Hot and Colt

added 6/23/2007 by Cot Deal

Houston obtained its National League franchise in 1961. The opening day of the 1962 season would be played in Houston. Interest was high. A "Name the Team" contest lured countless thousands of entrants. The stadium was sold out for the 1962 season opener before the new year arrived. The name selected was "Colt 45s."

Plans had already been drawn for the building of the Astrodome, but even if things went well it wouldn't be ready until 1965. That goal seemed reachable, but it took outstanding management and coordinated engineering to be ready for the 1962 season. A team could be accumulated through the draft system adopted by the league, but a stadium must be built in less than a year. I think whoever came up with the ingenious idea must have had an erector set as a child. It was built, used for three years, disassembled and moved south of the border where it is now a part of the Mexican League. Its original site is now part of the Astrodome's parking lot.

I felt very honored when Harry Craft, the new field manager, asked me to be his pitching coach. Paul Richards, the general manager, had put together a staff of scouts long before the uniform personnel. The city fathers in Apache Junction, Arizona, won the contract for Spring Training. There were even plans for having a team in the fall Instructional League in Scottsdale, Arizona. The new National League entry was active long before 1962.

The temporary stadium served the purpose needed at the time, yet one could but fantasize when watching the stupendous project next door. Oh, for the air-conditioning - and Oh, to be away from the mosquitoes - and Oh, to be away from this oppressive sun and humidity. There was no roof over the new grandstand, and after the first Sunday afternoon doubleheader, when many people passed out, all games were played at night. The mosquito problem was so bad they had to spray the entire grandstand area about an hour before game time. There was very little grumbling from the players. After all, it was an expansion team, and most of them welcomed the new challenge, and new opportunity.

While we were on a two-week road trip Harris County had an epidemic of Encephalitis (sleeping sickness). The players were worried about their wives and children and could hardly wait to get home.

Our first day back was a restless one; All the players were relieved to be home with their families, and to know that no one had been stricken. We went through our regular workout schedule, and returned to our clubhouse for a forty-five minute recess while the visiting team had batting practice.

Part of my job was seeing that the pitchers kept themselves well conditioned. Some of them, through eagerness, wore rubberized jackets to promote profuse sweating - and in that weather it did indeed. Our team doctor opposed to the rubber jackets, as did I, and both of us urged and cajoled, but there were a few who were not swayed. In most of these cases it was no secret that the motivation was from either a weight problem, or a hangover.

One of my pitchers we called The Bear had been out running with his rubber shirt on and the sweat was pouring. The Bear was young and very strong, and a darn good pitcher - but had an inordinate attraction to alcohol. He sat quietly, watching the sweat run off the end of his nose, and listened quietly to the frenzied talk about the dreaded sleeping sickness.

"I heard you get it from those damned mosquitoes," one player said.

"Yeah - and maybe flies," added another.

"Might even get it from fleas," said the third one, "and we have a dog."

"I heard you could get it from food," another volunteered.

There was a slight pause, and The Bear's rejoinder eased the tension.

"Well, I'll tell 'ya," he said, as he ran his right index finger across his brow and slung the sweat much the same as he would a baseball, "I wouldn't mind getting it. I could use the rest."