Its Memorial Day and what better way to spend the day than a baseball game. Ok, it is indoors, but come on its Houston and its 90 degrees (F) outside. For my non-American readers, Memorial Day is our day of remembrance for those who died in the service of our country and in defense of democracy. It is a work holiday for those not in the retail, restaurant, or entertainment industry. Don’t bother trying to get your dry cleaning done; those shops are all closed.
Because of the holiday, there were lots of cool extras at the game. Members of the various branches of the service and veterans of various military operations were presented and honored before the game. There was a huge American flag on the field held by servicemen and women and an air force officer who led us in the National Anthem and later in the game, America the Beautiful. The first pitch was thrown out by a 90-year-old veteran of WWII and survivor of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The teams had special uniforms with the words and numbers in a camouflage fabric and camouflage hats.
We were in the Jack in the Box section, but they started handing out coupons at the top and ran out before they got to the first and second rows. I guess they figure if you get to sit that close to the dugout you don’t need the coupon perk. Yes, Natasha got one of the best seats in the house, right behind the home team dugout. We got to see that action up close and the coaches and players coming and going. If you want to be heard, this is the place to sit. You can also vote on the best looking players-our group did not come to a consensus.
I was in the first row, second seat in. (The first seat is not so good since you are directly behind the camera.) I was in the background on the each shot when a left-handed batter came up. Put on your lipstick Natasha; due to the length of the game several applications were needed. It was actually a lot of pressure. I wanted to look involved; couldn’t scratch; and didn’t want to be shoving food down my throat. I am sure several of you saw me. 🙂
Just down the row from us was Astros’ legend, Craig Biggio. He is a really nice guy and now part of the Astros administration (assistant to the GM) and actually a neighbor; he lives two blocks from us and his children went to the same parochial school as Rocky. Most importantly, he is Maggie’s favorite. She was actually wearing a copy of his jersey at the game. I thought she was going to swoon. He got there just before the game started, climbing over the fence. He stayed for about seven innings. He left when I went to the bathroom. Perhaps he thought I was leaving and there was no reason to stay. Later the new Astros President Reid Ryan came and sat in the same row; I actually passed him in the aisle when I went up to the restroom.
Ryan is the eldest son of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. He spent his childhood running around the Astrodome, often serving as a batboy. At the May 17th press conference announcing him as President of Operations, Ryan said that “Today really is a dream come true because you grow up an Astros fan here in Houston. Everybody’s got their hometown team that they had, and the Astros were mine. This is just a very special day.”
It wasn’t all people watching. We actually saw a really good game, tied most of the time. As it progressed, the action seemed to build-although I am not a fan of ending the inning with the bases loaded when we are at bat. I got to see a squeeze play and a walk-off game winning hit. (Dudley, who is a great fan of the game, educated me on the terminology.)
They are going to keep you interested. There are big screen events throughout the game. The camera will zoom in on you and superimpose bongos on the screen for you to “play”. There is the oblivious cam where they search for clueless fans and start a timer until the patron realizes they are on the big screen. Test your skills as the baseball is quickly shifted between cans on the screen and you have to guess where it ends up. There is also a kissing cam; the camera focuses on a couple inviting them to kiss on screen. One cute young couple got picked and he followed it with a proposal with words on the big screen. He even got down on one knee. She was clearly surprised and shook her head yes. I ran into them after the game and they agreed to a picture for the blog.
From 1990-1999, the Astros mascot was Orbit, a large furry green alien whose name and origin pay homage to Houston’s association with NASA and the city’s nickname of Space City. In this, the Astros’
inaugural season in the American League, Orbit has returned bigger than ever. He strutted his stuff on the catwalk (also known as the roof of the Astros dugout), shot tee shirts out of cannon, hung out with players and the soloist, climbed over the same fence as Biggio, and most importantly…wait for it…gave Natasha a high five!!
I had sat in these seats before on Emma’s invitation and I thrill to all its attractions. Obviously, you have an excellent view of the game and the players. You are in the background of the shots on left-handed batters, and you can watch the goings on of the cameraman’s screen from your seat.
But the thrill I had hoped for was to get one of the practice balls. The game balls are tossed by the batboy to Astros PR reps who sell them to fans. (A few fans might also be lucky enough to catch a foul ball or a homerun.) The practice balls are often tossed over the dugout by players or coaches to the adoring fans. They love to toss them to kids. It has been my dream to get ball. This year they are extra special because they are stamped for the American League Inaugural Season. When we arrived at our seats I knew I was sunk. There were kids everywhere. When I went to the bathroom later in the game, Maggie even got a ball. (She is headed to do volunteer work in Rwanda in a week so keep her in your prayers.)
Then late in the game (when the kids had started to clear out) I called again to Coach Clark for a ball. He had to turn his attention to giving signals so I thought my opportunity was lost. Then after the start of the inning, out of the blue (and with no person or hand in sight) Coach Clark rolled a ball to me across the dugout roof. I was thrilled and so surprised I forgot to say thank you. Wow!! It’s all scuffed up and everything. The next inning I was able to catch Clark’s attention and thank him. Dave Clark is the Astros first base coach. He has also served the Astros as the third base coach and interim manager.
I thought it couldn’t get any better. Tied at the end of nine innings, we even got to see extra innings of play. Although people continued to leave as the game drew out, those that stayed-like us-got a real treat. We won in the bottom of the 12th inning with a walk-off game winning hit. The stadium erupted and the remaining fans more than compensated for those that had already left.
After a players’ celebration on the field, a female news reporter pulled Brandon Barnes over to talk about his game winning hit. The rest of the team had other ideas and Barnes got soaked in gatorade as did the front of the female reporter’s white shirt. Rocky got a great picture. (Looking for the best link on Brandon Barnes I noted that his wikipedia entry has already been updated to acknowledge the game-winning hit and that it was the first walk-off hit of the Astros’ season.) It wasn’t over for Barnes. He also got a shaving cream pie in the face. He was a class act. He continued to sign kids’ baseballs while the shaving cream burned.
What an awesome experience. (Many thanks to Janice who does fan/crowd control on our row of seats.) We continued to have fun on the way out. I ran into the newly engaged couple and spotted one fan with these cool R2D2 shoes. Who can just go home after that? We went to the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation to celebrate with dinner and margaritas-nifaritas, strawberry, and sangria soaked. There was a crowd so we had to wait a while to order which meant more time for chips, salsa, and drinks. This fan stuff-particularly when you are on camera :)-is rough.