Spiers given fitting sendoff

added 4/3/2002 by Darrell Pittman
The Astros staged a "pep rally" at Jones Plaza in downtown Houston Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., before their season-opener at Astros Field.

Sad to say, except for the brief appearance of all-time Astros great Bill Spiers, the whole thing was a colossal waste of time. It was merely a marketing showpiece during which the Astros and Clear Channel Communications patted each other on the back.

Clear Channel trotted out the same DJ's that one hears every day on the radio, you know, the ones you listen to before deciding to put in a CD. Gosh, that's exciting.

It was touted to be free food and drink. Well, yeah, if you want to stand in a block-long line in the hot sun to get a taco and a Coke. Yum, yum. It was clearly intended to attract the downtown lunchtime crowd.

I eschewed the food lines and went in the back way. The plaza was lined by booths for radio stations owned by, you guessed it, Clear Channel. All dozen or so stations that they currently own in the Houston area.

I called Susan on the cell at her downtown office ten minutes after I arrived, and I summed the whole event up to her as "lame". Aside from those standing in line for free food, there must have been about 100-150 people actually paying attention to what was going on the stage, me among them. I was just about to leave when, just at the crack of noon, it was announced that Bill Spiers was coming on the stage to talk.

But first, we had to listen to Matt Thomas of KTRH drone on for a while, then we were treated to Milo Hamilton, who told us the story of how Drayton bought the Astros the same year that he was "voted into the Hall of Fame" (yes, he used those words). Drayton came on for a while and exchanged the predictable banalities with Milo (I've never never been more confident in a ballclub, Milo... yada yada), then finally, Bill Spiers was invited to the mike. Much was made of the fact that he declined to attend the Houston baseball writer's dinner last year because he was assistant-coaching a high school basketball team in South Carolina at the time. (Good for you, Bill)

The Great One gave a very heartfelt speech, and said Houston was always a second home to he and his family, and that of all the places he played at in his career, Houston was his favorite. At one point, he said "Besides, y'all talk like me" which garnered great applause. A city councilman was trotted out to give Spiers a specially-engraved bat, which if I recall correctly said "To Bill Spiers, from Space City: Who said the sky's the limit?"

It was worth enduring all the Astros and radio station hype to hear this great athlete speak, and he has a lovely family.

I left after his speech, first crossing the street for a quick one at Slick Willie's where I watched the pool tables being refelted, then to the ballpark to pick up tickets at the will-call, then to meet Susan at the Longhorn after she got off work.

With the new security measures in place, getting into the ballpark with the J.R. banner was harrowing to say the least, but that's another story. It was worthwhile just to see Spiers throw out the first pitch ("And it's a strike!") and the last time he'll appear at "Astros Field", or whatever its nom-du-jour is.

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