnight, after the party had been extended to 1 a.m., but they quickly went to the back where it was less crowded and we held firmly to our seats at the bar.

When they drove me back to my hotel, I asked if they wanted to come in for a drink at the bar, so we grabbed ourselves a spot at the bar literally in the lobby: It’s right in the center, recessed down a few steps. There was not a waking moment in my 10th floor room when, if I went to the bathroom near the door or walked into or out of my room, that I did not hear the murmur from people in the lobby. It was always hopping.

The pint at the Hyatt bar was my 10th or 11th beer of the night, I figured out the next morning. It had me quite hung over and I found myself unable to eat until 3 p.m. on Sunday.

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