Ken Hoffman on the Houston Astros' grand slam menu and El Tiempo's debut at Minute Maid Park (2023)

Ken Hoffman on the Houston Astros' grand slam menu and El Tiempo's debut at Minute Maid Park (1)

Photo by Daniel Ortiz

Susie Peake, Ryan Leaf, Poppi Massey, and Armando Colombo.

In a sports town like Houston — where victory is celebrated and champions revered — how is being a champion defined? Is it how many rings a player earns? Is it who gets named MVP? Who hoists the most trophies?

Or, is it the one who perseveres against overwhelming odds? Perhaps the one who confronts demons and slays them — not publicly, but privately — day after day. The one who goes from rock bottom to a place of security and finally, peace.

This is a story about how to fail.

It’s the story of Ryan Leaf, who appeared in conversation with CultureMap's editor Steven Devadanam at the Menninger Clinic Annual Luncheon in a nod to Mental Health Awareness Month. The luncheon, chaired by Susie Peake and Poppi Massey, raised more than $375,000 to help establish a new Center for Addiction Medicine and Recovery at the Menninger Clinic.

The golden boy with a secret

From his earliest days in Great Falls, Montana — what he called a “cowboy town,” Leaf was a gifted athlete gushing with potential star power. “I was placed on a pedestal pretty early,” he said of his junior high and high school sports days. But young Leaf eschewed the quiet cowboy mentality that permeated the area.

“My heroes weren't what the very conservative Montana establishment wanted,” he explained to Devadanam. “My heroes were the Fab Five from Michigan [the iconic college basketball champions] — wearing your shorts down to your knees, the black socks, I had my head shaved.”

That bad boy, urban hoops vibe didn’t jibe with Montana’s cowboy culture, and locals let Leaf know. “They wanted a great athlete and instead they got me,” he said pointedly. His way to get back, he recalled, was to play with rage, win, become a pro athlete, “and rub it in their faces,” he recalled. Since they didn’t approve of his aggressive play and image, “that meant I was a bad person,” said Leaf, “ because of the way they treated me.”

Leaf recalled feeling superior to everyone around him. He didn’t drink at parties, instead lugging around a six pack of 7-Up, to let the drinkers know he was better than them and would never end up like them. He refused to even date anyone who attended his same school.

Admittedly, Leaf towed the fine line “between elite athlete and as*hole,” he said, garnering a big laugh from the audience, before being firmly entrenched in the latter category. But that cocky swagger — a defense mechanism — belied the quiet young man who just wanted to make his father, a Viet Nam war veteran, business owner, and sports lover, proud.

When Devadanam noted his surprise that Leaf wasn't the big man on campus in high school, Leaf explained the dichotomy of his personas. The young introvert Leaf was “an extreme extrovert” on the football field and basketball court. “I tell people all the time that I was a drug addict long before I ever took a drug, in how I behaved,” he noted.

“I was an egomaniac with a self-esteem problem,” he recounted. “And that stemmed from being shamed” — mostly by his mother. Mrs. Leaf, he noted, was worried about her son’s public image and how he was perceived, the victim of an alcoholic father herself. And she saw her father’s traits in her son. “I never felt I could be who I truly was,” Leaf recalled of her treatment.

That meant Leaf poured himself into sports and little else, learning no life coping skills. “I think my development was arrested probably when I was around 13 years old,” he said of the coddling and pedestal he was placed upon as a “golden arm” athlete. While keeping his innate sense of shame a secret, he won on every level in sports, which kept the demons at bay.

“We always do whatever we can — whether that’s a negative and toxic way of doing things — if you’re successful. But what happens if you fail at the biggest possible level?”

A Montana kid makes history

Aggressively recruited by the biggest football schools in the nation, Leaf joined the Washington State Cougars and led them to their first Pac-10 championship in school history. His strong showing in the 1998 Rose Bowl made him the first Heisman Trophy finalist in Montana's history.

Soon, pro sports and football chatter turned to whom would be selected No. 1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft: Leaf, or future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, the Tennessee standout and football prince. The pair — Manning in khakis and frat ready and Leaf with a rock star image — made the perfect foil for each other.

Manning, many said, was cerebral, while Leaf brought intensity, a cannon arm, and a linebacker physique in a quarterback's body. The prototype of today's ideal QB, Leaf was selected right behind Manning, who famously joined the Indianapolis Colts. The two would be forever intertwined. Friendly Manning at No. 1 to the Colts; swag-dripping Leaf at No. 2 to the San Diego Chargers.

