The first time I remember going to an Astros game at the Astrodome, I was about 5 years old.

I have no idea who the Astros played that night, but still remember it was exciting stuff. I lived in Baytown at the time, and made the trek with my dad (Bill) and grandfather (Fred). We stayed into the middle innings and I remember falling asleep in the car on the way home.

There’s no doubt that game helped build the foundation for my love of sports and was the first of hundreds of trips to the Dome and other stadiums and arenas.

So, I decided this year it was time to pay it forward because my 5-year-old twins, Blake and Julia, have become big baseball fans after concluding their first tee-ball season (and watching the Astros win the World Series last fall).

We made the night a family affair, going with Uncle Lee, Aunt Shannon and Cousin Kate. Dad Bill was also in the house, holding down the fort in the press box as he covered the game for the Herald.

One of the best parts was watching Blake and Julia’s eyes get big as we walked into Minute Maid Park and then walked out and saw the beautifully manicured field.

After a few photos, Aunt Shannon and Kate took the kids to the gift shop and outfitted them with Astros caps. By the time they emerged, they looked like real fans.

They also got their caps just in time to take them off and place them over their hearts for the Star-Spangled Banner.

Going to a Major League game today is a much different experience than when I was a kid.

Yes, the Dome had an exploding scoreboard when the Astros hit a home run, and it was magnificent and the first of its kind, thanks the to the genius of Astros owner and Harris County Judge Roy Hofheinz.

But that’s nothing compared to the special effects of the Jumbotron in right field and the constant rock ‘n roll and hip-hop music now being played when batters step up to the plate. It can feel like sensory overload at times.

One of the things that still astounds me is how much money pro sports teams charge at the concession stands. Lee and I paid $9.50 apiece for cold beers, and I paid $5.95 for Sprites for the kids. It’s highway robbery.

Fortunately, we got some financial relief because it was $1 hot dog night. That sounded great until I realized I had to wait in a huge line. When I got to the front, they were out of hot dogs and said they would be ready in another 10 minutes.

Oh well, the things you’ll do for your kids. They gotta eat, right?

Uncle Lee made sure Blake and Julia had plenty of peanuts in the meantime, and he led the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch.

We had seats on the left field line near the Crawford Boxes, and I kept hearing Dad’s voice to be alive and watch every pitch so Blake or Julia wouldn’t be on the wrong side of a line drive into foul territory.

We saw some explosive offense, but unfortunately, it was from the Seattle Mariners and not the Astros, who took it on the chin, 7-1.

But that didn’t really matter. The real excitement was watching the kids and listening to their knowledge of baseball start to germinate.

Perhaps the best part of the night was hearing Blake and Julia say how much they wanted to go back to another game. Mission accomplished.

Reach Fred Hartman at fbh@hartmannews.com.

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