Archive for category Baseball
This column appeared in the Winter 2017/2018 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
I moved to Houston in 1964 where the baseball team was known as the National League Colt 45s and they played in an open stadium south of the city. The following year, the team moved to the Astrodome, nicknamed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and the team was renamed the Astros. It was fitting as NASA and the space program were just down highway 45 going towards Galveston. Because the stadium was closed in, an artificial turf was installed for the games to be played on. Above the scoreboard was an area where two bulls snorted, pistols fired and music played when the Astros hit a homerun. The Astros center fielder Jimmy Wynn was nicknamed the “Toy Cannon.” I knew when Wynn batted, there was a pretty good chance the hit would be a homerun.
My favorite player was 2nd baseman Joe Morgan who used to quickly lick two fingers just before taking his batting stance. I was a true fan and even sent him a Get Well card when he was in the hospital. All the girls loved right-fielder Rusty Staub with his red hair and the handsome pitcher Larry Dierker. Bob Aspromonte was the tall, lanky 3rd baseman. One had to be a diehard fan — – the Astros weren’t very good, but we still loved the team. Dad and I attended several games and even sat through the longest shutout ever played. The Astros beat the Mets as Houston scored the only run in the twenty-fourth inning at one-thirty in the morning!
When I moved away in the 80s to the DFW area, I didn’t get to see the Astros games since I was living in an American League city. My parents were still in Houston and my mom morphed into a huge Astros fan with her favorites — pitcher Nolan Ryan and shortstop Craig Reynolds. The ‘Stros were actually doing a lot better making it to two National League Championships and one Division Championship game in that decade, but typical of the team, they lost all three of those games. One Christmas, I found the perfect gift for her – an Astros Cabbage Patch doll waving a pennant. Also included was a cute little Houston batting helmet. My niece Jennifer was very impressed that Santa brought her Grandma such a special gift. In 1989, my mom’s Astroworld came crashing down. Nolan Ryan had signed with the Texas Rangers! Ironically, my parents moved to an assisted living in North Texas the following year. Mom reluctantly adopted the Texas Rangers, but her heart was still with the Astros. Her collection of Nolan Ryan baseballs, baseball cards and the Astros doll were displayed on a bookcase. Hanging in her closet was her yellow, orange and red striped Houston jersey. Meanwhile the team moved from the antiquated Astrodome to Enron Field. The bulls, pistols and fireworks were replaced by a whistling locomotive over the outfield.
Mom passed away in 2003. Her Astros finally made it to the big dance just two years later, but the series was ugly with a sweep by the Chicago White Sox. This year Houston not only got to the World Series but they were there as the underdog. The series went seven games with Houston shutting down the Dodgers in game seven 4 -1 and finally winning the big prize. Nolan Ryan is back with the ‘Stros as their executive adviser. Something tells me there’s an angel in Heaven celebrating the World Series Championship win and who is happy Nolan is back where he belongs.
This was my column for the quarterly magazine, Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country Spring 2017 issue.
As I write this column, it is Super Bowl Sunday. Normally, my favorite day of the year, but this year God threw a curve ball and took our Boxer Rex away from us a week ago. It just won’t be the same without him. “Big Boy” Rex was the one who would obediently come to the closet when I said, “Game Day! Where’s your bandana?” He would sit and hold his neck up, still as a statue, as I put his New England Patriots scarf on. He knew it came with his mom’s crazy superstitions on game day! You ask how could a gal who lives in Texas like a team who deflates footballs? Well, I’ve lived in three areas of Texas all but 14 years of my life, but I was born in New England. Patriots football is in my blood along with fall foliage, skiing on ice, “pahking the cahr” and loving “lobstah.”
It was fortunate for Rex that he was so big that I couldn’t find game jerseys to fit him. He just wasn’t into clothes. He made his point with one torn football jersey from his puppy days. He drew the line at bandanas. One time when I put my ski hat on him, you could tell by his look that it wasn’t a game face; it was instead a “Seriously, Mom?” There were exceptions to the rule like the time Rex helped me with a Duck Dynasty contest entry at Texas Motor Speedway by donning a beard … well, sort of … it was Rex posing behind a cardboard beard.
