To my cousin in New York, who today sent his best wishes to us in Houston

Hey kids,

It’s been very different.  We’ve all been through hurricanes before but this isn’t the same.  Everybody is fine right now, some still in town and some not, but everybody wants the rain to stop.

I’ve lost track of what’s going on in Rockport.  A Category 4 hurricane hit there less than three days ago and I saw video of terrible wind damage and lots of flooding, but that dissolved off my radar because of the rain right here; I hope they’re doing OK.  The good news is that there have been a few to several hours in a row with no rain, but it always comes back, more intense, and for hours at a time.  I read somewhere that the part of Texas that’s now underwater is about the size of the area between New York and Boston, and our new body of water is still getting bigger.  The most recent National Hurricane Center projection thinks we may still have another 36 hours of rain in front of us, as the center of the storm (which has moved back out over the Gulf) meanders eventually to the northeast and goes on shore between Galveston and the Louisiana state line.

When it was just rain it was annoying, but bearable…Ed even went to Mom’s house Saturday afternoon to install a new lock on her back door; later that afternoon an apparent tornado spun out of the thunderstorm bands and punched a hole in the roof of his house in Stafford (check his Facebook for a picture).  Kathy and Van tried to bring him a generator to use at his in-laws house next door, where the power was out, but high water got in their way.  Sunday morning it was worse, and by then Van’s parents were reporting water rising around their apartment in southwest Houston; Kathy told us that her in-laws had six inches of water in their apartment, and had talked to the Houston fire department about evacuation to a shelter.  Meanwhile, Ed got in touch with FEMA State Farm and it arranged hotel rooms a few miles away, where he and his family went after he and a neighbor installed one of those oh-so-fashionable tarps to cover the damaged area.  (Tip: they don’t keep all the water out, apparently…)

So far, no high water threatens at Elsie’s, or at Danny’s in Katy, or our house in Pearland (Kevin, in San Antonio, is even getting rained on by Harvey!), but the rain continues.  For example, they reported more than 24 inches of rain in Pearland in the first 48 hours of the “event,” which is about half of the total rainfall we get in a full year…same thing all over the area.  If you were lucky and the rain let up for a while the flooded areas could recede, but the next rain pumped ’em right back up.  Sunday night the local flood control authorities let everyone know they were planning to release water from two large dams on far the west side of town: even though that would put more flood water into the streams heading east into Houston and worsen things for everyone along the route of already-over-engorged Buffalo Bayou, it was necessary to make sure the dams didn’t fail which would cause an “uncontrolled release” that would make things even worse.

It’s not just the rain falling directly on our heads that’s responsible.  This storm has still been pulling moisture in from the Gulf and spreading it over hundreds and hundreds of miles, areas that for the most part drain toward and through the Houston area.  The rain falling a hundred miles away is running off into streams that feed other streams that feed into Houston, so there’s not as much room for our runoff and the local floodwaters can’t go down.  Some areas are coping, but places where the rain doesn’t let up are not.

Van’s parents never did get evacuated by the fire department, but he was able to get into Houston this morning and get them and bring them back to his house in Richmond.  But the Brazos River has been rising and rising, and areas of Richmond have been called to evacuate.  About noon today Kathy and Van’s neighborhood, where their daughter Karie and her husband and newborn also live, was put on the mandatory evacuation list.  They wisely decided to put the center of the storm in their rear view mirror and drive off; a little before 4:00 this afternoon my sister tweeted a greeting that only a Texan could really appreciate: “Made it to Bucees!!”  Ah yes, Luling and Buc-ees as ultimate refuge!

The Johnson Space Center has been closed to all but mission critical personnel since Sunday and will be again tomorrow, and since I am not even close to being mission critical I’m at home relaxing, trying not to stare constantly at the TV; Frances is here too but working, as her company fights the floods to keep their hospitals supplied.  The Astros won’t make it home as planned from Anaheim–their Tue-Wed-Thu series with the Rangers has been moved to St. Petersburg.  The Texans never got home from Saturday’s game in New Orleans, and they’ll play the last exhibition game against the Cowboys as a home game in Jerry World–proving that there’s always someone who has it worse than you do.

This is where you’d think to say something like “but I’m sure it’ll all be fine in the end” and that’s probably true; on the other hand, I always thought a “biblical flood” as just a figure of speech.

Thanks for thinking of us…

Pat

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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.

golfers

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.