About four and a half years ago, during the summer of 2013, my kids were in town visiting from Chicago. They were all early high school age at the time, and all three wanted badly to go to an Astros game. Yes, even though that team was on its way to losing 111 games, they wanted to go to the yard to check out some baseball.
Back then, the Astros had a deal wherein if you bought one ticket at regular price, you could get THREE tickets for free. Yeah, you know how you drive by those shacks on the side of the road that sell fireworks, and they have the sign that says "FIREWORKS, BUY ONE GET THREE FREE!"? Well, that was the Astros in 2013, only they were doing it with tickets to a professional baseball game. So, using my media pass as my own ticket, we bought my girlfriend a seat, and my kids happily took their three free tickets. The stadium was STILL so empty, even with literal ticket giveaways, we sat about fifteen rows up off the field in the lower bowl.
I say all of this to say "GODDAMN, HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED!"
The Astros are now champions of the world, having won their first World Series a couple months ago. The city is still riding high, Astro players still get swamped wherever they go, and spring training can't get here soon enough. So let's look back at the biggest Astro stories of 2017....
5. Six Astros land in 2017 All-Star Game
On the strength of a first half that saw them go 54-27, the Astros received the most midseason recognition in franchise history, sending second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa, outfielder George Springer, and pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Chris Devenski to the All-Star Game in Miami. Altuve received the second most votes of any player in the American League, and he, Correa, and Springer were all in the starting lineup, batting first, fourth, and fifth respectively. One of the coolest parts of the game was when Springer, who has battled stuttering his entire life, did an in-game interview with the announce team while playing in the outfield...
Pretty cool. In 2018, it will be fascinating to see if the Astros can exceed six players named to the All-Star team, with all six of the 2017 participants back, and with Alex Bregman coming into his own in the second half of 2017, and Justin Verlander now an Astro.
4. Jeff Bagwell inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame
Jeff Bagwell's first time on the Hall of Fame ballot was in 2011. He received 41.7 percent of the vote in that first year of eligibility, an amount that would indicate he had a shot at eventual induction, but not a shoo-in, by any means. In 2014, Bagwell's support dipped for the first time, down about four percent from the 59 percent he received in 2013 to 55 percent, and the optimism level understandably was fading. The fact that the Hall was frowning on anybody remotely suspected of PED use wasn't helping. Bagwell's body type change was the only indictment, as he never failed a PED test in his career. Then a funny thing happened — the voting constituency changed a little, with some of the old guard getting cleaned out, and the newer, younger voters (a decidedly less PED-sensitive bunch) saw Hall of Fame worthiness in Bagwell's body of work. And so it was, with 86 percent support (75 percent is needed for induction), that Jeffrey Robert Bagwell became the second Houston Astro to enter baseball's hall of all-time greats.
3. Jose Altuve takes home A.L. MVP
The city of Houston has had plenty of looks in recent years at the MVP award in the various professional leagues. James Harden has had two runner-up finishes in the last three NBA seasons, and who can forget J.J. Watt's run at football immortality in 2014? Ultimately, though, it was Altuve, the unlikeliest of superstars, to break through and garner Houston's first MVP hardware since Bagwell and Hakeem Olajuwon each took home the MVP in their respective sports back in 1994. Altuve, who reached the 200 hit mark for the fourth straight season and won his third batting title in four seasons, won the award going away, earning 27 of a possible 30 first place votes.
2. Mega trade brings Verlander to Houston
There were plenty of people — players, fans, media — super disappointed when the July 31 trade deadline came and went without any significant Astros trade (all due respect to Francisco Liriano, who came over in a deal with Toronto). Dallas Keuchel and Josh Reddick actually did interviews in which they criticized upper management for standing pat. However, after Tigers ace Justin Verlander made it through waivers in early August (largely due to his humongous $28 million per year contract, with two years remaining after 2017), Astros GM Jeff Luhnow kept the figurative candle burning. Finally, right at the August 31 deadline to pickup players who had cleared waivers, Verlander became an Astro in a deal for three minor leaguers (like Randy Johnson before him!). All Verlander did was go 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in September, and take home ALCS MVP honors, pitching 16 innings of one run ball against the Yankeesl. Like Jose Altuve said, we all LITERALLY LOVE Justin Verlander!
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1. Astros win first World Series in team history
I could type about the World Series, but isn't it more fun to relive it? Here you go....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.