I sometimes wonder why anyone from some place else would choose to move to Houston, Texas. My father-in-law came to my hometown accidentally. He and a buddy were supposed to meet up at “U of H.” He forget to ask what the “H” stood for and a search of universities led him to believe that he needed to enroll at the University of Houston. After he had traveled here he went looking for his friend only to eventually find out at his pal was at the University of Hawaii. Things worked out well for him when he met my mother-in-law in the Cougar Den and they fell in love. He’s been here ever since.
My maternal grandfather came over as an immigrant from Austria-Hungary just before the outbreak of World War I. Houston was advertising all over Europe back then in an effort to entice workers who were needed for the growing community. Sometimes the flyers that they posted stretched the truth just a bit with photographs of beautiful mountains in the background that may have caught the interest of those thinking about relocating. Unfortunately they would soon enough learn that Houston was as flat as a pancake, but there were indeed jobs here which was probably more important to my grandfather than lovely landscapes. He too set down permanent roots. Eight of his children would be born in Houston and grow up on the east side of town. None of them ever left other than to fight a war. They purchased homes and raised families and grew old, always feeling great pride in a town that is not always understood by the rest of the world.
I first met Houston, Texas on the day of my birth in November, 1948. Not long after that my parents purchased a brand new home in the southeast part of town. My little world revolved around my town that did not yet have a population of even a million people. As I grew, so did the city and about the time that I was entering my teen years a professional baseball team that would play in the the National League came to town calling themselves the Colt .45s. They played in an outdoor stadium that attracted mosquitoes and tropical heat. None of that deterred those of us who were fans of baseball from buying cheap seats in the outfield for great entertainment on summer evenings. I suppose that it was way back then when I developed my love of the hometown boys of summer. Those were halcyon days that made us believe that we had our own field of dreams.
Eventually a local promoter named Judge Roy Hoffeinz came up with the seemingly ridiculous idea of building an indoor stadium that would keep us cool on even the hottest days with air conditioning and cushy seats. In the meantime as with most things related to guns the name of the team became controversial to some and in the end a compromise was made to change the name of the team to the Houston Astros. It seemed an apt title given that Houston was the center of the space exploration universe at about that time, and we had grown and grown as a city.
At first the big domed stadium that Hoffeinz built appeared to have been a boondoggle because the grass would not grow in the insulated environment. Not to be discouraged by a little problem, efforts were made to create an artificial turf that would become known as Astroturf. It worked and yet again Houston rose above it’s doubters, a trend that seems to be part of the city’s DNA.
Another major hiccup occurred when the glare of the sun on the roof made it almost impossible for the players to catch fly balls. They would look up and be blinded, a situation that was untenable in baseball. The laughing began anew but would not last for long as creative minds engineered ideas that eventually solved the problem. The Astrodome became known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but the team itself was not quite as lauded. Still we loved our Houston Astros and attending a game was always a great treat. We watched the uniforms and the roster change as the owners and managers did their best to bring the city a winning season. We got close now and again, but much like the city itself there always seemed to be a bump in the road that brought us back to the reality that nobody in the world loved Houston and our Astros as much as those of us who lived here did.
I grew older and Houston grew bigger, while the Astrodome became a shadow of its former glorious self. We needed a new stadium to reflect the grandeur of our city and so we built a park on the site of the old train station where so many had first encountered Houston in their quest for a better life. Somehow it seemed a fitting place, especially to me because in the long ago my grandfather had lived in a rented room not far from where the stadium now stands. The team itself would flux and flow, sometimes seeming to be in reach of glory and at other times playing to near empty crowds while losing more games than any other team. Nonetheless there were those who kept the faith even in the leanest of times. It’s what we tend to do in Houston, a city built on impossibilities that somehow always became possible. After all, who would have thought that an inland city would one day boast one of the busiest ports in the country?
My mother led our clan in cheering the Astros through one season after another. She eventually became too old and weary to navigate the ramps and stairs at the ballpark but she never missed a game on the radio. Lying in the dark she let her imagination take her out to the ballgame. and her love for the Astros remained loyal and unabated. She knew every player’s name and stats. She offered armchair advice, and she taught us to be as true to our team as she was, something that was not always easy as we watched our shining moments come and go.
The colors of the uniforms changed as often as the roster of players. We went to the American League and had to become accustomed to a whole new group of opponents. We sometimes sat in the magnificent park with so my empty seats that I wondered how the owners were going to be able to pay to keep the lights operating. History plodded onward and we remembered our favorite players of old like Jose Cruz, Nolan Ryan and those wonderful “Killer Bs” who took us all the way to the World Series only to go down in flames in four games. Still, nothing could deter us from loving our Astros.
This season our beloved team showed sparks of brilliance again and again. We dared not hope that maybe, just maybe this would be Houston’s year as they took one victory after another. By August it was clear that they had a shot at history, but then a hurricane came to town leaving many of our citizens devastated by floodwaters. For a moment our attention was diverted from baseball and concentrated on saving and helping our neighbors. We wondered how we would ever move beyond the destruction and what would become of our city. We were as low as we have ever collectively been, but in the spirit of who we are we came together just as we always do. We demonstrated to the world what Houston is about. It became clear as we saw everyone pitching in to help why we truly want to live here.
Once we had gone back to school and work and the tasks of solving the problems made apparent by the storms, we looked up and noticed that the Astros were still on a trajectory to success. We watched as they moved forward and became the living symbol of all of our own hopes and dreams and beliefs about our town and its people. They drew us together just as the floods had done, only this time we felt happy. We loved them even more deeply for giving us this wonderful gift at the very time when we most needed it. Our city became intoxicated with Astros fever. We knew that we had all earned this moment in time. It somehow seemed inevitable that our team would win it all, and of course they did.
I’ve thought all the way back to those early days when everyone thought that the very idea of Houston was ridiculous. Nobody ever imagined that it would become the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country. Nobody believed that the baseball team in the crazy rainbow uniforms would ever amount to much. Nobody thought that we would be able to recover from the utter devastation that befell us only weeks ago. Most of the experts thought that once the Astros met with a team of the Dodgers’ caliber they would fold. Those of us who love Houston believed and believed and believed again and again and this time our team understood what they had to do. They won the World Series stunning those who just don’t understand how we Houstonians are. For those of us who live here, there was no mystery at all. Houston just might be the greatest place to live on planet earth and it has nothing to do with beauty or lack of problems and everything to do with its people. Thank you Astros for demonstrating the spirit of this grand city. We will never forget how wonderful you made us feel.