Archive for category Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
This column runs in the Summer 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
No one saw it coming. Wednesday, March 11th, 2020. Fans at Chesapeake Arena were excitedly waiting for their Oklahoma City Thunder to tipoff against the Utah Jazz. It was an important game with playoffs just weeks away; especially for the Thunder who were on a three-game winning streak, nipping at the heels of fourth place Utah. Twenty-thousand fans in the stands watched the warmups, then the gathering of the head coaches with the referees as the pump-the-team-up music blared throughout the arena. Thunder fans had a reason to be excited. The Jazz’s weapon, center Rudy Gobert was not in the line-up due to illness. Suddenly it became evident that the nationally televised matchup was on delay. Coaches were still conferring with the referees while the players shrugged at each other and TV broadcasters tried figure out what the holdup was. Finally, the head coaches returned to their benches and herded the players off the court and back to the locker room. Fans started to boo as the head referee donned headphones at the scoring table. The announcer leaned over the microphone. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the game tonight has been postponed” followed by “You are all safe” twice.
Within minutes, breaking news came over TVs across the nation – Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19!! The NBA had already decided to start games minus fans the following night because of this strange virus which had recently surfaced in Washington state in a nursing home and was showing up in other states. But now an NBA player had tested positive and it just happened to be Gobert who just two days before had joked around with reporters touching every microphone and recorder in sight! By the end of the next day, every sport began shutting down!
Major League Baseball advised players to leave spring training facilities and return to their homes. The National Hockey League “paused” their season which was just a few weeks from the playoffs. Major League Soccer and the World Cup qualifying cancelled. The Players Championship golf tournament in Florida was stopped at the end of the first round. While college basketball’s “March Madness” was days away from their conference tournaments to be followed by the selection process, some conferences considered playing to an empty house; others cancelled theirs. The conference tourneys and selection process never happened. The Summer Olympics was postponed until 2021. Even NASCAR shut down when it was evident that support teams would be too close to each other while servicing the cars. Sports went on hiatus for sixty-six days!! Never had sports experienced such a disruption since World War II.
On Sunday May 17th, NASCAR paved the way for other sports to resume. They ran nine races in sixteen days at just two tracks in two states. Masked support crew numbers were cut in half, drivers wore masks when not in their cars, practices cancelled and the stands were empty of fans. Other sports began processing plans acceptable to states and health experts while fans crossed fingers and toes that all sports would be back soon!
This column runs in the Spring 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
As I am writing this column, qualifying for the pole at the Daytona 500 is being televised. So many changes this year; drivers switching teams, younger drivers coming in from other NASCAR tiers and legends racing for their final year. One of my favorites is hanging up his helmet – Brendan Gaughan.
I first “unofficially” met Brendan at a Texas Motor Speedway press conference back in Summer of 2013 when he was racing in the Camping World Truck Series. He was alongside fellow racer twenty-two-year-old Joey Coulter who was fifteen years younger so he kidded about himself being “old” in racing. I raised my hand. “What do you consider old?” I asked. Without skipping a beat, he responded, “Me!” I decided at that moment I had found the truck driver to root for!
Later that year NASCAR came back for the fall races. It was a sunny fall day when I hiked to the parking lot where the truck haulers were lined up providing an outside work area since the Cup and Nationwide cars had the two garages. There was the #62 South Point Hotel and Casino truck; over the driver’s door, the signature Brendan Gaughan. I craned my neck trying to see in the open hood without touching the truck. “Looking for anything in particular?” a familiar voice asked. I turned and it was Brendan. “uhhh… is this where the carburetor is?” I followed it with a laugh and explained that I knew nothing about what’s under a hood!
That night I got to hang at pit row thanks to my media pass. Brendan was doing last minute checks on his truck, then gave his wife Tatum a kiss and she headed to the pit stand pushing one of his sons in a stroller. He looked across and waved hi to me looking quite different in his racing uniform. “Good luck tonight!” I shouted. He finished 4th in the race.
