|My Grandfather and Uncle|
He was a huge baseball fan, and I was playing my first year of Little League at the ripe old age of seven. Almost every evening he would sit in his chair and listen to his favorite team, the recently formed Houston Astros. Because he was my grandfather, they became my favorite too.
We would visit my grandparents monthly and the summer and fall evenings would be spent around the radio listening to Gene Elston and Loel Passe describe the play on the field. Joe Morgan, Sonny Jackson, Bob Aspermonte, and Jimmy "Toy Cannon" Wynn became household names to us. But they were BAD, and a new stadium didn't improve the quality of the product on the field.
I'll never forget the first time I walked into the Astrodome. What a marvelous sight! The deep green of the newly invented Monsanto "AstroTurf" was breathtaking. Astroturf became necessary because the natural grass died. Fly balls were almost impossible to track for the outfielders, so the roof was painted to cut the glare, also effectively cutting off sunlight to the grass. The most exciting feature of the Dome was the huge electronic scoreboard. It exploded with sound and lights when an Astro hit a home run or when they won a game.
My father never failed to take me to a few games each season as I grew up, and we formed a strong bond as fans of the team. They came close to winning the pennant in both 1980 and 1986, but fell just short both times. By the mid '90s, the Astrodome was showing its age, and a new park was planned for the downtown area.
I had moved from the Houston area in the mid '80s and seldom got back to see games. The first time I saw the new park was on trips to visit my father in the hospital. By the time Enron Field opened, my father had died in a hospital only a couple miles from the new field, and a second generation had lived and not seen the Astros win a title.
My heartache had now lasted over 40 years.
Things got real ugly fast after that season, bottoming out with 324 losses over three seasons. The team had sold and there was a new regime leading the way out of the darkness. When you lose that many games you get a lot of high draft choices, and the Astros didn't waste them.
By 2015 the team made the post season as a Wild Card. Traveling to New York, they beat the Yankees and had Kansas City on the ropes. However, another bullpen collapse in Game 4 broke our hearts once again. The next season was another disappointment as the Astros missed the playoffs altogether.
Following the team the last several years, it was hard not to notice the improvement up and down the line in the Astros organization. The minor league teams were all at or near the top of their leagues, it was just a matter of time until those players started arriving in Houston and the good times would start. However, after waiting on a championship for over half a century, patience was wearing thin.
The 2017 season started well with the team jumping out to a nice lead early and running away from the rest of the AL West. By August we knew the division was ours and as fans we wondered how we would blow it in the playoffs. My money was on our shaky bullpen.
We beat the Red Sox in four games in the Division Series and won the first two games against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. I kept telling myself not to get my hopes up, but my excitement was building. By the time the series came back to Houston, the bullpen had blown a big lead in one of the games and the Yankees won three straight to get within one game of winning the series.
"Just the same old Astros," I thought.
But I was wrong about this club. The 'Stros crushed the Yankees twice and were headed to the World Series for only the second time in franchise history.
I can't say how the players felt after winning the game, but I felt a huge weight lifted. At least we wouldn't suffer the embarrassment of losing eight straight World Series games, plus we now had the home field advantage. That was significant because we hadn't lost a home game since late September.
Game 3 also went to the Astros. I was trying not to get my hopes up because of the numerous heartbreaks in the past, but I admit that I was starting to dream about what it would be like to win it all.
Game 4 fulfilled one of my bucket list items. I had always wanted to see the Astros in the World Series and this was the day that want was made real. I took both my kids, and my sister and brother in law also joined us. Although another bullpen implosion cost us the game, it is still a memory I'll always share with my children.
My fears came true as the Dodgers edged us in Game 6 to tie the Series at three games apiece. However, Los Angeles had one of their top pitchers, Yu Darvish starting Game 7. Darvish had been a thorn in our side during his years with the Texas Rangers, once coming within one out of a perfect game against us. We had roughed him up in his first start in the Series and I figured he would be primed to shut us down this time. All we had was a patchwork pitching staff, one that was leaking oil and being held together by bailing wire and duct tape. Our bullpen had been a disaster, so manager A.J. Hinch decided to keep running starting pitchers to the bump and hope for the best. Our normal relief pitchers were limited to two batters in the game.
Game 7 started well, with the Astros jumping ahead early 5-0. In my ever optimistic Astros outlook, I kept thinking to myself, "Great, we'll be the first team in World Series history to blow a five run lead in Game 7." The innings kept rolling by and suddenly we found ourselves in the ninth inning with a four run lead.
You could have cut the tension with a knife in the room as my daughter and Ms. Duck watched with me.
Ms. Duck walks over to me holding her phone. She sticks it in my face and has a website up showing "Astros- 2017 World Series Champion" tee shirts.
"Which one would you like?" she asked innocently.
"ARE YOU CRAZY!!!" I shouted. "You're gonna jinx the whole damn thing!"
I was a little worked up. :)
I called my son who was 350 miles away, but after all these years, this was something I wanted to share with him.
"ARE YOU CRAZY!!!" he shouted. "You're gonna jinx the whole damn thing!"
I watched as a sharply hit grounder was cradled by second baseman Jose Altuve'. A soft toss to first and I exploded from my chair, arms upraised, dancing like a fool around the living room!
After celebrating in person with my family and my son on the phone, I proceeded to call (and be called) by all my Astros friends.
"Now can you take a look?" Ms. Duck asked as she approached with her phone.
"Absolutely," I said, smiling from ear to ear.
As I complete this post, it has been almost three months since Game 7 ended. It's difficult to describe the feeling of accomplishment and content I feel, and it's hard to say why I feel this way. I didn't have anything to do with what happened on the field, but I've been so invested in this team for so many years, it has been quite uplifting.
Occasionally my thoughts drift back to the past generations of my family. My grandfather and his Philco, and my father taking me to see the Astros as a youngster. There's a hint of sadness in the air, knowing that they couldn't be here to witness what I had experienced. My hope is that they were together somewhere, sitting in sun soaked bleachers wearing Astros jerseys, somehow knowing that the miracle we thought would never happen had indeed come true!