Keep the train rolling: Astros could be back for more titles

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick celebrate after Game 7 of baseball's World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Astros won 5-1 to win the series 4-3. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

David J. Phillip

How can one World Series trophy belong to so many? Let us count the ways.

This one is for Jimmy Wynn. The Toy Cannon started in center field back when the Houston Astros were still known as the Colt .45’s. He’s usually regarded as the first true star in franchise history.

It’s also for Jim Umbricht and Joe Morgan and Pete Runnels. It’s for Larry Dierker, who may have witnessed more Astros games (usually in a Hawaiian shirt) than anyone. Dierker held the unique distinction of playing, managing and broadcasting Astros games, and he still holds a position with the club as a special assistant to president Reid Ryan. Even if it’s a job in title only, that’s fine. Dierk paid his dues.

Speaking of the broadcasters, this is for the late Milo Hamilton, who once called Hammerin’ Hank’s historic No. 715 but was known to Houston fans as the longtime voice of the Stros. It’s also for Gene Elston and Bill Worrell and Bill “Brownie” Brown and Alan Ashby and Jim Deshaies and Geoff Blum.

It’s for Bruce Gietzen. Oh sure, you know Bruce. He had a 13-year run as a news anchor at Waco’s KXXV-TV until moving out of broadcasting in 2016. (He now works at Baylor.) But a few moons ago, Gietzen covered sports in Houston, and he was on hand for many of the team’s most iconic moments of the 1980s.

Save a piece of the trophy for Jose Cruz, too. And why wouldn’t we? Cheo has been involved in all 11 of Houston’s playoff appearances, three as a player, six as a coach and two more as a special assistant to the general manager. For many a young Astros fan in the late 1970s, hearing the P.A. announcer croon, “Now batting … Jose Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuz!” provided the soundtrack to our childhood.

This one is for Nolan Ryan. Man, oh man. The Ryan Express. I know he means just as much to Rangers fans, but it just felt right when he came back to Houston, considering none of us ever wanted him to leave.

This is for Art Howe and Terry Puhl and Joaquin Andujar and the great J.R. Richard. That 1980 team was the originator of playoff baseball in the state of Texas.

Six years later, Mike Scott and Billy Hatcher and Kevin Bass and Billy Doran and Dave Smith and Dickie Thon and Glenn Davis pushed the Stros to the absolute brink of the World Series, only to fall victim to an absolute gut punch of a series loss to the New York Mets.

Glenn Davis. Wore No. 27 even before Altuve. I always thought it was cool when they’d play the “Imperial March” from Star Wars as he came up to bat.

This is for Darryl Kile and Ken Caminiti and Derek Bell and Shane Reynolds and Mike Hampton and Richard Hidalgo and Jose Lima (Lima Time!) and Doug Drabek and Brad Ausmus. It’s for all those who called the Dome home, long before the Juice Box was a thing.

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TV audience for Astros-Dodgers down from Cubs-Indians

Houston Astros Hall of Fame baseball player Craig Biggio, third from right, poses with Astros fans in a hotel in Los Angeles, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The Astros' run to a World Series championship provided not only an emotional boost to a city recovering from Hurricane Harvey, it also gave some an economic lift. (AP Photo/Ben Walker)

Of course, this win was for the Killer B’s, Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, both of whom were on hand for Wednesday’s Game 7 in Los Angeles to witness the culmination of a dream. Those guys gave as much to the franchise as anyone. They were grinders, showing up to the ballpark and bringing their absolute best, day after day after day. And their best made us marvel. When Bags and Bidge finally reached the World Series in 2005, all of Houston rejoiced, only to suppress tears four short games later.

I hate to say more than anyone, but heck – more than anyone – this title belongs to the guys who won it. The 2017 Astros will go down as one of the more fun teams in Houston sports history, if not all of baseball history. They loved to play – and it showed. Jose Altuve, the 5-foot-6 likely American League MVP who you just want to pick up and squeeze, like a teddy bear. The vets the Astros brought in this year – Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick, who was routinely serenaded with cries of “Wooooooooo!” from the Minute Maid faithful, because of his affinity for former pro wrestler Ric Flair.

