So Houstonians are feeling rather good today. Our Astros have overcome the jeers and hateful comments to become the American League champions headed to the World Series. There is great joy in H Town, Clutch City, Space City or whatever you wish to call the place where I was born. There’s even more in my heart because I happen to know that there was never a more faithful and loyal Astros fan than my mother.
Mama was never much of a sports fan for any team other than the Texas A&M University Aggies when I was a child. She’d listen to all of their football games on the radio with my father and his Aggie buddies. She’d tell stories of watching the team practice for games and then running to the train station to meet them after away games. She knew all the cheers and school songs and engrained them into our little minds even long after my father had died. I can still see her humped over singing the spirit of Aggieland or the Aggie War Hymn.
In the midst of Mama’s dedication to Texas A&M along came the Houston Astros. (Of course the real story is that they began as the Colt 45s and she was already hooked on them before the big name change.) Back then the Houston boys of summer played in the Astrodome and Mama had a friend with connections who invited to many of the games. Mostly though my mother listened to the play by play of the competitions on the radio or watched them when they occasionally appeared on television. She literally planned her life around those games, never failing to tune in to a single one year after year after year from the nineteen sixties to two thousand eleven when she left this earth.
Mama collected baseball cards and knew all of the statistics of the Astros players. She would lie in her bedroom listening to Mylo Hamilton describe each play, shouting with joy over each hit, home run, or perfect pitch. Of course she wanted the Astros to win but her loyalty to the team did not depend on success. She stuck with them even in the times when they had a hundred losses and they looked more like a little league team than a group of professionals.
My mom puffed out with pride when her youngest grandson Ryan was named after one of her favorite players, Nolan Ryan. It almost seemed as though Ryan was born with orange blood in his veins and he and mama shared a special kinship over their love of the Astros. The two of them would talk baseball shop in a way that none of the rest of family mastered.
My mother rarely saw an Astros game in person. Her budget never quite stretched far enough to purchase the tickets which slowly became more and more expensive. Now and again members of the family would an extra ticket and invite her along. The last time she was at the stadium in person she had a difficult time walking the long distance to her seat so we all knew that she would probably never be able attend a game with the joy and roar of the crowd ever again.
It did not really matter to Mama that she was stuck at home listening to the games unfold. In fact she enjoyed her favorite past time. She had grown up listening to the radio in the thirties and forties. She knew how to imagine the sights of the ballpark inside her mind. When she came to live with me in the last year and a half of her life she would often retire to her room upstairs, lie on the bed and listen to the games. We would hear her shouting with joy over a home run or a really good play.
She never invited us to join her. I think that listening to the Astros was her special thing, something that she loved to do more than anything else. She did not want to be distracted. This was serious business even as it was so much fun for her. It delighted me to know that she was finding so much joy from the simple pleasure of following the Astros season after season.
eMy mother died from lung cancer in June of 2011. One of my brothers and I rushed her the the St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room one evening when she appeared to be having trouble breathing and staying awake. Her oxygen level was extremely low and she was on the verge of dying. We agreed to placed her on a ventilator long enough to determine what might be done to save her as well as to give members of the family time to come see her for what might be the last time.
rWe had gathered around Mama in the ICU when Ryan arrived. Somehow his entrance jogged her memory and she realized that the Astros were playing a game on television that day. She could not talk with the ventilator, but she was using her own version of sign language to communicate with us. She pretended to pitch a baseball and then pointed to the t.v. in the room. Ryan instantly understood and turned on the game. Her eyes smiled as she and Ryan watched the action for what would be her final game. She died only a few hours later.
My mother would be so excited on the ultimate success of the Astros. She might have been disappointed when they were accused of cheating, but they were always her boys and like any mother she would have loved them in spite of their transgressions. She would have been happy that they got a wonderful manager like Dusty Baker and that they were willing work their way back to the top again. I’d like to think that she was watching them play from heaven last Friday when they won the American League Championship and maybe even cheering along with Mylo Hamilton. The Astros and the rest of Houston may not know it, but with a doubt as Astros fans go she was the Greatest of All Time. Holy Toledo, they need to have her name in the fan Hall of fame.