Rex’s claim to fame came at the Texas Rangers Bark in the Park. The first year we went, Rex became the hit of section 11 as he howled at the hotdog vendor. The guy yelled back, “Ain’t no dogs for you Bud!” The following year he was chosen from over 700 canines to wear the FanCam in the pregame walk around the ballpark. He proudly stood stoic while they mounted the camera around his neck. I could tell he was thinking this was something important happening and to not to screw it up. What a great job he did! As he did his lap around the perimeter, he got the attention of the Ranger players and coaches observing from the dugout as well as fans hanging over the guardrail. He was the envy of every dog attending! And his footage ran on a Fox Sports Southwest Special including his shot of his “sister” Roxie licking his camera.
Yes, Rex led a life many dogs only dream of. R.I.P. Rex. Sports will never be the same without you.
You Tube — Rex and the Hot Dog Vendor — Texas Rangers Bark in the Park — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c423zq5PIOU A classic Rex moment !!!
My article in Heartbeat of the Texas Hill Country – Winter Issue
What an exciting year 2016 was for sports! It’s not too often that one sees so much history in the making as we did. The year started out with a Cinderella ending for NFL great Peyton Manning as he guided the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl win. What a way to end a career!! He hasn’t done too badly in post-football either. There’s rarely a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t see Peyton in a commercial. I think the funniest is the one where he’s sitting on the couch in his bathrobe and sipping coffee. Lionel Richie is singing in the background, “It’s Peyton on Sunday morning.” Manning is on the phone with brother Eli wanting him to come and watch Sunday football on his DirecTV set-up. Eli’s seen in the Giants locker room explaining why he can’t – he’s playing football. “I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday,” and Peyton writes “Eli” in the empty calendar.
March Madness in college basketball made history too when the number fifteen seed Middle Tennessee upset number two seed Michigan State in the first round destroying just about every basketball fan’s bracket including mine! The “experts” had predicted Michigan State to make the Final Four and some had even picked them to win the championship. And it didn’t end there! The fourteenth seed Stephen F. Austin upset number three seed West Virginia and Syracuse became the first tenth seed in history to advance to the Final Four. The finals were held in Houston where Villanova upset North Carolina to win the championship on a three-point shot at the buzzer!
The NBA followed suit when the Cavaliers brought Cleveland their first sports championship in fifty-two years! Hubby was happy as he’s from the suburbs of that city on the lake. As Rick watched the TV coverage, he wondered which speck was his nephew Bret and was probably secretly envious because he wasn’t there too.
Even car racing re-wrote history when both the June and July NASCAR races at Pocono Speedway had to be postponed due to weather as well as the Indycars at Texas Motor Speedway finishing the end of the June race in August due to weather. Weather delays are never fun for fans as a lot of the spectators travel in and postponements cause havoc on hotels, car rentals, transportation and work plans. We know only too well after waiting out a few ourselves only to be watching concession stand commercials on Big Hoss and covered cars on the track as the rain dripped off our hair and clothes.
But no greater history was made with the conclusion of the Major League Baseball season! For a while, it looked like both Texas teams, the Astros and Rangers were destined for the playoffs. Houston had a September meltdown, and then the best in the American League Texas Rangers found themselves swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round of the playoffs. Our home became a war zone with my husband’s Cleveland Indians and my Boston Red Sox meeting in the AL Championship. I was the queen of trash-talking only to eat my words as Rick’s Indians swept Boston and moved on to the World Series.
