First pitch

John Morris kicks off Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s First Pitch Luncheon Thursday.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

For the first time in the 19-year history of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s First Pitch Luncheon, the featured speaker was a no-show.

Fortunately, through the magic of technology, he was able to speak anyway.

Icy road conditions in Houston prevented Geoff Blum, a television analyst for the Houston Astros and a former big leaguer for the Astros and several other clubs, from leaving the city and coming to Waco. But luncheon organizers made do, hooking up with Blum via Skype for a televised conversation with master of ceremonies John Morris.

Blum reflected on the Astros’ run to the franchise’s first World Series title in 2017, as he was able to get a firsthand view of the excitement.

“It was pretty amazing,” he said. “Unfortunately from a TV broadcast standpoint, when the postseason rolls around, the local and regional people get nudged out and they bring in the national big guns. But it was still a blast. The Astros were gracious enough to give us two tickets to every home game, so I sat in the stands with the fans and was able to really feel the emotion of the games. I experienced what it’s like when the lid is on the Juice Box – it’s extremely loud.

“Then to see the team fight through two seven-game series and win that first championship, it was pretty incredible.”

Astros fans swarmed to Minute Maid Park in droves for the postseason games, and the championship parade that followed the season. City officials estimated that some 750,000 people flocked to downtown Houston for the parade.

Blum said it was neat to see the way the city responded, especially in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

“In 2005 I was able to win a World Series with the Chicago White Sox against the Astros,” Blum said. “I bring that up not to pour salt in the wound, but only to point out that after 86 years of not winning (in Chicago), to see the response from the city, there was just such a sense of gratefulness.

“I think in Houston it went even deeper, just because of the devastation that the city had experienced. You had people coming out of their houses every day to 15-feet piles of debris – mattresses, TVs, furniture. Some had nothing left. But the Astros gave them something else to think about for three hours a night. There’s a sense of escapism that comes from watching pro sports, and they brought that.”

Wednesday’s banquet at the Ferrell Center also featured snapshot previews of the baseball and softball teams at Baylor and McLennan Community College from their respective head coaches. Those four squads are coming off a successful 2017 year that included a 173-70 collective record, a trip to the Women’s College World Series (for the Lady Bear softball team), a second journey to the Juco World Series in three seasons (for MCC baseball), an NCAA regional appearance for the first time in five years (for Baylor baseball) and a regional tournament showing (for MCC softball).

Baylor baseball coach Steve Rodriguez mentioned that he had lunch with Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. and Fixer-Upper TV star Chip Gaines last week upon Ripken’s visit to Waco for the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association convention.

“That was an interesting meal, stuck between those two guys,” Rodriguez said. “It was like, ‘Shiplap, record breaker, shiplap, record breaker.’”

The Texas Sports Hall of Fame presented its annual award to Adolph Kolar, a longtime board member, umpire, coach and tournament director for West Little League. The Greater Waco Chamber, meanwhile, presented a pair of college scholarships to Alexandria Nall of Connally and Cameron Jenkins of China Spring.

Don't Miss...