Editor’s Note: Frequent reader and first-time contributor Kirk H. covers our off-day with memories of the first baseball game he saw in-person. Perfect way to pass an off-day.
In all the excitement of opening day, you may not have noticed that Le Grand Orange died that same day just shy of his 74th birthday. Rusty had an excellent career, and while not quite a Hall-of-Famer certainly qualified for the Hall of Very Good. He played on five different teams, most notably the Astros, Expos, and Mets, with good on base skills and some pop (career OPS+ 124). Jonah Keri, noted Expo fan, has a great retrospective on his baseball exploits, fan outreach, and charitable work here:
While there isn’t really a Braves connection, his passing did stir memories of my first experiences seeing major league baseball in person as a young kid over 50 years ago (has it really been that long? Crap, I’m getting old). I grew up in a small town in south central Louisiana, in the heart of sugar, hot sauce, and salt country. The cultural highlight was the annual Sugar Cane Festival held every September to celebrate the harvest. Music was whatever they played on the local AM radio station. Sports was mostly high school football and basketball, with a dose of LSU Tiger football radio broadcasts in the fall. So it was with great excitement that I looked forward to my family’s more-or-less annual trip to Houston during the summers. It was about a four hour drive, but a world away from my hometown. It had everything. A huge shopping mall where you could actually go from shop to shop while remaining indoors, with an honest to goodness ice skating rink right there in the middle (whoever heard of such a thing). A great amusement park with all sorts of rides that made me sick to my stomach. And best of all, professional sports teams (the Houston Oilers and Houston Astros) that played in this totally awesome stadium called the Astrodome. They called it “the 8th Wonder of the World”, and it sure seemed that way to me. It was gigantic and new and modern, and they played ball *inside*. It had this brand new artificial grass they called “astoturf” since the real stuff wouldn’t grow. And it had this way cool animated scoreboard that was unlike anything else I had ever seen. They played all kinds of comic video shorts, making fun of the other team or inciting the crowd to cheer. But the best thing was that whenever an Astro hit a home run, it put on this fantastic display with bulls snorting and cowboys firing off their six shooters and simulated fireworks going off. It was amazing.
During one of our summer trips when I was maybe 9 years old, we caught a game where my greatest memory is of Rusty Staub hitting not one but two homeruns. I couldn’t get enough of that scoreboard home run show. I remember my parents wanting to leave early, and me begging them to stay in case he hit another one. But the Astros were behind pretty big, and I lost the case. Next day I found out that in fact the Astros *did* hit another homerun (although it wasn’t Staub). I was pissed I didn’t get to see the scoreboard go off again.
With the miracle of Baseball Reference, I was able to track down that game. It was August 19, 1967. The St. Louis Cardinals were in town in the midst of an excellent season where they would go on to win 101 games, the NL pennant, and the World Series over the Red Sox. The Astros had some very good players besides Staub, like Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn, but still they were in the dregs of the league. Staub had a fantastic game, with a double and the two homers. Joe Morgan had a double. Doug Rader had the 9th inning homer that I missed.