I quickly found myself OK with t he loss when I realized that I was watching sports history unfold yet again! The Indians were in the World Series in 1997 when they lost in extra innings in game seven to the Florida Marlins. They hadn’t won the title since 1948. The Cubs hadn’t won the title since 1908, and hadn’t made it to the World Series since 1945 – the infamous series where the Billy-goat curse was put on the team. We were witnessing one of the two longest championship droughts in baseball finally come to an end! It looked like destiny was going to hang onto the coattails of the Cavaliers and side with the Tribe, who jumped out to a lead of three games to one. Then Chicago shocked themselves and the Indians not to only to piece together back-to-back wins, but they also forced a game seven and won in extra innings! . I just wonder if sports will ever repeat a year like 2016!
I love baseball. It actually started back in the 60s in New England. I was raised in a neighborhood consisting primarily of boys my age so I quickly learned what baseball cards were used for. I exceled in a game where you flipped a card against another person and the best combination flip would get to keep both cards. I won some great cards and I kept them in one of my Dad’s cigar boxes … Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Harmon Killebrew. In the late 60s, we moved to Houston as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Astrodome, finished completion. I became an Astros’ fan and revered legends such as Rusty Staub, Jim Wynn, Joe Morgan, Bob Aspromonte and Larry Dierker.
Fast-forward to the fall of 1986 when I moved to the DFW area and started working the Texas Rangers’ baseball charters for Delta Air Lines. The following spring found me talking hubby Rick into replacing our ski vacation with spring training in Port Charlotte, Florida. Spring training provided a more relaxed atmosphere where you got to meet the players. In late 1988, to the thrill of Ranger fans and to the dismay of Astros fans — especially my Mom — Nolan Ryan signed on with Texas. That man’s arrival created almost as much excitement as winning the lottery. The Rangers’ charters became “prime real estate” on the bid sheet and flight attendants senior to me who didn’t even care about baseball were infiltrating my turf! Nolan was self-conscious with all the attention coming from the media and fans.
The following year, Mom, who was in her late seventies, asked me to take her to spring training. We flew into Sarasota-Bradenton. I got goofed up leaving the airport and after some time found us heading south toward Naples instead of north to Port Charlotte! By the time I got turned around, we had reached the city limits just before nine p.m. The restaurant on the wharf wouldn’t seat us, as they were trying to close. Needless to say, we were now pretty hungry even by central time standards! A good flight attendant (as well as former Brownie/Girl Scout) always has a Plan B to put in place. I knew of a small restaurant that the players frequented and stayed open late. As we perused the menu, Mom excitedly told the waiter how I worked the Rangers’ charters for Delta. He smiled and told us that one of the players was there — Nolan Ryan. I quickly scribbled a note and gave it to the waiter to give Nolan. A few minutes later the waiter returned and said Nolan wanted to meet Mom. He then escorted us back to a banquet room. Mom was finally going to get to meet Nolan Ryan! She was beside herself! There stood Nolan and another gentleman. I introduced Nolan to my mom. He, in turn, introduced us to Craig Reynolds, a former shortstop for the Astros. Mom immediately dropped Nolan’s hand and threw her hands up to her face. “Oh, my! Craig Reynolds! I can’t believe it!”
Now, according to Nolan, Craig never let him forget that moment — a fan getting more excited over Craig than Nolan! Later that year Mom had knee replacement surgery. When she died and I went through her things, I found in her mementos a Get Well card Nolan signed for her. Yep… Mom dumping Nolan for Craig was just a momentary lapse in judgment.
Fun watching the Texas Rangers vs. the Oakland A’s at Bark at the Park. Roxie and Rex walked us around the perimeter of the field an hour before game start, then we took in 5 complete innings of baseball. As we got to the car, the Rangers finally hit a home run so we watched the fireworks from our car.
This is my January ‘Lotta Sports column published in Hill Country Happenings
This month, Rick and I will be married twenty-nine years. Rick found out from the get-go just what a sports enthusiast I was. How many guys can say that on their honeymoon in Honolulu, their new wife forfeited hours on the warm sands of Waikiki to watch Super Bowl XX? Yes, I was camped out in our hotel room watching a rather lopsided slaughter of my Patriots by the Chicago Bears. In between cursing at the likes of “Refrigerator” Perry, Walton Payton and Coach Mike Ditka on TV, I was also bantering with some Bears fans in the room above us via our balconies.
