By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
It's not the best of times to be an Astros fan.
Last year they were not only bad, they were boringly bad. And they didn't exactly follow that dismal season with a stunning series of off-season moves to get themselves back on track.
Yeah, there's a new manager in town. Whether Brad Mills is the answer or not — he's never managed a Major League team before — is unknown, but he's got to be an improvement over the incredible reign of Cecil Cooper. When players are Tweeting reporters during games to laugh about the manager's moves — well, let's just say that never happened to Leo Durocher. (And Leo loved his Twitter, we're sure.)
Still, once someone catches the Astros bug, it's hard to get rid of it. Every spring you can imagine that, with just a few breaks and a couple of unheralded rookies having breakout years, you can be in the pennant race. Roy Oswalt will win 20. Lance Berkman will hit 45 homers and knock in 120 runs. Carlos Lee will run instead of jog on the base paths.
The Astros have had enough magical seasons, without winning a World Series, to ensnare generations of ever-hopeful fans, because if you're not a natural baseball fan there's always that one magical season that sucks you in forever.
Right now those fans are a bit down, with the prospects for 2010 looking so grim. So we decided to tap into the love between the Astros and Houston, instead of wallowing in the frustration.
We asked a number of prominent Houstonians to write us mini-essays on their favorite Astros memories. Among them was ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, whose dad was an organist at Buff Stadium, home to the Minor League predecessors to the Colt .45s and the Astros.
"I can remember sitting at Buff Stadium with my mother, sometimes my grandparents — my younger sister and I just used to love going — and we'd get to sit on the organ bench next to Dad and go get popcorn," he says.
His piece for us wasn't just off the top of his head — Gibbons did some research, uncovering the (we'll take his word for it) fact that the first air-conditioned space in Houston was the ladies' restroom at Buff Stadium.
Gibbons also displays some unique prose stylings. "I did some homework and, without sounding too academic, I was able to beatnik-speak enough to personalize it," he says.
Other entries include Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on being an Astros Buddy, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on watching Mike Scott's no-hitter in a bar (Mayor Annise Parker, by the way, took a pass on participating), a Houston Symphony percussionist sprinting across downtown in a tux to catch the last innings of 2005's classic marathon playoff game against the Braves, and a father-son tale by radio host Lance Zierlein that would warm the cockles of Hitler's heart.
There's also, of course, rapper Paul Wall on Roger Clemens, and how Xanax was the only thing that got him through the World Series against the White Sox. (Got Wall through it, that is; we don't know what Clemens was using. Or maybe we do. We'll let the lawyers hash it out.) We had to catch Wall on the phone as he was leaving for a European tour, so his is in an "as told to" format that's more casual than the written word.
At any rate, gloomy Astros fans, let's remember some good times. Before the bad times come again.
Let's start with the original Sharp-Dressed Fan, who gave us his own headline, a stylish byline and an inimitable jazzbo, semi-stream-of-consciousness peek into the mind of ZZ Top.Playin' Ball in H-Town...Astrostyle
A ball and bat is where it's at...! And that's exactly what H-town set into motion way back in 1907. Yep...it was the newest game in town, all right — and in a town that's seen some of the most unexpected expressions of enjoyment around...anywhere. Houston, Texas, got baseball. What once played home to cowpokes and wildcatters suddenly found some serious, solid backing to bring both back into the modern ways of the good Gulf Coast. Pistol totin' and big-game gamblin' was front and center with the arrival of the first franchise that started it all in this oil-rich city of Houston.
Now...call it luck, call it fortune, or call it doubled-down, downright dangerous, the two characteristic cornerstones became a reality following the foresight and fateful finagling of several farsighted soothsayers, to the delight of the many sports fans, surprised at the success of shuffling in a sporting event bringing in that elusive "winning combo" the community long awaited.
Make no mistake, back when Houston hosted home to the famed Buffaloes (the "Houston Buffs" for the uninitiated, by the way), Texas League baseball had found a supportive sector of the city that held passion for a ballgame. The original Houston ballpark houses, West End Park (1907-1927), Buffalo Stadium (1928-1952), later, Busch Stadium (1953-1958), just aside the super two-lane Gulf Freeway, set the stage for a lust of knuckles, curves and speed, all on the infield lawn where the humidified, summer seasoned crowds watched their home team "play ball!"...!