Much Cherishing

On my way out of PNC Park last Wednesday, I stopped to say goodbye to Tom.  Technically, Tom’s job is to make sure only authorized people go in and out of the visitors’ clubhouse.  Mostly, though, Tom likes people.  And he loves to talk.

Earlier in the day, I said my final goodbye to Bob, the concierge at our hotel in Pittsburgh.  Bob is right out of central casting.  He’s missed family functions to welcome our traveling party at dinner time on a Sunday.  He’s always there to greet us by name when we arrive at 4:00am for a mid-week series.  I’m pretty sure Bob would hotwire an abandoned car if I told him I needed it (thanks, Bob!).

I’ll miss those guys.  We didn’t exactly choose one another, but we’re baseball family.

So as the bus pulled away from PNC Park the other night, my stomach twisted in knots.  My chest constricted a little.  I know the Pirates aren’t going anywhere — shoot, the Astros will even return for interleague play sometime — but when we said “Goodbye” I realized things will never be the same.

Indeed, everything is changing dramatically.

The Astros are headed to the American League next year.  The club’s relationships with long-time foes like the Pirates (or Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, etc.) will no longer be ones of comfortable familiarity.

We won’t all live in the same town (National League) anymore.  We won’t live under the same roof (NL Central).  We’ll still see our daffy uncle (Dodgers) on the major holidays (World Series) whenever our busy lives allow.  Maybe our big brother (Cardinals) will swing by for a brief visit next summer (interleague play).

Leaving Pittsburgh for the final time as a division opponent made me realize that my relationship with the National League is changing.  Fortunately, the Astros will pass through all five central division towns this month.  We can say our proper goodbyes before heading into the new frontier.

I’m surprised at how weird it feels.

Since the Astros were born as the Colt .45s in 1962, they’ve been the most common opponent for the Cincinnati Reds.  We’ve seen a lot of one another over the past 51 years (almost 840 games!).  Sunday was the last time they’ll play a division game in the Queen City.

So I made the walk to Great American Ballpark — one final time — on a glorious fall morning.  I chatted with Bob, the press box attendant, about Saturday’s college football games and he made some joke about my alma mater.  He always does.

I teased Denise at the cash register in the media dining room, because I always do.  And fussed about the day-game working conditions there.  That sun is so bright!

Kiss my grits!

But it’s the little things I’ll miss the most:  the proximity of the hotel to the ballpark in St. Louis, my breakfast places around the league, the stench of cigarettes and burnt bacon at “My Office” in Milwaukee and, the pièce de résistance, Geneva‘s beehive hairdo at Hathaway’s Diner in Cincinnati.

So you understand, it’s not all glamor out there.  I’m plenty happy to turn my back on those predictable rain delays in Pittsburgh.  And I won’t miss the vantage points in either Pittsburgh and Washington, DC at the summits of their new parks.  Those are clown broadcast booths, bro.

The famous SkyBlast fireworks shows in PIttsburgh are beyond imagination though, and the panoramic vistas from PNC Park are top notch.

Speaking of fireworks — and I feel like a bad person for saying this — most ballpark fireworks are more distracting than entertaining.  That’s a personal opinion and it’s colored by the fact that I see these kinds of shows dozens of times every year.  They usually occur as we’re trying to do our post-game show or trying to watch one of my favorite movies (“Anchorman”).  So I recognize that my perspective is unique.  Turn your volume up and tell me if you think my partner, Brett Dolan, is enjoying this show in Los Angeles from earlier this year:

Point is, we take the good with the less-good.  It’s what family does.  As we leave our comfy little nest this month, I’m filled with all those emotions of going off to college.  It’s time to challenge our comfort zone.  Heck, that’s kind of exciting.

Yes, I’ll dearly miss chatting with Keith as I climb the final steps to the press box at Wrigley Field.  There’s nothing quite like the ivy, the bleacher bums and baseball’s most iconic daily tradition — singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame with the northsiders.

We’ll make new friends though.  We’ll discover new taverns and breakfast joints.  It will be a blast.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I wonder if Sharon and Lorraine will miss me in the dining room in Milwaukee?  Will Lou — the octogenarian guarding Bob Uecker‘s booth — notice that we don’t come around anymore?  I’d like to think they’ll miss our company.  I’ll certainly miss them.

In some way, it reminds me of the day we dropped off my older brother in Lincoln, Nebraska at the end of summer in 1988.  We’d unloaded a couple of boxes the night before so he could stay with his new roommate that night.  The rest of us piled into a hotel room.  No big deal.

After a cordial breakfast the next morning, and a few final suggestions, he needed to trek across campus to get to class.

I’ll never forget watching him slip on his backpack and walk away.  I think my mom and I cried the entire seven-hour drive back home.  Talk about sweet sorrow.

Or maybe it was my dad’s cigarette smoke.

Hardly.  I missed my brother the second he walked away.  At the same time, I was excited for his opportunity to go see what the rest of the world had to offer.  What could be sweeter than pursuing one’s dreams in college?

Also, I heard that college kids chased girls and drank beer.  Lucky duck.

Anon Good Nurse!

So we say goodbye.  We’ll miss hanging out with the old lugs.  Something tells me that they will miss us, too.  Perhaps one last memorable game will emerge in these last three weeks.  If not, we have fifty-one years of cherished memories.

We’ll remember Tommy Lasorda assuming landlord duties in 1980.  “Renting first place?”  Good one.  We’ll never forget Randy Johnson going 11-1 down the stretch in 1998, or Chris Burke going yard in the 18th inning.

Craig Biggio some 3,060 times.

And what would Kerry Wood (20 Ks!) or Matt Cain be without the Astros?  Think the Mets or any fan of the game will ever forget the 1986 NLCS, perhaps the greatest ever played?

Fifty-one years.  The AstrodomeLarry Dierker – the kid, the voice, the skipper.  Joe Niekro.  The Killer B’s and foamers.

Gene Elston‘s voice echoes forever.  So does Milo‘s.  Throw Hall of Famer Harry Kalas‘ “Astros Orbit” home run call in there among the memorable lines like “Hot ziggity dog and sassafras tea!” and “Now ya chunkin'” by the inimitable Loel Passe.

You get the point.

The important thing is that we don’t lose those memories.  Change is never easy, I know.  I suspect the NL will miss us just as much as we miss them.  Let’s enjoy these final 20 games.

Then let’s march confidently off to our new start.  And make new memories.