From NFL a nightmare

Leaf would be the first Montanan ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and at the time, signed the biggest rookie bonus in NFL history: an $11.5 million add-on to his four-year, $31.25 million contract. Leaf was immediately named the starting quarterback and the Chargers' future leader. He won his first two games.

And then he imploded.

Looking back, the fall could be traced to a viral moment in which Leaf had a heated exchange with San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Jay Posner, screaming at the writer to “knock it off!” Leaf had to be led away by team captain Junior Seau and was forced to issue an apology to Posner — which he demonstrably crumpled and trashed after reading.

His fiery outburst became fodder for national sports talk radio, with sound bytes playing daily on syndicated programs like The Jim Rome Show.

When Devadanam asked Leaf how a 22-year-old football pro handled his worst day at the office becoming a national discussion and mockery, Leaf dryly responded, “badly.”

Indeed. He struggled with work ethic, injuries, and what was deemed bad behavior. His reputation became that of the top draft bust in the entire history of the NFL. And when his career with the league ended in 2001, his troubles didn’t.

He went back to Washington State University and finished his degree, and he bounced around in a bunch of jobs: a volunteer quarterback coach, a business development manager, a writer.

His downward spiral took him into drugs, with both probation and prison sentences. There was a domestic violence charge. A suicide attempt.

The lonely fall from grace

It was a crushing fall. In a lot of ways, it was also inevitable.

The candid conversation shed light on the important work done by mental health facilities like Menninger, as well as the need for more openness about mental health issues. Leaf told the audience that growing up in Montana, he had no role models for being able to show how insecure he felt, or ways to express when something was wrong.

He found himself absolutely unable to cope with the pressure of big-time football and handling the ins and outs of adulthood.

“I thought [being a pro football player] was what it was supposed to be,” he said. “I expected to be there. What I didn’t fully understand was what came with it. I was this redneck kid from Montana who all he wanted to do was play ball and be liked. And instead of saying that, I was kind of characterized as versus Peyton — kind of the black hat. And I didn’t correct anybody. I’ve never been able to correct anybody. I didn't like confrontation unless I was the one who was trying to intimidate. So, I thought, okay, this is what people want. So, in the darkest of moments, whether it was a reporter who was telling a negative story about me or a fan yelling at me, I had no way to deal with that in a healthy, positive way. So, my way was to battle.”

Of course, battling – both literal and metaphorical – led to other issues. By the time he wound up with the Seattle Seahawks, he said he was tired of being beat up, physically and emotionally.

“I was starting to develop the real mental health issues I didn’t know I had,” he said. “I was sad all the time, I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt really lazy; I gained a bunch of weight. So, instead of walking into my head coach’s office and telling him all those things, I just quit the thing I’ve wanted to do since I was four years old. And I thought I could just disappear.”

Numbing the pain, fighting the pain

Leaf quickly learned, to his surprise, that wasn’t the case. Because, despite his success, the money he’d earned and what he calls “the power” of having that money, he couldn’t make his feelings or what people said about him go away.

“What I didn’t fully understand when I walked away, was that I could have a normal life. When you’re drafted alongside arguably the greatest to play the game — Peyton Manning — my name doesn’t just go away,” he said.” So, if my name wasn’t going to go away and I hadn’t found a way to deal with this in a proper way, there was no way I was going to get better.”

Leaf went downhill both gradually and suddenly, it seemed. Having been prescribed Vicodin in the past for his physical injuries, he began using it to dull emotional pain. He faced drug charges in both Texas, where he’d coached football, and in Montana, serving 32 months in prison. At the time of his sentencing, he recalls feeling so down on himself that he didn’t understand why the judge didn’t give him a harsher sentence.

Prison, it turned out, would be a turning point. After rebuffing several attempts by a warden to speak with groups of visiting students as part of intervention programs, he finally relented. Sharing his story helped him begin to step outside himself. But there was still a long way to go.

“I was released. I go home and the next morning, my hometown newspaper, there was a cartoon there: Ryan Leaf just got out, lock up your medicine cabinet,” he said. “In that moment, I thought, ok, this is what it was going to be like. Forever. There’s no hope. And I got that reprieve when I was accepted into a treatment program.”

Getting into a program wasn’t easy. The NFL Players Association, whom he first contacted for help, flat out told him that assisting him would be “throwing good money after bad,” a crushing thing to hear. But, a nonprofit called the Player Care Foundation was in its infancy, and Leaf applied for a grant to fund treatment. It was accepted. He recalls Andrew Joe, the organization’s founder, calling him with the news.

“If he doesn’t do that, I don’t get the treatment I need, I doubt it one hundred percent I am here telling that story,” he said. “That’s where it all started. And it’s about what the Menninger Clinic does; it’s what treatment facilities do to give individuals hope.”

