My very first baseball game I ever attended was a San Francisco Giants game in Candlestick Park. My Dad was an Assembly of God preacher in North Central California. And there I saw Willie Mays play at the end of his career. At least that’s what my Dad has told me. I have some vague memory of sitting high up in the stand and the panoramic view of the bay and it was cold. But I don’t remember the game itself.
I do remember my first Astros game in the Astrodome. It was in 1971, it was HUGE and it was awesome. The scoreboard, the grounds crew dressing up as astronauts (please bring that back Mr. Crane just as you did the Orange and Blue, thanks for that BTW) and I remember the players. The Red Rooster, Doug Radar, all glove and little bat. The Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn, the original Jose Altuve. Small jersey but a big bat and even bigger heart. Larry Dierker was a young hard throwing kid form California just like me. There was Cesar Cedeno, who was the young slick fielding outfielder. The team had a strong veteran presence with Joe Morgan, who was traded at the end of the season along with Cesar Geronimo and others to the Reds, where they would be a part of the Big Red Machine giving birth to my dislike of the Reds and communism.
But baseball had hooked me. The ‘dome was an obvious part of the appeal for a young kid. The spectacle, the food, the funny cartoons on the scoreboard when the other team made a pitching change. But the game itself was thrilling. The crack of the bat, the crowd reaction on a great play and a home run. I LOVED it when that happened because if an Astro hit one the scoreboard would go through the whole show and a show it was (for it’s time). So I became a Houston Astro fan for life but little did I know the pain that would come with it. Losing seasons after losing season. And when we won we played the most fantastic unbelievable thrilling baseball playoff anyone had ever seen. And we lost. Every stinking one of them. Phillies in ’80 and the Mets in ’86 (I hate the Mets). The Astros played in some of the greatest playoffs ever! Astro greats such as Joe Cruz, Terry Puhl, J.R. Richard, Texan native Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Glenn Davis, Billy Doran and Dickie Thon, who could have been great, gave Astro fans a lot to cheer about. However, baseball is a tough sport and even though those teams gave Astro fans thrilling moments, those teams failed to give us that one memory we craved, a Championship!
And then Biggio and Bagwell became Astros and in the mid 90’s things started to look like we had a real chance. I mean these guys were good, so good we got spoiled . Along with players like Sean Berry and Derek Bell and later, Rice Owl Lance Berkman. These stars formed the killer B’s, a core piece of the Asros greatest days of yore. Pitching came in the form of Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds, Daryl Kyle and Lima Time himself. Later into the 2000’s, Hometown heroes Roger Clemons and Andy Pettite came home and put Houston right where we wanted to be, with the Astros in the playoff hunt. But we never quite got there until 2005, finally reaching the Word Series. After what seemed to me to be my entire LIFETIME a team I cared about was about to win it all! Then they lost to the White Sox in 4 games. I still try to console myself by saying it was as close as a 4 game sweep could possibly be.
Like so many of you I know the heartbreak of being a Houston sports fan. Other than the RICE OWLS winning a College World Series in 2003, “my team” had never won and it’s fun to share that championship with others. But as much as I do love my OWLS, Rice doesn’t have a lot of fans besides a bunch of nerds. Our Oilers were no longer even a team but there were they fun to watch. The Texans are OK, JJ Watt is great and Watson seems like he is something special. But the Texans are so vanilla, I mean this is football. It should be nasty and mean! But they are just an OK team that wins a weak division and then loses in the first round of the playoffs. But hey the games are fun and the tailgating in nice. To be honest I don’t really care. So I thought to myself. Self , maybe you’ve just matured. Maybe sports and caring about the results is for kids or for the kid in us. And as we get older, of course we still want our team to win but we have more important things to worry about. A teams success won’t pay my bills, nor does it make my taxes go down or improve the potholes, which are two things I might get excited about if I thought there was a chance it would happen.
And then this Astro team came along and I started to care. They are good and I mean really, really good! And they have fun, it’s so obvious. They display the pure, unadulterated joy of playing the game! It’s an important part of what makes them good. They never got too down, even during a rare losing streak, they were still having fun. And kept doing what they knew would work because they had practiced and made the sacrifices necessary to win. They gave of themselves to something bigger because that “bigger” thing was important to them as an individual. As kids they dreamt about it, they wanted to be where they were and they were willing to what it took to succeed to reach that goal. Their desire met the dream and they would not let stop until they had it all. And they’re good guys. Springer, Correa , the aforementioned Altuve. Bregman reminds me of the Red Rooster but even better the way he plays 3rd. From the first at bat of the season (a Spring Dinger) it was obvious this team was capable of great things. And so I watched
In fact I don’t think I missed at least the end of a game but maybe a handful of times until Harvey came along. Then I almost lost track. Almost. When they played the first game back at Minute Maid, I watched and I rooted. I saw them visit with those displaced by Harvey. I saw how much they cared. Especially a guy like Altuve who you could see was affected by those that had lost so much. Like so many others that live among us these guys were heros. JJ Watt, Mattress Mac, James Harden, Altuve, Correa and Springer gave. As did a new guy named Verlander. We are blessed that we live in a community of heroes. During the storm, so many stepped up. Not only those in Leadership like Judge Emmett or those who serve such as first responders, but average everyday Houstonians led and served. Water rescues, running a shelter, donations, feeding, doing whatever was needed, we stepped up people! We heard the call and we answered. We all are blessed to live in a community of heroes. And the Nation and the world saw that. People were amazed at how Houston and Southeast Texas responded to the storm. I wasn’t surprised at all because I know where I live and I know what we are capable of. But eventually life goes back to normal or we adjust to the new normal and I think that perhaps we sometimes forget those around us that were hurt and are still hurting.
But these guys did not forget. They played for us as much as we rooted for them. The connection between this team and this City is something special. The Luv Ya Blue Oilers had it and so do these guys. They wore Houston Strong patches on their hearts. Pounding it when they crossed home plate with the winning run and kept winning. And like that little kid I used to be I started to care again. I got my hopes up and I wanted it. I wanted it for them, cause they are good guys and I like it when the good guys win. I wanted it for this City and region because dammit we need it and it’s our turn. I tried not to get my hopes up, but these guys got my hopes up. I tried not to get too excited but these guys are exciting! So I cared again. I mean cared so much that I got nervous and anxious. “God please don’t let us lose, my heart can’t take another heartbreak”.
And like the rest of Houston and Southeast Texas and wherever a Houstonian might live they played and won for us. Last night was once in a lifetime, we might win others but this was a first.
And it felt good. Really really good.
Thanks guys and Go ‘stros!