The first years of our marriage found me working baseball charters. I continued to amaze Rick with my knowledge not only of the players’ uniform numbers but their wives and kids’ names as well. It was fun getting to know Texas Rangers rookies like Bobby Witt, Kevin Brown, Ruben Sierra and Pudge Rodriguez as they started their professional careers. One night, Rick picked me up at the airport from working a charter. As we started to pull away from the curb, I shouted out to two of the players waiting for a cab. “Need a ride home?” To Rick’s surprise, Bobby Witt and Jeff Huson jumped in the back of the Jeep and within ten minutes, we were letting them off at their homes. Soon our ski vacations were substituted for trips to Rangers spring training in Port Charlotte and in the fall, trips to New England scheduled where we could watch the Major League Baseball playoffs although minus the struggling Rangers.
With our marriage also came a merging of favorite college and professional teams. Our Christmas trees were adorned with ornaments of many teams. It was common to find us watching the games on different TVs when our teams played each other and verbal attacks got too personal. However, if either one of our teams made the playoffs, the other was politically correct in supporting the spouse’s team. In 2009, we visited friends in Pittsburgh to watch the Steelers-Cardinals in the Super Bowl. Rick, a Browns fan, shocked us when he donned a Steelers shirt and actually rooted for them!
Throughout the years, Rick has learned that he’s married to a “social butterfly” who talks to strangers and it’s usually about sports or being a flight attendant. Last month while we were in Ohio visiting Rick’s dad for an early Christmas, we had breakfast at Panera Bread every morning. The first morning, Bob’s table was already occupied so we sat facing another table in front of the fireplace. At the other table sat an attractive older woman in a sable brown outfit. As she interacted with the people at her table, she looked happy with life. I thought to myself, “I hope I’m like that in twenty years.” She and I caught each other’s eyes and exchanged smiles. Once in the car, I remarked about the woman. My father-in-law shared that she had been married to a professional baseball pitcher. I knew it!! I am always a magnet to sports. I call it “The Connection.” The following day, we returned to the restaurant. This time she was at a different table but with the same group. Bob’s usual table was available and her back was to me. As luck would have it, someone in her group stopped me enroute to the restroom to compliment me on my Santa sweater. Here was my chance to strike up a conversation about her husband. Instead I told her how I had admired her outfit the day before when they were seated in front of the fire. It was then the whole group chimed in that the table the previous day was their “usual” table and someone else had beaten them to it this day. We all laughed when I explained the same thing had happened to my father-in-law the previous day. Once in the restroom, I reprimanded myself for not asking about her husband. When I came out, she was at the coffee stand. “It’s now or never,” I told myself. After I stumbled through my explanation of knowing about her husband, we chatted several minutes just like old friends. Her name was Polly and her husband Dell Bethel, had pitched for the New York Giants in the early 50s. When I told her how I had worked several MLB team charters when at Delta, she smiled and said, “You have had an exciting life!” I shook my head and said that hers was probably a lot more exciting. She shared that they rode trains instead of planes back when Dell played. I yearned to talk to her more. As I reached for my purse to grab one of my cards, I discovered I didn’t have it. After a few seconds of internal panic, I spotted Rick in the entry way swinging the bag back and forth, and then shaking his head. Just another day of keeping up with his wife and her “connection” with people….Happy Anniversary Rick!
June was Rick’s birthday and I really wanted to do something cool for him since our lives had been anything but fun after my accident last November. One night I discovered that Tommy MacDonald, star of Rick’s favorite TV show, Rough Cut, had a book on Amazon.com. I wrote the woodworking legend and asked him if I could get an autographed copy of his book for Rick’s sixty-third birthday. The next morning his response was in email. “Better yet, maybe you could do a surprise trip to watch a taping for about an hour.” Since the taping was in New England, I had to confess to Rick what his present was and we decided to make the occasion a real vacation.
