Me And The Astros--A Rationale, Or Why The Astros Are So Cool
". . .And maybe Marlon Brando
Will be there by the fire
We'll sit and talk of Hollywood
And the good things there for hire
And the Astrodome and the first teepee
Marlon Brando, Pocahontas, and me"

--Neil Young, "Pocahontas"


I first became aware of the Astros in 1986, during the NLCS vs. the Mets. I was 21, and still living at home. I was helping my Mom bring in the groceries, and I switched on the TV. Game six was on, it was like the seventh inning. I knew I hated the Mets on principle, but who were these guys in the ridiculously bright uniforms? What was this stadium they were playing in? I'd sometimes watched the game of the week when I was younger, and I'd watched the '75 World Series, but I'd never seen anything like the 'Stros. The Mets were of course infamous. It seemed like a player of theirs made the 6:00 news each week, but these Astros. . .

The players for the 'Stros seemed like nice guys, of course, (Kevin Bass did a mean Sammy Davis, Jr., for example) but the uniforms, the team, the stadium, they seemed so modern, so techno, if you can stand the word, so American. They were this pastoral game of baseball taken to an extreme. An air-conditioned stadium for chrissakes, astroturf, the vivid colors on their uniforms, the exploding scoreboard you saw across the top of my home page--it all looked revolutionary to me. Later I found out that the grounds crew at the dome used to wear spacesuits. Abner Doubleday would recognize the game, of course, but nothing else. In that quote above, Ol' Neil uses the dome as a metaphor for the United States and its people, commercial technology in all its shortfallings and all its glory. I don't think the metaphor is stretching things at all. And I think I got a glimpse of all of it that fall day in   '86. . .

The game, of course, was less than half over when we walked in. After the Mets tied it in the ninth, they scored a run in the top half of the fourteenth. Unbelievably enough, Billy Hatcher answered with a solo shot just inside the foul pole to retie it in the bottom frame. My mother and I, though hardly versed in baseball history, knew we were watching a classic.

The wrong team won, of course. Jesse Orosco got the final out (with the winning run on base!) for the Mets, and those arrogant New Yorkers--Strawberry Hernandez Gooden etc. etc.--went on to beat the Red Sox in the Series, and I guess I have to mention Bill Buckner here. However, I remain convinced that

a) If Bass had been able to slap some of Orosco's sixteenth-inning junk into short right field, and the NLCS had gone 7, Mike Scott would have shut down the Mets as he had in games one and four, and
b) Had they gone on to the Fall Classic, the Astros would have handled Boston with considerably more ease than the Mets managed.

But no matter. Scott became the first player from a losing team to win a postseason MVP award. Hal Lanier was named NL Manager of the year, and it was obvious I had a team to follow.

I did follow them over the following years, but it was basically through the newspapers. No internet. Not even cable. Basically I was watching the standings, checking out Nolan Ryan's ERA or Glenn Davis' home run totals in the paper. Fortunately I worked delivering the Miami Herald, so that was easy, anyway.

But in 1990, two things changed. One, our household got cable. The local cable company had a sister company in Texas, and in those pre-Marlin days they decided to pick up the baseball broadcasts out of Texas. The Rangers were on once a week, and I didn't care much about that, but the Astros were on weekly, as well. For the first time I was able to truly follow the team, and truly become familiar with their players. The second thing was that my brother-in-law, who had started to collect baseball cards, gave me a few '89 Donruss and '89 Score Astro doubles he had lying around.

In 1991, neither the team, nor my collection were anything special. As I opened packs of '91 Bowman, looking for that @#$%! Tom Nevers card, I would analyze the 'Stros' chances of avoiding 100 losses. I finally did pluck the Nevers card and Houston did NOT lose 100 games. And it looked like that rookie first baseman was something special. . .

I actually got to the Astrodome for the first time late in the '91 season. It was a pilgrimage of sorts for me, but manager Art Howe didn't cooperate. He rested Jeff Bagwell and Ken Caminiti and I watched a lineup that featured Mike Simms at first and Gary Cooper at third lose to the Giants, 2 - 0, I think. In the years since that game, I visited the Dome twice more and have now seen the new retractable-roof facility. I've also traveled to see the Astros' minor league affiliates at their home parks in Kissimmee, FL, Round Rock, TX, Davenport, IA, Jackson, MS, New Orleans, LA, and Auburn, NY. I've watched as the big club has become one of the most successful clubs in baseball over the past ten years, but also agonized at their playoff failures.

My card collection has grown with help of companies like Neil Hoppenworth's Cards, Bill (the King of the Commons) Henderson's Cards, Larry Fritsch Cards, Kit Young's Cards, the now-defunct Z-Cards, the now- defunct Baseball Card World, Lake Country Minor League Prospects, Baseball Card Kingdom, STB Sports, Gary Walters Baseball Cards, and many many others. Only once have I ever encountered anybody in the sports card business who was anything less than totally reputable and genuinely friendly. Considering this is basically mail order, and that I've dealt with literally hundreds of outfits, that fact is somewhat remarkable.

I'd like to thank here those companies above and anyone else who sold me an Astro card I needed. I'd like to thank you for reading this. And I'd also like to thank Judge Roy Hofheinz, who brought NL baseball to Houston, thinking the mosquitoes couldn't be THAT bad. . .


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