It’s for George Springer, whose Springer Dingers echoed loudly throughout the Fall Classic. And Dallas Keuchel, the bearded wonder who rebounded from an off year in 2016 to reclaim his old Cy Young-style stuff. It belongs to Carlos Correa, the stud-duck shortstop who brought a diamond to the baseball diamond and rang in his celebration in style, proposing to his girlfriend, who just happens to be Miss Texas.

Talk about having a good day.

It’s for Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton and Chris “Devo” Devenski and Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman and A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow and all the rest.

Oh, and Justin Verlander. When the Astros let the July trade deadline pass without making a big, splashy move, some in Houston (including some in the dugout) seemed perturbed. Francisco Liriano? That’s our big move? Are we all in or what?

Then came the 11th-hour acquisition of Verlander, and believe this: the Astros don’t win it all without him. His dominance toward the end of the regular season and into the playoffs enlivened the team with a much-needed jolt of confidence. (Plus, he should get an award just for making Kate Upton an Astros fan.)

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Keep the train rolling: Astros could be back for more titles

Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa celebrates after Game 7 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday night.

Several of the Astros players dedicated the title to the City of Houston, which naturally experienced unthinkable devastation due to Hurricane Harvey. “Our fans have been through a lot,” Correa said. “I’m just glad we can bring them joy.”

Though I haven’t lived in Houston since the fourth grade, I’m one of those fans. I attended my first Astros game as a 5-year-old in 1978, wowed by the exploding scoreboard and the rainbow uniforms, and I’ve been devoted to the team ever since.

This one was also for my family, who were happy to come along for the ride. My seventh-grade son Cooper danced around the living room with me as Altuve threw to first for the final out. Yes, I let him stay up way past his bedtime. Don’t judge me. When I told my wife the night before my plan to allow him to watch the game, I mentioned that it was a “once in a lifetime moment.”

“Maybe not,” she said.

“Well, it’s only happened once in MY lifetime, so …,” I replied.

It’s also for my brother Denbigh and my best friend Clint, who attended many an Astros game with me. We routinely bought $4 outfield seats during the really, really lean years, so you can imagine our group text message euphoria on Wednesday night. Our inside jokes have inside jokes.

A co-worker of mine wished the Astros luck, said he was pulling for them, “even though I know how insufferable you’ll be.” My response: “I’m a Houston fan. I’ve suffered long enough to enjoy a brief period of being insufferable.”

This one was for Astros fans everywhere. If you’re an Astros fan, it was for you. I don’t know them all, but I know some. It was for John Sherrill and Ken Holland and Brennon Arnold and Claire Paul and Darren Smith and Clifton Evans and Todd Harbour and David Kaye and Sean Doerre and Becky King and Rob Sellers and Mike Taylor and Stacy Sander and Jeff Cockerham.

And Jeff’s father Jack. Definitely Jack.

You see, Jack – a godly father, husband and grandpa who for many years called Waco home – died in September, a little more than a week after his 79th birthday and about another week before the start of the MLB playoffs. Jack loved God. He loved his family. And he loved the Astros. “If nothing else, we could always talk about the Astros,” Jeff said.

In fact, in his last days when his capability for speech had departed, Jack still found a way to communicate about his favorite team. During one visit, Jeff remarked to his father, “Hey look, Dad, McCullers is going to pitch on Sunday.”

“Mmmmmmpph,” Jack grunted, in clear disgust.

Jeff admitted that watching the Astros win the Series was bittersweet. Naturally, it’s what he wanted, what he hoped would happen. But it also made him miss his dad, who would have loved seeing it happen.

So, the title is for Astros fans like Jack Cockerham and others like him, those who departed this mortal coil before they could witness that beautiful dogpile moment. Those people supported and cheered for the Astros for years, and they’re as much a part of the triumph as anyone. And you can bet their families smiled (perhaps through tears) as the Astros celebrated.

In many ways, those fans represent this 2017 baseball season for the Astros – gone, but never, ever forgotten.

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