Tag Archives: Houston Astros

The Astros’ Good Luck Charm

It’s been a long time since the Astros have been successful.

It’s been a long time since the Astros have been successful.

When I was a kid growing up on the north side of Chicago, I was a huge Cubs fan. My kid brother and I loved watching our beloved Cubbies play on WGN-TV and, occasionally, in person (my mom actually would take the four of us kids on the train to Wrigley Field on Ladies’ Days).

Back then one of my fondest dreams was to see a Cubs spring training game. I could just imagine traveling to Mesa, Arizona, to watch Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and the rest of my blue-clad heroes. Maybe I’d even be able to work up the courage to score an autograph or two!

The starting lineups

The starting lineups

Fast forward to a week ago Sunday. My spring training game dream finally came true! However, this time it was in the Grapefruit League instead of its Cactus counterpart, as our family watched our Houston Astros play the Toronto Blue Jays at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, which is near Orlando.

When we were making plans for Jake’s last spring break, I pitched the idea of going to Universal Studios Orlando for a couple days. Then I threw in what I knew would be a home run: Watching our first spring training game. All four of us love baseball, so all of us were excited.

Too close for comfort?

Too close for comfort?

At the Mister’s suggestion, I bought a fresh baseball in case the guys wanted to get autographs. What a great idea! Our seats were one row from the field next to the Astros’ dugout, which gave us a great, albeit potentially scary view.

The pen confuses Jonathan Singleton.

The pen confuses Jonathan Singleton.

All of the players walked past us, with some of them stopping to sign. At first, C.J., who had the ball and the pen, seemed a little shy. But with prodding from his mom who didn’t want him to have any regrets, he stood up and handed the tricky SHSU pen and ball to Jon Singleton, our hopefully great first base prospect.

C.J. holds the ball with his first autograph.

C.J. holds the ball with his first autograph.

After that, it was easier for him to ask. Plus our hometown heroes seemed glad that we cared.

Carlos Corporan, our catcher, gives the ball back.

Carlos Corporan, our catcher, gives the ball and pen back.

Up until that point, C.J. had told me he was sick of me snapping photos of him. But, suddenly, having his own personal photographer (I was wielding my small but mighty Nikon V1) was advantageous.

Thank you, Jarred Cosart!

Thank you, Jarred Cosart!

What a great memory for my boys! I must admit I felt a pang of jealousy wishing that had been me back in the 1960s.

Rudy Owens, who was the starting pitcher, will start the season in the minors.

Rudy Owens, who was the starting pitcher, will begin the season in the minors.

When the game finally started, we couldn’t help but notice that even though this was the Astros’ home park, we were surrounded by Blue Jays fans. We had seen cars in the parking lot with Ontario license plates, so it looks like Canadians also like to travel to Florida to watch baseball. They cheered loud and long for their favorite team.

The Astros’ mascot Orbit was large and in charge.

The Astros’ mascot Orbit was large and in charge.

Some aspects of the game reminded us of the Sugar Land Skeeters, our town’s Atlantic League team. There were condiment and tricycle races, as well as Orbit the mascot mixing things up with the fans. You can’t beat fun at the ballpark, spring or summer!

One thing that was odd, though, was what happened during the game. After watching the Blue Jays plate two runs, the four of us visited the team shop. When we got back to our seats, we were surprised to see the score was 2-2. At no time did we hear the crowd yelling about a two-run Astros’ homer. Weird.

After the Jays went up 3-2, we made our usual early exit in the bottom of the eighth to beat the traffic and head to Orlando and the Hard Rock Hotel. So imagine how shocked we were when we found out that the good guys actually won 4-3! We spent all that time at the game without seeing the Astros score a run. Talk about your reverse good luck charms!

Our family selfie

Our family selfie (the sun was so bright!)

Don’t be surprised if the Astros pay us to stay away from the games this season!

Living the Suite Life

Notice the circled ticket price! Yowzers!!

Notice the circled ticket price. Yowzers!!

