Astros: How My Father and the 80’s Era Made Me a Life-Long Fan

Jul 27, 2014; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Fame and Astros player Nolan Ryan responds to being introduced during the class of 2014 national baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 27, 2014; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Fame and Astros player Nolan Ryan responds to being introduced during the class of 2014 national baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

Happy Father’s Day to All Houston Astros’ Fans; Here is How I Became a Fan Because of Nolan Ryan.

Growing up in Orange County, Ca. my Father started taking me to “The Big A” to see Nolan Ryan pitch at the age of four.  After two seasons of soaking up everything related to Ryan that I could, I was borderline obsessed. Every LA Times article written about Ryan was thumbtacked to my wall, and every one of his statistics was engrained in my head. In short, Ryan was bigger than life, and he was everything I wanted to be.

To this day, I still remember sitting in my parents living room listening to 710 KMPC radio, and they made the announcement that Ryan was no longer an Angel. The Halos felt two ten game winners could replace Ryan, and the Houston Astros had signed The Express. I remember throwing my Angel hat down and running to my room in tears.

My Father did his best to console me and told me we would see the Astros in San Diego when they came to town. Little did I know at the time that I would soon become friends (For a while) with the greatest pitcher of all time. It was not long before my #30 Angels jersey, turned to #34 Rainbow Astro jersey.

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When the Astros came to SD and playing in the NL West, we made a lot of trips, and my Dad made sure he figured the pitching rotations to enhance our chances of seeing Nolan. Looking back I do not know how he was able to get the entire family to see all those Astro games, but he did, and he made magic happen.

As we were checking into the Town & Country Hotel in SD,  my older brother was tapping me on the shoulder as if he saw a ghost. He just pointed with his mouth open, and then there were two kids unable to comprehend what was unfolding. Our small Volkswagen bug was sitting in front of the Astros team bus, and a bunch of Cowboy hats was walking in behind us to check in. Although they looked different in street clothes, I had watched Vin Scully break down the entire team early in the week. The great Vin had armed me with enough knowledge to make me a dangerous six-year-old.

The following morning I became a stalker knowing no boundary of intrusion, and on a mission to collect every Astros signature on the Hotel Stationary. In my eyes, every guest at the hotel was an Astro, and everyone staying there would be approached by me. It was better to hear, no I don’t play baseball than to miss a player who did. The elevator and the hotel cafe seemed to be the hot spots, and then I realized it was all about the pool.

That was when it happened, the moment that changed my life for good, it was Nolan by the pool, all alone reading a book. Needless to say, that book had no chance. “Hello. Mr. Ryan, I watched you pitch for two years in Anaheim. You threw two no-hitters in 1973, you passed Sandy Koufax’s strikeout record by one, and Bobby Grich did not tag the runner out on purpose because you had two strikes on the batter and your current ERA is. I know all your stats, Mr. Ryan.”  At first, he thought I was just saying hi, but when I pulled up a chair and got comfortable he put his book down, we spoke for a while.

It was a three-game series in SD, but little did Nolan know that was how all his trips to SD would be for the next decade. There were a couple of times where my brother and I were swimming with now the President of the team Reid Ryan, and his brother Reese. At the time, we were just kids about the same age.

Nolan was not the only Astro that made a life-long fan out of me. My brother and I made friends with Joe Sambito, who showed us his elbow scar from his recent surgery. We spent what seemed like all day asking him questions until he had to go to the park. What happened next may have been trying to slow my resilient signature quest on the team, or Sambito saw that I was collecting all my signatures on hotel scrap paper.

This time, Joe saw me before I saw him, and he asked me to sit by him. He promptly started asking me to show him my signature collection and asked me who’s signatures I was still missing. At that time, he gave me a ball that he had the entire team sign the night before.

Back in the 80’s the Astros had scheduled double headers in SD a few years in a row, and my Dad made sure to get the two for one deal. In between one of those doubleheaders, Phil Garner gave me a cracked bat that he had promised me earlier in the day by the pool. It was a Craig Reynolds bat model, and Phil told me he had a tough road trip forcing him to borrow some of Craig’s bats.

The stories go on forever, including a time we walked into the café, and Dickie Thon was right next to me, and my Father let him know how sad I was that he got hit. The former 20 homer shortstop kneeled down with a very bruised eye, and told me I would see him playing soon, and he was going to be fine.

Imagine as a young kid you watched the Bad News Bears in Breaking Training over and over, where the Bears meet Enos Cabell in the dugout, and then you and your brother get in an elevator with Cabell, that is how my Astro following started. This was all thanks to my Dad. My Father shaped my life in may ways, and in every way, he strived to give us all he could. Today I am starting another dream of mine writing about Astro baseball, and I can’t think of a better weekend to give credit to my Father. Win or lose, and we can talk Astro baseball all day.

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Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there that helped make their kid’s dreams come true. My Father and Astros baseball, the bond is stronger than ever, and we have never been so excited about our team.

**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference**