A Couple of Personal Astro Firsts

Aug. 1, 2011: Jimmy Paredes is 1st Astro to triple in 1st MLB time at bat.

I wasn’t aware of  both these examples at the time, but the Astros game I witnessed Monday night in the company of the amiable Mike McCroskey came about with a couple of personal records for me. I was aware that it marked the first time in my sixty-four years of going to professional baseball games in Houston that I’d ever walked away with an authentic game-used ball, but I had no idea that the second inning two RBI extra base hit  to right center by young Jimmy Paredes had registered as the first time in history that an Astro had tripled in his first time at bat in the big leagues. That was quite an accomplishment for Paredes, especially in view of the fact that his two driven-in runs from the blow eventually proved to be the deciding score differential in a 4-3 Houston win over the Cincinnati Reds. The alleged 22,000 of us that showed up were thus privileged to witness a small club record night in the history of the Houston Astros. That’s a;ways a pretty cool deal.

Triples are the toughest, most exciting hit in baseball, short of an inside the park home run, and I’ve never seen one of those away from the sandlot, but you would think that some Astros rookie would have done it before now. After all, the club has had 49 years to produce its first triple hitter on the first try, but no, it didn’t happen. It didn’t happens until Jimmy Paredes came along and punched it out on his first time up in the leagues on August 1, 2011 – and I was one of the lucky fans who got to see it. In spite of the fact that we now continue to spiral on the way to our first 100-loss season in history, you still never know when something good is going to happen when you go to the ballpark.

I’m proud of that picture at the start of this feature, It shows Jimmy Paredes, getting ready to slam the next pitch he sees from Branson Arroyo into the right center field gap for his ultimately game deciding club record triple in a virginal time at bat. Thanks also, Jimmy, for lifting the lid of hope just a crack on our vision of a happier general time on the field for the Houston Astros in the seasons to come.

Aug. 1, 2011: My Carlos Lee Game Ball.

My second treasure from Monday night’s game was that game ball I took home with me for the first time in all my years. When I was a Knot Hole Gang kid at Buff Stadium, the players didn’t pass out balls as they do today. The clubs treated them like horsehide-bound gold, in fact. You could keep one that came into the stands, but in some money embattled venues, they even tried to make you give those captured balls back to the team. For a while, the St. Louis Browns even placed attendants around SPortsman’s Park to retrieve and reclaim the foul balls and home runs captured in the stands by fans. Can you imagine what would happen today if clubs tried that tactic on this generation of fans?

SABR friend Bill Gilbert reminded me yesterday that the Astros used to reclaim lost baseballs by issuing fans a paper contract for good plays on foul balls. In other words, the old “sign him up” call for good fan catches simply became an opportunity for regaining possessions of these lost club properties. Gilbert has a contract going back to the 1981 season that he was awarded by the Astros in exchange for the return of the  ball he caught. It was signed by General Manager Tal SMith and Field Manager Bill Virdon. It’s even dated, farmed, and still hanging from a wall at home. And that raises the question: Would he still have the baseball in some identifiable form, had he not been “signed” by the Astros?

The closest I came til Monday  happened in 1950 in the Houston Buffs Knothole Gang down the left field line. I was 12 years old and had just come back with a mustard-soaked hot dog and a coke. As I was walking down the bench aisle toward my friends, I heard a loud crack of the bast behind me. I turned just in time to see a high foul ball coming straight down at me.

Instincts took over, even though I had no free hands. I reached up with my hot dog-loaged left glove hand and made a catch play on the ball. Had it been my glove, and not a hot dog, that assisted me, I know I could have made the play on something that was little more than a “can-of-corn” catch, but that’s not what happened.

SPLAT!

The ball destroyed my hot dog and went crazily bouncing near my feet. Dozens of other kids descended upon it before I could recover from the shock of my failed catch. The next thing I know, up from the pile of greedy flesh came this gloating stranger kid. He’s smirking – and waving a mustard stained baseball in my face, as if to say: “Thanks, dummy! You saved me a lot trouble!”

I just stood there. I had lost my supper, half my coke, and the only baseball I ever touched from a stadium foul ball play. I was very sorry – and for all the reasons I’ve just stated and implied. I’ll never forget the face of that kid who got the ball. I’d know if I saw him today. I’m sure of it.

The ball I finally got Monday night came too easy. On what became the fourth pitch by Branson Arroyo for a 2-2 count on Carlos Lee to lead off the second inning, El Caballo swung hard and dribbled a little foul down the third base line. Reds third baseman Miguel Cairo came over to pick it up and toos it out of play, but, as he did, Mike McCroskey stood up and yelled something like, “HEY MIGUEL! OVER HERE! THROW IT TO ME!”

Miguel quickly adjusted his sites on Mike and lobbed the ball into Mike for an easy capture. The next thing I know, McCroskey is turning to me and asking, “Want a game ball?”

“Game ball?” I thought. “Of course I want a game ball!”

“Thanks, Mike,” I said.  Good old Mike waved it off as no big deal. He spoke as a man with much confidence that he will have many more future  opportunities from these prime sideline seats to grab other balls – and I have no doubt he will. And I was going home with a Branson Arroyo/Carlos Lee authentic game used baseball – and one with no mustard stains or probability of heavy play on the sandlot.  It will simply take its marked place in my collection of souvenirs.

Thank you, Jimmy Paredes! And thank you, Mike McCroskey! You both helped make my evening this past Monday night at Minute Maid Park a quietly happy one. Sometimes the little treasures of life are the most unforgettable ones.

 

 

Tags: ,

2 Responses to “A Couple of Personal Astro Firsts”

  1. John Watkins Says:

    A nice evening for Jimmy Paredes as well as for you, Bill. In my 56 years of attending professional baseball games, I’ve never gotten close to a game ball. And that includes games at LaGrave Field in Fort Worth and Turnpike Stadium in Arlington when the players seemed to outnumber the fans.

  2. Mike McCroskey Says:

    Well, Bill, you’re certainly welcome; although I must admit its a little embarassing reading your column today. Didn’t realize how long you’d been blanked. Made me think though.

    Usually, if I’m in the mood to give a ball away, I look for a little kid because I know he or she will get excited and its a big deal. Your aritcle today made me realize that you can’t always tell the little kid by his or her age. Baseball is something that gets instilled at us at a young age and we play as often for as long as we can, and we watch it when we don’t. Without getting too maudlin, today I thought about my Dad hitting baseballs to me as a grade schooler.
    The love of the game is something we keep with us forever so that there’s always that little kid in us no matter what age we are. Its still a thrill for me to catch a foul ball no matter how many times it has happened. That’s part of the magic of baseball.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: