I can’t remember when I didn’t have a deeply emotional connection to the Houston Astros, who started out as the Colt .45s in the spring of 1962, when I was barely a year old. At that point, we’d been living in Houston only a year after having moved from Huntington, West Virginia, where my brother and I had been adopted.
In tribute to the space program, the franchise became the Astros in 1965 when the team moved into its amazing new indoor stadium, the Astrodome, dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Luckily, until moving to Conroe in 1971, we lived about 5 miles from the Dome off South Main Street, and we started going to a handful of games each year.
By the time I was 7 in 1968, in third grade after having been bumped into first at age 5 at St. Matthew Lutheran School on the outskirts of downtown, my Astros fandom was in full swing. I became fast friends with Paul Sweitzer and John Reed, and we’d compare notes at school most mornings about the previous night’s game — often losses — that we’d listened to on the radio, feeling like we were sitting right there in the stands, thanks to the stellar play-by-play and color of Gene Elston and Loel Passe. My brother Isaac and I spent years often keeping our own box scores while listening at home, using cardboard from the boxes of Dad’s “samples” from his work as a longtime lingerie salesman for Hollywood Vassarette.
It wasn’t just Isaac and I who dearly loved the Astros and still do, exchanging texts as they make their way through the playoffs and into the World Series for a second time in three years. Our parents, Clark and Olga, did too. At times, all four of us would go to games. Sometimes, it was just us guys.
During my years at Conroe High from 1974 to ’78, when I was able to score two tickets to three games a year for making straight A’s, Dad and I would go together and have a blast. I’ll always remember being with him at a game against the Dodgers in July 1977 when outfielder Terry Puhl was called up from the minors and made his debut. The Canadian would become my favorite all-time Astro.
And then there was Mom. She made no secret of her crush on Larry Dierker, the longtime Astros hurler who became the franchise’s first 20-game winner in 1969. Many know that things were very difficult for our family because of Mom’s drinking and other problems. But she loved the game of baseball, and she loved the Astros. She had a thing for Dierk — and, later, when the team acquired Nolan Ryan, she had the hots for him, too.
All these years later, I’ve got to smile about it, because there weren’t a lot of happy times for us. But remembering how this native of Panama who married a U.S. Navy man came to the United States and grew to love our national pastime, even developing a crush on a couple of players on her/my favorite team, is a special memory for me.
As the Astros get ready to open the World Series tonight against the Nationals, I’m pumped, nervous, unsure what’s going to happen. I’m expecting another ultra-competitive series, just like the Astros have gotten from the Rays and Yankees. And from an opponent that few expected to get here, that rallied late to win the NL wild-card game against the Brewers, that knocked out the favored Dodgers, that swept the Cardinals, who could possibly think the Astros will have it easy? Pitching, as they say, is the great equalizer, and both of these teams bring it.
Not to bash my team, but the Astros have spent these playoffs wasting baserunners and scoring opportunities. They can’t continue doing that and expect pitching and home runs to keep extending their season. Because this is it — there’s no more season to extend. The team whose offense comes through in the most key situations — that’s who’ll win this. Here’s hoping those guys are named Alvarez, Bregman, Springer, Gurriel, Altuve, Correa, Brantley and Reddick.
In closing, let me share what the photos are: Last night, after watching a Captain America movie with our 18-year-old Will, I was showing him some comic books from my childhood that were stashed in a box. Mixed in was a 1971 Astros game program, missing its cover. What a fun journey back to the Astrodome and all the great times my family shared there, and how cool looking at the photos of the guys on that team: Manager Harry “The Hat” Walker. Menke, Morgan, Wynn, Rader, Dierker, Cedeno, Watson, Edwards, Wilson, Billingham, Metzger, Gladding, LeMaster, Alou, Blasingame, Forsch.
And look at those ticket and concessions prices! Box seats $4, general admission $1.50! Beer 55 cents and hot dogs 35 cents. Hamburgers 65 cents! Anyone remember the “Popcorn megaphones”? And love the Astroworld ad — did it really only cost $3.95 for children and $4.95 for adults to get in?
OK, time for a World Series. As always, no predictions here. I do believe in baseball gods, I do believe in baseball gods, I do believe in baseball gods, I do believe in baseball gods. And I sure don’t want to do or say anything to get on their bad side.
GO ASTROS!!! #TakeItBack