HOUSTON - My earliest memory of going to a baseball game in Houston is a simple one: Dad holding my hand as we walked into Colt Stadium. I would have been about 6 or 7 years old in 1963 or ‘64. He bought me a pennant and a Colt .45 cap. I still have both. They’re keepsakes that connect me to him and to Houston of yesteryear.
The Colt .45 name was pretty cool for a kid. We were home-run hitting cowboys. Bats instead of rifles. Back then, every show on TV was a Western. And this was Texas. It was only natural that Houston had a team of wild west baseball heroes. I have a vague memory of sitting in the stands at Colt Stadium, but that’s about all. Growing up, I heard all the stories about the awful heat and the mosquitoes. It wasn’t until I was a Dad myself, decades later, that I read a book about Colt Stadium and learned that it had vividly colored seats. My first full-color memories of the home town team were from the early Astrodome era.
Perhaps you’ve heard Yankee fan Billy Crystal talking about the wonder of walking into Yankee Stadium for the first time. The copper façade. The green grass. It was just as magical for me and many other fans entering the Astrodome. The roof. The colorful cushioned seats. The grounds crew in astronaut suits. The air conditioning! The AMAZING electric scoreboard that everyone loved. Can you imagine seeing the 8th Wonder of the World for the first time? It put Houston on the map. The creation of the structure alone was a monumental task. My friends and I would climb up a high tree in our nearby southwest suburb to see the dome in the distance. (No buildings blocking our view back then.)
Houston was a place where all things were possible. The Johnson Space Center was another example of that in the 1960s. Kids grew up in Houston studying space and knowing their astronauts. So, it was only natural the two themes merged. Our Colt .45s of the old west would become the new space-age Astros.
After the dawn of the Dome in 1965, I was connected to the Astros at the hip. I was a little older and more interested in baseball. My Dad worked for an oil company. And as anyone who grew up in Houston knows, oil company dads get complimentary tickets. We were lucky enough to see many games. I still remember the seats. Aisle 124, Row Q, Seats 1, 2, 3 & 4. And playing right in front of me was Astros third baseman, Bob Aspromonte. He was my childhood baseball hero. I confused his name like a kid only could. What are the chances my favorite Astro is name ASTROmonte?? This is incredible! I sorted that out as the years went by. I had a shoebox filled with Astro player baseball cards. I studied their history and statistics. I learned the players’ names and nicknames. Little Joe Morgan. Jimmy Wynn, the Toy Cannon. Doug Rader, the Red Rooster. Rusty Staub, Le Grand Orange.
In the 1970s, there was this explosion of orange in the Astros’ team colors. I had been used to the shooting star across the chest. I still love that original design. But the orange was exciting and everything seemed so new. The Astros handed out free bats and orange batting helmets to the kids. I still have mine. Cesar Cedeno was the new star of the team. He was going to be the next Willie Mays. There was Larry Dierker, Don Wilson, Lee May, Bob Watson. We were building something here. Then, another splash of color and even more good players.
The infamous rainbow jerseys appeared in the mid 70s. They were eye-catching and America noticed Houston all over again. J.R. Richard was throwing heat. The Astros added knuckleballer Joe Niekro. And then, the miracle. Houston signed hometown hero Nolan Ryan. That took us to a new level. We made the playoffs and faced the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. Once again, I was lucky enough to be there. I saw Game 3 on Friday, October 10, 1980 at 2 p.m. I still remember where I sat. Just above one of the mezzanine scoreboards in the orange section. The Dome was loud and rocking. We won the nail biter, 1-0. The Houston Astros were one game away from the World Series. I can’t tell you how exciting that first playoff experience was. We ended up losing the NLCS to Philadelphia. But we had broken through. For the first time since 1962, we had a real chance to win it all.
In the ‘70s, I was a teenager. When we weren’t at the ballpark, I’d follow the Astros on radio and TV. One of my best memories was lying on the sofa on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and watching a game. My Dad would sit in his easy chair and we’d talk about the ups and downs of the game or the team. It’s in those moments that sons and Dads connect. Sports becomes something to share. You both have hopes of winning a championship. If we were in the car, we’d listen on the radio. At night, when the Astros played West Coast games, I’d fall asleep in bed listening to the golden tones of Astros Hall of Fame announcer Gene Elston. Years later, I still find those natural sounds of a baseball game calming. Even now, even for a spring training exhibition, I’ll turn on the TV and have it playing in the background of my life.
Throughout the years, there were many great moments. Some of them were no-hitters by pitchers like Wilson, Dierker, Ken Forsch and Ryan. But no moment of the was bigger than Mike Scott’s no-hitter in the Astrodome against the Giants on Sept. 25, 1986. It marked the only time in MLB history that any division was clinched via a no-hitter. I’ll always have that image in my head of the Astros jumping up and down around first base like a bunch of kids. That launched Houston into another near-miss at a World Series. Houston would drop the NLCS to the Mets but Game 6 was a game for the ages. 16 innings long. I can still remember today the rush I felt when Astro outfielder Billy Hatcher hit a home run off the left field foul pole at the Astrodome to tie the game in the 14th. And that homer came after he had committed an error in the top of the 14th. Remarkably similar to what George Springer went through in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.
Still, the championship eluded Houston. The years went by. We couldn’t get past the Padres. We couldn’t beat the Braves. We finally got to the World Series in 2005. My Dad and I went to another Game 3, the last game we would ever see in person together. I remember going to the gift shop and standing in a long line to buy souvenirs. Then after my father’s death, wondering why I had done that. Why hadn’t I just sat next to him for every moment possible. We lost that game and lost the series in four to the White Sox. It hurt, but at least Dad and I had lived long enough to see Houston play for the championship.
During these later years, I got married and had two sons of my own. I took them to ballgames at the Astrodome just like my Dad had taken me so many years before. I took them to games at the new Minute Maid Park. These were the best of days. I got to relive my childhood. I could recite all the games to you but in the end, I learned it wasn’t about the scores. It was about being with your Dad. It was about being with your sons. It was about the shared moments. Being there when Randy Johnson wouldn’t sign an autograph. Being there when Jeff Bagwell did. Being there when the Astrodome closed. Being there on the excellent opening day at Enron Field. Being there when Jeff Kent hit his stunning three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5 of the 2004 National League Championship Series. (We would lose the pennant again to the Cardinals.) Being there when Hall of Fame Astro Craig Biggio got his 3,000th hit. Being there for batting practice and ice cream in the 7th inning.
Time marched on and somehow, it was 2017. We had suffered through several recent 100-loss seasons. And a man starts to wonder: How many seasons are left? But the front office had drafted wisely. The new age Astros were the cream of the crop. Altuve, Correa, Springer and Bregman. The team surged in the summer. Sports Illustrated had predicted a championship back in 2014 and all signs pointed to just that. Nothing would stop us now. We were riding high when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Our city was flooded. KHOU-TV flooded. My home flooded. Getting through every day was a challenge. My family retreated to an upstairs bedroom that also served as a kitchen and dining room. But in that room, for two months, we watched the Astros every night. And it was like going back in time. The sounds of baseball calmed the storm. Much like my childhood, we talked baseball. In that room, together, we watched the march to the World Series. We screamed with glee when the last out was made in Game 7. By one in the morning, I was wearing a championship shirt. The trophy came home to H-town. Houston celebrated the Astros with a grand parade.
We had finally done it. Redemption. For a flooded city. For a flooded family. For all the teams that came before. For all those summers. For Dad.
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