I Shed A Tear When The Houston Astros Won, And I’m Proud!
The Houston Astros are heading to the World Series, and I'm man enough to say I had a tear or two roll down my face because of it.
The Astros defeated the New York Yankees, 4-0, in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night, to qualify for their second World Series in franchise history.
I'm happy, because I'm a fan, but it goes so much deeper than that.
Understand, that I wouldn't be who I am today; working where I am today; having the friends I have today, without the Houston Astros.
Think I'm exaggerating?
Allow me to explain.
I became a fan of the Astros in 1972, when I walked into my grandmother's kitchen, located in a house on Mudd Avenue, and inquisitively asked: "Hey Maw Maw; what cha doin'?"
Little did I know how that one question was going to help define my life, and the man I would become.
"Maw Maw" was Norma Lea Vaught, who was Norma Lea Laque, when she was married at one time to my grandfather, Henry Elwood Lawson Laque.
Her last name was listed as Vaught most of her life, but she wasn't born into a Vaught family.
My grandmother; my Maw Maw, wasn't wanted by her biological parents when she was born back in 1905, so she was left on the doorstep of a house.
Luckily, a loving Vaught family took her in, and raised her, as if she were their own.
Maw Maw became a nurse, and a well-respected one. Her picture was on an old New Orleans hospital, before Hurricane Katrina damaged it back in 2005.
While a nurse, she met my grandfather, who she later married.
Unfortunately, their marriage came to an end, and ended in divorce, before she retired, prior to my first memories of her, circa 1972.
She loved the radio...LOVED THE RADIO!
Maw Maw listened to anything and everything on the radio, from the Grand Ole Opry, to music, to sporting events.
And that's what she was doing when I asked that question; "Hey Maw Maw; what cha doin'?"...listening to a sporting event.
She was listening to the Houston Astros, ironically enough on the band that I still do most of my work for, AM 1420, which at the time, and even now, has the same call letters, KPEL-AM.
Maw Maw listened to every Astros' game, and had done so since the club's inception as the Houston Colt 45's back in 1962.
I wanted to do what Maw Maw was doing, so I sat down and listened to the game with her.
Astros' third baseman Doug Rader was the first hitter at the plate.
Maw Maw told me his nickname was the Red Rooster.
To a 5-year old, that was great stuff, so Rader instantly became my favorite player.
The Astros lost that day, falling to the Chicago Cubs (probably another reason I hate the Cubs to this day), 6-4.
I was sad, but Maw Maw said; "Don't worry, they'll win tomorrow!"
Tomorrow? Wait, they play again tomorrow?
Maw Maw explained to me that baseball played a lot of games in the season, and that you couldn't get too high or too low after just one game.
Still, I had just found this game called baseball, and I had just discovered the Astros, so I wanted to win.
Well, that didn't happen the next night, as the Astros lost to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Man, at that point, I just wanted them to win one game!
It happened the next night, as the Astros defeated the Cardinals, and I was officially hooked on winning, on the Astros, and on the game of baseball.
As the games went along, I came to understand that the bases being loaded was when the hitting team had a base runner on every base, and didn't just happen arbitrarily throughout the course of a game, and also came to understand that the term "twin killing" was a double play, and not some insane serial killer murdering a set of twins.
I learned the game, both from Maw Maw, and from listening to the games, and I wanted to play the game, both outside, with my friends, and inside.
Yes, inside! Just because it got dark, didn't mean you couldn't play baseball anymore. Unless, of course, you were the Chicago Cubs (okay, second shot at the Little Cubs, so I'll stop).
I had a Nerf ball that I would throw up in the air and hit with my hand, that satisfied me, somewhat.
Still, the Nerf ball could still be hit too hard, so I changed to a balloon, which allowed me to not only be the batter, but the fielder as well, as the balloon would slow down in speed, immediately after contact with my hand.
People always wanted to know, how at the age of 6 did I know the starting line-up for every Major League Baseball team; well, it helped that I was playing my own little made up games with those players, making it easy for me to remember all the names.
I was pretty good outside, all modesty to the side. I wasn't great, but I was pretty good. I played on a number of All-Star teams, and developed enough of a skill-set to later play high level adult slow pitch softball, where I was successful enough to have the amazingly high honor of being selected for entry into the Louisiana USSSA Hall of Fame in 2018.
Without the Astros, and that one question; "Hey Maw Maw; what cha doin'?", I doubt I would have developed the long lasting friendships with ex-teammates that I have, and may not be anticipating that incredibly humbling honor that I mentioned.
Funny thing though; I knew at an early age that I probably wasn't going to have the talent to play in Major League Baseball. So, I grew up wanting to become the guy that called the action, the play-by-play announcer.
