Most days, Mike Taylor and Jon Stauss are on the same team.
Their paychecks come from Baylor University. They both wear green and gold Baylor gear as their work clothes. Their offices sit right next to one another, and their day-to-day mission is the same.
At night, however, they go their separate ways – big time.
Taylor, Baylor baseball’s hitting coach, is Houston born and raised, and a devoted Astros fan. Strauss, Baylor’s pitching coach, hails from Los Angeles and is a lifelong Dodgers fan. So to say they have an interest in this year’s World Series would be like saying that Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, aka Sasquatch, might be in need of a slight shave.
It’s a bit of an understatement.
Taylor’s admiration for the Astros dates back at least four decades.
“I remember back in the day, they had a little club called the Astro Buddies, and I can remember going out there about 1975 for the first time,” Taylor said. “Bob Watson was my Astro Buddy. I grew up at the Dome. Even in high school, you could go out there and get in the bleacher section for about $2. We used to go out there for batting practice, watch about three innings and jet across the street to Astroworld.”
Similarly, Strauss has attended more games at Dodger Stadium than he could possibly remember.
“Growing up in Southern California, going to Dodger Stadium, eating Dodger dogs. Vin Scully, I can still hear his voice in my head,” Strauss said. “We’re both old enough to remember that (the Dodgers and Astros) were division rivals. … I hated Dickie Thon and Jose Cruz. Hated ‘em. They were great battles with Nolan Ryan. Fernandomania — I lived through it, watched every game. So this, playing the Astros, it’s like the ‘80s again.”
Strauss and Taylor have followed that bouncing ball ever since. The seams of the baseball are stitched into the fabric of their lives. Strauss made a pair of trips to the College World Series as a player at Long Beach State in 1993 and 1994 and spent a year in the New York Yankees organization. Taylor played for the legendary Wayne Graham at San Jacinto College, winning a national title as a freshman in 1987, and logged five seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays system.
They’ve accounted for more than 40 years of college baseball coaching experience between them. Taylor coached at a variety of Houston-area schools – Galveston College, Blinn College, Rice, Houston – before hooking up with Steve Rodriguez at Baylor in 2016. Strauss also made a variety of Southern California coaching stops – Glendale Community College, Loyola Marymount, San Jose State, Long Beach State – before joining Rodriguez’s staff at Pepperdine, and then accompanying Rodriguez to Baylor.
But they were fans first. Kids at heart. And still are.
“I’ll give it to Jon,” Taylor said. “No matter where we’re at, if we’re on the bus on the way home from a game, he’s got it on his iPad and he’s following the Dodgers every night. Believe me, I’m watching (the Astros) at home. I’m watching the Astros on the MLB package, because you get more Rangers stuff here. But Jon’s with them day in and day out. He’s following every pitch.”
Strauss said that he actually had tickets to Game 6 to the 1988 World Series between the Dodgers and Oakland Athletics. Of course, the series ended in five games – not that Strauss complained too much, since the Dodgers won it.
“So it’s 29 years for most people, but it’s been a lot longer (for me),” said Strauss, who did attend the 1981 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees. “I might be the only person living in L.A. that didn’t go to Game 1 (of the ’88 Series). Everybody claims that they were there for Kirk Gibson. I will claim that I was not there. So there were about five million people there, I was the only guy who wasn’t.”
Now, while Strauss may be true blue for the Dodgers and Taylor has a soft spot for the Astros’ old rainbow threads, they still can’t completely take off their coaching caps. They analyze managerial decisions and marvel at the skills of the big leaguers in ways that only a coach can.
“It’s entertaining. We’re both coaches, so we can’t take the coach out of the game, as much as we’re fans,” Strauss said. “You have to respect what you’re watching. Watching (Justin) Verlander, I can’t watch it just as a fan. I’m a pitching coach. That’s unbelievable what he can do with the baseball. I have to appreciate that. I’m sure, (Taylor) is a hitting guy, how could he not appreciate Justin Turner and his approach? We’re too much coaches to not appreciate what they do.”
The coaches even use sequences from the playoffs as “teaching moments” for the Baylor players. The entire Baylor team actually made a field trip, of sorts, to Game 2 of the Astros’ ALCS battle with the Yankees. Houston won that game, 2-1, when Jose Altuve scored from first base on a Carlos Correa double.
While thousands of fans at Minute Maid Park were screaming about the hustle and gumption of Altuve, Taylor and Strauss couldn’t help but examine the flaws of the relay throw and admire the wherewithal of Houston third base coach Gary Pettis in sending Altuve plateward.
Despite their conflicting Fall Classic allegiances, Taylor and Strauss said they keep the chirping to a minimum. “I’ve been quiet, because I’ve talked a lot for 29 years, and I’m just going to be quiet and hope it happens,” Strauss said.
If anything, the most chatter flows from (and to) the direction of Ruben Noriega, their fellow Baylor assistant coach. Noriega, like Strauss, is a big Dodgers backer.
“I gave it to (Noriega) yesterday, because he showed up after the Dodgers won Game 1 and he showed up in a Dodger hat and a (Clayton) Kershaw jersey,” Taylor said. “But he didn’t wear it before the game, and that’s what I gave him a little grief about. He had to wait until they had one (win) under their belt.”
The Astros tied the Series with a wild 11-inning victory on Wednesday. Taylor and Strauss will certainly be tuning in and fully invested in the rest of the games going forward.
“He’s had a taste of winning the World Series. We haven’t,” Taylor said. “We’ve had a lot of heartache as Houston sports fans. But, I’ll tell you this, this (Astros) team has a lot more grit and has a lot more fun playing the game than I’ve ever seen in an Astros uniform.”
Games like Wednesday night’s Game 2 can take years off of your life, no matter what side you’re on. Like Taylor, I’m an Astros fan, and I told my wife after the game, as I collapsed onto the living room floor, “I feel like I played 11 innings, too.”
Taylor and Strauss feel the same way. Whether you’re playing, coaching or even cheering, baseball can suck your emotions dry.
“I think that’s what’s amazing about these games, you’re almost holding your breath with every pitch,” Taylor said.
In three to five more games, one of these guys will be able to exhale.
And then blow smoke in the other guy’s face for months.