Here’s a dose of very unwelcome reality: Our hometown Houston L’Astros have lost at least 100 games for three straight seasons, including this one. We’re a whopping 38 games behind the first-place Oakland Athletics in the American League West Division (and, yes, I’m still protesting that stupid, forced move from the beloved National League). We easily have the worst record in major league baseball, winning a paltry 34 percent of our contests.

But they’re still our team, and I support them! Of course, being a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, it’s easy for me to root, root, root for the wretched, pathetic, and pitiful. That just comes with the territory.

Mind you, supporting them doesn’t mean that I attend many games. After all, Minute Maid Park is well out of my 10-mile comfort radius. So when the Mister told me that we had tickets for last Saturday night’s game against the Angels, I hesitated to agree to go. Until he added the kicker . . . our company’s bank provided our seats. In a suite!

Sweet!

Quite a view from the not-so-cheap seats

Quite a view from the not-so-cheap seats

Having suite tickets means great parking, sharing nicer bathrooms with fewer people (it’s on its own private level), and all the food and drinks you can consume. The menu included pulled pork, chicken tenders, hot dogs (of course), salad, and amazingly good cookies (which is why I ran nine miles that morning).

Buy me some peanuts and . . . .

Buy me some peanuts and . . . .

Plus there were snacks like popcorn and one of my all-time faves, Cracker Jack. What’s not to like?

Well, of course, the Astros lost once again. I guess sometimes you just have to take the sour with the sweet suite.

Fun at the New Ballpark

The ticket in hand

Minor league baseball—in the form of the Sugar Land Skeeters—has arrived in my little city outside of Houston!

Does anyone really want a mosquito as their mascot?

I’m an unabashed baseball fan. Living on the north side of Chicago, I was raised to root for the Cubs. Which is probably why I handle my numerous defeats in Scramble with Friends so easily (being a Houston Astros fan helps with that as well).

My first view of the field. Our seats are near right field.

I also like the minor-league version of America’s favorite pastime. I’ve watched several AAA and AA teams play in the past, and I enjoyed their laid-back nature. So I was looking forward to seeing the Skeeters in action at Constellation Stadium, which is only five minutes from our house.

Our view of the field from our seats (the stadium holds 7,500).

Sidebar: Our Skeeters play in the Atlantic League in what is probably A-minus-quality baseball (many players are former major leaguers or career minor leaguers). Which means that our Texas Gulf team competes against squads in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. Bizarre!

We feel safe with Eric and his Rod Carew glove ready to snag vicious foul liners.

Spurred on by our good friend Eric, we opted to buy the eight-game mini plan plus three extra games for good measure. He picked seats for our group close to right field. We have two tickets that our family (once our older son returns to the fold from college in a couple weeks) will share.

The kid watches the action on the field.

The Mister, our younger son, and I attended the Skeeters’ second game ever (one guy in our group couldn’t make it so we bought his ticket) against the hated York Revolution. The kid was kinda grumpy about going, claiming he wouldn’t return. Of course, by the fourth inning he was totally won over and couldn’t wait to go again.

Moe, one of the two Skeeters mascots

Our #2 son discovered that you just can’t beat fun at the old/new ballpark! Something happens every half inning, from hamster ball (people rolling themselves in huge inflatable orbs) to pizza giveaways to condiments racing each other (well, kids dressed in costumes).

How could you not root for a player named Bubba in Texas?

Everything was entertaining, even the giant scoreboard. Plus the weather was perfect, with a cooling breeze (it sure will be hot for those July and August games, though).

Love seeing all those runs!

The best part, of course, was that we witnessed the Skeeters’ inaugural win (they ended up taking three out of four games from the two-time defending league champs). Hope it’s not the last victory we see.

Not that it will matter, though. We’ll root, root, root for the Skeeters win or lose.

Sure hope they at least play better than the Astros!

“Moneyball” Strikes Too Close to Home

Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane.

“Moneyball” is a movie that truly spoke to me. Unfortunately.

