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The Wonder Years: My Journey Home

by Andy 

(Editor’s note: When it was announced that the Astros were moving to the American League, I was asked whether or not I was reassessing my commitment to the organization. Immediately, I thought about this story and I wanted to share it with you.)

I haven’t always been an Astros fan.

For two years of my life, I was obsessed with the Oakland Athletics.

Yes, our soon-to-be division rivals. Those Oakland Athletics.

Benedict Arnold? Hardly.

It was 1989 and 1990, and I was in elementary school. And, my friend, times were wild. It was an age of irresponsibility and the age of writing sentences on the blackboard. It was the age of Ninja Turtles. It was the age of wisdom, and it was an age of discovery.

And when I discovered the Oakland A’s, I realized that they had it all! An embarrassment of riches! They had power, speed, outstanding pitching and the sweetest uniforms in baseball. Who in the world didn’t love the Bash Brothers? They had Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco launching homeruns by the truckload – bumping forearms after each blast. They had Dave Stewart and Bob Welch to start and Dennis Eckersley to close. Ricky Henderson would find a way to get on base and, before you knew it, he’d steal second… and then third. I also liked Rick Honeycutt, Dave Parker, Mike Gallego and Dave Henderson.

I liked them all! Yeah, the Oakland Athletics.

The 1989 All Star Game in Anaheim was the first All Star Game I remember and likely the first one I watched. The Oakland uniforms drew me in. But how on Earth did I not fall in love with the Kansas City Royals? Because the only thing I can vividly remember from that game was Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs hitting back-to-back homeruns off of Rick Reuschel. C’est la vie, Kansas City!

During that game, my whole life changed forever: I became an Oakland A’s fan and, more importantly, a baseball fan.

To my dismay, as a tee-baller, I was on the crummy Tigers. We had crummy yellow T’s on our crummy little hats… we didn’t even look like the real Tigers – who, in 1989, were reasonably crummy themselves. The tee-ball Athletics, on the other hand, were dressed to the nines – yellow writing on a field of green, true to their professional counterparts. And, just like in the big leagues, the tee-ball A’s were the best team in my league too. The toast of the town! It was as if they were the tee-ball league affiliate of the big league Oakland A’s! They could hit, throw and catch. They were light-years ahead of the other teams in our league.  And, to their credit, almost no one on their team would ever be caught picking grass out in rightfield… unlike the crummy Tigers. Unfortunately, this was before tee-ball’s governing body kept official records, so I cannot confirm it, but I think the tee-ball A’s went undefeated – a perfect 16-0 and a city championship to boot!

“Oh, if only my coach would trade me to the A’s,” I thought. “I’d definitely eat all of my cauliflower.”

Luckily for me, my childhood wasn’t as tortured or hardshipped as other great writers. As a matter of fact, I had a pretty awesome childhood and my parents were very loving and supportive. They facilitated my love for baseball. My Dad jumped through all of the hoops to sign me up for the city league, and my mom would buy me baseball cards each time she went to the grocery store… provided I was well behaved (and ate all of my cauliflower).

I hope that you can find as much joy in something as I found in opening a pack of baseball cards. Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck… I collected them all. As an adult, I wish I could replicate the feeling of opening a pack of baseball cards – but, sadly, it’s impossible. There’s no comparison. I honestly got more excited opening a pack of baseball cards back then as I get now by opening my paycheck – after all, I know what’s in my paycheck …and I got to keep all of my baseball cards. I would sit Indian-style on the brown shag carpet in my bedroom listening to my brother’s Fat Boys tape; meticulously, I’d lay my baseball cards out by position in the form of a baseball diamond. I would stack cards on top of each other, ranking each player on how good I thought they were. As a diehard A’s fan, I had Mike Gallego over Cal Ripken Jr.

Besides, the back of Cal’s baseball card said he only hit .264 in 1988.

Oakland had swept the Giants in the 1989 World Series – I remember watching the pre-game broadcast when the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck before game three. I had never been a part of a natural disaster, and here I was watching Al Michaels’ narrate one before a national audience. I wonder if that event played a role in how I remember certain facts from that period of my life. I remember I didn’t sleep well because I was scared that an earthquake would level Houston to a pile of rubble as soon as I shut my tired eyes.

