Lounging in Houston, Loathing in Lancaster
A good friend and fellow Houston Astros fan suggested that I contribute to Baseball Hot Corner as way out of a self-imposed baseball rehab and embargo after my beloved ‘Stros were forced into the junior circuit. Having pathetically chased the World Series Dragon in the National League for decades, I felt I could not continue the fruitless pursuit saddled with the designated hitter, the foulness of the Yankees in my Juice Box and the absence of rivals like the Cubs and the Mets. Then my friend, a fellow addict rang me up.
“Come on back,” he coaxed. “It’s okay . . . it won’t hurt you . . . all good . . . come on, buddy it is still baseball. You know you want to talk about it.”
I dabbled in the corrupt brew, following Spring Training developments and Craig Biggio’s quest for his rightful, God-given, long overdue spot in the Hall. Then, I found myself curiously reading the Houston Astros roster in darkened corners of my home like a reprobate cowering in a turn of the century opium den. One day, cautiously perusing ‘Stros minor league prospects, I broke out into a cold sweat; I castigated myself.
“Do you want to submit to the humiliation? Will you let that monkey climb on your back again forcing dollars from your wallet and precious hours from your day? Don’t you remember all those wasted days at the businessman’s specials?”
I managed to keep the baseball beast at bay. That is until I made a business trip to a remote West Coast town in the Mojave Desert. My evil friend texted temptation.
“Hey, K.C.; did you know there’s an Astros minor league team about forty miles from where you are? You should go down there, give it a try. It’s just baseball.”
Against my better judgment, I made the fifty minute drive to Lancaster, California. I confess I actually went online and bought a ticket in advance to take a good position along the visitor dugout. You can see where this is going; I’m so ashamed. The peanuts and hot dog just found their way into my hands. I don’t know how it happened. I lost control.
Carlos Correa is a magnificent specimen on the diamond. Everything I read about him before—forget I said that I never read jack; whoever said that was a liar. Anyhow, Correa covered the field with a gorgeous agility and youthful joy; his bat speed and stroke were smooth and crisp. I busted open shell after shell of peanuts watching. His bat exploded into splinters in his second time at the plate. I grinned at the wooden violence as I thought of my first Astros hero Billy Hatcher.
My neighbor to the left was slightly tipsy yet very fun and respectful local.
“Hey! I hope you ain’t the batting coach two-five” he yelled at a Lake Elsinore coach with 25 on his back when Valesquez mowed down the Lake Elsinore boys like lopsided dominoes.
“I like to heckle sir, I hope you don’t mind,” He warned.
“Good call, blue!” my beer inspired friend shouted again.
“Hustle up one-eight! Don’t be the last one off the field he screamed at the visiting right fielder who glared at him like he just shot his dog as he slowed his jog into the third base dugout.
“Whoa,” he said turning his attention to me. “I don’t think I made a friend! By the way, you from Hew-stun?” he smiled pointing at the old orange star on my cap.
“Yeah; here on business and thought I’d come out and watch some baseball.”
“Hey man, he’s from the boss’ town man,” he said nudging his drunker but still jovial friend with a thumb jab.
“Argh, yeah; now come on Jethawks!” he responded, drawing another inch out of his respectably cheap beer.
I smiled, crushed more peanut shells and tossed them down the hatch and studied the program as the chilly desert wind swirled around the tiny but tidy stadium.
The fans to my right were an older couple, also local. They politely sipped their beers, laughed and cheered a team that really meant nothing in the grand scheme of the business that is the MLB. But it sure seemed to bring them joy.
“Go Jethawks!” the nice lady shouted over and over.
Now push pause and hold the phone everyone. After being banished to “change the direction” of the Houston Astros, iconic players Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were dealt or declined. Lance–the Big Puma, Fat Elvis and eminently decent Texas family man–plied his trademark balls-to-the-wall play in St. Louis, earning himself a well-deserved championship ring. Oswalt carried his fast paced, try to-hit-it attitude to Philadelphia and awful parts unknown. But they came home to Houston to retire.
I remember Roy battling and willing the Astros to advance in 2005. I rejoiced in the Puma’s grand slam against Atlanta in the playoffs of the same year that culminated in a game for the ages. And that’s what it’s all about. Yet Lance and Roy once toiled away in obscurity and amid local fan abuse in places like Lancaster, California. But they persevered and made it to the bigs in my damned awesome town in Houston.
Just this last week, Lance and Roy retired in Houston on one day contracts. Photos in the local rag included Berkman in a cowboy hat and a rocking chair on the field at the JuiceBox with his framed jersey on display. Roy and Puma admitted that they were finally relaxing in their true home in Texas. They were lounging in the glow of the American game.
The rest of the California night was a blur of boredom from a run-away game against the Storm. While Oswalt and Lance basked in the love of Astros fans, their modern day prospects were heckled by the locals in A-Ball. That’s the loathing but it’s also where the joy of this magnificent game begins and where it transcends jerks like Bud Selig and condescension by the national media. It obliterates bad seasons and crummy owners.
This came to me as I wandered toward my rent car with an armload of A Ball JetHawks gear.
“Damn you baseball. Damn you all to hell.”