Spring Is Budding

added 3/1/2010 by Patrick Hajovsky

Hello, my fellow Astros Daily readers! Big thanks to Bob Hulsey for asking me to contribute these nuggets this season. This is the first in what is hopefully a series of columns published on Astros Daily by yours truly. Of course, that expresses a personal aspiration. For the readers, I refer you to Dan Rather: Endurance!

Or maybe Shakespeare said it best, "Useless is the breath of an unfee'd lawyer."

Whatever the case, Spring Training has begun and I can breathe again. In the poetic flood and drivel that surrounds the game, the "poets" compare the return of baseball to the return of flowers in the fields, blooming meadows, etc. to ad nauseum.

I usually don't give that too much thought but I have to admit that, this year, little baseball memories keep popping up in my mind as I see the images from Florida, Arizona, MLB Network and my daughter's growing T-ball ability.

For example, I saw a picture of Roy Oswalt in the Houston Chronicle on Saturday. My mind immediately flipped back to 2001 when I first saw the scrawny kid in a Houston uniform. I remember thinking: "Hey, I know him. I saw him in Sydney during the Olympics." He had electric stuff. Then the mind flipped straight to an image of one of RoyO's knee-bending Uncle Charlies. Great stuff. Flower blossom number one.

So I grabbed a cigar and a Balvenie on Saturday night after a Father-Daughter Dance and pulled out a couple of Baseball Americas that had been collecting on the counter top. An indication that the mind is starting to stir for baseball information.

First thought that came up while flipping the pages was of Jason Castro. Will he be the battery mate RoyO has been missing since the departure of Brad Ausmus? Will he be our Joe Mauer, albeit with a little less power? Get the laptop and let's look up some stats. Lots of blossoms coming up in that research.

(As a side, I remember Oswalt's quote in the Ausmus farewell video: "Thanks for buntin' all them guys over for me in the eight hole." High-larious!)

As I poked around, I thought back to other players I've seen. I noticed that RoyO is approaching the all-time franchise wins total held by Larry Dierker. The mind immediately flipped back to the front room of my house growing up. I was 11 years old and games weren't on TV back then. My brother, Dad and I listened to Gene Elston on the radio. We settled in one night in 1976 as Dierker was pitching against the Expos. We were riveted to the radio the rest of the night as Dierker, aging and beyond his prime, hurled a no-no. A garden of flowers came up in the mind from that.

Last Sunday, I wore my usual Astros gear around the house, got online and picked out the dozen games or so I'll be going to see at Minute Maid this year. Immediately, the mind flipped to the last game in the Astrodome - a loss against the Braves in the 1999 NLDS. It was the last baseball game my Dad would attend.

Dad was dying from pancreatic cancer. We left about the sixth inning as all hope appeared lost and he was getting tired. I went to Memorial Park to hit some golf balls and watched on TV as the team came (almost) roaring back (I still remember Ken Caminiti's drive with two outs in the ninth caught against the wall in center). I called Dad and asked if he was watching. "Nope," he said, "Mom's got something on. I'm sitting in the front room listening on the radio. Usual spot." I knew exactly what he meant.

The seasonal color came in pretty quick at that point:

  • Attending Astros Buddies' Sunday games in the bleachers;
  • Being at Game 5 in the 1980 NLCS with my brother - also in the bleachers;
  • Listening over the phone to Mike Scott's no-hitter in 1986 as I was in Dallas at college and my friend John called me so I could listen in over long distance;
  • J.R. Richard (no explanation needed);
  • My first Astros Buddy, Larry Milbourne (no explanation available);
  • Gene Elston;
  • The way Jeff Bagwell could run the bases;
  • Baggy's rifle throws to nab the lead runner at second on a bunt attempt;
  • Craig Biggio's hustle;
  • Nolan Ryan loping slowly around the mound as he figured out what pitch to throw next;
  • Going to the Dome specifically to watch Billy Doran's underrated excellence;
  • The unclaimed potential of Cesar Cedeno;
  • The millionth run;
  • The NL Pennant;
  • And on and on and on.

    I'll have to admit other events distracted me this off-season. A great NFL season and Super Bowl, Christmas, my daughter starting Kindergarten, etc. While I kept track of when pitchers and catchers were due to report, of course, I wasn't counting the minutes as I've done in previous years.

    I hear folks, for some valid (and other not-so-valid) reasons, refuse to "enrich" Drayton McLane because of the product on the field. While I respect that view, I lament their intentional denial of baseball as if Drayton had a monopoly on success.

    Over the last week, the flowers of Astros memories have begun sprouting up around my house and in my mind. I'm ready to get it on. I look forward to criticizing, cheering and loving every minute as new memories blossom in the mind this year. Opening Day can't get here fast enough and I hope this year's garden overgrows with a rich new bumper crop!

    Patrick Hajovsky is a Houston attorney, a lifelong Astros fan and a frequent poster on the Yuku forum.