One night with the ladies in Houston

Photos by Lana Berry

Lana Berry was told there were ladies who wanted to learn about baseball. Instead, she found flavored vodka samples, cleat chasers and DJ Rob G.

The 2013 Houston Astros season ended with a record-breaking number of strikeouts both on and off the field. For whatever reason, the Astros decided it would be a good idea to hold a "Ladies Night" on the Friday afternoon -- a weekday afternoon because lol women don't have jobs -- of the final series of the season. The idea seems harmless enough. Get a group of women together to talk about baseball, have some drinks and then go to a game afterwards? Great. Sign me up. I'm there.

So I went there. And I stayed there. For a long time. Trapped in some sort of conference room in the depths of Minute Maid Park for hours. I wouldn't even know where to send help if I tried. Anyway, no one would have been able to hear my screams over the sounds of DJ Rob G playing "Blurred Lines," repeatedly.

When I first arrive at Minute Maid, I am gifted with an adorable baby pink Astros nylon backpack. Girls like pink. Ladies Night. I get it.

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Inside the bag are the itinerary for the day and some information about State Farm insurance. Now the event is sponsored by State Farm, but the "women are bad drivers" jokes just write themselves here -- which is good; that saves me some time. Oh wait ... is that a pink Astros makeup bag in there? Now I can touch up my makeup at baseball games in style! Thanks, Astros!

Before I even walk into the event, I am greeted with a life-size cardboard cutout of Jose Altuve (he is shorter than 5'5", I don't care what his official height is) draped with Mardi Gras beads (reasons unknown).

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Next to Jose is a table covered in Mardi Gras beads -- just there for the grabbing, and I didn't even have to take my top off! -- and cheap rings for all the ladies. Off to a fantastic start.

The "Ladies Night" room consists of a cash bar (since when do ladies have to pay for their own drinks?), a table of vodka samples (look at you chumps paying for drinks when there are samples right there), a massage chair (massage helps release baseball thoughts to the brain) and a full hair salon setup. What does getting your hair done have to do with baseball? That's a silly question. Just go with it.

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There are several groups of women at this event -- soccer moms in bedazzled Astros t-shirts who can't wait to have a cocktail at 4 p.m., cleat chasers wearing dresses I would have worn to a club when I was 23 and Yankees fans (which, okay). To be fair, most of the women are dressed somewhat normally. A good portion of them seem to be season ticket holders and are strategically dressed in ways that hint at the amount of money they have. I feel like I am at a charity event, but I'm assuming most of the things the Astros do feel that way.

I am hotly anticipating the "Baseball 101" discussion, wondering what baseball basics I would be able to learn. What determines the strike zone? Why don't the men pitch underhanded? Why does that second baseman keep grabbing his balls like that? Maybe I will finally be able to learn what the hell this is:

My itinerary says the panel consists of the two Astros radio announcers, Robert Ford and Steve Sparks, as well as Sig Mejdal and Stephanie Wilka from the Astros front office. Perfect! The Astros have a woman in their front office and she will be speaking at a Ladies Night event. Maybe this won't be so bad. What baseball fan wouldn't want to hear what it's like being one of the few women to work in a front office? Maybe Sig Mejdal will even discuss sabermetrics and how he uses them. Who knows! I'm ready to learn about baseball! Let's do this!

Now ... I could write out a summary of what the panel talked about and how few baseball things it actually explained, but I swiped a copy of its speaking schedule so I'll just show that to you instead:

Welcome – Rob and Steve

a. Thank State Farm

b. Introduce State Farm

State Farm Question Round:

a. Full Name:

b. Job Title:

c. When did you start with the Astros:

d. Previous Job:

e. What is one thing most people wouldn't know about you:

f. Best insurance provider: STATE FARM (what)

g. Favorite Astros player and why:

h. Favorite baseball memory/story?

i. Top 3 things you are most excited for the future of the Astros

So instead of taking the opportunity to talk about how the Astros are incorporating analytics into their system or providing ANYTHING informative about baseball, we get to learn about who these baseball people are and who their favorite player is. Also, and I can't emphasize this enough: State Farm. What a great insurance company. But what about insurance runs? Not enough time? Anyway, make sure you get car insurance. You know, women and their blind spot. Batters sometimes experience a blind spot when they ...

Time for the Q-and-A! The women are given cards where they could write down questions for the panel. Out of more than 50 women, seven write down questions, and only five of those are answered -- yep, I swiped those cards too. The questions are ranging from "who's the most outgoing on the team?" -- this is where I learned that Carlos Corporan wears the tightest pants! -- to this question, directed to former big leaguer Steve Sparks: "Did you or your teammates ever have a wardrobe malfunction?" I am impressed when I learn that one woman asked, "what stats are most important when evaluating a pitching prospect?"

