As I was sitting at work trying to come up with an interesting theme for my very first post as a writer here at The Crawfish Boxes, I heard a radio advertisement for an upcoming 4th of July concert featuring 3 Doors Down as the headlining act. The commercial played a sampling of all their hit songs from the ‘00s, when the band was at the height of their popularity and relevance. I remember coming of age during this much-maligned "post-grunge" era of music where bands like Nickelback, Creed, and Hoobastank dominated both the rock and pop charts. Seriously, you couldn’t turn on a TV, watch a movie, or even go to the mall without hearing a bland, angst-ridden anthem from one of these bro-bands. This style of music became so ubiquitous that even Nickelback sound-alike alternative Christian rock bands began to pop up (the was actually quite a bit of crossover from mainstream "secular" music).
This was the musical landscape of 2005, one of the most bittersweet years of my admittedly still young life. Listening to the music in that ad conjured up so many memories from that year: making my Little League All-Star team, coping with my parent's divorce, struggling with ADHD in school and of course, watching the Houston Astros’ improbable run at the World Series. Well actually I didn’t really watch much of the Astros’ season, neither on TV nor in person. I was in a single parent household now and finances were tight. We had to let go of little luxuries like cable TV and our gas-guzzling Chevy Suburban in order to have enough money to put food on the table. This also meant that for the first time in 6 years we would not drive up to Houston to see the Astros I looked forward to that trip every year. We’d stay in my aunt’s gigantic house in Sugarland (they had both a swimming pool and a pool table!), visit my uncles and of course watch some of the Astro greats, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Roy Oswalt, take the field in beautiful Minute Maid Park. But now the only way we could even follow the Astros was on the AM band. Milo Hamilton and Alan Ashby did a good job calling the action (Ash had yet to develop an obsession with pace of play) but the ball team was just not as tangible to me as they were when I could see them on my television screen. The auspicious start to the season didn’t help either. The marketing slogan for that year was "It’s On!". But with Carlos Beltran signed with the Mets, Jeff Bagwell out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, and the team floundering in last place, the Astros were definitely not "On". My interest in the team began to wane.
Luckily 2005 also brought a new baseball team to my hometown: The Corpus Christi Hooks. Now there was another team called the Coastal Bend Aviators that had been playing ball for the past few years just up the road in Robstown. However they were part of an independent league and as such the players were generally minor league castoffs who probably had to pick up a second job to cover their pittance of a baseball paycheck. I specifically recall a relief pitcher quickly burning through a cigarette, cursing like a sailor at his lingering aches in his body, before picking up his glove to warm up in the pen. The Hooks on the other hand, were the real deal. A AA affiliate of the Astros, these players were not on the down slope, but were rather young, fresh, and up-and-coming. The marketing touted that future Astros would pass through Corpus and sure enough later that year on September 14, Charlton Jimerson would become the first Hooks player to make his Astros debut. He recorded no plate appearances and no put outs coming in as a defensive replacement in his only Major League game of the 2005 season (my favorite piece of obscure Hooks trivia). In those days the Astros farm system was not the embarrassment of riches like it is now. Of the players on the 2005 roster that actually reached the Major Leagues, only a few of them would play any significant time on a big league team, and most of that time was spent yo-yoing back between the majors and AAA. Players like Fernando Nieve, Josh Anderson, and Brooks Conrad were all brief footnotes during the fallow period of the Astros’ farm system, faded away from the memory of even the most diehard fan. Though to my 10 year old self who knew next to nothing about prospect lists or player evaluation, they were a tangible connection to my favorite big league team playing in my own hometown. Even the small chance of them making an MLB roster made them larger than life in my eyes.
My memories of the inaugural season at Whataburger Field were not so much episodes, as sensations I felt over the course of the summer. The stadium was gorgeous. Built alongside and adopting the look of the rusted warehouses of the Port of Corpus Christi, the ballpark managed to have a weird industrial beauty to it. (I suppose the same could be said for a lot of Corpus Christi.) The Harbor Bridge loomed beyond center field, shaped like Napoleon's hat. Ships would pass under it and into the port itself beyond left field, their massive hulls towering over the sheet metal concession stands. Tickets were incredibly affordable for my budget-minded family. $5 for a berm ticket, and on dollar hotdog and soda day, my mom could feed me and my brother dinner for only a few bucks more. I remember how I would run up and down the right center berm hill trying to mimic the speed of then-Astros center fielder Willy Taveras. Whenever the Hooks score I would do a high-leg kick dance in celebration (much to the embarrassment of my younger brother). When the other team scored I’d roll down in the grass in despair. The nights were warm and cozy, not stuffy and unbearably humid like the afternoons. Whenever we went to the ballpark, my mom and I would forget the problems and stress life had tossed upon us, if only for a few hours. We bonded, yes, but my mind often wandered as I lost myself in the hum of fan chatter, the crisp crack of lumber making contact, the scent of the berm grass and the bright lights that bathed the field. It was baseball Nirvana.
The Hooks finished the season with a thoroughly mediocre 64-76 record, though that didn’t stop the buzz surrounding the team. Unlike previous Corpus Christi baseball clubs, the Hooks, were here to stay. The next year would bring Hunter Pence, Ben Zobrist, Matt Albers and a Texas League championship. I returned to school rejuvenated by my summer baseball therapy. I joined the school’s UIL Academic team and managed to win 1st place in the History competition at my first ever meet, beating out kids that were a full year older than me. I began to come to terms with my parents’ divorce, my self-esteem issues and the "new norm" of my life. Still without cable TV, me and my mom listened intently to the sweet sound of Milo’s play-by-play on the radio. After being declared dead by the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Astros surged back, seemingly mirroring my own personal 2005 experience, clinching a wild card spot on the final day of the season.
Although I probably don’t need to recount the events of the 2005 postseason to most of you, that October was a perfect capstone to a season and a year filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There was the instant release of 18 innings of tension when Chris Burke lined the series walk-off homerun into the Crawford Boxes against the Braves. There was the grudging awe when Albert Pujols’ launched the go-ahead 3-run shot against Brad Lidge in game 5 of the NLCS and the exhilaration when the Astros finally slew the Cardinals in the next game to clinch their first league pennant. Then there was the sense of deflation when dreams of a ticker tape World Series parade through the streets of downtown Houston were trampled upon by Ozzie Guillen’s dreaded Chicago White Sox in 4 games.
It was a bitter and disappointing end to an otherwise triumphant season. But through that I learned that one shouldn't dwell too much on the lows and bitterness that life gives them, but instead relish the brief flashes of sweetness and joy. Whenever life seems to kick me around and I just want to throw my hands up in frustration, I try to return back to Whataburger Field, back to my baseball Nirvana. I lean back in my seat, soak up the ambient sounds of fan chatter, the tenor voice of the PA announcer, and the smooth poetry of a perfectly executed double play and think to myself, "Damn, this is a beautiful game."
So those was my rambling reminiscences of the formative and memorable year of 2005. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to share a piece of my life here on this wonderful site. I hope to bring quality and entertaining content to you Crawfish Boxers, Boxettes and Boxcar Children. You can follow more of my ramblings on my Twitter account: @BreedloveTCB. In the meantime, LET’S GO ‘STROS!