I watched the next two games. I paid a lot of attention, too… after all, there could be a few homeruns off of Mark McGwire’s bat or there could be another devastating earthquake. Who knows? Not knowing much, I felt both would surely happen before the series concluded – so I kept my eyes glued to our television set.

In the end, Mark McGwire went 1-9 with an RBI and the earthquake finished out the series without an official at-bat. I was happy that my team, the A’s, won the World Series.

Obviously, coming into the 1990 season, the Oakland A’s were regarded as the best team in baseball. And, I couldn’t have been more ready for that season. I was a child. Life was good. They were winners and, because they were winners, I was a winner, too.

There’s no indifference in the life of a child sports fan. There is no middle ground. You’re either a winner or a loser. Kids won’t stand behind a loser, and they certainly have no reservations about jumping from bandwagon to bandwagon until they find a winner. I was no different. That’s why I liked the A’s.

I’m sure my parents just thought it was a phase… like when I slept with a Cabbage Patch Kid when I was 5. 

Did I mention that my family didn’t have cable back then?

…because that’s important.

It’s important because the only time I got to watch Oakland was during an occasional national broadcast or over at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother was top notch! She had cable.

In addition to them being a good baseball team, I liked the Oakland A’s because they were mysterious. I never really saw them play much. I analyzed the sports page every morning… but I couldn’t pick Mike Gallego or Carney Lansford out of a line-up had it not been for my vast collection of baseball cards. …okay, maybe Carney Lansford but only because he was a creepy looking dude.

In 1990, in my elementary school’s library, they had an Oakland A’s book. It was about 25 or 30 pages – three or four sentences per page. It had pictures of Oakland players, clean white uniforms with yellow socks and white shoes. All and all, it was just a short summary over the previous year’s team. I checked that book out over and over again. I’m not sure whether they had every team, but I know they had the Astros… I glanced at it, but I never took it home. 

Okay, I’m rambling.

I’m going to take a quick little tangent and start on a different story and we’ll come back to the A’s at the end.

So, let me explain my “the world is flat” baseball understanding that I had as a child: As a rule, pitchers batted ninth in the National League and not at all in the American League – it was that simple. No ifs, no buts, no coconuts. I wasn’t sure why, but rules were rules and that’s all I needed to know at the time. I didn’t need an explanation and I didn’t really care to be bothered for one. Every Astros game that my parents watched, the line-up would be announced and there was the pitcher buried at the bottom… ninth. Always. No exceptions.

(This was another reason I liked the Oakland A’s. They were not subjected to the embarrassment of having their pitcher try to hit.)

In May of 1990, my father took my brother and me to an Astros game – and, this is the second moment in this piece that my life changed forever. This was a traumatic event on several fronts! The Astros were playing the Phillies. I can’t recall what my father fed us, but I do remember that I got incredibly sick in the middle of the game and threw up - which, to my knowledge, was the first and only time I’ve ever exited a game early.

It was May 9th to be exact. I had to check with baseball-reference to see the exact date because though the memory is vivid, the details get a bit fuzzy. Mike Scott made the start but was pulled in the fifth after giving up four runs on nine hits. Art Howe, upon pulling Scott, made a quick detour towards the home plate umpire. The umpire took out a notepad and jotted something down, Howe slyly walked to the mound, motioned for a lefty and Mike Scott, along with Ken Caminiti, walked into the Astros dugout. Eric Yelding jogged in from center to play third. The public address announcer chimed in, “Now pitching, Dan Schatzeder eder eder. And playing centerfield ield ield, Gerald Young Young Young”

Harmless, right?

I held my aching stomach and looked up at the scoreboard. As Ken Caminiti left the game, he took with him his name that graced the fifth spot of the Houston batting order. We were left to deal with the large cavernous nothing between the fourth and sixth spots.

Silence.

Waiting.

Waiting.

And, then all hell broke loose.

In large bright letters on a field of black, the cavernous nothing in the fifth spot in the batting order was replaced with “20 SCHATZEDER P.”

