Turning Back The Clock with The Astros: A Diary

I went to the Astros game last night with my younger sister. Since the Astros have now lost five in a row, I don't really feel like analyzing things too deeply yet. Instead, I'm going to bust out my first diary-style column in honor of Bill Simmons. After all, he did just convert over to sabermetrics. The least I can do is imitate his unique style, just like thousands of other writers on the internet right now. It's flattering to him, right?

At any rate, here goes...

1:30 - Driving to the game, listening to my baseball playlist. It's got a heavy rotation of The Baseball Project. I will never get tired of listening to Harvey Haddix, but I Dream of Willie Mays makes me think about the Astros. How we can remember both the good times (the Catch, the World Series in 2005) and the bad (his Mets interlude, this season) at the same time. I just wish a happier song reminded me of this season. 

3:45 - We get there earlier than I expected. Turned out to be a good thing, since there were big lines at all the entrances. We pick one that had wound around Union Station and wait for the gates to open. 

4:00 - Gates open, line starts moving. I split off and go to the No Bag side. I'm inside in five minutes. My sister takes a little longer. She's also upset by all the girls ignoring the Bag line and trying to get in the other way. These line jumpers end up having their bags searched in the Bag Line without having to wait in line. I thought we lived in a society people! There are rules!

4:05 - The giveaway jerseys do look cool. They're also going fast. Hopefully, my sister will get one.

4:10 - She does and we head up to our seats. I decide to stock up on hot dogs now in case they run out later in the game. After all, dollar hot dogs should go pretty fast. I'm glad about my decision after I see multiple people walking off with six to ten hot dogs. Just because they're cheap doesn't mean you have to buy a million of them. (I get three. The guy in front of me gets six. I feel better about my decision).

4:30 - Jayson Werth is just destroying the ball during BP. Balls are bouncing off the wall in left field, he's peppering the Crawford Boxes, he's doing it all. People around me are asking, 'Who is this guy?' Remember this fact...

5:00 - Bourn has the night off? Is that even legal? And on top of that, my flabber is gasted when Jason Michaels is not only playing center field but is also leading off. Aren't there better candidates to hit first, like, um, well...I can't think of anyone right now, but there HAS to be someone, right?

5:30 - They bring out some of the members of the 1965 Astros team that opened the Dome. As they enter the field in convertibles, my sister says in a semi-terrified voice, 'They have cars on the field! Can they do that?' It's a valid point. I guess since they stuck to foul territory, it's alright.

5:33 - Especially creepy? When you saw the convertibles on the big TV (which ran in black and white), it looked like the Zapruder footage. Both my sister and I were weirded out by this. Big time.

5:35 - Would anyone have guessed that Gene Elston looks as good or better than Milo? I was astounded by this. Good to see Gene, too. A quick search shows that Milo is only five years younger than Elston. So, Elston turns 88 this year while Milo will be 83. And one of them is still an active broadcaster? I only hope I can be as lucid when I'm that age.

5:45 - The stadium is fuller than I expected. 35,138 was the paid attendance. I had guesstimated about 30,000 so that seems about right. I guess lots of people were excited about Retro night.

5:55 - Two of the Field Patrol girls, dressed in the 'Space Age Suits' came up to our section. I considered taking a picture of them for the column, but 'Can I put your picture on the Internet?' sounded too creepy. I should mention I'm pretty awkward in most social situations. It's a miracle I got married at all.

6:05 - Paulino's first pitch? A 97 MPH strike. I'm getting pumped up.

6:15 - Paulino touches 99 to strike out Utley. We are officially excited now. Paulino is bringing it. All Hail the Bearded One.

6:17 - Check in on TCB. See that Berkman is not making the trip to St. Louis. Curse under my breath and put my phone away. My sister asks what's wrong and I tell her my Internet friends just depressed me.

6:18 - Have a small discussion with my sister about Paulino's nickname. I told her he should be called 'Beardy' or 'The Bearded One.' It's at this point that I realize I also called Kevin from Top Chef last season Beardy. Don't know if I can just reuse that one so easily. 

6:19 - 13 pitches for Paulino in the first inning. He's on a good pace so far. Fun fact: that was the same number of pitches it took Brett Myers to get through one at-bat on Wednesday.

6:20 - The big TV in center field is showing everything in black and white. This is amusing at first. It started being annoying once the game started. 