I’m a lifelong, diehard fan of terrible baseball teams. I grew up on the northside of Chicago loving them dear, old, often-horrible Cubs. “Wait until next season” was as normal a catchphrase in our house as “next year in Jerusalem” at the end of the Passover Seder.

And who can forget my more-recent co-favorite squad, the Houston L’Astros? Sure, they’ve been in a World Series during my lifetime (only to be swept by the hated, hated Chicago White Sox), but this year they’ve lost 104 games . . . and the season ain’t quite over yet (although it was done for them by the all-star break). And those Cubbies aren’t far behind them (70-89 as of today).

Lance Berkman (hated Cardinals) and Hunter Pence (hated Phillies) are soooo glad they got out of town!

So what does all this ranting have to do with “Moneyball,” a movie we saw Saturday? Simple . . . neither the Cubs nor the L’Astros has taken a page out of the 2002 Oakland A’s successful playbook. They might want to give it a try next season.

Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) seems to be an unlikely baseball analyst.

The flick is based on “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis (my older son read the book and said it was excellent). A’s general manager Billy Beane used the unconventional premise, espoused by Yale economics grad Peter Brand, that a competitive team can be built without a lot of money being spent by using undervalued players selected through computer analysis. The A’s were one of the have-nots in the Major League Baseball world, compared to deep-pocketed teams like the New York Yankees, so they needed a different kind of advantage to have a fighting chance.

The tale of the 2002 A’s and their drive for the World Series is interwoven with Beane’s personal story, which is quite compelling.  He was a former top baseball prospect who washed out in the pros. Brad Pitt does a credible turn as Beane (even though I kept shaking my head at the thought that he dumped Jennifer Anniston for Angelina Jolie . . . really, Brad?). Jonah Hill is fine as Brand.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (left) does NOT look like Art Howe!

Former L’Astros player and manager Art Howe probably won’t want to see the film. He’s played as a surly buffoon by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who didn’t even bother to lose weight for the role. Howe always seemed to pride himself on being in shape when he was a manager. The Mister said that he bets Howe will be mad that Hoffman is tubby.

The movie is too long at 133 minutes (my younger son had several Timex checks), but it is entertaining, especially for those of us who love baseball.

Even those of us who are forced to endure a lifetime of bad baseball.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Outside Minute Maid Park

I’ve been attending major league baseball games all my life. My mom used to schlep the four of us kids on the train to see the Chicago Cubs lose play during the day, while my father would subject us to White Sox games at night (I loved the fireworks afterwards at old Comiskey Park, but as a Northsider, I bled true blue Cubbie).

Minute Maid Park from above our section of seats

I’ve also logged my share of time watching my adopted team, the Houston Astros, lose play. Unfortunately, the l’Astros are having a terrible season so far and are the worst team in the major leagues . . . even worse than my beloved Cubbies.

J.A. Happ delivers the pitch for the Astros.

Fortunately, we share great seats (with our good friends Terry and Sárka) at Minute Maid Park that are a mere six rows from the Astros dugout, which makes sitting through games much less painful. We’re so close to the action!

Note the big windows letting in a lot of light when the roof is closed

The Mister and I watched the Astros battle the Boston Red Sox last Saturday while our sons were busy celebrating our “third son” Chase’s 20th birthday. Of course, I had one question to ponder as I got ready to leave our house: What photo equipment to take?

Love the new scoreboard!

After all, our seats are so good that I could potentially snap great action shots . . . as long as there were no heads in the way (which, of course, there always are). But when I use the big Nikon digital SLR, I tend to not take in everything the experience has to offer. Plus my right elbow has been paining me from lugging the heavy camera and lenses. It would be nice to downsize for a change.

First baseman David Ortiz (Big Papi) stays close to baserunner Chris Johnson.

Which is what I did! I decided to go with my Canon S90 point and shoot. Although it has a wimpy, 3.8x zoom, it features better quality indoors than most non-SLRs. I thought it did an admirable job.