I wanted to become longtime Astros' broadcaster Gene Elston, who is a Ford C. Frick Hall of Fame inductee.
I wanted to become the guy letting Maw Maw and her grandson know what was going on.
To this day, when I do a UL athletic event, I think of my Maw Maw.
Without the Astros, and that one question; "Hey Maw Maw; what cha doin'?", I doubt would have had the honor and privilege to broadcast Ragin' Cajun sports for 18 years.
And since Maw Maw loved the radio, and the Astros were on the radio, I loved radio too. So, without the Astros, and the question; "Hey Maw Maw; what cha doin'?", I doubt would have a 28-year radio career that has provided me with so many wonderful memories and experiences, and surrounded me, to this day, with the best group of co-workers that anyone could ask for, my friends, colleagues, and co-workers at Town Square Media.
As I mentioned earlier, Maw Maw lived on Mudd Ave., which is real close to Clark Field, where the UL (then USL) baseball team played their home games. Because of that, we attended a number of games together.
Me and Maw Maw were Ragin' Cajun baseball fans before being Ragin' Cajun baseball fans was cool.
Without the Astros, and that one question; "Hey Maw Maw; what cha doin'?", I doubt I would have become the big Cajun baseball fan, and athletic supporter, that I did.
The Astros had some ups and downs throughout the 70's with no playoff appearances to speak of, but every year, we both said; "This is the year the Astros are going to the World Series."
Trust me, from 1972-1977, I would have put my Maw Maw's baseball knowledge up against anyone. She knew everything, because she loved the Astros, and loved the game.
She wasn't a football or basketball fan, and I asked her why, to which she replied; "They don't play enough games on the radio, and the games aren't suited for radio."
In 1978 something changed.
That year, my grandfather passed away. Now, they were long since divorced, but my Maw Maw was still hit hard by his death. They had four kids together, including my mom, after all.
Even more traumatic, my sister, Rhonda, passed away in a car accident, at the age of 21.
Maw Maw was very close to Rhonda, so her tragic death affected her a lot.
I understood, even at age 11, that dealing with death could change someone. It even changed me, as I couldn't understand why God had taken away my sister. But I just remember thinking, even at that young age, that there was something more going on.
My Maw Maw was fine some days, but just not quite right on others.
What we would know now, that we didn't know back then, was that my Maw Maw had early stages of Alzheimer's Disease.
It's funny how life goes; the Astros got off to an incredible start in 1979, holding a 10-and-a-half game lead in the National League West standings, before finishing second to the Cincinnati Reds by a mere game-and-a-half.
It was extremely disappointing, because me and Maw Maw thought 1979 was going to be the year.
Still, the Astros signed Nolan Ryan to a million dollar free agent deal, the richest in baseball history at the time, along with another free agent acquisition, Joe Morgan, and became the odds on favorites to win the NL West.
"This is the year the Astros go to the World Series!"; said me and Maw Maw.
Fast forward to early October, with the Astros holding a three-game lead, with three games to play, only one win of clinching their first-ever division title.
So, guess who they played in the final series? Yep, the Dodgers.
I left Skater's Playground on Moss St. that night at 8:30 pm, despite having a pretty successful spotlight dance with a young lady named Amy. Hey! I had to get home to watch the Astros clinch with Maw Maw!
The Astros took a 2-1 lead going into the bottom half of the 9th inning.
Could this be it?!?!?
The Astros are only 3 outs away!
Well, it wasn't meant to be, as the Dodgers tied the game, with an unearned run in in the bottom half of the 9th, before Joe Ferguson, an ex-Astro, smacked a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th, to give the Dodgers the win, ending any celebrations Astros fans may have had.
No problem, right? There were still two games, and the Astros only needed one win.
Wrong. Big problem, as the Dodgers won the final two games, tying the Astros for the regular season division crown, and forcing a one-game playoff for the division title on a Monday.
On that Monday however, we were the happiest as baseball fans as we've ever been, as the Astros defeated the Dodgers, 7-1, to clinch their first-ever division title, and head to their first-ever playoff appearance.
Maw Maw wasn't nearly as sharp, mentally, the effects of the disease becoming evident, but she was still good enough to grasp the moment. And what a moment it was! A division title, and three wins away from the World Series!
The Astros lost the first game of the best-of-5 series to the Philadelphia Phillies, before winning the next two, and then leading, 2-0, in the 8th inning of game 4.
Six outs away from an elusive World Series appearance however, the Astros lost in extra innings, forcing a fifth and decisive game.
Again, things looked good, with the Astros holding a 5-2 lead in the 8th inning at the Astrodome.
But again, only 6 outs away from the World Series, the Astros couldn't close the door, as the Phillies won in extra innings, and ended the season for the Astros in heartbreaking fashion.