A new Leaf

Treatment allowed Leaf to begin rebuilding his life and his approach to his feelings of doubt and insecurity. Over the last decade, he’s taken on speaking gigs around the country and works with the Disney Corporation, something he couldn’t have imagined a decade ago.

“I just needed someone to believe in me,” he said. “My therapist and I have worked on an affirmation that I say every day in the mirror: what other people think of me is none of my business. It sounds simple, but my brain believed any of the outside noise.”

He noted that it was easier for him to believe the negative things that people said than it was to embrace their compliments. He worked to train his brain, however, so that today, when he states that affirmation, he believes it.

“I’m okay with who I am,” he said. “I’m this flawed human being like everybody else who is just trying to be better every day. This is a story about how to fail.”


How much did Minute Maid pay for Astros Stadium? ›

Without a naming rights agreement in place, the ballpark became officially known as "Astros Field". The Astros sold naming rights of the ballpark in 2002 to locally based Coca-Cola subsidiary Minute Maid for $100 million over 30 years. Its official name was then changed to "Minute Maid Park".

Who pitched the first game at Minute Maid Park? ›

Astros Opening Day pre-game festivities

Houston native Megan Thee Stallion will throw out the first pitch at Minute Maid Park. Country star and Houston native Cody Johnson will sing the National Anthem and actor Mark Wahlberg will make the "play ball" call.

When did the Astros start playing at Minute Maid Park? ›

Opening in 2000, Minute Maid Park is the third ballpark the Astros have called home. Previously they played at the Astrodome, dubbed as the “Eight Wonder of the World” when it opened in 1965.

Do the Astros practice in Minute Maid Park? ›

Before every home game at Minute Maid Park, the Astros and visiting team takes batting practice.

How much does it cost to tour Minute Maid Park? ›

Get a behind-the-scenes look at Minute Maid Park including; Historic Union Station, Broadcasting booth or press boxes, Astros' or Visitors' Dugout, Luxury suites and much more! $15 adults, $12 seniors and $10 for kids 3-14.

How many hot dogs are sold at Minute Maid Park? ›

On average, Minute Maid Park has sold about 43,500 hot dogs every Tuesday since 2018, according to Aramark. To put that in perspective, 43,500 six-inch hot dogs would span roughly 4.1 miles if lined up in a row.

Does Minute Maid Park have an organ? ›

The organ he plays at Minute Maid, he said, has a service record dating to at least 1959. "It's like driving a Model-T or a Model-A," he said. "It's a workhorse. You know what it can do and what its limitations are.

Has anyone ever hit a home run on the first pitch? ›

Daniel Nava is one of four players to hit a grand slam in his first MLB at bat, and one of two to hit it on the first pitch. Adam Wainwright is one of 19 pitchers to homer in their first major league at bat.

Does Minute Maid Park have air conditioning? ›

The air-conditioned stadium is a wonderful relief from hot summer days. Yet the stadium also has a fully retractable roof, which allows for fresh air on cooler days. Even when the roof is closed, a 50,000-square-foot glass section keeps the city's skyline visible.

Who hit the first home run at Minute Maid Park? ›

That changed on Monday night as Julks hit a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. It was near the exact spot where teammate Yordan Alvarez hit his first-ever major league home run inside of Minute Maid Park as Houston defeated the Blue Jays by a score of 9-2.

What is the biggest baseball stadium? ›

Oakland Coliseum

How far is the left field from the center of the Minute Maid Park? ›

Distances from plate:

Left field - 315 feet. Left-center - 366-399 feet. Center field - 409 feet. Right-center - 370 feet.

Can you take a purse to Minute Maid? ›

In accordance with MLB policy, Minute Maid Park recommends fans do not bring any bags. According to those rules, the only bags permitted inside Minute Maid Park are bags that do not exceed 16″x16″x8″. Possible exceptions include: Diaper bags.

How much does it cost to watch Astros at Minute Maid Park? ›

The watch parties are open to the public. All you need to get in is a $1 voucher, which you can purchase on the team's website. Proceeds from the vouchers will go to The Astros Foundation. Parking will be available in the north and south Diamond Lots for $15.

Who decides if the roof is open at Minute Maid Park? ›

During the regular season, it's up to the Astros whether the roof is open or closed. If it's open at game time, it has to stay that way unless rain or other adverse weather conditions come into play.

Can you bring your own food to Minute Maid Park? ›


Guests can bring food and bottled water into Minute Maid Park for Houston Astros games. This policy is specific to Houston Astros game related events and does not apply to special events held at the ballpark (i.e. concerts, tours, corporate events, etc.).

