The Struggle For One Astros Fan
I sat in the stands at Minute Maid Park in the early 2010s with quiet crowds. The most entertaining thing I can recall through those years was Sammy Gervacio’s creative “stare” windup and the sing-song “33 degree-ez” sales pitch by the Crawford Boxes beer guy. That’s it. Having just moved from New York City back to my native Houston, the ballpark felt like a high school game compared to Yankee Stadium. It was as boring as Prohibition and as sad as the country music that crooned on between innings. The Astros made it easy for me to just keep wearing my Yankees cap.
In 2012 the Astros won 55 games, lost 107.
In 2019 the Astros won 107 games, lost 55.
But can I take you back just for a minute to 2017? Walk with me to World Series Game 5 in Minute Maid Park, the house that Enron built. Ride the escalators with me to section 425, row 6, seat 4. Top deck but great view up from first base. I had thought all post-season that I was the good luck charm. The only home game I didn’t attend was WS Game 4 – the only home loss.
“You need to find a way to get to the game tomorrow,” my friend Bonnie texted me as she watched Game 4 at the ballpark while I watched from my parents’ couch. “They are not the same without YOU.”
We couldn’t have known it was the ghost of Enron banging on a trash can. Or was it Orbit? Why didn’t I ever notice how much he looked like his distant cousin Oscar?
I wish humor could wash away the ridiculousness of it all.
But back to Game 5. Just for a minute, can I take you back to what I thought was reality? For five hours and seventeen minutes in my $650 seat, I felt a part of baseball greatness.
My words from “October Men,” published November 17, 2017 –
“By the 4th inning, Dodgers were up 4-0. Clayton Kershaw had been, well, Clayton Kershaw. Until he walked George Springer and orange hearts started beating again. Two more hits brought Springer home. 4-1. Yuli Gurriel stepped up to the plate. 43,000 fans had been on their feet since Springer’s walk. On Kershaw’s first pitch, Gurriel slammed the ball into the Crawford Boxes for a game-tying homerun. An eruption of life. A new ballgame. Tied 4-4.
Top of the 5th. Back to back walks led to a Dodgers 3-run homer. Dodgers up 7-4.
Bottom of the 5th. Back to back walks by Kershaw. Springer and Alex Bregman (or A-Breg, as I like to call him) on base. Kershaw pulled. He’d lasted only a bit longer than Dallas Keuchel. A total of 14 pitchers in that game were all sitting ducks. Jose Altuve to the plate. On a 3-2 pitch, he hit a long foul ball and I thought/prayed just do it again, just keep it fair. The next pitch, to the chant of ‘M-V-P! M-V-P!’ he kept it fair, a 3-run homer to center field. Absolute redemption of life. So loud in that park, the 10-year-old boy next to me cried. Tied 7-7.
And then it just got crazier. Top of the 7th Dodgers went up 8-7. Bottom of the 7th Springer answered on the first pitch with a 448-ft homerun that landed on the train track. Tied 8-8. A-Breg got on base, Altuve brought him home. Astros up 9-8. Carlos Correa to the plate. The shot carried so high that Minute Maid collectively held its breath and waited. Is it going to drop?! Does it have the distance?! It dropped right into the Crawford Boxes. Two-run homer. One collective, deafening, ear-drum-shattering roar. House of Pain’s ‘Jump’ started up and it became a frenetic madhouse of joy. Astros up 11-8.
Top of the 8th. Dodgers score. Astros still on top 11-9.
Bottom of the 8th. Astros catcher Brian McCann homered. ‘If anybody can, McCann can!’ screamed my new friend Belma. Because after four-and-a-half hours, I made friends. Astros up 12-9.
Top of the 9th. Dodgers homerun and an RBI, three runs scored. Thrills of victory and agonies of defeat. Tied 12-12.
Top of the 10th. I was sick to my stomach. At every pitch I did the sign of the cross, which I’m certain was not in the correct pattern. A woman behind me screamed/prayed consistently to baby Jesus. God blessed pitcher Joe Musgrove. Still tied 12-12.
Bottom of the 10th. Here we go. End it now, boys. McCann’s knees have to be jelly. End of the lineup. We’re okay. I know Gonzalez can hit off Jansen. Two outs and McCann up. Hit by a 2-2 pitch, he took first. Hold on, Springer’s up, then Bregman. Can we get to Bregman? Please get to A-Breg. He can hit off Jansen, did last night. I almost turned around to tell Belma but kept my mouth shut. I dared not jinx what I believed was coming. Springer was patient, got a walk, pushing McCann to second. Pinch runner Derek Fisher in for McCann. YES. It’s time, A-Breg. Please, baby Jesus.
I walked back home at 1:00a.m. with my ears ringing and watched the taped game all over again, going to bed somewhere around 6:00a.m. I had to relive that 13-12 walk-off win. It was the new greatest game I’d ever witnessed.”
But was it a real win? I don’t know anymore. I don’t know anything anymore. In a world where DuPont can knowingly poison us with chemicals in non-stick cookware and never admit to it, where Aunt Becky has to bribe her real-life daughter’s way in to college, and where Bernie Madoff can be a genuinely generous nonprofit board member while Ponzi scheming everyone who crossed his path, it stands to reason that grown men can devise a scheme to steal opposing pitching signs and relay in bat-slamming Morse code to their teammates so they can increase their chances to become World Champions.
Owner Jim Crane stated in his press conference following MLB’s findings that the Astros organization needs “to move forward with a clean slate,” and that “the Astros will become a stronger organization” because of his firings of GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. “You can be confident we will always do the right thing.”
Hold on. The scheme was “player-driven” and “player-executed” according to the MLB Commissioner’s report. “One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor, and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter.”
The same players hamming it up in H-E-B commercials? yukking it up in the dugout with post-homerun charades and camera stares? apologizing – multiple times – for disrespectfully carrying a bat and dropping it at first base after a homerun? These men at the top of their sport making millions of dollars are banging on trash cans?
The report goes on to say, “Many of the players who were interviewed admitted that they knew the scheme was wrong because it crossed the line from what the player believed was fair competition and/or violated MLB rules.” No players were suspended by MLB or the Astros organization.
I lowered my head and cried at the Game 7 watch party as blue and orange streamers fell. There was no disputing the team’s talent, winning the final game on the road. And I cannot dispute to this day my insane euphoria when Fisher slid home to win Game 5. I went into a joy black-out where all I could see was the haze of white stadium lights through waving arms of jumping, screaming, drained fans. I’d still describe it as one of the best moments of my life.
Thousands and thousands of dollars in tickets that I had no business spending these last three years, and hundreds more on ballcaps, t-shirts, hoodies, programs, scorecards, pencils, magnets. I have countless post-season orange rally towels folded up like washcloths in my closet. Hanging on the wall by my front door is a framed blue press plate from the Chronicle’s front page that screams “CHAMPS!” with Bregman, Altuve and Correa holding the World Series trophy.
Mayor Turner released a statement following Crane’s announcement stating, “it is our turn to carry the Astros on our shoulders and lift the owner, coaches, and players as they focus on moving the organization beyond this challenge.”
Cut to Rod Serling.
I don’t know how much more I can carry. The disbelief will fade season after season, but the disappointment right now really stings.
Crane knew nothing? Luhnow knew nothing? They heard nothing from their fantastic seats? The Astros mentioned eight other teams doing the same thing? MLB quiets other teams from commenting on the ruling? Hinch couldn’t stop this? Crane says “this is behind us”? Oh, it’s just beginning.
The ironic motto for 2017 – “Earn It.”
The 2020 motto? “Omertà.”
For More Table For One