The following spring, I contacted Brendan’s media person to request an interview with him. As a freelancer, I was appreciative of those who were willing to talk to me and there were many who would not grant one-on-one interviews. I explained to her the carburetor story. She said she would check with Brendan and get back to me. Several weeks later, I met Brendan at Fuzzy’s in the TMS Pit. He was now racing a car instead of a truck. I started off assuring him that I wouldn’t ask the typical girl question about how they used the bathroom while racing. Instead I pulled out my University of Houston “Phi Slama Jama” Tee-shirt. My Cougars had lost to the Georgetown Hoyas in the NCAA finals in 1984. Brendan played basketball for Georgetown in the 90s. Yes, I had done my homework. He burst out laughing. “Yes, we slama’d your jama!” he confirmed.
We talked about so many other things in addition his racing – his family, being a high school football All-American and a placekicker at Georgetown, scuba diving, skiing at his second home in Colorado, our common love of “The Doors” music and his future employment, helping run the family casino in Las Vegas. I asked Brendan what was on his bucket list. With a smile perfect for a toothpaste commercial, he responded, “Life is….”
Each season he raced at TMS, we’d exchange “high 5’s” or a hug. He went through many looks – mustache, beard and even a hint of sideburns like his early racing years. One time when Brendan was doing an appearance at the midway, a fan asked him if he participated in Fantasy Racing. Gaughan bragged about his fantasy team and how many fans were with him on Twitter getting advice each week. He pointed to me in the audience. “Just ask Carlotta! She’s on my team!” Yes! I not only had me a driver; he knew me by name!
This column runs in the Winter 2019/2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
My high school reunions have always been fun, but my favorite of all time was in 2003. It was an All-School Reunion where former players of our Spring Branch (Houston) football team faced alumni from rival Memorial in tag football. The game was played at Darrell Tully Stadium off of I10 and Diary Ashford Rd. (I remember when they built it in 1965. It was in the middle of nowhere and we thought the planners had lost their minds!)
Spring Branch High School had closed in 1985 so the players as well as the Bruin Brigade drill team, cheerleaders and band participants were anywhere from their early sixties to mid-thirties. Former Texas Longhorns All-American Chris Gilbert was there doing the coin toss. As luck would have it, I watched from afar in the Victory Line for our Bears players to run through. Chris was still as good-looking as he was when he was voted in as Most Popular in 1965.
Our cheerleaders lead the stands in chants as the band played the fight song. The drill team thrilled everyone with their high-kicks and dance routines in a half-time show. I twirled a baton and threw a few aerials into the bright stadium lights. I was overjoyed! No drops! The months of practice in my living room and later the backyard (where I was sent after putting a soft dent in our living room archway) had paid off! It was a fun evening with nobody getting hurt, but a lot of groaning especially when Memorial won. The MVP was former Longhorn Brad Dawson from Memorial. Also playing was Brad’s younger brother Doug who was a guard for the Houston Oilers in the 90s.
The next night we had a casino event at one of the hotels. Chris Gilbert was there as a dealer. I must have stood an hour waiting for someone to leave his table! The former football star was the perfect dealer. He would peek at the next card. “Nah… I think you might want to let me keep this one” and then would wink. Between hands, I questioned him about his years after Spring Branch where he shattered school records. “Rumor has it that the reason you went to Texas is because our Coach Tully’s wife Edith was good friends with Edith Royal, wife of the Longhorns head coach.” He grinned with a smile made for toothpaste commercials. He neither confirmed nor denied.
I tried not to stare at him as I thought; here he is – he led our high school to three state playoffs, first Longhorn to record three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, former All-Southwest Conference three times and All-American! It was because of Chris Gilbert that my favorite item of clothing in the late 60s was a Texas Longhorns sweatshirt. As predicted, he got the attention of the NFL and was drafted in 1969 by the New York Jets. “You turned down playing with Joe Namath!” I blurted out. He smiled and then said, “I think you might want this next card.” I swiped my fingers across the green felt. Twenty-one!
This column runs in the Fall 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
The Boys of Summer was more than a Don Henley hit – for me, it was my Summer of 2019. We had just made a major move from Texas to the Raleigh, North Carolina area accomplished in a quick two months. I yearned for a real vacation away from the lingering boxes. While perusing an email from Tanglewood, the Western Massachusetts summer home for the Boston Pops, I discovered Josh Groban was going to be there in concert July 2nd. It would be an easy day and a half drive from our new abode. I didn’t have to twist hubby’s arm; it’s his favorite singer.