6:22 - Can Jimmy Wynn still bat in the three hole for us? He might not get around the bases that well any more, but he probably could get a hit more than once every five games.

6:23 - And Jamie Moyer takes the mound. My sister says he 'looks like an old man.' I don't know what that means, but it cracks me up. Because Moyer is a 72 years old. He started collecting Social Security last year. He has one of those Life Alert buttons around his neck during the game. He eats dinner at 4:30 p.m. each day...preferably at Luby's. Am I done with the old jokes? For now...

6:33 - Umm, El Bufalo? Please avoid running into/getting hit by balls in left field. Guys like Ryan Howard shouldn't be legging out triples. That is all.

6:37 - Excellent catch by Michaels in the left center alley. He ran a long way for that. Neither of us thought he'd get there in time. With Bourn, it's assumed. Michaels? Not so much.

6:40 - After another 1-2-3 inning for Moyer, I write 'Worst Astros Offense Ever?' on my notepad. Probably not true, but very indicative of my confidence in this team through the first five games.

6:45 - My sister sees the picture of Werth on the big TV with his spring beard. I say he's since shaved it off. After seeing him without it, she says, 'Bad choice...he looked much better with the beard.' Tommy Bennett thinks the same thing.

6:55- Yep, the game is effectively over in the third inning. Paulino could have gotten out of that mess if Tommy Manzella hadn't messed up the relay on the double play attempt. Jimmy Rollins is fast, but it would have been a very close play had Manzella made a clean throw. Instead...

7:00 - Paulino looks rattled. His fastball velocity is down. He's not hitting his spots. On top of that, he's getting squeezed by the umpire's strike zone all of a sudden. Not good times.

7:03 - On the list of players you'd want to see with the bases loaded? One has to be Cesar Izturis. Where does Ryan Howard fall? Just above Pujols on the bottom of that list. Of course he's walked to drive in a run. Better than an errant fastball turning into four runs.

7:05 - Seriously, though, why didn't Paulino climb the ladder with a fastball during that at-bat? He was pounding the bottom of the zone with sliders and curves, got Howard to time his swing with these pitches, why not reach back and throw a riser above the zone? You're telling me Howard wouldn't chase that? 

7:10 - It's getting worse for me at this point. It's the third inning and I'm already throwing in the towel. The Astros are never going to score more than four runs in this game, right? After all, they've done NOTHING against Moyer's 81 MPH fastball so far. Why should we expect them to be suddenly competent?

7:12 - FIRST LEAD OF THE SEASON!!! And they all came with two outs. The Astros scored almost as many runs in the bottom of the third inning as they had all season. It was also the first time in 2010 that the Astros have batted around.

7:15 - As soon as I say, "The two guys with power in our lineup aren't hitting. There's no one else who can help even a little right now," Paulino his a double over Werth's head that bangs off the wall in right. Jason Michaels follows that up with a line drive home run into the Crawford Boxes. Jeff Keppinger walks followed by Hunter Pence's first hit of the season, a towering home run onto the train tracks. I am suitably silenced. The irony of the pitcher proving me wrong was not lost on my sister. She can't pass up an opportunity to mock me.

7:25 - The final run scores on an infield hit by Tommy Manzella. Polanco tried to do some weird backhanded stab on the ball and couldn't pick it up cleanly. Now, I ask you, if he were still playing for the Phillies, would Pedro Feliz have made that play?

7:35 - Paulino breezes through the top of the fourth, but is sitting at 96 pitches. There's no real activity going on in the bullpen, but Paulino is scheduled to lead off the bottom of the inning. Will Mills leave him out there? Should he? I'm dubious.

7:40 - Of course, he leaves him in there and Paulino does nothing at the plate. He does manage to squeak through the top of the fifth inning, putting him in line for the first win of the season. If we can get that far.

7:45 - Polanco makes up for his bad play in the third with a sterling effort in the bottom of the fourth. He looks relieved, though he never once looked good at the plate in this game. I think I'd rather have Feliz at one year than Polanco at three.

7:50 - The Hot Sauce Race is just as much of a travesty in person as I supposed it would be. My sister enjoys it, because they have tiny legs sticking out from the bottom of the sauce packets. I am loudly protesting the whole thing. People around are now looking at me strangely.

