From my youth, I have always been a Houston Astros fan, even though I now live in North Texas and am, of course, a Texas Ranger fan. I’m still an Astros fan. But I’m torn between the two when they play each other. Personally, I wish the Astros had not left the National League. An I-45 World Series between the Rangers and the Astros is not a possibility any longer.
As a side note – I am a baseball purist and I do not like the changes to the game that I have seen. For instance, the Designated Hitter rule, in my humble opinion, is not a good rule. It takes away from some major strategy of the game, taking the manager out of the pressure packed decision-making process. If you don’t have to worry about whether your pitcher bats or not, you don’t have to worry much about anything but scoring more runs and resting your pitcher. But that’s another story. Back to the ‘Stros.
When I was a youngster and playing Little League baseball, I was a Houston Colt 45 fan, before they became the Astros. The old open-air Colt 45 Stadium was a fun place to watch the big leaguers. One Saturday our Little League coach took our team to an afternoon game in Houston. We arrived early and happened to meet Rusty Staub, the Astros’ third baseman in the parking lot – quite a thrill for a bunch of kids. (Actually, it would be a thrill today for us old guys to meet some players also!)
Then came 1965 and the team became the Houston Astros. Those were exciting days for baseball fans. The first indoor stadium was being built in Houston, Texas and they would call it the Astrodome and it would be the home field for the new Houston Astros.
I remember that the turf was grass at first and because it could not get the sunlight that it needed, they could not keep it alive. Astro Turf was patented in 1965 and would become the playing field in the Astrodome. It was originally marketed as “ChemGrass.” But in 1966 it was placed in the Astrodome and renamed after it was widely publicized to have saved the day for the new stadium.
But, my fondest remembrance from those days, and a big highlight of my baseball career, was that my Dad bought tickets for our family to the first game in the new Astrodome. This was April of 1965 and an exhibition game between the Houston Astros and the legendary New York Yankees.
I was also a Yankee fan and all of their greats played in that game. Whitey Ford was the starting pitcher, Berra behind the plate, Mantle in center, Maris in right, Pepitone at first and my second baseman hero, Bobby Richardson as the second sacker. For the Astros, Larry Dierker started, Jimmy Wynn, Joe Morgan and the others proudly wore those first gaudy Astros uniforms.
It was a game to be remembered – the kind of game that I always have enjoyed. Today, with the DH rule, as we discussed above, the desire is for a lot of offense and everyone seems to be swinging for the fences. There’s not much small ball anymore and manufacturing runs on the base paths. But I suppose that’s the baseball purist coming out.
The game went twelve innings with a one to one tie. That’s the game I enjoy – good pitching, good defense and second guessing by the crafty managers. I was very fortunate to see Mickey Mantle hit the first home run in the Astrodome, which was also the first indoor home run ever. He drilled a line shot to center field, left-handed. It was especially exciting to see the new jumbo scoreboard light up for the first time.
Then, to bring to a close a great evening of baseball, another of my heroes came in to pinch hit in the bottom of the twelfth inning. Nellie Fox had played for the Chicago White Sox for many years and now, toward the end of his career, he was an Astro. I played second base and both of my heroes were there that night – Bobby Richardson and Nellie Fox. Nellie stepped up to the plate with a runner on second base and promptly hit a single that brought the winning run home. Astros win 2 to 1! A super night indeed!
Being the eternal baseball fan, it has been a special part of my life to have witnessed the evolution of the Astros from the old Colt 45’s in 1962 to be the 2017 World Series champs.
And this was such a special year to have this happen. The Houston area has been devastated by the hurricane and flooding, and I know from my friends there that the playoffs have brought some relief from the stress they have all been under. Many of the Astros’ players replied in interviews that the City of Houston was always on their minds and it was for the fans.
Thank you, Astros, for the memories and congratulations Houston area for the best team in baseball. We are already looking forward to next year!