The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
First of all, stop laughing. I'm serious. Stop laughing. I write this knowing that the Houston Astros are the reigning worst team in baseball and that it really isn't close — the Astros had the worst record in baseball by seven games in 2011.
Perhaps you don't remember, but the Astros were a part of the Best Night in Baseball History, facing the Cardinals on the last day of the season as the Braves and Phillies squared off. Brett Myers allowed hits to seven of the first eight batters he faced, the Cardinals were up 5-0 by the time the Astros came up to bat. And as if they hadn't embarrassed themselves enough, Myers decided that his outing was going so swimmingly, he'd turn himself around at the plate in the third inning ...
Wait. What am I writing about? Oh yes, the best things about being an Astros fan. I've read all the other posts in the 10 best things series, and y'all are mean. So I walk into this knowing full well that I'm going to get eviscerated. I just hope that you feel good about yourselves when you do it.
1. There was a long period of time when the Astros were one of the best teams in baseball: From 1996-2005 the Astros won 882 games (the fifth-highest total in baseball), finished first or second in the NL Central nine out of 10 seasons, and made six trips to the postseason (stupid Kevin Brown and the stupid Braves). Then Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte decided that playing in Houston was better than playing in the Bronx, and everyone in the city went absolutely insane. Thanks to Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Brad Lidge, Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent, the Astros won their first playoff series in which Chris Burke gets a free pass from me for the rest of his life, and played a dramatic NLCS against the Cardinals (stupid Jim Edmonds) in 2004. The team weathered the most devastating moment in team history (Thanks to Brad Lidge, I had to call in sick to work the next day. And I wasn't faking my illness) in 2005 to allegedly play in the World Series for the first, and only, time. And that's where my institutional memory shall cease.
2. Summer 2013: It's still going to feel pretty good to get a life-long Astro in the Hall of Fame — maybe even two — next year. Surely not even Jeff Jacobs can deny that Craig Biggio is a Hall of Famer: 3,060 hits, 668 doubles, four straight Gold Gloves (if that sort of thing means something to you). And if Jeff Bagwell can get a decent jump, provided that the BBWAA doesn't have a massive, self-righteous coronary, then the two greatest players in franchise history will be enshrined in Cooperstown in 2013. Even if Bagwell doesn't get in because he was strong, Biggio should — and would be wearing the first Astros cap in the Plaque Gallery. This is a big deal, because when Nolan Ryan went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Rangers cap, it cut us deep.
3. The 1986 NLCS: If you are of a certain age (between 35 and 45), the 1986 NLCS and the promise of a World Series was probably where you fell in love with the Houston Astros. I was 8 months old when the Astros had a 5-2 lead on the Phillies going into the top of the eighth of Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS. Nolan Ryan threw seven innings, but faced four batters in the eighth when Ken Forsch blew the save (he would be traded for Dickie Thon prior to the following season), and Frank LaCorte took the loss in an 8-7 game. But, ah, 1986. You already know about the 1986 NLCS against the Mets: Mike Scott's complete-game shutout in Game 1, the Mets taking Games 2 and 3, Mike Scott throwing another complete game (3H/1ER) in Game 4. A Ryan/Gooden matchup in Game 5 where Nolan Ryan threw nine innings, Gooden threw 10 innings, and the Mets won in the 12th inning. The next night at the Astrodome (Oct. 15), the Astros had a 3-0 lead with Bob Knepper coming back out for the ninth and promptly allowing a triple to Lenny Dykstra, a single to Mookie Wilson, a groundout to Kevin Mitchell, and a double to Keith Hernandez. Dave Smith came in with the tying run on second — a walk to Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry, and a sacrifice fly to Ray Knight later meant we were going to extra innings. Trading runs in the 14th inning, the Mets scored three in the top of the 16th, and the Astros got two back in the bottom half of the inning, and Kevin Bass struck out swinging on a 3-2 pitch with Denny Walling on second to end the game, and the last Astros' off-season appearance until 1997. I was 6 years old and living way out in west Texas, and I was hooked. It didn't turn out the way we wanted, but then again it rarely does. Still, that was a great game.
