UP NOLAN CREEK: The Season
Friday, 20 April 2012 by WAYNE CARPENTER
While most are celebrating the truly important season of Easter and Holy Week, a time of hope and renewal celebrated by Christians worldwide, much lesser, but widely followed, seasons are winding down and starting up. College basketball is finally ending the long season of March Madness, which now stretches well into April. By the time you read this, the Baylor women will be national champions (I hope). Kentucky will have won the men's championship, and half their team will soon leave for the NBA. Nothing against basketball, but it is a winter sport and winter is over. Spring, the season of joy and renewal, is also the time for the opening of baseball season. Spring is that of year time of year when young boys dream of being all grown up and playing in the Major Leagues and old men dream of being in the sunshine of their boyhood when they could sprint around the bases without risking damage to their artificial knees and arthritic joints.
One of my fondest memories of the beginning of baseball season occurred exactly fifty years ago this spring. After years of trying to acquire a major league baseball team in Texas, the the entire state of Texas, with the exception of Dallas who thought they should get a team first, eagerly awaited the arrival of big league baseball in our state. The newest member of the National League, the Houston Colt .45's were set to kick off their inaugural season in the newly constructed Colt Stadium. The franchise now known as the Astros have been in business for half a century with only one trip to the World Series (where they were swept by the White Sox) to show for it. Lady luck has never really smiled on the Houston team. It may have been a serious omen that in the first inning of the first spring training game, the best player on the team broke his ankle so severely that it ended his career. Many fans still remember the Houston Astrodome and the impact it had on the development of modern indoor sports stadiums. There are not so many of us left who remember why Judge Roy Hofheinz built the indoor air-conditioned stadium in the first place. The accepted reason was the Judge's sense of showmanship and strong desire to create something unique that would make a great deal of money for his team. The Astrodome, dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it opened in 1965, did just that. Houston was "Space City" in the sixties with the advent of America's space program and the Astronaut theme was a natural for the the city and the team. But for those who had the pleasure of attending a game in Colt Stadium in the heat of a Houston summer, you know there was another reason. The old Colt Stadium was the hottest place I have ever had the pleasure of watching a sporting event. Rusty Staub, one of the early stars of the team, said that Colt Stadium was the "hottest place on earth," and Staub grew up in Louisiana, not exactly know for pleasant summers. Having attended a few afternoon games there, I have no reason to dispute his statement. The Houston summer heat and humidity is notorious, and Colt Stadium was evidently designed to keep any breeze from circulating to help cool the spectators. Once during a Sunday afternoon doubleheader, over a hundred fans were treated for heat exhaustion. Even night games brought little relief. Evening games were notoriously muggy and brought out squadrons of mosquitos. There were jokes that during one late-night game, several fans out in the left field bleachers were carted off by a swarm of giant bayou skeeters and never heard from again. (It could have happened).
Fifty years after opening day in old Colt Stadium even the Astrodome is a distant memory. Some things remain the same, Houston is still hot and muggy, and my favorite baseball team is picked to finish at the bottom of their division. Hope springs eternal on opening day for us diehard baseball fans, but I'm afraid the odds of my team winning a World Series this year are indeed Astro-nomical.
Happy Easter, and let's play ball!