Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The 'Stros

Well, I feel just the teensiest little bit of excitement building. After an abysmal start, the Houston Astros are now over the five hundred mark.

Before I started driving a taxicab back in '89, I had only a vague interest in the Astros, and that only because they were the hometown team. It's not that I dislike baseball. Quite the contrary. In fact, I still have my bat! (Used to have my ball and mitt, too, but they have long since disappeared.)

No, the reason that I didn't pay much attention to the 'Stros was that I wanted to play, not listen to or watch someone else play!

But when you're in the car a lot, -- and, as a cab driver, I was in the car a lot! --more often than not, I would guess, the radio is on.

I channel-surfed quite a bit at first, but then found myself returning more and more to the station that broadcast the Houston Astros' games. They had a 'color' man, Larry Dierker, who really caught my attention. He had such interesting stories to tell! It was obvious that he loved the game. I found his enthusiasm infectious, and then one day I realized that I was well on the way to becoming a pretty hefty-sized fan.

At that time, the team was still playing in the Astrodome, and taxicabs did not have to pay a parking fee to enter -- the assumption being, of course, that they weren't staying, simply picking up or dropping off a customer.

"Well," I thought to myself one evening after I'd dropped a customer off at the Medical Center, which is about five minutes away from the Dome, "why not stop by at that hotel right next to the stadium? You see the words 'sports bar' advertised all the time. Check it out, and see what's going on. Then, maybe you can swing by the Dome after the game and see if you can snag a customer."

So I started dropping in there, at first from time to time, but then more and more often. I became one of the 'regulars'. Well, this one night I got there a little bit late, and the game wasn't on. I exclaimed, "Whaaat!" I was told that it was 'blacked out' locally.

I immediately exited the bar, got in the cab, drove around the corner to the Dome, and was waved in through the gates. As I got closer to the stadium, I noticed a vehicle or two exiting and thought, "Hmm, I wonder if there's a parking spot available up near the front?" There was, in the second row ... how sweet is that??

The next potential problem was that of entry. I could see that they were still taking tickets (!!) ... why would that be, it was like the 6th or 7th inning, for crying out loud. I wasn't about to pay for a ticket only to see two or three innings' worth of a ballgame! Then, I noticed that there was someone standing just outside one of the service doors smoking a cigarette. As I continued to watch, he put out his cigarette and went back inside.

I thought to myself, "Self, I wonder if you can get in the same way he did?" Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So, I tried it. Empty hallway -- no guard -- leading directly to the mezzanine level. I was IN! Exhilarating!!

Thus began a pattern of behavior that became more and more frequent as the years progressed. By the time 1994 rolled around, I was a full-fledged member of Baseball Maniacs Anonymous. I couldn't sleep the night before 'opening day'. My AM radio station was automatically programmed to include every sports station within broadcast distance, and I practically lived and breathed baseball.

When I would arrive at the taxicab staging area each day, I would be greeted with either a smile or a groan, depending on how the Astros were doing ... sometimes a laugh, if the Astros had done poorly and the other person's team had done well. That's about all I was interested in talking about, baseball.

1994 ... the infamous year of the strike. I was at the game when Bagwell hit multiple home runs. I was at the game that went over twenty innings. I was at the game where the fans were chanting, "Don't strike. Don't strike."

It didn't seem to make any difference to the players what the fans thought. Then, Bagwell was hit by a pitch that broke his wrist. He was finished for the season. The players struck, the World Series was played out on computers, and I was madder than ... (well, never mind what I was madder than).

1995 ... I attended no games. I listened to no games. I watched no games.

1996 ... I thought to myself, "Self, what you did last year wasn't enough. You need to actively protest." So, I did. I actually bought a ticket (gasp) for a home game, got there early, booed the Astros in batting practice, booed the starting lineup as it was announced, and cheered for the opposing team (have NO idea who it might have been, but that didn't matter -- it was the principle of the thing!).

It's a really good thing that I didn't take my bat with me. I probably would have been tempted to try and run out on the field and actually assault one of the players. Then, I'd have been arrested and put in jail, my bat confiscated, who knows what other nasty things.

OK. So that was it, my 'protest game'. I was terribly unpopular in the stadium, as you might imagine, but I didn't give a hoot what anyone else thought. After the game was over, I realized that my anger was gone, like it had evaporated. What was left in its place was almost a complete and total lack of interest, just a touch below the level of what it was before I started driving a taxi.

And there it remained until, maybe a year or two later, the announcement was made that Larry Dierker was to be the new manager. That piqued my interest, and I started paying attention again.

[There'll be another post on the Astros down the road, I promise. So much has been left out of this story. I'll probably be publishing a post or two on football as well as at least one on basketball. Maybe one on hockey. Soccer is so far out of my realm of personal experience that I'll probably never address that one!]

Well, as I said at the start of this post, there's some excitement building. To be continued.

1 comment:

Tammy said...

Aaahhhhh....this brings back memories of my Yankee loving year I had in New York.

Good memories. :)