An Astro Fan's Journey

added 10/23/2005 by Rob Jones

Originally posted on Astros Baseball Talk

As I sit here on the eve of Houston's first World Series, I cannot help but wonder, "Is this for real?" Has it actually come to pass, after all these years? After all of this waiting? I believe my response at 10:21 CST Wednesday night was much like Biggio and Bagwell - very happy, but reserved with an inclination to pinch myself just in case I was dreaming. It must be real. Either that or many of us are stuck in a wonderful version of Groundhog Day where we keep waking up to the Astros in the World Series!

So how did I get here? In some regards, we all like to think we are unique. That uniqueness does not apply just to us as individuals but also to our teams. In many ways, we are indeed unique. However, the fact is we are all very much the same in many ways. We each have our own story to tell. But I suggest that most of the stories usually share a common thread. Often times, it is about friends and family. Baseball is a wonderful sport to be shared through the generations. The game and the time together ties us to both the past and the present. That is my story and my common thread.

My family attended our first Astros game in August of 1968, the same month that we moved to Houston from Huntsville, Alabama. Trips to the Astrodome from Clear Lake City became frequent and the family fell in love with the team and the sport, a love that remains to this day. Thirty-five cent programs and sribbled-on scorecards from the early 70s still remain in the attic instantly bringing back memories from a time that seems long ago.

After moving back to the family's old homeplace and a rural hog farm in 1974, following the Astros became more of a challenge for our family; however, the passion never stopped. There were annual trips to Atlanta to watch the Astros and less frequent trips back to Houston to visit family and friends - always during baseball season, of course. There were summer nights spent listening to Astros games on the radio when the Astros played the Braves, Cardinals, or Reds. You think picking up the Astros in Louisiana or Mississippi is hard? Try picking up an AM station carrying Astros games in northeast Alabama! Ultimately, we acquired a satellite dish in the early 80s to watch the Astros on HSE, but those fun evenings soon passed when MLB restrictions made it impossible to watch games.

I grew out of the kid stage, high school and college came, but the Astros remained a large part of the family. Post-It notes were attached to my bed to let me know how the Astros did while I was out on a late-night date. Wins and losses were all there through the good and bad. The memories are endless, but the bond runs deep, even today. It is my dad saying, "Virdon waited too late to take Nolan out of Game 5." It is my mom answering my phone call from college in 1986 without a hello but rather a "he did it" when Mike Scott pitched a no-hitter to clinch the division. (She knew it was me calling 2 1/2 hours after the first pitch and long before caller ID.) It is flying with my brother to watch the Astros play in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park for the first time ever in 2003. It is my wife saying "Sorry" (and meaning it) after the heartbreaking playoff losses. It is my seven-year old daughter pumping her fists and exclaiming "Yes!" after waking up to Jeff Kent's game-winning home run in Game 5 last year. And it is my ten-year old son crying himself to sleep this past Monday night and then jumping around the family room on Wednesday night while his mom wonders why I am letting him stay up so late on a school night and his friends wondering why he pulls for the Astros and not the Braves.

As I said, my story is not unique when you view the grand scheme of things. We all have our memories of the Astrodome and some even go back to old Colt Stadium. Many of us grew up watching ground crews in space suits while listening to Herb Alpert's Tiajuana Taxi as the crews prepared the infield for the game. Long before there was a train celebrating home runs, there was a Texas-sized scoreboard with pistol-shooting cowboys and a roaring bull that caused my toddler brother to cry and cover his ears. We watched a game meant to be played on grass played in rainbow uniforms on a turf named for our very own team. We thought it was normal. We did not grow up listening to well-known greats like Mel Allen, Jack Buck, and Ernie Harwell. But we had our own greats that our moms and dads let us listen to as we dozed off to sleep. We listened to the Texas drawl of Loel Passe ("He breezed him - one more time!") and the soothing voice of Gene Elston. Milo Hamilton, a baseball voice if there ever was one, became our very own.

Today I think of great Astros from the past, like Cesar Cedeno and Bob Watson. But I also think of baseball cards of Scipio Spinks and Mark Lemongello. I think of trading Pete Rose and Johnny Bench baseball cards to my best friend to get guys like Skip Jutze and Rafael Landestoy. (Even today I think I would make the same trade!) No matter who they are and where they are, I hope those players and coaches have received some satisfaction in knowing that the franchise they once played for has finally done it.

So here we sit, experiencing what we have often dared to dream, wanting it to go by slowly so we can savor it and enjoy it. Maybe we will be back next year. After all, this franchise is no joke that has never tasted success. Nor are we loveable losers that just happened to have a good season at the right time. No, this is a franchise that has had more than its share of winning moments, seasons, and playoff appearances, albeit heartbreaking ones. The Astros never had a Billy Goat Curse or Curse of the Bambino. But that never lessened the pain any when they could not get the last six outs of the 1980 playoffs or hold a three-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS. How many of us remember a devastated Bob Knepper leaning on the dugout rail wondering what might have been had we been able to get to Mike Scott in Game 7?

I have never been one to settle for second - and I do not want to this year. But, folks, the rest is gravy. Icing on the cake. I am only 39 years old, but I have lived to see the day my Astros will finally play in the Fall Classic. And I am blessed to enjoy it with my parents, my brother, my wife, and my children. Now I hope, and believe, that the time is right to make Houston a baseball champion. With starting pitching from Spring, Deer Park, Galveston (not to mention a little town called Weir, Mississippi), the time is right. The time is right with the local college boy made good and the two career players that never stepped on the field without giving it all they had. Regardless, it has been a fun ride and I look forward to another fun week. Go Astros!