The concert was awesome. Josh bantered with the audience between sets and the two hours flew by. Next was finding a small town to view 4th of July festivities. I hit the jackpot – a parade in my hometown – Williamstown — and fireworks after a New England Collegiate Baseball League game in North Adams, the next town over. I had actually marched in the Williamstown parade back in the late 50s! Things sure had changed. No baton twirler like me, but many more participants including the baseball team playing that night and instead of just at the elementary school, it was a sixteen minute walk to Spring Street.
After the parade, we looked for a place to eat late lunch which was not easy on a holiday. After trying several places with indefinite waits in Williamstown, we drove to North Adams and discovered the Trail House. While waiting on my burger, I gazed out the window to the people eating in the outdoor seating. Just like a magnet, I zoomed-in to a party of three. One was wearing a Vermont Mountaineers T-shirt. Our waitress confirmed the wishes racing through my mind – the baseball teams, frequented the restaurant. “I’ll be right back.” “You’re not….” my husband interjected. I was already on the patio! It turned out that it was the parents of the starting pitcher for Vermont that night and his twin brother Matt. I learned that Ryan Murphy was a top prospect and playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the summer. Unfortunately, their food came right as I learned Ryan had broken Matt’s nose while throwing. Bad timing by the kitchen!
We got to the ballpark right as the Vermont Mountaineers’ bus was unloading. I wondered how many of these kids I would see in the big leagues in a few years. According to Ryan’s dad, his son would be. Once inside, I headed to the 1st base side where the North Adams Steeplecats were warming up and stretching. The great thing about the collegiate league is that pre-game, the players chat with the fans. It was there I met Alex Gomes. I knew immediately by his right arm, he was a pitcher. He was impressed. I laughed and said, “Catcher was out – you’re too tall.” I bragged to him that I knew Bobby Witt, retired Texas Rangers “rightie” and that his son Bobby, Jr. had just been drafted 2nd in the MLB draft. Alex said, “Oh! You need to meet our Mason Ronan! He was drafted by the Red Sox last year but he’s staying at Pitt to honor his commitment there. Mason! I’ve got someone I want you to meet!” The next thing I know I’m shaking hands with the leftie and Alex is positioning us for a picture together!
The game started as Ryan’s dad predicted. Ryan shut down the Steeplecats holding them to two runs (only one of them earned) and struck out five in five innings. Once he left the game with a 4 – 2 lead, North Adams began their comeback. The relievers held the Vermont team scoreless while the offense chipped away inning by inning. Our excitement wasn’t just the comeback; it was when four of the players came up in the stands and Alex was one of them. They were selling chances at fifty cents each and the number drawn would split the winnings with the team. Alex smiled as Rick dug out his bills and pulled out a ten. “Good luck, Sir” and winked at me. It was fun watching the players interact with the fans. After North Adams won 5 – 4, the team came into the stands and shared high 5’s with fans! It was an incredible night and the baseball that we knew back in to the 60s before money and celebrity took over. Long live the Collegiate Baseball Leagues!! Yes, it was a summer to remember – Ryan, Alex, Mason, and the other Boys of Summer!
This column runs in the Summer 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
I’ll never forget the day – May 5, 2015 – 5:09PM. The email read, “Hi Carlotta, Long time no see. Was wondering if you would care to write for our magazine. Noticed that Happenings has gone dark and I always loved your columns. Would you have any interest? Either way keep writing cowgirl! -Greg”
The following day, our call lasted over an hour. I could tell right away this was going to be a fun gig! It was so easy talking to Greg. He understood my passion for sports and respected my ideas. More importantly, he was as “pumped” about my column as I was!
