On being a Houston Astros fan

By Gilbert D. Martinez

I grew up in South Texas following the Houston Astros, mostly on the radio with my dad. I remember J.R. Richard and Nolan Ryan pitching for the Astros but was too young to understand the complexities of their teams’ playoff runs.

I died with the ’86 Astros team and still dislike the New York Mets organization because of that memorable and heart-wrenching NLCS (with apologies to Jim Baker). When I lived in New Jersey for seven years, I had a hard time living around Mets fans, who loved the ’86 season.

The Golden Age of the Astros really started when Biggio and Bagwell started to carry the team in the late ’90s. When Roy Oswalt came along in 2001, the strong run of Astros teams continued.

Of course, 2004 and 2005 are among the greatest Astros seasons ever.

And during all of this time as an Astros fan, I was becoming spoiled. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know it now.

Spoiled how? I was spoiled because I expected the Astros players to be homegrown, to win a World Series and to play their entire careers with the Astros. Sure, I embraced Randy Johnson when he came via trade, but when he left after the Astros playoff run in ’98 ended, so did my acceptance of him.

But Biggio and Bagwell were still around, and would always be there. And when their candidacies for the Hall of Fame are debated, the virtue of playing for the same team their entire careers – a la Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg and Kirby Puckett in recent years – will be highly touted.

I thought Oswalt and Berkman would stay. They were homegrown; they played in a World Series; so of course I expected them to play their entire careers in Houston.

In past years, Oswalt’s name would come up before the July 31st trade deadline, but I never took it seriously. Just like I didn’t believe that the Astros wouldn’t re-sign Biggio for the 2007 season so that he could reach 3,000 hits.

Even when Oswalt publicly announced that he wanted out of Houston, I still didn’t believe that Drayton McLane would actually agree to trade him.

As for Berkman – a Texas native who had made it clear that he belongs in Texas – I didn’t think he would be traded. After all, he said he didn’t want to leave. He did say he’d listen to offers, but listening to offers is very different from agreeing to waive a no-trade clause.

And McLane would never trade away the two faces of the franchise – both of whom played in the only World Series the Astros have been in, and one of whom was the last Astros player still on the roster (Berkman) to suit up in the Astrodome.

Boy, was I wrong. I was wrong because I had been spoiled. I expected Oswalt and Berkman to play their entire careers with the Astros. I didn’t expect them to be traded away within 48 hours.

Because I’ve been spoiled, I found out how much it hurt to hear that Oswalt wanted to leave Houston – mostly because the team has been mediocre, the team had not been competitive, the team had no future because of a depleted farm system and the team couldn’t score any runs for his starts. I guess I can’t blame him, but breaking up is harder for the guy who’s not leaving.

Amid all this pain, I look to see who’s left with the Astros and find that it’s a more exciting bunch than I realized. I expect J.A. Happ to be solid, and I’m hopeful that Brett Wallace is the hitting machine he’s made out to be.

But this injection of youth has also energized other young players on our team – Chris Johnson is tearing it up, Jason Castro is coming around, and Angel Sanchez had a career game against the Cardinals in Busch Stadium, no less.

Who knows what the future holds for this Astros team? I don’t, but I know this: watching the Astros in the week since the trade deadline was a lot of fun. Solid pitching, clutch hitting, great defense – all are essential elements for good baseball.

And now, I feel like there’s hope on the horizon – those dire predictions about the Astros should be set aside. All of a sudden, the future isn’t looking so bad.

I may have been spoiled, and I may wince when I see Berkman in Yankee pinstripes or Oswalt in red Phillies shoes, but I’ve realized that it’s the Astros as a team that I love most.

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