For as long as I remember, I've been a baseball fan. Which is kinda strange considering I never played Little League, didn't learn how to hold a bat or catch a ball until my best friend taught me in high school, and my father's favorite sports team are fútbol-playing goats (Las Chivas Rayadas de Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico). Yet the sound of a home run cracking off from a Louisville Slugger and the cheers of a home crowd during a rally make me so emotionally content, I have no need for drugs or therapy. Give me my 'Stros, no matter how bad, and I'm good.
When I was a kid, my pops would take me to as many games at the Astrodome as we could afford, which wasn't many, but the experience made a lasting impression. I particularly remember seeing Fernando Valenzuela pitch against Mike Scott under the Dome sometime in the late '80s. Once I reached high school, I got a part-time job and inherited an old Chevy Blazer, which allowed me to visit the Dome many times in those exciting seasons when the 'Stros won the division several years in a row.
When Enron Field opened, I thanked God! A downtown stadium ten minutes from my house in the near Northside was a perfect venue to fuel my support of the team. I became a regular at the "9 Amigos Center Field Bar," making friends with other fans and staff who were as fanatical about the Astros as I was! We made the playoffs, and experienced many highs, lows and heartbreaks. It's been a long and beautiful relationship.
This year, however...things are different. New league, new faces, new ownership and a new coach. What can we expect from my beloved 'Stros this year? I asked a handful of Opening Day fans for their predictions.
Name: Elva (who arrived at the Center Field entrance at noon for last night's 7:05 p.m. start!) How long have you been an Astros Fan? 20 years What is your favorite Astros memory?: The Infamous 18-Inning Game, October 9, 2005. Move to the American League -- hate it or love it? Hate it! Prediction for this season? Better than last year, but still low in the standings.
Name: Robert How long have you been an Astros Fan? 25 years. What is your favorite Astros memory? The Jeff Kent walk off home run, October 18, 2004. Move to the American League -- hate it or love it? Love it. Prediction for this season? Playoffs, baby!
Name: Bun B How long have you been an Astros fan? Been a fan since I was a kid, just been die-hard the last couple of years. What is your favorite Astros memory? Watching the playoff rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals in the late '90s and early '00s. Move to the American League -- hate it or love it? I love the move to the AL! The Rangers rivalry will be huge for sports fans here! Prediction for this season? No big expectations this season, but Mr. Crane has strong long-term plans. I'm excited for the future of the Astros!
Name: Jules How long have you been an Astros fan? Ten years, since I moved to Houston from Vermont. They don't have baseball there! What is your favorite baseball memory? Hunter Pence high-fived me a couple of seasons ago before he was traded. That was awesome! Move to the American League -- hate it or love it? Love it, but we need to capitalize! Prediction for this season? Winning record, but no playoffs.
Name: Nick How long have you been an Astros fan? I moved here from Chicago last Novemeber, so only a few months. I was a White Sox fan. What is your favorite Astros memory? When the White Sox swept them in the World Series. Move to the American League -- hate it or love it? Love it. Prediction for this season? It's 50/50, although being in the same division as the Rangers significantly reduces the chances of reaching the World Series again.
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There you have it, folks! Houston will finish the season somewhere between last place and the playoffs, just as I suspected. Oh, by the way, the 'Stros pulled off an impressive 8-2 win last night, the first win on Opening Day in seven seasons!
The times...they are a-changin'!