Friday, October 16, 2015

Mama October

For a whole lot of sports fans, it's the most wonderful time of the year. The NFL season is in full swing; NCAA football has finally gotten into the conference schedules; the NHL dropped the puck on the beginning of the season; and, as with every fall in America for over 100 years, it's the Major League Baseball postseason. The hunt for the title is on.

Unlike most Octobers in my lifetime, this year, the Houston Astros were in the mix! After an electrifying season that defied the predictions of every expert who has a microphone, the Astros won the American League wild card game and advanced to the American League Divisional Series. The last time my 'Stros played this late into the year was the year Caroline was born - ten years ago, the fall of 2005. I spent many evenings in the last month of my maternity leave holding her, sitting in the recliner, and watching the Astros make a run all the way to the World Series.

Now, in October of 2015, the Astros were back! Ten years' worth of changes - I'm still sitting in the recliner, but it's two moves later in our living room in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Caroline is a 5th grader, and she has a little brother who is eight years old. The Astros have never been in the postseason in his lifetime; in fact, they've barely been relevant. The team moved from the National League to the American League in 2013 and over the last ten years, they have a combined record of 709-910, including three seasons where they lost over 100 games. I'm as super of a fan as you'll ever find, but even I had lost interest in the boys of summer. We'd make the annual trek to Minute Maid Park while home in Houston, but other than that, I didn't follow the Astros with any fervor or enthusiasm.

Then this year, the Astros somehow managed to lead the American League West division for almost the entire season. I figured out that even up here in NW Arkansas, I had a cable channel that carried all of the Astros games (thank you, Root Sports!). I began turning the games on in the evenings and turning the volume down low while I read on the couch. I got to know the players' names, and was enchanted by the enthusiasm and exuberance with which the team played. As I was drawn into the drama of an unfolding season, the wins kept piling up. The new playoff format of the one game Wild Card playoff meant the Astros made the postseason and went head to head with the New York Yankees, who they dispatched to earn their way into the ALDS! Next up, the Kansas City Royals!

Wait a minute - Kansas City. Like, just three and a half hours up the road, Kansas City. After the Astros won Game 1, I was keyed up for Game 2. I spent the day after the first game in the office a bit distracted, talking about the series with other baseball fans in the office. As the day went on, I kept thinking about the fact that KC was just up the road - straight up I-49, an easy drive that I'd made before. By early afternoon, I had checked Stub Hub, just to see if there were any tickets. Once I found there were plenty of tickets I thought, may as well see what they cost...

I called Justin. I thought about how much the tickets were, and tried to decide if it was worth it. I got more and more excited just thinking about the possibility of being at the game. There are no guarantees in life, and most certainly not in sports. Would it be another ten years? Would they ever play KC in the postseason again, the closest MLB park to our home? I checked with my boss to see if there would be a problem with my taking a last-minute day off on Friday. And then... I BOUGHT THE TICKETS.

I'm goin' to Kansas City... Kansas City, here I come!!! Not alone, but with my trusty little man by my side, of course - John and I are sports buddies of all kinds, and what an awesome way to spend a Friday in October!

We hopped in the car Friday morning, headed for Kauffman Stadium to yell for our Astros!
An easy drive later, we arrived at the stadium, grateful we'd grabbed pants and jackets! We got there well before the game started, heading into the stadium with our signs and garb shouting our H Town Pride.
The best part about getting to the game so early was the chance to go all the way down to the front row of the stadium where we could watch the Astros take batting practice. Another first for us! We watched as the players belted home runs, and others shagged balls from the outfield. We saw Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa hanging out and A.J. Hinch looking relaxed and confident. I even saw Craig Biggio, an Astro All-Star from my childhood who is also now a Hall of Famer! So cool to have a front row view, even if only for a few minutes.
We grabbed the classic ballpark hot dogs for lunch and settled into our seats - our AMAZING seats - right above third base, about twenty rows up. SWEET!! Soon we were surrounded by fans in Royals blue, but true to their reputation, they were gracious, friendly fans and the stadium was rocking as the umpire yelled, "Play Ball!"
Despite the number of MLB games I've been to in my life, I didn't realize how different a postseason experience would be. Every pitch, every play matters - it is heart pounding excitement from the start, and you don't want to miss any of the action! As batters made contact and balls were popped foul, no matter what direction it headed into the stands, I would put my hands up, look at John and joke, "I got it!" Then in the third inning, a foul ball of of the bat of Colby Rasmus headed for the third base side stands, and I joked again that "I got it!" as it dropped just two rows in front of us! It glanced off a man's arm and bounced into the hands of the fan right in front of us!!! I leaned over and asked if I could get a picture of the ball, and without thinking twice, the man turned around and tossed the ball to John. He gave the Astros foul ball to my son!! That, friends, is the magic of baseball.
Ironically, we were so absorbed in the foul ball we missed the next pitch - which turned out to be a home run!! With the Astros scoring in each of the first three innings, we began to think this could go our way. We were almost alone in our cheers and yelling for the boys in orange, but that didn't mitigate our excitement.
The Royals' comeback, unfortunately, certainly did put a damper on our enthusiasm. I know the Astros can't win every game, and in the postseason with a hostile crowd in an away stadium, it's a tall order to win two in a row. As the game wound down, and it became obvious the 'Stros would head home to Houston with a split, it got harder and harder to be excited in the face of the furious spate of runs scored by the Royals. Being surrounded by fans going crazy with every run scored was like salt in the wound, and as hard as it was for me as a grown up with pretty thick skin, that little eight year old boy had a harder time accepting that his team was going to lose. With the last out in the ninth, as fans around us gave each other high fives and began to file out of the stadium, my sweet little man turned his face to my side to hide his tears of disappointment as I put my arms around him.

It would've been nice to get a win; the series may have turned out differently if they'd kept the lead. Instead of Friday night movie night, we could've been watching the Astros play the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the ALCS. As with so many things, though, the joy for me last Friday wasn't in the game, per se. It was in each and every moment I spent with my son, seizing the moment and what may be a one time opportunity to see our team in a big game. As my dad said, the cost of the tickets was one thing, but this moment - this one day in 365 - was priceless.


  1. I LOVE THIS!!!! xoxoxo Miss you all!!

  2. What a great recap of the experience! The mom part of me really wishes John could have seen your team win, even if my Royals side doesn't. I'm glad you & John got to experience the thrill of a postseason game and the early part of the game was definitely going your way! There is just something special about watching the boys of summer in the postseason!