By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
While at the games, we would watch carefully the great players Bob Watson, Cesar Cedeno and others. Then after the games we would come straight home and start the "instant replays" of strikeouts and great catches in our yards, each of us taking turns on the color commentary, like, "He's stepping up to the mound and he's staring down the batter. He wants to send this guy packing, and he's winding up and he lets go of a rocket of a pitch! The batter must have blinked because he never saw the pitch coming and he's outta there!"
However, my most treasured memory in baseball has to do with when I had the pleasure of attending the All Star game in 2004 at Minute Maid with my dad, who was one of the biggest Astros fans I knew; he would pass away later that year.
When I grew up, I think baseball was the most affordable sporting event you could go to. Football tickets and basketball tickets were always so expensive, so we would go and sit in the dollar seats and see the games at the Astrodome.
I remember as a kid, my mom used to live in San Francisco for a little bit, so I remember when Barry Bonds came through one time and hit a home run, she got up and was so excited because she knew how big a player he was, and I was like, "You're cheering for the other team's player!" and she's like, "No, you're gonna remember this one day, that you got to see Barry Bonds hit a home run." And I'm like, "I don't care. I'm rooting for the Astros."
But it's kinda funny, I remember I had my son, he was three weeks old when Barry Bonds came through with the Giants, and he was like two home runs away from tying Babe Ruth when they came through Minute Maid. And my son was two-three weeks old, and my doctor — I asked him, and he said no, but I said, "You know what? I can't miss this opportunity. If Barry Bonds ties Babe Ruth or passes Babe Ruth, I've got to bring my son to the game so he can say he was there to see it."
Thankfully for the Astros, we didn't give up any home runs. But still I remember bringing him there, and it being crazy and crowded and me hiding him underneath a towel so the noise wouldn't get to him.
My era was the Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio kind of era, so just to see them play their whole careers with one team, in Houston, is something you don't see in any sport these days. So there's something iconic and legendary right there. They were loyal to the team and to the city.
I was also a huge Roger Clemens fan, still am. Every game he'd pitch I'd always be there. On the road, too — I'd go on the road to see him pitch. My mom, when he went to the University of Texas, my Mom went to the University of Texas around the same time, she used to sit in the section called the Wild Bunch, where they used to heckle the other players and opposing pitchers and stuff. She always told me stories about Roger Clemens, so I was always a real big Roger Clemens fan.
My son, his due date for being born was the same date that Roger Clemens was arbitration-eligible: May 1. So I told my wife, "If he signs back with the Astros, we're going to name our son Roger. And she was like, nah, no. And I was, "If he signs back with the Astros on May 1 we're going to name him Roger."...My baby ended up being born a few weeks early, so we went with the family name William, which is my grandfather's name.
I told that same story to Debbie Clemens, Roger's wife, said we were going to name him Roger, but ended up not, and she said, "What did you name him?" I said William, and everybody's mouths just hit the floor, and they're like, "Oh my God — don't you realize that's his first name? William Roger Clemens? So he ended up signing back with the Astros and I named my son William, I think that was an omen right there.
I remember going out to throw the first pitch, I did it a couple of times but the first time I did it I was so nervous. And I've performed in front of thousands of people, I think the biggest crowd was 70,000 people, I did a couple of 55,000 events, so performing and being in front of thousands of people is not anything new to me, but when I threw out that first pitch I think that was the most nervous I've ever been in my life. Just to step out onto the field, onto the grass of Minute Maid Park where the legends come to play and to be there, I couldn't believe it.
I was so nervous, and I was like, "Damn." One of my boys was like, "First pitch — do it half-way. Do it half-way, throw from the grass like the old people do." And I was like, "No, man, I gotta get up there on the mound, with my foot against the rubber like Roger do it."