For the fall issue that year, he dropped me a line a couple of weeks before deadline. “Do you think you could focus on Texas football? Your take on the upcoming NFL/college season? Hoping to have all editorial in by the 15th. We’re at third down and goal to go!” I already had the column finished when I read his email. It started with, “For those of you reading this that haven’t lived in Texas, let me explain. Football is the culture — an array of delicacies from the traditional fantasy football leagues to Friday Night Lights to Big 12 and SEC rivalries to The ‘Boys at Jerry’s House or JJ Watt and Company at the NRG. Fall is Texas football!” Greg’s response? “Girl — You rock!” Go figure – it was what he wanted.
Greg not only communicated with me in sports lingo, he also recognized my other passion – the canines! He already knew about my years of chairing the Bark For Life cancer fundraiser. When I asked him to run a flyer on a Kerr County Bark in one of the issues, he said he would. A few days before print, he discovered the copy in his spam. He emailed me saying, “Hi, somehow you got in my spam list. Just noticed this morning. All is good now. Thanks! (I mean “woof!”)”
I normally decided which sport my column would touch on. Last year, he had a special request. “How about a piece on Manu Ginobili? I know NBA season will be over by summer but I would like a tribute to him.” I had just volunteered for and attended the NFL draft in North Texas. My plan was to write about that. Instead I went with a Ginobili tribute. It’s always nice to keep the boss happy. And apparently it made the readers happy too! The feedback as Greg would say, “Rocked!”
I delayed the NFL Draft to the fall issue. When he got the copy and pictures, he called me. “Girl! You met the NFL Commissioner! Girl! You have your picture with him!! Girl!! You were on the floor of the NFL draft! You didn’t tell me about THAT when I asked you to run something on Ginobili! Manu could have waited! “ We both laughed!
That was the last time we laughed together. Greg was diagnosed with liver cancer that fall. I tried to reassure him. I had been on a caregiver’s journey back in 2015 with my husband’s cancer. Medical science had made great strides. Get the treatment and stay on it no matter how awful the side effects are. Attitude is 99% of the cure. Stay strong and listen to your body. Get lots of rest. You will get through this.
We talked one more time in early March. There was nothing more the doctors could do and the end was near. He passed away on the 18th of that month. While others think they will see Greg again on the beach in the Jamaican part of Heaven, I know I’ll find him near the San Antonio Spurs angels waiting on Manu. You rock Angel Greg. RIP my MVP.
This column appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Heisman winner Kyler Murray has decided – he has chosen the National Football League over Major League Baseball. I can’t help admire the kid – he’s very talented when it comes to throwing passes and crushing home runs. In high school, as the starting quarterback, he led North Texas’s Allen HS to three straight state championships and won 43 games in a row. He also played baseball – shortstop/second base – and was a top prospect for the 2015 MLB draft. He was the first player to ever be selected for both the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game and Under Armour All-America Football Game!
Instead of entering the baseball draft, he chose to attend Texas A &M his freshman year. Just a few months into the football season, he transferred to Oklahoma when it became apparent he would be battling against another high recruit, Kyle Allen, for a starting nod. With NCAA transfer rules, he had to sit out in 2016. In 2017, he hit the ground running as Baker Mayfield’s backup and even had playing time in a couple of games. Come spring, he switched hats and had a sluggish start playing Sooners baseball, but did so well the following year; he again caught the attention of Major League Baseball. The Oakland As took him as the 9th pick overall in the 2018 MLB Draft last June and presented him with a high dollar contract including a lucrative signing bonus. In return, he would play in the fall one more season of college football, then report to spring training in 2019.
Things got complicated when Murray led the Sooners to the semi-finals of the College Football National Championship collecting a slew of hardware along the way. He won the Davey O’Brien Award, AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, First-team All-American, First-team All-Big 12 and the big daddy of them all, the Heisman Trophy. He finished out last year with an estimated net-worth of three billion dollars! Meanwhile, the Oakland As quietly waited in the wings for his report to spring training. Now, it is possible to play in both the NFL and MLB at the same time – about seventy have accomplished it – only a small handful since 1987 including Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Seahawks Russell Wilson played in minor league ball a few years and currently has a contract with the Yankees.
