When will I ever get this chance again?
Each time I refreshed the screen to see StubHub’s supply of remaining single tickets, it was the same wrestle – cost vs. opportunity. The chance to see another playoff game, to watch the best pitchers in baseball take the mound, to witness possible greatness all left me staring at the screen, bargaining with myself. I’m five blocks from the ballpark. I don’t have to find parking, pay for parking or sit in traffic. Am I really going to watch it from my couch when it’s happening five blocks from me? Isn’t possible greatness priceless?
When I lived in New York City, it was perfectly normal to have a love-hate relationship with the City. I both loved and hated the intensity, the crowds, the subways and the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway. So, it was perfectly normal, at least to me, upon moving back to Houston that I’d form a love-hate relationship living in its Downtown. For years I’ve hated not being able to walk to a bodega, but in October I could walk to the ballpark and I couldn’t have been more in love.
October 14. ALCS Game 2 in Houston. Astros vs. Yankees. Justin Verlander pitched a complete game with thirteen strikeouts. Carlos Correa doubled and Jose Altuve raced from first for the walk-off win. The ballpark was so loud I couldn’t hear my own screaming. The Astros went up 2-0 in the series and tears formed in my eyes. I really thought it was the greatest baseball game I’d ever witnessed.
Then came Sunday, October 29. World Series Game 5 in Houston. Astros vs. Dodgers. Series tied 2-2.
When will I ever get this chance again?
“You need to find a way to get to the game tomorrow,” my friend Bonnie texted me as she watched Game 4 at Minute Maid Park while I watched from my parents’ couch. Cost had finally won over opportunity. “They are not the same without YOU.”
Because if there had been an attendance sheet for Astros’ post-season home games:
Round/Game Opponent Result Amy at the Park?
ALDS Game 1 Red Sox Won, 8-2 Yes
ALDS Game 2 Red Sox Won, 8-2 Yes
ALCS Game 1 Yankees Won, 2-1 Yes
ALCS Game 2 Yankees Won, 2-1 Yes
ALCS Game 6 Yankees Won, 7-1 Yes
ALCS Game 7 Yankees Won, 4-0 Yes
World Series Game 3 Dodgers Won, 5-3 Yes
World Series Game 4 Dodgers Lost, 6-2 No
Game 4 confirmed my growing belief that I was the reason for the seven home wins. Staring at StubHub’s available single tickets for Game 5 that morning, a louder voice drown out mine. JUST GET THERE. It was Sunday after all, and Bonnie gathered after we took the Yankees in 7 that God was wearing orange this postseason. I obeyed. My boys of summer needed me.
My game routine by then was set: the same t-shirt “The Postseason is Ours” from 2015 (which it wasn’t), then a t-shirt change-up during the World Series to one stamped with “WS2017”; same Astro-orange, blue-brimmed baseball cap; same walking route and arrival time at the park, forty-five minutes before the first pitch, which gave me no time to stop/browse/buy the ever-growing team apparel through each series; same security line; same left field entrance, hit the ladies room, then doubled back to the Saint Arnold Bar off the Crawford Boxes, same line where the blonde cashier with a permanent smile asked, “What can I get for you, Sugar?” and served me a Dos Equis tallboy with a lime that stayed pretty cold, usually lasting me a whole game.
Except for games lasting five hours and seventeen minutes.
That night I rode the escalator to the top, walked around to Section 425, direct line above first base. Perfect view. The circumstance called for pomp as the two Bush Presidents came out for the ceremonial first pitch, the younger walking to the mound and throwing to who else but Verlander. Greatness was scattered throughout the park – Hall of Famers Smoltz, A-Rod, Hernandez, Thomas, Ortiz, Ryan, Bagwell, Biggio. Future Hall of Famers – Kershaw, Verlander, Altuve, Beltran. Minute Maid Park was full of October men.
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. 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. 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.
Game 5 has been called an epic, a classic, one of the craziest sporting events ever. I read an article recently touting “Minute Maid is an October beast,” with its fans “who pack the stands and generate a decibel level that’s multiplied by a factor of about a million.” 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.
Dodgers took Game 6 back in Los Angeles. Series tied 3-3.
But the World Series belonged to the Astros. At Minute Maid Park’s Game 7 watch party, metallic blue and orange streamers fell from the roof while grown men cried. I lowered my head and cried, too. October personified what rebuilding meant. For Houston. For me. How long it can take, that it can suck, there may be nothing to cheer about, but there’s always next year. I had given chance an opportunity. The chance for some real joy, one single ticket at a time. I witnessed greatness, a baseball rite of passage –these boys of summer were rebuilt into October men.
See you at the 2018 home opener. When will I ever get the chance to see a World Series banner raised?
I’m predicting a win.
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