Our seats are so close, I had a great view of Hunter Pence’s butt.

That’s not to say that I didn’t miss my dSLR, of course. The sloooow lag time when the shutter finally snaps on a P&S can be so frustrating!

Pence, my favorite Astro, is ready to hit the ball hard.

Getting the bat on the ball with a P&S? Virtually impossible. But I reminded myself that I wasn’t trying to take  memorable action photos; I just wanted memories of our experience.

I think I accomplished that while the l’Astros, of course, lost yet another game. I’m glad we left before the eighth inning to beat the traffic!

Skedaddle to Seattle . . . Very Slowly

The *!@#* garment bag

The *!@#* garment bag

This is a sad tale of what happens when several dumb decisions plus poor timing multiplied by awful luck equal missing a flight to Seattle.

And it all centers around a garment bag.

Last Thursday we were supposed to be on the 8:55 a.m. flight from Houston’s Intercontinental Airport to Seattle. The main purpose of the four-day trip? My beloved #1 niece’s wedding. Oh, we made it to Seattle, but we had to wait until 2:20 p.m. to board the plane. Then again, who wouldn’t want to spend their first Pacific Northwest vacation in the airport for five and a half hours?!? The excitement, the thrills, the drama!

The #2 son is momentarily happy in the airport.

The #2 son is momentarily happy in the airport.

The bottom line is that when you’re a little bit late getting out of the house and into the car, as we were by five or 10 minutes, every extra minute of delay seems to increase exponentially. There’s bound to be more traffic. And the shuttle bus driver is bound to pick up two more slow passengers. And then you’re going to make a fatal mistake: You’re not going to see curbside check-in when the line inside to check bags is really long.

The #1 son reads in the airport.

The #1 son reads in the airport.

The basic problem for us was that we rarely fly anywhere. That’s because we rarely go anywhere. But when we do fly, we carry everything on. Each of us has a wheeled carry-on case (love those wheels!) and a backpack. But because we were going to the wedding, we had to have our grown-up clothes with us. You know, fancy duds. Yep, I even had a dress! There’s no stuffing that kind of garb in a carry-on. Hence the too-big, too-heavy garment bag that needed to be checked.

The Mister reads.

The Mister reads.

Suffice it to say, by the time we got the garment bag to check-in, we had less than 30 minutes before our flight was to take off. Did you know that you can’t check in a bag for a flight that has less than 30 minutes before taking off? I didn’t before, but I sure know that now! Very stressful!! The check-in gal suggested that the guys make the 8:55 a.m. flight, while the garment bag and the old bag travel on the next one at 12:30 p.m. I gave the guys their boarding passes and told them to make like Usain Bolt and speed to gate 39. Which, of course, was the furthest one from the security checkpoint.

A bored #2 son checks the Tour de France results on my iPhone.

A bored #2 son checks the Tour de France results on my iPhone.

I went back and leisurely finished checking in the garment bag and then went through security. Of course, by this time, which was almost 9 a.m., there were hardly any people around. Figures. My one thought was that as long as I don’t get a phone call from the Mister, all was well, and they’re on their way to Seattle.

#2's self-portrait taken with the camera upside-down.

#2's self-portrait taken with the camera upside-down.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” started playing from my iPhone at 8:55 a.m. Oh, oh . . . that’s the Mister’s ring tone. Not a good sign. Sigh! They missed the flight. We didn’t realize that the gate had been changed from 39 to 31; by the time they got there, the doors were closed to them. And the Mister was very tired and winded. And, of course, unhappy.

Yay, we made it!

Yay, we made it!

So I gave up my 12:30 p.m. seat, and we were confirmed on the 2:20 p.m. plane. Which meant lots of time together in the airport. The highlight was probably seeing the Houston Dynamo soccer team’s players, who eventually were on our flight. I don’t think the Mister and I were ever so happy to get on a plane! And then to finally land in Seattle, where the temperature was about 20 degrees cooler than in Houston. I loved that part the best!