In January 2019, Murray teased the sports world with hints he would not be splitting time with the two sports. The A’s and MLB met with Murray, deviating from the norm, and offered him a major league contract. A decision had to be made soon since spring training was on the horizon. The suspense was over Monday, February 11th. Kyler committed to professional football citing “football had been his love and passion his entire life.” Murray would not get to keep his entire $4.66 million signing bonus with the As. Brace yourselves — He already has in hand 1.5 million, but only has to repay $1.29 million of that! He hasn’t even picked up a bat! The A’s will retain his baseball rights going forward and he will be placed on the minor-league restricted list indefinitely. Should Murray ever decide to return to baseball, he would have to return to the Oakland organization.
Did the Phenom do the right thing? Will he be a part of the Heisman Curse? Will he ever see a batting circle? Will hard hits from his bat ever replace hard hits from a Defense? Check back with me in five years.
This column appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
I love this time of the year — Holidays and College Football! All the craziness of the fall games come to an end with the Playoff Committee sorting out records, justifying the upsets and strength of schedules to build the college bowl schedules and the National Championship semi-final games. Oh what fun it has been getting to this point! Every Saturday I have been known to camp out at our TV starting at 8AM for College Game Day and remaining into the wee hours of Sunday morning watching the west coast teams play.
This fall, I actually got to experience College Game Day when my husband’s Ohio State Buckeyes were in Ft. Worth playing TCU. What I didn’t realize when I first hatched the brainstorm of attending, was what a crowd the Saturday live show would attract and how early one had to be there for the show’s early start. Rumor has it college kids always sleep in on the weekends when there are no classes, but not when College Game Day is in town!
When we arrived at the TCU campus a little after 7AM, we found the last parking place right across from the Campus Commons where it was being held. Before the car came to a complete stop, my seatbelt was whizzing into the holder and my hand on the door handle. “Hang on Harriet!” my husband advised, but quickly changed his tune after he spotted the cheerleaders of both TCU and Ohio State at the Commons entrance. Over the crosswalk we both flew. Rick, who hates posing for pictures, made an exception when the Buckeyes mascot Brutus clamped his hand around Rick’s.
Next was clearing security. Men never carry anything so my husband was waved through. I, however, had my pom-poms and purse. After having my pom-poms shaken and my purse (the size of a postage stamp) severely scrutinized, it was time to proceed through the portal into the Commons area. By then, we could see the sea of people already gathered and the ESPN stage way down the Commons. The bands were playing – time to make our entrance. There are times it pays to be shorter than the majority and I played that trump card, getting us second row, second section back from the stage. We could see the backs of Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Rece Davis. My life was complete – we were the backdrop of College Game Day!
Thirty minutes later, the director came out and reviewed the rules for the show as well as his signal for noise. This group already had the noise part down. Eight o’clock finally came and the roar was deafening especially when the TV camera mounted on a cable above us zoomed by. It turned out to be a fun morning mingling with fans not only of TCU and Ohio State, but colleges all over the country. I had DVR’d the show and even found us – a speck in the foreground – good thing for those red pom- poms!
Click here for pictures of the day! https://lottasports.com/2018/09/15/lotta-sports-college-game-day/
This column appears in the Fall 2018 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Last year, while my hubby and I were watching the NFL Draft on TV, an announcement was made that next draft would be in Arlington Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. I immediately added “Attending the NFL Draft” to my bucket list. My other half replied, “Your bucket list has become a wash tub!” Towards the end of February this year, there was an announcement during the local news, that volunteers were needed to work the NFL draft in April. By the end of the night I had talked my cousin Sherry as well as friend Melissa into signing up with me. One week later, our background checks were completed.
“Customer Service and Security Training” was the week of the draft. Seated on the front row, I was distracted by a backpack between the stage and us. Mental note: “Don’t trip over it when class is over!” The bag turned out to be needed for the security portion to see if the class noticed its presence and let someone know. Melissa did and won a prize! Three days later we reported to the volunteer tent and were issued our NFL volunteer red t-shirt, windbreaker and cap. What are the odds of meeting someone in line from the town next to one’s hometown over 1700 miles away? I did. Next were our assignments. Sherry was sent to the Red Carpet. Melissa and I headed to the fan interaction area with our lead, Joe. “I need two people who can throw a football,” he said. Not us. “I need two people to run alongside the fans doing the dash.” Not us. We finally found our home at the Super Bowl Trophies display. Six and a half hours after arrival, our shift was over with no break—the entire time on our feet and in the hot sun. Most volunteers elected to go home and rest up their feet for Day 2. I couldn’t. Remember – attending the NFL Draft was on my bucket list. I had free tickets for the 1st round of the draft six rows from the top of the nosebleed section. I was in envy of the fans in the VIP sections that were just a few feet away from the stage and players being drafted who were specks for me. But I was there!
