One of my first memories is sitting in an aisleway at the Astrodome, where the concrete was cold and the ceiling seemed to stretch to the stratosphere. I saw a sea of rainbow-colored seats and heard the hum of thousands of people.
I must have been too young to notice what was happening on the field, let alone understand it, but my love for Houston’s professional baseball team can be traced to that moment in the early 1980s.
As many of you know, though, the Astros have historically been a hard team to love. And many of the memories they’ve created for their fans have hardly been worth reliving.
The last few years — with two World Series berths, the franchise’s first championship and three consecutive 100-win seasons — have been the exception. With the exception of Tuesday night’s series-opening loss to the Washington Nationals, of course.
The ‘Stros have struggled for much of my life, having taken on nicknames such as Lastros and Disastros. And for a while there, even the good years had bad endings.
It took the team 40-plus years and seven tries before it won a postseason series, with heartbreaking playoff defeats against the Phillies, Mets, Braves, Padres and the Braves a couple more times. The Astros finally beat Atlanta on their way to the World Series in 2005, becoming the first Texas team to compete in the Fall Classic, but they couldn’t win one stinking game against the Chicago White Sox.
I started to think the Astros were eternally cursed after the 2015 season, when they had tons of young talent and had the Kansas City Royals on the ropes in their first divisional series as an American League team. Houston had a four-run lead and needed six outs to eliminate the Royals, who rallied in the eighth inning and went on to win it all.
But everything changed in 2017, when the Astros found the perfect storm of success just a couple months after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the region. They got gutsy pitching and a parade of clutch hits to outlast arguably the three most storied franchises in baseball — the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers — winning the World Series in a dramatic seven games.
It was surreal to watch the team celebrate at Dodger Stadium, where star shortstop Carlos Correa made the fairy tale even more fantastic by proposing to his then-girlfriend on national television. It was all hard to fathom and, after years of tempering my expectations for the team, I didn’t really know how to react.
Two years and several more Astros wins later, I still find myself fearing the worst when I watch them. But I don’t expect colossal collapses anymore, and I don’t get nearly as nervous.
That’s because these aren’t your father’s Astros or even your older brother’s. The group of players they’ve assembled is by far the best the franchise has seen, and they’re widely regarded as the most talented team in Major League Baseball.
The hitters near the bottom of the Astros’ batting order could play lead roles in a lot of lineups, while Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander formed one of the best pitching tandems in baseball history during the regular season. Throw in mid-season acquisition Zack Greinke, who has been one of game’s top hurlers for more than a decade, and Houston has the arms to win any arms race.
Now, that doesn’t mean the team is invincible. White-hot Washington continued its tear in Game 1 of the World Series, rallying for a 5-4 win that gave Cole his first loss since May and stripped the Astros of the home-field advantage. The Nationals might very well win the series, which continued Wednesday night a few hours after this week’s newspaper was published.
But these new-age Astros have taught me not to worry too much, because they’re prone to crank balls out of the park and rattle off wins of their own. Their series-opening loss to the Yankees in this year’s ALCS was a lot more lopsided, and they ended up winning four of the next five games to advance.
No matter what happens against the Nationals, Astros fans should enjoy this era while it lasts. And it figures to last at least a couple more years. Many of Houston’s core stars – Correa, Greinke, Verlander, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman – are under contract through at least 2021.
So get used to winning if you haven’t already. It took me a while, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now.