How much does it cost to close the roof at Minute Maid Park? ›

The roof, which cost $65 million, retracts completely off the ballpark when open, which is supposedly 60 percent of the time.

How much do tour guides make at the Houston Astros? ›

The estimated total pay for a Tour Guide at Houston Astros is $45,742 per year.

Is alcohol sold at Minute Maid Park? ›

The Astros announced Thursday morning that fans at Minute Maid Park will now be able to "purchase both food and alcoholic beverages from limited locations through the end of games." Roughly 40 percent of selling locations will remain open through the end of games, though seat vendors will continue to stop sales at the ...

Who has eaten the most hot dogs in 1 minute? ›

The most hot dogs eaten in one minute is 6, and was achieved by Miki Sudo (USA) in Tampa, Florida, USA, on 22 October 2022. Miki Sudo is married to fellow competitive eater Nick Wehry, who achieved the most hot dogs eaten in three minutes on the same day.

Which MLB team sells the most hot dogs? ›

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers rule the majors in hot dog sales, with fans eating more than 2.5 million hot dogs each season. They've featured the Dodger Dog since 1962.

What is the healthiest food at Minute Maid Park? ›

Healthy & Vegetarian Food Options at Minute Maid Park

Healthy Options in the Centerfield Market at the 19th Hole and Section 213 are the perfect option for a light Caesar Salad, fruit & vegetable cups, Mediterranean Salad, and more.

Do organ players wear shoes? ›

Organ shoes are shoes worn by organists designed to facilitate playing of the organ pedal keyboard. Since organ shoes are worn only at the organ, the use of special footwear also avoids picking up grit or grime that could scar or stain the pedal keys.

What is the hardest field to hit a home run in? ›

Fenway Park features two of the shortest outfield distances in all of baseball. In left field, the foul pole is 310 feet from home plate. While the 310-foot distance is minuscule by MLB standards, the 37-foot-tall Green Monster adds to the challenge of hitting a home run in that direction.

Who is the oldest pitcher to hit a homerun? ›

Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that Jud Wilson was actually the oldest player to homer in a major-league game. Wilson hit a home run for the Homestead Grays on September 23, 1945, at the age of 49 years, 206 days.

How much is the electric bill at Minute Maid Park? ›

The cost to cool Minute Maid Park is around $1,300 in electricity per game. Physics might keep them from spending more, as the humidity probably exposes diminishing returns in terms of blasting the A/C.

Is Minute Maid Park temperature controlled? ›

According to the Astros, the roof is closed for the threat of rain, the threat of sustained winds above 30 mph, temperatures below 65 degrees for a night game and air temperature or heat-index readings above 88 degrees for a night game or 84 for a day game.

Why did Minute Maid Park have a hill? ›

The centerfield wall at Minute Maid Park is 436 feet from home plate. As if this didn't pose enough difficulty for centerfielders, the Astros built a 90-foot-wide, 30-degree incline in centerfield. This incline was meant to mimic the incline in the old Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

Did Babe Ruth hit an inside the park home run? ›

More than 20 IPH were hit in the new park in its initial season, probably because the outfielders were a little uncertain how to play the garden. Babe Ruth, who had ten IPH in his career, hit four at Yankee Stadium in 1923.

Who owns Minute Maid Park? ›

HOUSTON -- Juice maker Minute Maid, owned by beverage giant Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, has acquired the naming rights for the former Enron Field here, home of the Houston Astros baseball team.

Did Babe Ruth call his home run? ›

But it was Ruth's second home run that would garner all the ink in the next day's papers. Ruth would confirm that he did call the home run. Charlie Root would say that he was giving two fingers to the crowd showing he had two strikes on him and still had one left.

What is the oldest baseball stadium still in use? ›

The oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball can be found in Boston. Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, opened in 1912.

Who has deepest stadium in MLB? ›

MLB Stadium With Deepest Outfield Walls
1Minute Maid Park435 ft
2Comerica Park420 ft
3LoanDepot Park418 ft
4Coors Field415 ft
26 more rows
Jan 10, 2023

Who has the smallest MLB field? ›

Who Has the Smallest MLB Stadium? The Cleveland Guardians have the smallest home field in Major League Baseball. Progressive Field, located in the downtown area of Cleveland, Ohio, has a capacity of just 34,830 people.

Where is the best seating area at Minute Maid Park? ›

Diamond Club - The best seats at Minute Maid Park are located directly behind home plate at field level in the Diamond Club.

