Remembering long ago road trips to Houston, for big league adventures

A quartet of high school classmates attending their first Houston baseball game couldn’t imagine they would be old men before the Astros won their first World Series game, much less their first World Championship, or that the players on the field that night long ago would be in senior homes or playing in a league far away by the time it happened.

Actually, the Houston team wasn’t even the Astros that hot day in the Spring of 1962 — they were the Colt .45s, playing games in the stifling heat of Colt Stadium, where mosquitos hovered over the crowd like pop flies over the infield.

I was among the four making the long drive from Alexandria to see the long-awaited expansion Houston team play against the Milwaukee Braves one afternoon and the San Francisco Giants the next night — no interstate highway, no air conditioned vehicle, no idea of how to find the park.

Somehow we did, and managed to buy two tickets for about $3 a game.

The Colt .45s, brand new to the National League, were a collection of aging stars, journeymen players and youngsters yet to earn player pension rights.

The Braves and Giants, on the other hand, were established teams. Milwaukee had won the World Series in ’57 and lost to the Yankees in the ’58 version. The Giants were headed to the ’62 Series.

 Milwaukee had players such as Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Warren Spahn; the Giants had the Willies — Mays and McCovey — and Juan Marichal on the mound. All of those are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

We got safely back home, graduated high school, and went our separate paths. It would be the Spring of 1965 before some of us ventured that way again.

 We found ourselves all working at the same place, sitting out a semester of college. In some cases, the break from classes was for financial reasons; in others, one university or another had invited one or another of us to take some time off.

This time, we were headed to the first game in the spanking new Astrodome — an exhibition match between the New York Yankees and the renamed Astros.

We had a convertible, money in our pockets, and some were of legal age. Beer and girls were as high as baseball on the agenda. We put one guy in charge of the money — he would parcel out prudent amounts for food and fun, pay the motel bill, by the tickets, etc.

The first sight of the Astrodome was astonishing. And walking inside was at the time like entering a future world.

Don’t remember who won the game, but cached forever in my mental photo library is Mickey Mantle driving Turk Farrell’s pitch over the center field wall – the first home run hit in the ‘dome, the sound of bat meeting ball  echoing like a .30-06 then, and now in my memory.

That Yankees team also had Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Bobby Richardson, Mel Stottlemyre, Clete Boyer, Whitey Ford and Tony Kubek on its roster.

The Astros countered with such as Larry Dierker, Dave Giusti, Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn and Mike Cuellar. Also on their pitching staff were two hurlers near the end of the line — Don Larsen, who had pitched a perfect game in the ’56 Series for the Yankees, and Robin Roberts, who earned his Hall of Fame credentials in a long stint with the Philadelphia Phillies.

We managed not to get arrested and two days later left Houston. But our moneyman had failed in his stewardship, misjudged how much fuel we needed to make it home, and we found ourselves out of gas and money in Kinder.

The desk officer at the police station there let us call for help and hours later a friend, with cash, showed up, and home we went.

Soon thereafter we had to grow up — school, Vietnam, marriages, careers — and never got back together. Too bad life doesn’t have sports’ instant replay.

Jim Butler, a Bolton High School alumnus, was an acclaimed writer and editor at the Alexandria Town Talk for 36 years, the last 23 (1977-2003) as editor-in-chief. He led Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina for the Gulfport (Miss.) Sun-Herald in 2005. Butler returned home to Cenla a few years ago, and will share his talents and insight with Rapides Parish Journal readers.