Pulled Into the Astros Vortex . . . Again

by KC Baker | Posted on Friday, May 1st, 2015
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Like some unfortunate astronaut that escaped the comfortable grasp of Earth’s gravity and was drifting helplessly through interstellar space, I’ve passed too close to a baseball black hole and it is pulling me into oblivion. Having been victimized by the same cash and life-sucking force time and again, my brain signals impending doom. But my heart, that lying scum, tells me that this time maybe—just maybe—it is different. It is that evil vortex of playoff hope familiar to all of us old school Astros fans; like a sinister tractor beam, early season excellence lures us into the stadium glowing with excitement and flush with concession dollars only to helplessly watch our team spiral down Mr. Bowlie’s gullet by mid-season. Yet we will always eagerly, willingly leap into the vortex. As I will now; grab a beer and let’s go.

The Astros are acting like real big leaguers, my funky friends. For the first time in years they are playing to win rather than just trying not to embarrass the team. Houston is leaving it all out on the field. I’m even experiencing a slight pang of guilt for “feeling it” this late. Hell, I was all pumped watching the young KC Royals storm to their surprise World Series appearance last year; why couldn’t I muster at least a slice of that enthusiasm for my home team until now? Sure, I followed my Stros, but only out of a sense of loyalty and inexplicable love of the game of baseball; there was no belief in their playoff worth. Instead, it was almost like attending the funeral for a friend I hadn’t spoken to in decades. I loved the guy “back then” but really didn’t know him anymore. Yet I had to go watch the casket being lowered due to history and respect.

The Astros’ brutally decisive but classy sweep of the San Diego Padres broke the rust off of the dormant tumblers that turned, clicked and rumbled open the portal to the vortex. They didn’t just beat the Padres; my mighty mighty Stros trampled them like Jolly Orange Giants sacking a minor league baseball village. At the season’s start, all we heard were moribund assessments for the 2015 edition of the Houston Astros; the best they would see was a .500 season. Playoff berths would have to wait for at least a few more years, if that soon. These are not predictions that exactly energize a team or its fans.

Now the “smart” commentators that predicted continued if not endless Astros mediocrity are falling back to re-group and figure out just what the hell these young bucks think they are doing playing real baseball this early. Writers hold forth on this admittedly idiopathic uptick in Astros fortunes, crunching batting averages, OBP’s, ERAs and comparing the digits with those of other winning clubs. Good for them and thanks for doing the math, nerds. Not that pulling out the ol’ calculators doesn’t have merit; I see the numbers and they paint a pretty picture and explain why opposing teams are losing to the Houston Astros. They are worthy of publication as much as frozen water deserves credit for its relative temperature and ability to make beer icy cold. But me, I’d rather discuss the cold beer that is in my hand rather than the laws of physics that made it that way.

The numbers are demonstrative evidence of why the Houston Astros are beating other teams but do not explain why they have those cherished numbers. If batting averages and ERAs determined a team’s fate then the club with the collectively best numbers from the prior season would be a shoo-in for the October Classic. But we all know that’s not how it works because it’s baseball, man. I’ve written about it before; numbers are an indicator of potential but you have to get hot, stay hot and play loose to win in the majors (See Only the Hottest Survive). It is only then that the numbers you are capable of materialize on scoreboards and sports pages across the league.

Look into the faces of the 2015 Houston Astros; you will see a gaze of competitive joy that is translating into a fun, winning game on the field. They may have been picked to slouch to .500 this season but apparently, no one hipped them to that. And even if they did, it just made them more determined to defy the odds makers. It reminds me of when Roger Clemens was an Astro and a reporter was laughing off any suggestion that Houston would make the playoffs and the Rocket sneered, “Who says we can’t?” And he meant it. Better yet, in June 2005 after a 15 – 30 start, the vile Bandwagon Bulletin of the Bayou City that is the Houston Chronicle published a drawing of a tombstone with “Astros 2005 Season” chiseled into it. They had given up on the home team. The Astros players bandied the eulogy around the locker room and decided to shove it right up their journalistic blowholes. And they did, clawing their way to the city’s first World Series appearance.

Again, I’m not discounting the calculus from the meticulous money ballers among us. The batting averages are up and the ERA’s are down; such stats usually predict success on the diamond. And it’s about as interesting as the high school trigonometry class which left me with a C on my already pathetic report card. What I see is Collin McHugh dealing nasty stuff and Dallas Kuechel TCB, as Elvis would say. The perpetually smiling Altuve is being, well, Altuve. That five foot and change bad ass is even surfacing in conversations about the AL MVP. George Springer’s slump at the plate is leavened by his acrobatic fielding. And don’t despair; Springer will break out again and Evan Gattis and Chris Carter will follow regardless of their numbers of late. It’s because a winning attitude is contagious. When—not if—Springer, et. al. break out, it’s going to pour gasoline on the already burning hot team. It’s synergism folks.

And I conclude this piece as Jose Altuve literally just hit a walk off double in the bottom of the 10th to put away the Seattle Mariners.   And I drain my last beer of the evening and eagerly, willingly leap into the vortex. Because this time, it will be different.

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KC Baker
About the Author

K.C. Baker is an old school Astros fan, spending many a hot summer day in the cool confines of the Dome. He just finished his 28th year as a practicing attorney and likes to spend all of his spare time in New Braunfels, Texas with his wife of 29 years and their three children. Follow him on Twitter @KenCBake







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