But still two questions go unanswered. The first being "What's your favorite Triple-A park?" My guess is they all would have answered Minute Maid Park anyway. The second is a doozy of a two-parter: "Sig – were you an astronaut when you worked at NASA? If not, what did you do there and how does it help the Astros?" Okay. Well, I can see why they won't answer that question because it's ridiculous, but I wish they would read it out loud so I can at least laugh and remember that I'm alive. Am I alive? I've been in this conference room for a really long time. (It's only been 30 minutes so far.)

They ask if anyone else has questions. No one raises a hand at first. Finally, one older woman asks if they are going to do the Astros baseball dinner again. I had to Google what this was and it is apparently some sort of charity event honoring former players? I thought we were here to learn about baseball? Where am I? Why am I here? Oh, the panel is over. "Get Lucky" is playing. DJ Rob G is ready to get this party started. Was that it for the baseball?

DJ Rob G gets on his microphone to inform us that Astros superstars (I'm embellishing) Jarred Cosart and JD Martinez will be in the photo booth and we can get our pictures taken with them. Because women would rather have silly photos with baseball players than actually get to hear them talk about the game. This seems like a golden opportunity to hear these guys talk about what it's like to be a player in the Astros organization, and in Major League Baseball in general, but the organizers realize that it is actually an opportunity to stick funny hats on these guys and put them in a photo booth. That's what the ladies REALLY want.

And apparently, it IS what the ladies really want. The line is incredibly long, and -- called it -- the women I had pegged as the cleat chasers are at the front of the line. There are security guards outside of the photo booth. Guess they want to make sure the ladies don't get too handsy.

There is a table of snacks. The fruit tray has a sign in front of it that says "Fruit". The vegetable tray has the same. Are they still offering free samples of vodka?

The players are in and out in less than an hour, and the women are left to just "mingle". This must be the "Diamond, Bling and Glittery Things" happy hour. I need to find an outlet for my phone charger. The only thing that glitters is the sparkly eyeshadow your mom's drunk best friend broke out for the event.

This has to be ending soon, I mean nothing is really happ... oh no, is that the Astros mascot?

Orbit1_medium

Orbit is here.

And he is ready to party.

It's no longer a women-only event. I don't want to dance with you, Orbit. Stop shoving women onto the dance floor, that's rude. Seriously, don't touch me. After unsuccessful attempts to get everyone to dance, he decides gets the women riled up by throwing them a rolled up Astros t-shirt, busting out some ass-shaking moves -- just what I wanted to see -- and then leaving.

Orbit2_medium

The game is starting soon. Can I leave? How many of these women are even going to the game? The game starts in less than 20 minutes and no one has even made an announcement that you should maybe go watch some baseball now. But who needs baseball when I can get my hair curled?

Star-divide

All in all, it felt like an event designed to appease season ticket holders; when CSN reporters came into the event, they were instructed to interview a group of season ticket holders only. It did not feel like one intended to serve the general female baseball fan, or even a newer fan wanting to learn more about the game. This is weird, considering the Astros' stated goal was "to maybe draw some people in that don't come in numbers that others do, and a chance for questions to be asked in a situation where women might not feel as intimidated." And don't think I forgot about the Astros' "come learn about baseball" tweets.

Robert Ford, Astros radio announcer and member of the Ladies Night panel had this to say:

"I think it will be a chance for us to try and create more interest that doesn't come out in the numbers men do. There are a lot of passionate female fans, knowledgeable female fans. We all know that. But there aren't as many female fans as male fans, and a lot of things at the ballpark are geared toward men. ... I want my daughter to love baseball as much as I do."

Really? A lot of things at the ballpark are geared toward men? Like beer? Fried foods? Jerseys that aren't pink? Maybe not as many women go to the games because they are smart enough to know that baseball is better watched on TV. Or maybe they are just smart enough to not spend money to watch the Astros lose.

My dad took me to baseball games all the time when I was a kid; I fell in love with the sport, the same way anyone else does. Women love sports for the same reasons men do; we don't need to be put in a separate category. I still have a Rafael Palmeiro bat I got for free at a game when I was eight years old. It's not pink. It's not marketed to girls. I loved it because I loved Rafael Palmeiro, and loved baseball. I loved going to the ballpark with my dad, watching the game, eating hot dogs, the whole experience. I don't need to wear a tiara while I watch baseball to enjoy it.

It's not events like these that are the problem. It's the mindset behind them, and the idea that women somehow can't enjoy and/or learn about sports in the same way men can, which feeds into the idea that women would need to be offered free beauty treatments to somehow lure them to a baseball game. Take me out onto the field, show me some behind-the-scenes stuff, maybe even let me hit a baseball or field a grounder. You create life-long fans by offering them an experience they won't ever forget, not offering them samples of flavored vodka.

According to recent polls, women now make up about 46 percent of baseball fans, so I guess that is technically "not as many female fans as male fans." You know, math wise. But I'm a woman. I don't know much about math.

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