Ready to Rumble

The Astros are on baseball's biggest stage, needing a comeback

Houston is doing something this week that no Texas city has ever done: hosting some World Series games. It's not like Austin or Port Arthur ever really had the chance to do so, sure, but at least we beat Dallas. (Or Arlington, or wherever it is the Rangers play.)

If you're going to host the middle three games of the Series, you probably would rather not do it being down two games to zip. Still, after 43 seasons of frustration, Astros fans will take whatever they can get. They were down 2-0 in last year's NLCS before beating the Cards three straight at Minute Maid, right? (Feel free to ignore the fact that they went on to lose the series.)

Houston has hosted a Super Bowl, it's had the Rockets win the NBA Finals twice, but it's never seen anything like a Series. So as the Fall Classic finally comes to town, let's revel in some Astro-mania.

Was dubbed "the future Willie Mays." Mays, however, 
was never convicted of involuntary manslaughter for 
shooting a girlfriend. (Sims Classic Sports card price: 
was 35 cents, marked down to 28 cents)
Was dubbed "the future Willie Mays." Mays, however, was never convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting a girlfriend. (Sims Classic Sports card price: was 35 cents, marked down to 28 cents)
His 1987 contract mandated that he receive 37 cases 
of orange Jell-O. And he never took the mound without 
wearing a Jetsons T-shirt. (Sims price: was ten 
cents, marked down to eight)
His 1987 contract mandated that he receive 37 cases of orange Jell-O. And he never took the mound without wearing a Jetsons T-shirt. (Sims price: was ten cents, marked down to eight)

All Aboard

Houston, sad to say, has a bit of a reputation in the sports world -- namely, if you're not playing football, you better be winning if you want to keep the fans' attention.

A few years after the Rockets' wins, the team was struggling to fill a posh new arena. And despite the Astros' first-ever playoff win last year, fans were quick to abandon them when they slumped early this season. Now, of course, everyone you run into is a long, longtime fan with expert opinions on where Morgan Ensberg should be placed in the batting order.

It can make it tough if you're the host of one of the city's highest-profile sports shows, like Charlie Pallilo on 790 KBME-AM, the new-ish ESPN affiliate taking on the entrenched 610 KILT-AM.

Pallilo, of course, was a veteran star at KILT before jumping to the new station, so he's familiar with Houston's bandwagon ways. This year was no different. As the city gorges itself on Astro love, it might be instructive to look at what actually went on this season.

It began with a lot of grumbling, as free-agent stars like Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran went elsewhere without being replaced. "Going into the season, I'd say the mood was one of cautious pessimism," Pallilo says. "There was a game of musical chairs going on, and the Astros were diddling around while the other teams were grabbing all the chairs."

That pessimism turned out to be justified, as the Astros began a pathetic early stretch, at one point going 2-21 on the road.

"Their effort to score on the road was laughable," Pallilo says. "It wasn't quite where the Texans are now, but it was close."

And that, if you're a sports-talk host in Houston, is where things can get dicey. Houstonians were close to not only giving up on the Astros but also not caring about them. When you have to fill up four hours a day and no one's paying attention to the only game in town, that's not good. You can spend only so much time talking about the Texans' backup DL options, or how they should trade Domanick Davis for Peyton Manning.

"May hits, the Rockets are gone, and it's shaping up to be a long, hot summer," Pallilo says. "In Boston, people love to eat their own when the team's going bad and they'll talk about it all day long. Not here...Sports is all about passion -- [a team] being great is good, even being good is good, and at times being bad is good. But if you're bad long enough, you get indifference."

Of course, after the All-Star break the Astros went on a tear, as Lance Berkman came back from an injury and the young players started getting hot.

All of a sudden the phones were off the hook. And yeah, it was kind of obvious that some of the newly minted experts were a little light on their baseball knowledge.

"People will give themselves away sometimes with the things they say, where you can tell they haven't really been following things," Pallilo says. "But that's okay -- the more people along for the ride, the more fun it is."

Who's the happiest over the full bandwagon? Probably the Houston Texans. "We had one call in the first three hours today about the Texans, and they've been blown out all year and are 0-6," he says. "If the Astros had lost the NLCS, I'm sure 95 percent of the calls would have been about whose heads should roll at the Texans, whether [head coach Dom] Capers or [GM Charlie] Casserly or both. It's the first time that football's been going on and been irrelevant."

Would Bob McNair have put up with the constant bitching and bad-mouthing of the team without doing something? Dom Capers, you owe your job to Roy Oswalt.

So is this Series season going to change things and make Houston something more than a football-first town?

Probably not, Pallilo says. "Houston's a great sports town, but I doubt people think this will become St. Louis in any lasting way," he says.

If it means we don't have to live with Tony La Russa, that's a cross we all can bear.

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