The Season

I have grown up with a father who cherishes baseball. Some kids were told bedtime stories like “Goldilocks” or “Three Little Pigs” but I was cradled while being regaled with stories of him hanging around Yankees spring training in Florida, of Mickey Mantle’s heroic feats, and of Earl Weaver’s passionate belief in The Three-Run Homer.

Some kids grew up quoting chapter and verse while I grew up citing batting averages and RBIs. As popular as “The Goonies” and “Star Wars” were in my house, “Bad News Bears”, “Major League”, “Bull Durham”, and of course “Field of Dreams” were constants.

Music? Terry Cashman’s “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke (Talkin’ Baseball)” was heard as often as the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

His decorated broadcast career included several years as the “Spanish voice of the Houston Astros” so the Astrodome became somewhat of a second home. I marveled at that incredible scoreboard and was shocked when it was torn down in favor of more seats. My childhood was shaped by watching Jose Cruz, Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Jeff Bagwell, Billy Doran, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Brad Ausmus and so many others. When watching at home, the TV volume was always down so I could listen to dad or to Milo call the game on the radio.

Every year we looked forward to spring training. Dad took me to several and those were among my most favorite family outings and come the regular season, I rooted along whether my beloved Astros won or lost.

When the team announced they were moving out of the Astrodome I was shocked but understood. By that time I had come to loathe Astroturf and looked forward to our boys playing on real grass…like God, Nature, and Sparky Anderson intended!

I still vividly remember listening to the radio when the team finally announced Minute Maid’s field dimensions. I scratched out a quick diagram and could not, for the life of me, figure out how it was going to work. 315 to left, 404 to left-center, right-center 376, right 326 and what? A flag pole sitting in centerfield…on top of a hill?! Is that even legal?!

I immediately picked up the phone and called my best friend David to ask if he was listening to the radio and we just couldn’t make sense of any of it.

All these years later it is still the most beautiful and dumbfounding stadium I’ve ever seen. The team seemed to enjoy the move too. We had fantastic lineups throughout the 90s and 2000s that included guys like Roy Oswalt, Billy Wagner, Moises Alou, Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte, Daryl Kyle, Mike Hampton, and Roger Clemens. They came close to winning the series in 2005; I even had tickets…..to game 5. Ha.

Which brings me to this season…this incredible, magical, transcendent season.

Young Master Oliver in his favorite seat in the house as we make our way inside Minute Maid for one of the many games we enjoyed This Season.

There has never been a question about what my son Oliver and I would be doing at game time. I come home from work and we play a bit, bath, dinner, and then time to cuddle in front of the TV to watch the game.

Every night I would hold him and tell him stories of the great Ken Caminiti and his superhuman plays at third base. I’d run down Jose Altuve’s batting stats. He was told tales of Lunhow’s master plan and how it was all coming together. I’d do my best impression of dad and provide play-by-play for Oliver as he drifted off to sleep. On off days we watched “Major League” and “Field of Dreams”.

 

Then Harvey happened.

My parents’ home, just a few blocks from mine, was completely flooded and while I am so very happy and grateful to be living under the same roof again, this isn’t how I hoped it would happen.

FEMA claims, inspectors, disaster relief…all these things came to be regular themes in our lives but so too were evenings spent watching the Astros.

Now my son AND my dad were sitting with me watching the ballgame…I am indeed a fortunate son.

While everything else was swirling around my family, the Astros were the constant. The Astros provided a calm, joyous diversion that connected three generations together. My dad was once again spinning yarns about baseball of days gone by, when girls were girls and men were men…when starters never came out of the game and how we could indeed use a man like Joe DiMaggio again. I have so thoroughly enjoyed watching Oliver with this little pillow running to the sofa only to stop realizing he had to make a choice: cuddle with his dad or with his grandfather. It was adorable…even when I lost out. Sitting there in front of the TV with my son and my dad, the games took on an otherworldly and poetic nature.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

I have a great pal, Jon, who has never really cared about baseball…or sports in general. As the Astros moved into the playoffs he surprisingly found himself wrestling with his rabbit ears and scouring the web for game streams. He would send rapid fire texts throughout each game asking why Hinch yanked a pitcher or telling me how stressed out he was watching each pitch.

He asked questions about rules, about why the catcher keeps walking up to the mound, about why runners are safe or out in any given situation. The exchanges remind me of all the questions I ask him about computer coding, hardware, or things like gun laws and mechanics. Through the season he and I exchanged knowledge in a way I think is perhaps becoming a bit too rare. Our thoughtful explanations and respect of what each of us knows, and more importantly of what each of us doesn’t know, was a real joy. We are better for it…and I think I turned him into a baseball fan!

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

Just as important, over the course of this season I was brought together with friends I had not seen in years. I literally reunited with my dear friend Chris at the ballpark…where David and I happened to be sitting enjoying a game. Of all the seasons, of all the games, of all the seats, we happened to be just one section over and Chris happened to spot us. Beginning that evening, Chris and I have chatted almost daily…about baseball, about our families, movies, music, our past together, and everything in between. There are no words for how grateful I am to have him as a friend again.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

Throughout the season David and I spent hours breaking down the team, strategies, Hinch’s pitching decisions, and almost every discussion ended with “In Lunhow We Trust.”

My dear friend David and his beautiful wife Tina getting to know Young Master Oliver…where else but at the ballgame.

 

Of course all our exuberance and hope was tempered by the unspeakably tragic and inescapable fact that his brother, one of the dearest people I’ve ever known, was fighting an inexhaustible battle with a cancer diagnosis whose prognosis was far less optimistic than our beloved Astros’ season. Each moment we spent rooting for our team, so too were we rooting for Kevin. A passionately Astros fan, all of this became so much bigger than just nine guys playing ball. Somehow how our team allowed us brief moments of escape from this cruel reality but also did it provide a means of facing it. As bittersweet as the team’s amazing success is for us, I’m not sure any of us could have managed the grief without our team.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

During the season I was also brought face-to-face with someone else I’d not seen in many years: Dave and Kevin’s cousin, Jennifer.

We met in 2nd grade and from that point until our early 20s she was a fixture in my life. I have no memories of my school years that don’t include her in some capacity. She was actually the one who introduced me to David and to Kevin and Chris and so many others that have meant so much to me and have made such unmistakable imprints on my life, my universe, and everything.

After about 15 years of not seeing one another, what did we talk about? Baseball. The Astros. This Season.

Conversations with someone I never thought I’d see again came as naturally and as easily as if we had never lost touch. So in some ways, while everything around us has changed, perhaps nothing has changed at all.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

There were a lot of tears shed last night by a lot of people. I know that when the last out was registered a lot of us held our brother, cousin, son, husband, father, friend Kevin very deeply within our hearts and souls.

I also know that I will always hold, very deep in my heart and soul, that I spent last night with my dear and precious son in my arms and my hero to my right as we watched our team win a world series.

My dad, my son, my friends…we all shared something this season and especially last night. We all received something special from this team: comfort, closeness, escape, inspiration, and joy. And yes, I think we’re stronger for it.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

Be Well and Kind…and Thank You Astros!

Jason

 

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