Let’s be clear: Minute Maid Park is not a good place to catch a first-class baseball game and hasn’t been for some time, dating back to ‘05 when the Astros won the National League championship. Coming off one of the worst seasons in Major League Baseball in which the Astros posted a franchise-worst 56-106 record, they aren’t providing much enjoyment.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t find a different form of entertainment under that retractable roof, thanks to a guy whose job it is to provide entertainment, even when the Stros are striking out left and right.
For the past 14 seasons, that job has belonged to Nunee Oakes, audio engineer (fancy words for a DJ, he says) for the Houston Astros. After logging 14 championship-less seasons, the music man has lasted almost a decade longer than any of the 18 managers in the team’s history. But Oakes does a lot more than play variations of Jay-Z between innings. He’s the guy who controls every bit of sound you hear inside the 1,263,240-square foot ballpark — from the video board (the first 1080i HD scoreboard in MLB) to the PA system to longtime broadcaster Milo Hamilton’s radio show. He does it all.
While the team sporting the uniforms hasn’t been above .500 since 2008, the team “behind the glass” above left field (which is comprised of three other full-time employees and 50 game-day employees) has been honored numerous times, including winning the Best Overall Display Award (known as the “Best Show in Baseball”) for five straight years.
The team tries to instill a balance of Latino, country, hip-hop, top 40 and classic rock music for its fans.
Oakes works in tandem with Kirby Kander, senior director of creative services, doing everything from scripting music, picking player intro music (not all the guys pick their songs anymore), planning features/inning breaks and troubleshooting potential problems.
Minute Maid Park’s audio and video systems are run at this control board.Their jobs are all-encompassing, including telling a player he needs to change his intro music, as was the case with former closer Jose Valverde. Valverde wanted to use his song, Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa,” the one he previously used with Arizona, but no one in the booth was feeling it for the situation. “It wasn’t closing music,” the guys said. They picked out Saliva’s “Ladies and Gentlemen” and were tasked with selling it to the 6-foot-4 righty by loading it on his iPod. Heading to the locker room, bopping his head to the song, Valverde responded, “I need 10 copies of that song, OK?” and has continued using the song since, even throughout his 2011 regular season with the Detroit Tigers in which he was perfect in save chances.
When Kazuo Matsui joined the lineup, he brought with him a few slow ballads with birds whistling in the background, the same music he used in Japan. The Japanese fans loved it, but it didn’t fare so well in a rally situation in Houston.
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