Are you kidding me, Art Howe? I couldn’t believe that a pitcher was batting in the fifth spot of the batting order! This was baseball blasphemy! Art Howe was spitting in the face of millions of years worth of conventional baseball strategy. That spot is reserved for the Dave Parkers and Jose Cansecos of the world! Not the Dan Schatzeders of the world! How in the world can a team expect to win when they’re batting their pitcher in the heart of the line-up?

Art Howe was a buffoon. I was beside myself. I was speechless. My stomach churned.

…and shortly thereafter, before Dan Schatzeder, a career .240 hitter with a measly 5 homeruns to his name, ever picked up a bat to publicly humiliate himself in front 11,000 laughing Astros fans… I threw up on the family sitting in front of us.

I can still hear them scream.

The umpires didn’t even acknowledge the commotion going on in our section – I’m not even sure that stopping the game ever crossed their minds. Alas, we left the Astrodome and the game played on without us. Before long, I was asleep in the backseat of my mother’s 1982 Monte Carlo as my dad and brother listened to the game in the front seat…

I never got to see the circus that was Dan Schatzeder attempting to swing a bat.

I was so sick. I had food poisoning. My old man carried my small body into the house and tucked me into a small sleeping bag next to my parent’s bed. I woke up several times during the night to throw up. Each time I got up, I thought, “why would the Astros bat Dan Schatzeder fifth?” It was a long night of vomiting and thinking about Dan Schatzeder.

Each time I got up, my Dad, in his “tighty-whiteys,” wiped sleep from his eyes and staggered out of the bed to make sure I was okay. (Thanks, Dad!)

When I woke up in the morning, I found that the Astros had lost 10-1.

“That’s what happens when you bat Dan Schatzeder fifth,” I thought.

Later that year, the Oakland A’s got swept by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990 World Series and I really didn’t care. I was growing disinterested in the A’s. Our fling had run its course. Not because they were slowing down or because they were no good but because they weren’t on TV.

And the Astros were.

The Oakland A’s weren’t in Houston.

And the Astros were.

1991 - that was the year that I started to fall for the Astros. And I owe it to my mom. She was the one who had the remote control. My dad, who worked late, was more interested in the news or Murphy Brown or Unsolved Mysteries… I wanna say he also liked Rescue 911, but I’m not certain when that aired.

My mom knew that I was an A’s fan… but she knew I was a baseball fan, too. So she made sure the Astros were on every once in awhile, and she made sure I was watching.

“Look, Andy, they’re about to score!”

(Mom, you have impacted my life in so many positive ways - I love you for that.)

In 1991, I found myself checking the Astros boxscores and cuddling up with my mom to watch the games on channel 20.

I started replacing Oakland A’s baseball cards with Astros baseball cards. Mike Gallego lost his starting position on my brown shag carpet to Rafael Ramirez. I replaced my Fat Boys tape with an MC Hammer tape. Glenn Davis replaced Mark McGwire and Ken Caminiti, who didn’t creep me out like Carney Lansford did, was my new favorite player.

It wasn’t until I was older that I learned the concept of “the double switch” and I learned that Dan Schatzeder more than likely didn’t bat in that game. After checking baseball-reference.com, my suspicions were confirmed.

A double switch. Pfft! 

So, as it turned out, Art Howe was, in fact, not a buffoon. He knew what he was doing. He was a very capable manager. And I was angry with Art for no good reason.

But, the Astros fired Art Howe anyway in 1993 and hired Terry Collins to replace him. Howe landed on his feet, though. And after a brief stint as a bench coach for the Colorado Rockies, Howe got another opportunity to manage in 1996 – this time, with the Oakland A’s.

I’ve been an Astros fan since. And, regardless of their league or uniforms, I’ll remain an Astros fan until I die.

The Astros are my team.

The Oakland Athletics are just an old flame from my younger days.

After all, it was an age of irresponsibility and the age of writing sentences on the blackboard. It was the age of Ninja Turtles. It was the age of wisdom, and it was an age of discovery.

It was wild times, and I have no regrets.

Although I probably owe an apology to Art Howe and Dan Schatzeder… and the family I vomited on in 1990.

 

Posted at 10:53am

 


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