Safeco Field—home of the Seattle Mariners

Safeco Field—home of the Seattle Mariners

That night we attended the Seattle Mariners baseball game at Safeco Field with our relatives and my niece Becky’s friends. The Mariners were playing the Texas Rangers.

Sidebar: Even though we live in Texas, we are not Rangers fans; we are Houston Astros fans! We prefer the National League. I’m originally from Chicago, and I’m a lifelong Cubs follower. I will never like the White Sox. Hope I’ve made that clear!

A Mariners' wild pitch gets past the catcher.

A Mariners' wild pitch gets past the catcher.

Of course, I had my Nikon D300 with me with the Nikon 105mm lens. We were in the upper deck near home plate, and I was able to get a few good photos from that vantage point.

The Rangers score their only run.

The Rangers score their only run.

It was great relaxing with my mom, her two sisters, and my oldest sister Fran (Becky’s mom). The Mariners managed to win the game 3-1, the boys got to see a major league baseball game in a park in a different state, and I was beginning to shed the airport-saga stress.

And the irony of the whole flight-missing tale? The garment bag made it to Seattle before we did! It was on the 12:30 p.m. plane and was waiting for us in the airport. Hope it had a good time!

Random Snippets

ice-cream-truckWhile I was watching the #2 son coach his third-/fourth-grade division flag football team Sunday, my senses were assaulted for about 20 minutes by an ice cream truck that had spied a prime opportunity to feed a hungry crowd of athletes. I listened as the chiming tones played a bunch of the usual ice cream truck standards that have been beckoning kids forever: “It’s a Small World,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Happy Birthday to You,” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Then it played a song that literally made me smile: “The Theme From Love Story.” Wonder how that got in the rotation! I guess love means never having to say you’re sorry . . . that you can’t buy any ice cream!

Spelling Manor

Spelling Manor

In real estate news

People.com reports that Candy Spelling, Aaron Spelling’s widow, is planning to downsize from a 73,500-square-foot mansion to a “tiny” 17,000-square-foot condo (the same size as an attic in the mansion, which also has three gift-wrapping rooms)!! Candy’s walk-in closet measures 3,500 square feet; that’s bigger than our house!

Any takers, readers?

smaller-houston_astros

Win-win situation
The first pitch has been thrown: Major league baseball has begun! Personally, I have a split set of loyalties: I’m a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan (go ahead, call me a loser; I can take it; I’ve suffered through years of mourning yet another lost season), but I’ve lived in the Houston area since 1985, and I also root for the Astros.

chicago-cubs1

It just so happens that the ’stros’ season opener is against the Cubs. Monday when I turned the game on the TV, I told my family, “Yay, we’re winning! Darn it, we’re losing!” I figured that no matter which team won, I’d be happy. So far the two teams have split the series, with the Cubs taking the opener, and the Astros winning last night in extra innings.

And, no, I am not a Chicago White Sox fan. Anyone who lives or has lived in Chicago understands that! It’s kind of like the University of Texas and Texas A&M rivalry.

Was this the face in the clouds?

Was this the face in the clouds?

How could Jigsaw have been the face?

How could Jigsaw have been the face?

Solving the Mystery

So what face do I see in the clouds in my blog header? When I asked the #1 son, he said, “You mean that Easter Island head? It looks like Jigsaw, the villain in the ‘Saw’ movie.” Really? Could there be any less resemblance?!? Very puzzling answer!

Actually, as Lazy Mom Leslie guessed, it’s good, old honest Abe! He’s in the clouds and along the side of the road in Pearland.

A proud mom moment

Last Friday was a red-letter day in the history of the #2 son: He actually, for the first time ever, put his towel back on the towel rack after taking a shower. Without being nagged. Without being reminded. A moment of silence, please, to mark the occasion. I can almost hear my future daughter-in-law cheering in the distance.

Speaking of #2, after I finished his brother’s résumé, I blazed a trail from his door to his closet. It did take an exhausting 10 minutes!