Flying on standby is nearly impossible with summer loads and we got on both flights by the skin of our teeth. After we rented our car, our adventure began when we decided to take in some of the local sites. Google Maps showed Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, just nine minutes away from Logan Airport. We did great until we got to a street which forked out in multiple directions. We discovered quickly that GPS didn’t work in the city. We also discovered why the guide book said, “Locals are very confused giving directions as they use the transit system rather than drive.” We became VERY familiar with the Charles River scenery including a Harvard rowing team, Boylston St and the multitude of one-way streets especially those with no street signs. Back at the original fork for the fourth time, we finally noticed just past the Fenway sign a smaller sign showing Fenway Park going the other way! Finding Fenway Park was worth the effort. Although it was just an hour tour, we experienced the ambiance of the historic stadium. We sat at the top of the Green Monster (pronounced by our tour guide Joe, Mon-stah) as well as other areas throughout the stadium. The right field bleachers housed a lone red chair amid all the blue ones. It was where the longest home run, 502 feet, landed. According to Joe, the hitter was Ted Williams and no batter has come close to the feat. We viewed a hallway of memorial plaques of famous Red Sox players, coaches, owners and announcers as well as different uniform jerseys worn by the team. Joe also pointed out the neighborhood of Fenway located on the horizon. Yes, we already knew where that was!
The following day was the Rough Cut filming. In route to the studio was Gillette Stadium. This sports nut was again in her element. Time only allowed me to peer through the tall locked gates at the turf that my hero Tom “Easy on the Eyes” Brady calls his football home. Rick was relieved at the time constraints since the gift shop was on the pricey side and I loved everything I saw. I came out with two Patriots bandanas for Roxie and Rex. Before I could check for a price on a helmet made out of Legos, Rick had us back on the road to Canton and meeting Tommy MacDonald. After all, that was the point of the trip. One side of a warehouse was where Rough Cut was filmed. The set consisted of a large room with monitors, equipment cords, bright overhead lighting and huge air-conditioning tubes. It was a woodworker’s paradise complete with orbital sanders, saws and clamps of all sizes. Although we had never met, Tommy greeted us like we were long lost relatives at a family reunion. There was furniture all over the place in different stages of completion and the room reeked of fresh cut lumber. Rick was “in the zone.” We sat quietly in an area right under the monitors and the director’s left arm. A script lay to the side with arrows and scratch-outs on the typed material. We discovered later it was rarely referred to as each re-take was spontaneous. Just as we saw on TV, Tommy filmed in front of a large wooden cabinet with bookcases over it. A military flag in a wooden case on top of the furniture piece reminded me of my parents and brought a tear to my eye. Tommy was fun to listen to. His thick Boston brogue and humor brought more tears to my eyes. It was apparent he loved doing the show and his goal was to entertain as well as educate viewers. The two hours there went quickly as we watched the production take shape. While the crew was on break, we lunched with John, the director. It was then I spotted a chair complete with baseball bats for the legs. Yes, there is always a sports connection for me!
After we left, we headed southeast to seek out where our forefathers landed at Plymouth. Again, despite GPS, it was not an easy journey. I had loaded Plymouth MA. not realizing that the town was different than where the rock was. The diversion was worth it as we went through an area of gorgeous Colonial estates nestled in tall trees facing the Atlantic Ocean. As we had been already warned, Plymouth Rock is a small rock set down in a display in the ground so one couldn’t actually touch it. A replica of the Mayflower was docked at a wharf on the shore behind it. It was still neat to imagine part of American History began there. The week went by way too fast as most vacations do however it did have its benefits. Rick reorganized the garage when we got back so he could get to his tools. He added pegboards and shelves similar to Tommy’s. <smile> It would make a great home for a Lego helmet.