You never forget your first time

These days a mini-season ticket package for the Houston Astros gets you a seat to 28 games out of the 81-game home schedule, at least one game in every series the team plays at Minute Maid Park over the long baseball season.  My ticket for last Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers has been sitting on the shelf in my office since March, drawing no more attention than any of the 27 others on the pre-perforated sheets that I keep in the original mailing envelope.  When a colleague at work asked on Friday morning who that night’s starters would be, I had no idea and had to look it up.

The big news about this interleague series between one-time National League rivals was that Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ two best pitchers—two of the best in baseball—were to face the Astros on Saturday and Sunday.  The Dodgers’ Friday starter Brett Anderson was OK but not up to the level of his teammates, and the Astros’ Mike Fiers…well, he’s new here, and hasn’t really shown much so far.  The match-up didn’t generate much enthusiasm.

When I got to my seat the thing that had my full attention was something I’d forgotten.  At the game on Tuesday my friend Paul was wearing an AstrospMLB2-16625621dt blue batting practice jersey with the name and number of a player not on the team any more. He explained that he and other friends had wandered into a store that sells jerseys that were worn by players in real games, and as a joke they decided to treat themselves to the shirts of some players who might be said to have laid the groundwork for the first-place Astros of today.  That is, bad players who aren’t here anymore, or so-so players who’d been traded for better players: Paul was wearing Jarred Cosart’s Number 48, David had Brett Wallace’s Number 29.  He suggested I join the fun.

Sure, why not.  But that night the one store carrying those jerseys closed before I could get there, and Friday night I forgot all about it until I got to our seats and saw Paul.  So, with a giant beer in one hand and a giant soft pretzel in the other, and only fifteen minutes before first pitch, I set off: down from our upper level seats behind home plate to the concourse, around the concourse to a stairwell, down three flights of stairs to the main level, and the rest of the way around to the shop behind center field.  To improve my overall mobility, I stuffed the pretzel in my mouth and swallowed the last of it as I arrived at the Island of Misfit’s Jerseys, and put the can of beer on the ground so I could dig through the racks.  I must have spent four whole minutes grubbing through the hangers until I found a jersey that fit: not only from a player who fit the requirements for inclusion in our little stunt, but a shirt that fit me.  I walked away with the Number 22 of former backup catcher Carlos Corporan, in a size 50.  Jersey sizes run pretty big.

I was feeling it: not content to carry my trophy IMG_0220back upstairs folded up in a plastic bag, I threw it on over the shirt I was wearing, picked up my big beer and retraced my steps back around the concourse to the stairwell, up three flights to the View Deck (no, really, that’s what the upper level is called at Minute Maid Park), back around behind home and back to my section as the national anthem began.  I waited on the stairs, and after “…home of the brave” I bounced up on the front of our section, yelled for Paul’s attention and spun around to show off my prize.  He laughed as I dragged myself up the last six rows and plopped down before the first pitch.

Fiers had a slow start and was throwing a lot of pitches; I was sweating in the air conditioned building, a combination of catching my breath from my impromptu shopping trip and, as mentioned, I was wearing two shirts; before the Dodgers went down in the first I’d unbuttoned the Corporan.  By the end of the second I needed another beer, so that’s another trip down from Row 6, over to the concession stand that sells the cold beer (gotta know these things to be an Astros fan), and then back upstairs; I’d cooled off enough by then that I could button the jersey back up and look presentable.  The Astros’ pitcher had throw to the plate 60 times by the end of the third inning and didn’t look sharp, probably not long for this game.

By that time Paul had adjourned to meet other friends and I was fiddling with my phone, trying to get Twitter to work either with or without the stadium’s wi-fi and not having any luck.  I remember looking up at the scoreboard each inning and seeing that the Dodgers still had no hits, and thinking there was no way Fiers could stay in the game until the end.  But he kept coming back…and back…and back again.  He struck out the side in the 8th.

The Astros did nothing in the 8th, and every eye around me turned to the home team dugout:

Yep, by then I was getting some connection on Twitter and I decided to see if my fat typing thumbs on a tiny virtual keyboard could keep up with the action:

Now wait a minute…

…this could really happen…

(It was Chase Utley’s first game with the Dodgers after the trade, and it took me until the middle of the game to realize: he was back together with Jimmy Rollins, his teammate from the Phillies who’d signed with Los Angeles in the off season.  So much for being aware of what’s going on!)

And that brought up Justin Turner, a Dodger I really had never heard of before…

I think this is going to happen…

Yes, I really think this is about to happen…here comes pitch number 134 of the night:

20150821_astrosdodgers_btc_12IMG_0219First no hitter in Mike Fiers’ career, which now totals just 59 starts, only three of them for Houston since he came over in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers just under the waiver deadline last month.  It’s the first no hitter ever thrown at Minute Maid Park, now in its sixteenth season, and the first one I’ve seen in person in a baseball-watching career that’s significantly longer than sixteen years.  I’m proud to say that I had enough awareness in the moment to turn on the camera on my phone and point it at the players celebrating on the field, and also at the people around me who were a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ and jumpin’ ever’ which way at this most unexpected turn of events on a Friday night.  I’m less proud of my skill at operating the smartphone and Twitter:

Yes, there was grumbling from the Dodgers on Friday about the umpiring, and a story today about accusations of a foreign substance seen in Fiers’ glove, but it really did happen: I got a new shirt just in time to see a little baseball history made in this unlikeliest of Houston Astros’ seasons.

Don’t bet these guys on golf (you’ll hurt yourself carrying all the money home)

If you want a fresh perspective on things, and to have fun, get some old high school friends together to play golf.  Note: this works to best effect when none of you is a good golfer.


That’s us—Tim, Pascal, Tom and Pat—on the 18th tee at Wildcat Golf Club’s Lakes Course, just before it rained, during our high school reunion golf outing earlier this month.  The rain was brief but we were already wet from the inside out anyway.  We ended up eight over par, which is distressingly poor in a scramble.  And we had a great time—what would you expect when you spend the day with friends you’ve had for almost 40 years?

I have assiduously avoided high school reunions since number 10, when I went to a Houston Astros game because I’d never been in the Skyboxes at the Astrodome…and as expected, found that a seat at the top of a ten story building is less than ideal for baseball watching if you’re at all interested in the game.  But that’s not why I skipped reunions; I was just never interested.  This time, I kiddingly replied that I’m always up to play golf, and someone called me on it.  Good on them…better for me.

I’ve been friends with these guys, and a couple of others, since we were freshmen in high school, and I never needed a reunion to find out how they were doing.  We don’t all see each other regularly, but it’s the kind of friendship where you can pick up a conversation that was put on hold months and months before.  And so we spent the afternoon, scuffing around the course, amusing one another with pathetic displays of athletic ability and laughing at all the old jokes, and all the old jokers.

It made me feel great to realize that I’ve got these these guys in my life, that we’re still comfortable around each other despite the years.

The four of us went out to eat together afterward because we’re all still growing boys (just not growing vertically any more).  We watched a ball game on TV and drank beer (that was mostly me) and later told the old jokes and talked about what’s new, and learned some things about one other, even after all these years.

After I got home, it got better.  My friend Mark—the guy I play golf with regularly, the guy who joined me to scout Wildcat since none of us had played it before; the guy who gave me his copy of “Golf in the Kingdom”—had wished me “Tempo and Short Grass” in an e-mail that included this:

I sent the Soundtrack of the Day along to my old friends so they could share that part of my day, too.