It seemed like I had just fallen asleep when the alarm went off for Day Two. My feet were reminding me they were not the same feet that worked to Germany eight hours in heels over twenty years ago. Melissa and I worked an event coaching fans on how to use the special goggles which made them feel like they were on the sidelines of an NFL game. Sounded easy and was inside with A/C – a relief to my sunburned arms. Of course the goggles would overheat or I couldn’t find my laser point – Melissa was always close by to rescue me. I met hundreds of fans representing all thirty-two teams. The shift went by quickly and I was once again ready to be a fan the rest of the afternoon and night. Melissa’s common sense took over and she headed home. I found my cousin and I soon had passes for later that night back in the nosebleed section. Short crisis – I forgot my jersey to change into – $14.99 later, I was in a Gronkowski T-shirt. To kill time until the draft, we visited the displays of locker rooms, uniforms and helmets. While posing in front of a Patriots helmet, a gal in New England garb approached me. She offered us tickets for the draft and unlike ours; these were in the Patriots fan section a few feet from the stage! Soon we were looking up at the poor souls in the nosebleed section – and not only night two but day three as well! We received foil pom poms and inflated cheer sticks, got to meet a couple of retired players and Commissioner Goddell, be on the big screen TV several times and even trash-talked with fans of other teams! Life couldn’t have been any better for this sports fan! Check! What’s next on my bucket list… err….. wash tub?
This column appears in the Summer 2018 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
As I write this, I just finished watching the elimination game of the San Antonio Spurs to the Golden State Warriors. Sadness fills me as it is possibly the last game we will see the #20, Manu Ginóbili on the court. Manu was again in double digits just as he was in a lot of the games – Mr. Dependable. After the game was over, he immediately headed to Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr. The two men go way back – they were teammates for the Spurs in 2002 – Kerr’s last year as a player. As the two men hugged (Yes, real men hug and eat quiche!), the reporters’ microphones caught part of their exchange. “Keep going, OK?” Kerr quipped. Seriously Steve?!? I know better! Manu and a healthy San Antonio team is the LAST thing you want to see next season.
If this was indeed Ginóbili’s ride into the sunset, he sure went out with a bang – record after record!! He became the only player in NBA history to have multiple 20-point games off the bench at age 40 or older. He was also the first player in his 40s to score 15-plus points in back-to-back games since Michael Jordan in the 2002–03 season. He surpassed David Robinson’s franchise record of 1,388 for most steals – with 1392. Teammate Patty Mills refers to him as “Grandpa Juice.” I beg to differ – he’s more like the Energizer Bunny leaving the younger players in the dust! Whatever he is doing, I want his secret formula!
In addition to Michael Jordan, Manu is in great company with others in the “Over 40” club for athletes. There’s Jack Nicholas, the oldest Masters winner in history, when he was 46. Five days before his retirement, 40 year-old Babe Ruth went 4-for-4, three of those home runs. Who could possibly forget Nolan Ryan’s seventh no -hitter thrown when he was 44?!?! I was at that game. Jack Daughtery had left me comp tickets behind home plate. In the 7th inning, I saw the scoreboard and excitedly said, “LOOK! Nolan has a ….” Before I could say what I planned to say…. “a you-know-what,” my hubby’s hand was across my mouth!!
We’ve seen Ginóbili through two Olympic medal winning performances for Argentina, four NBA Championships with the Spurs and two All-Star appearances. Yes, Manu…. You can flirt with the “R” word…. or heed Steve Kerr’s advice. Either way, we’ll see you someday in the NBA Hall of Fame.
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.