I was disappointed with the loss, no doubt. But looking back, I think I knew, even at age 13, that Maw Maw wasn't going to get better. The best chance that I had of watching the Astros in the World Series had just slipped through my fingertips.
I was right too, unfortunately.
There was a baseball strike in 1981, which created two half-season champions. The Dodgers won the first half, while the Astros won the second half, so they met in the playoffs, with the Dodgers sickeningly coming back from an 0-2 deficit to win that series.
Another heartbreaking loss for Astros fans.
Even more heartbreaking, to me, was that Maw Maw continued to deteriorate, to the point that the family had to place her in a nursing home.
She remained there until 1982, when she passed away, at the age of 77.
Sadly, I would never live out my dream of watching the Astros in the World Series with Maw Maw.
The Astros didn't return to the playoffs until 1986, when they lost another heartbreaking series to the New York Mets.
In that series, the Astros held a 3-0 lead in the 9th inning of game six, with Cy Young Award winner Mike Scott scheduled for game seven.
It looked good, but wasn't meant to be, as the Stupid Mets (yeah, I said it Scott and Greg!) went on to win not only that series, but the World Series as well.
Maw Maw was gone, and my life was moving on, as I graduated high school and college, and went about starting the adult portion of my life. But I still wanted to win a World Series. Now, more than ever.
As the years went by, the Astros had other chances, like 1997-1999, where they won three-consecutive division titles, but failed to move on to the World Series, and 2004, where they lost in game seven of the NLCS to the Cardinals, despite holding a 3-2 lead after 5 games.
In 2005, the Astros finally broke through, and qualified for their first World Series, defeating the Cardinals, 4 games to 2.
I was emotional after that win, but not as emotional as I was on Saturday night.
Why? I'm not sure. I'm really not.
The best I can figure is that the Astros never trailed in that 2005 series, and I was convinced they'd win.
Even after Albert Pujols hit his a legendary home run off of Brad Lidge in the 9th inning of game five, with the Astros only 3 outs away, and everybody saying the Astros couldn't get over that, I was convinced they'd win, with Roy Oswalt on the mound in game six.
Oswalt was superb, and the Astros beat the Cardinals, sending them to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
The Astros got swept in the 2005 World Series, losing four-straight to the Chicago White Sox, but at least they got there.
What was different this year was that the Astros were facing elimination, in a game seven, with no margin for error.
If they lost, it would just be another heartbreaking loss, in a long history of them. A complete dagger that I wasn't ready to take.
I lost my brother to cancer in 2007. Now, he was a Cardinals fan, but he understood what winning a World Series would mean to me.
So, now, especially with my mom getting elderly, I have to rely on my wife, Melissa.
I think she kind of gets it, but not really.
What she doesn't get it that my life has changed, for the better, because of her. My priorities have changes, more towards her, and less to the Astros, but I always have been, and always will be, a big Astros fan. And credit to her for allowing me to be.
I'm not the "I can't miss a single pitch" fan anymore. Again, priorities change, and life just doesn't allow you to do that, but I'll die an Astros fan, simply because the impact they, and sports have had in my life.
Saturday night, I went out to dinner with my wife and daughter, and followed that by listening to music.
I was paying attention to the game, but I needed something else on my mind as well.
I just couldn't take the pain of another heartbreaking defeat, a game seven loss.
I was so coy about my interest in the game that my wife asked shortly after 7 o'clock; "What time does the game start?" Well, it had begun an hour earlier.
I don't think my wife will ever truly get how much she means to me, just by me watching that game in that different of a way. In my mind, nothing can say "I love you" more.
I just needed to be by the woman I loved, and block out the rest of the world, for fear of losing.
I tried not to get too excited. After all, I had been down that road plenty of times before.
I wasn't counting my chickens, and wasn't relieved until the final out, after which point I walked back into the living room, and hugged my wife with tears in my eyes.
I was thinking of my childhood, and my Maw Maw, along with all the things that the Astros brought to me in my life.
Call it sappiness, or silliness, or whatever you want, but I'm convinced that without the Astros, and that question;"Hey Maw Maw; what cha doin'?"...I wouldn't have become a baseball fan, or a radio personality, and wouldn't have the wonderful friends and family I have now, including a beautiful wife and a daughter that I would give my life for.
Without exaggeration, being an Astros fan has helped make me the man I am today.
So am I man enough to say that I shed a tear on Saturday night? You betcha!
I only hope that you have something in you life that can generate such a reaction.
Despite what others say, it is more than just a game.
"Hey Maw Maw; what cha doin'?" may have been the best question I've ever asked anybody in my life!
Love you Maw Maw!
Don't worry, we're gonna win one, yet!