Does the roof open at Minute Maid Park? ›

Minute Maid Park roof will be open for Astros-Giants game for first time this season. May 2, 2023 Updated: May 2, 2023 6:28 p.m. The roof is open for Game 2 of American League Championship Series between Houston Astros and New York Yankees Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

How far down does the net go at Minute Maid Park? ›

The protective netting at Minute Maid Park has been extended. The new netting is about 32 feet high and tapers as it stretches toward the outfield down the first and third baselines. The netting is also knotless, in order to not obstruct the view of the field.

How much money did Mattress Mack put on the Astros? ›

We just wrote the biggest check in sports betting history to Mattress Mack for $30,000,000," Ken Fuchs, chief operating officer for Caesars Digital, said in a company release Saturday night. The $3 million bet with Caesars was his largest, but not his only seven-figure bet on the Astros.

How much money did Mattress Mack make on the Astros game? ›

Houston furniture-store magnate Jim McIngvale won $75 million on his wagers that the hometown Astros would take baseball's World Series, including a $30 million payout from Caesars Sportsbook that the company calls the largest-ever at a legal sports-betting site.

How much did Mattress Mack put down on the Astros? ›

The Gallery Furniture owner says he'll get back his initial $10 million he put in and the rest will go back to the customers.

Is Minute Maid bigger than NRG Stadium? ›

We focus here on the four venues that host major professional teams in Houston: NRG Stadium (home the NFL's Houston Texans, capacity about 70,000), Toyota Center (NBA Rockets, capacity about 18,000), Minute Maid Park (MLB Astros, capacity about 41,000), and BBVA Stadium5 (MLS Dynamo, capacity about 22,000).

What is the biggest bet ever placed? ›

William Lee Bergstrom (1951 – February 4, 1985) commonly known as The Suitcase Man or Phantom Gambler, was a gambler and high roller known for placing the largest bet in casino gambling history at the time amounting to $777,000 ($2.56 million present day amount) at the Horseshoe Casino, which he won.

What is the largest bet payout? ›

HOUSTON - Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale has collected the largest payout in sports betting history. On Thursday, Nov. 10, Mattress Mack was honored with a $30 million payout from Caesars Sportsbook.

What was the largest bet on the Astros? ›

Topline. Texas furniture kingpin Jim McIngvale—better known as “Mattress Mack”—won $75 million on Saturday after his bet that the Houston Astros would win the World Series paid off, taking home what is believed to be the largest payout in legal sports betting history.

How much did Mattress Mack bet to make $75 million? ›

Better known as Mattress Mack, the owner of the city's Gallery Furniture stores, McIngvale bet $10 million earlier this year on the Astros winning it all. The payoff for that will total $75 million, which would be the largest payout in sports betting history. A win for McIngvale could be a win for his customers, too.

What will Mattress Mack do with $75 million? ›

McIngvale said he would use the $75 million to cover the costs of a new promotion at his Houston-area Gallery Furniture stores in which he said anyone who spends $3,000 or more on mattresses would get their entire purchase for free.

Who bet $2 million on the World Series? ›

In this story:

McIngvale, better known as "Mattress Mack" bet $2 million on the Houston Astros to win the World Series in 2022. McIngvale, owner of the Gallery Furniture retail stores, has done this before. It's a practically no-risk maneuver for the 71-year-old because of the store promotion he runs with the bet.

What is Mattress Mack biggest bet? ›

Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale, owner of Gallery Furniture in Houston, won approximately $75 million off $10 million in bets on the Astros to win the World Series. It's believed to be the largest payout in American sports betting history, with the bulk of the haul coming from Louisiana sportsbooks.

How much will Mattress Mack make if Cowboys win? ›

If the Cowboys prevail, McIngvale will win 3.35 million dollars and has promised customers free mattresses. This story was originally published January 20, 2023, 9:44 AM.

How much free furniture did Mattress Mack give away? ›

We all know Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had a really tough day on Sunday, but it also was a rough day for a furniture salesman in Texas, as Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale gave away $7 million in furniture thanks to the win by the Seattle Seahawks.

What is the biggest stadium with the most seats? ›

Located in Pyongyang, North Korea, the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium is the biggest football stadium in the world. The venue has a seating capacity of 150,000. Also known as the Rungrado May Day Stadium, the venue was opened to the public in 1989 and now hosts some of the North Korean football team's matches.

What is the most popular stadium in Houston? ›

The home of the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, NRG Stadium is one of the premier stadiums in the country. In addition to packing fans in for both Texans games and the annual Rodeo, NRG has hosted two Super Bowls, two Final Fours and three...

What is the biggest stadium in USA? ›

Michigan Stadium


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