There's no doubt that the Houston College Classic event in Minute Maid Park was a success for LSU on the field. 3-0 against high-level competition, with some close games and pressure situations to shore up the pitching staff with SEC play approaching, is obviously a net positive.
But what about from a fan perspective? With Paul Mainieri talking about coming back to Houston for the 2017 event, let's look at the event and give you a good ol' pros and cons list, just in case the Tigers return to Texas in two years time.
The environment: This one is obvious. For any team that has a singular goal of playing in Omaha and the spacious Rosenblatt Stadium every year, playing in a pro stadium is the ultimate preparation for that. It's great for your outfielders to get used to deeper fences. It's great for your pitchers to feel the pressure to perform on the big stage. And it's great for your hitters to get used to not swinging for the fences and seeing the ball when the backdrop is so much more grand. Especially on Saturday, when I'd estimate there were 7-8,000 fans (all packed near the field of play, more on that later) and a tense game against Baylor, the atmosphere was a post-season approximate.
The competition: It wasn't just that LSU played quality teams. The three games in three days against three different teams sounds a whole lot like SEC Tournament and Regional play. The Tigers had to adjust to new dugouts, new teams, new jerseys and new lineups every day, which sounds small, sure. But for a team relying on a couple new starters in the field and a green rotation, that can be crucial. Not to mention one of the main criticisms from the fan base has been a lack of big non-conference series. While most would probably prefer the games in Alex Box Stadium, the event gives Texas Tiger fans a chance to watch the team plus it's only a four-hour drive from Baton Rouge. That's worth it to face teams like Houston and Nebraska in one weekend.
Alcohol: Yeah, yeah, we're all about sneaking those flasks into Alex Box. And of course the beer they serve in Minute Maid is overpriced. But there's just something nice about being able to openly drink a cold one and eat a hot dog, together, in the ballpark while watching LSU. Mainieri even recognized this, saying that LSU fans "warm[ed] up from the inside" during the chilly Friday night game. Hell, you didn't even have to leave your seat for a beer most of the time. Consider this the underrated advantage of the event.
Before we delve into the cons, I must say that these are all things that either improved during the weekend or likely will if LSU plays there in the future. I'm not quite sure they were ready for the fervor of LSU and A&M fans being there on the same weekend. It was the highest-attended College Classic since 2007.
The lines: There were only a couple of entrances open in the home-plate area, which meant that lines — especially for the Friday and Saturday marquee games — could get absurdly long outside. I know people who missed the first inning or so waiting in a line that could stretch for several hundred yards and nearly a half-hour. There needed to be more entrances available, at least for the night games. This extended to the concession stands too. Since they roped off the outfield areas and the middle deck (which sucks, because seeing the game from the Crawford boxes in left or from the overhang in left-center is a great sight) everyone was clustered behind home plate and down the lines. Which was good for atmosphere but terrible for concession lines. If you wanted food, be prepared to miss a half-inning at least.
Scoreboard knick-knacks: I've been to many dozen Astros games in the last few years, so I know what a full experience in Minute Maid feels like. The College Classic had some of the fan helpings, but not enough of them. For the first two days, there were hardly any replays available on the scoreboard. This was especially negative during the Baylor game, when there were approximately six bang-bang plays that begged to be seen on the big board. This was corrected by Sunday, when we'd get at least a couple each inning. There was also no radar gun showing the pitch speed, which is always fascinating to track during the big-league games in MMP. I think a lot of LSU fans would have been interested to see if Godfrey or Lange were hitting 93 mph.
Overall, the event was just shy of being ideal. Still, it was a great time for college baseball fans and LSU alumni in Texas. I'd give it B+ from a fan perspective, enough to easily recommend it to Tiger fans if they return in 2017.