8:00 - The Wave tries to get started during the fifth inning. My sister is excited; I try to dampen her spirits a bit. Already mad about the stupid sauce race, I talk about why the Wave is a bad thing. It takes away from watching the game. It's not even one of those goofy games they play during the inning breaks. This thing goes on when there are plays happening. Didn't you come to watch the game, people? My ranting has no effect.

8:15 - I duck out to go to the restroom, but not before watching the Kiss Cam. The only part of the new ballpark experiences I find interesting is the Kiss Cam. It can be so delightfully awkward, sweet and raunchy all at the same time. You never know what you're going to get. This time, a couple went up on the board and the girl obviously was not comfortable with it. The guy had to talk her into a kiss, but she was definitely not digging it. Of course, then they put the heart around their picture and the guy proposes. She says yes, but she was obviously quite embarrassed. Here's an idea. Maybe before you propose in front of 30,000 people, find out if your significant other likes all that attention or might be a wee bit embarrassed to be up on the big board. When I proposed to my wife, I put the ring in a bag of Ghiradelli chocolates I'd gotten her. Unfortunately, I gave it to her right after she came off a 12-hour cross-Atlantic flight. She was in no mood for chocolate. I had to almost force them on her to get the proposal rolling and she eventually got the ring, but it was a dicey few minutes there for me. Moral of the story? Don't get engaged.

8:18 - As I'm walking back from the restroom, I notice the TVs around the food lines are also in black and white. I wonder if the home broadcasts were in color. If not, how many people got pissed at their TVs and decided they had to buy a new one. 

8:22 - Some 'Dome facts that flashed up on the big board periodically during the game: There used to be a great fishing hole for catfish where the seats behind home plate stood. The big 'exploding' scoreboard was three stories tall and had 1,200 feet of wire.

8:25 - There was a big group of Aggies near our section. By the look of them, they were probably all in the same 'Fish Camp' together, which is basically a big summer camp for college kids before their first semester on campus. It's where a lot of the indoctrination into the Aggie traditions happen, like yells and Bonfire and the rest. I assume they were part of some group, especially when they all yelled, 'Beat the Hell Outta Philadelphia' together and then whooped. Crazy Aggies. Probably thought it was a football game. After all, we don't win those either.

8:30 - I get back from the restrooms in time to see Geoff Blum's out call on that grounder. He looked safe. I was up in the nosebleeds and didn't have a good angle on the play, but he looked safe. 

8:35 - In walks Brandon Lyon. His entrance music? Circle of LIfe by Elton John...I may have made that last part up but his nickname should definitely be The Lyon King. Think about how well that fits his start tonight: Mufasa (a.k.a Lyon) is doing fine, getting outs before Scar (a.k.a Ryan Howard) throws him off a cliff into the buffaloes (a.k.a hits a MONSTER home run to take a 6-5 lead). Watching all this was young Simba (a.k.a Matt Lindstrom) who vows revenge but gets chased off by hyenas (Shane Victorino). The sad thing is that metaphor wasn't too labored. I have too much time on my hand.

8:40 - TIm Byrdak enters the game. All hope is lost.

8:45 - What's that? Byrdak is actually effective? I am shocked. Well, maybe I'm just hypothermic. The wind chill had to take things down into the upper 50's in the outfield deck. Not really typical Houston baseball weather. It also wasn't a typical Tim Byrdak appearance, since he didn't give up any runs.

8:55 - The last enjoyable thing about the game is the organ music. They brought in one especially for the Retro Feel. All the in-game songs were played on it. Sounded great. I especially liked the seventh inning stretch. 'Take Me Out To a Ballgame' sounds so good on an organ but adding Deep in the Heart of Texas? Couldn't have asked for more...except for an Astros win.

9:05 - Bourn pinch hits in the bottom of the ninth and doubles down the left field line. Would this be a different offense if Jason Michaels started for Lee instead of Bourn? Without a doubt. Fittingly, Michaels drives in Bourn one batter later. JMike had a big game, making the catch, hitting that big home run. It was a good first start of the season for him. Now, if only we can get the rest of the offense hitting like this....

9:15 - And Pence strikes out to end the game. Lovely. At least I got a free jersey. And a cool shooting star logo hat (which I bought as we left the ballpark. Couldn't let it get tainted with too much of the loss).

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