4. The tequila sunrise unis: Oh come on, it was cool to say that the Tequila Sunrise uniforms are the ugliest uniforms in baseball history, but it's OK to admit it now — they were pretty sweet. Even with the number on the thigh, nothing struck fear into an opponent's heart more than seeing J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan and the Patron Saint of Astros County — Dickie Thon — with the ORANGE/RED/ORANGE/RED coming right at you.
5. None of your old stadiums were considered a Wonder of the World: In the '60s and '70s you had Veterans Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Jack Murphy Stadium — stadiums that were functional, but hardly beautiful. The Astrodome, however, was the definition of kitschy-cool. It featured an air-conditioned stadium, which was a big deal in the Houston summer, so powerful that when the Astros improbably won 10 straight games in 1965, opponents accused them of making the "wind" blow in when their opponents were at-bat.
It was a technological wonder in more ways than one. Since it took them a shockingly long time to figure out why the grass wouldn't grow (if you paint the ceiling — surprise! — you get no natural light), they developed the future flooring of my basement —Astroturf.
6. An Astros fan produced perhaps the most exciting on-field play in 2011.
We're a squirrelly bunch.
7. Minute Maid Park is nice — and it's becoming affordable: The light rail runs cheap trains to the ballpark on game days and it's easy to get a seat at a game. New owner Jim Crane cut ticket and concession prices, and made it to where you can actually bring food into the stadium. These may not seem like big deals to you, fans of teams with an owner who has half an ounce of business sense. But they are big deals to us. Also, I like Tal's Hill, the silly flagpoles in play on the inside of the fence off of which Richie Sexson bounced a 500-foot ball for the longest triple in baseball history in July 2003, mainly because everyone else really seems to hate it.
8. The Astros now have an intelligent front office: When Ed Wade was fired by new owner Jim Crane and CEO George Postolos, the Internet was depressed because no one knew who to anoint as the new worst GM in baseball. Gone are the days of giving $15 million-plus to Brandon Lyon, of trading five players for Miguel Tejada the day before he was named in the Mitchell Report, or of deciding that his deal with the Braves for Michael Bourn was so good, he didn't need to listen to better offers.
No, the Astros now have Jeff Luhnow, who has dinner with Bill James, John Thorn and Rob Neyer, and goes to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference during spring training. And then he hires Sig Mejdal from the Cardinals. Laugh all you want about being the Director of Decision Sciences, but the guy does have two engineering degrees and worked at Lockheed Martin and NASA, and has two rings — he has clearly scientifically decided better than you and I. Add Mike Fast to the front office mix and Luhnow has earned the praise and envy of bloggers, while raising all of our collective professional hopes, in a matter of three months.
9. No one will dare say anything to you if you wear an Astros hat (on the streets of Texas, anyway): Yeah, the logo also doubles as a symbol of the Tango Blast, a horrifying Texas street gang "with no rules."
10. The franchise has historically stood up to Bud Selig: This is an independent franchise. If they want to keep the roof closed for Game 3 of the 2005 World Series to make it louder, then by god that's what they'll … wait.
OK, well, if Jim Crane doesn't want to move the Astros to the American League then he'll just…hmm.
If, in their final year of National League play and their 50th season in existence, they want to wear the original Colt .45s jersey — gun and all — then that's just what they're going to …I see.
And if the Astros want to pay a dollar more than what Bud Selig's silly slot recommendations say, then they have no problem opening the checkbook and…huh?
OK, so I may have made a mistake on this last one. So let me just finish by saying mainly it's great to be an Astros fan because, in order to be one, you have to be legit. No one can possibly accuse any of us of frontrunning … for now.
Big League Stew encourages you to join in the fun! Please share these lists with your fellow fans on Facebook, tweet us your suggestions with the #BLS10best hashtag or just use the comment section below to tell us your favorite things about being a fan of the Houston Astros.
Previous "10 Best Things": Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants,Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals