added 4/12/2010 by Bob Hulsey
Although I'd been to Minute Maid Park several times before, Saturday night was my first time to sit in Crawford Boxes that jut out into left field. It was a different experience for me.
I've sat in the outfield before in other venues. When I was in high school, the Astros held a "straight A students night" promotion where you sent them a copy of your spring semester report card will all A's and they sent you back four tickets for three separate games. They were in the pavilion seats (either beyond left or right field).
Each of those three nights had their own longer story and, on two of those nights, our 1969 Pontiac Firebird broke down and couldn't complete the journey. On the last such occasion, we had no adults with us and gave our last ticket to the only guy in the group who had a drivers license - a "learner's permit", no less. (As I've said many times, the teenage motto ought to be "Where there's a wheel, there's a way.") We wound up pushing that car home for the last quarter mile.
As brash kids, our contribution to the cause of an Astros victory was to heckle the opposing outfielder. Against the Mets, the left fielder was George Theodore, who we mocked unceasingly with (Theodore) Beaver Cleaver jokes. Against Atlanta, we heckled the Braves' speedy right fielder, Ralph "The Road Runner" Garr, with "meep meep" interspersed with "Hey Ralph!" My Dad even joined in with the heckles. Twice during the game, Garr shot glances back at us - probably trying to figure out who we were and whether we were friends or foes. By contrast, I saw no heckling of the Phils' Raul Ibanez on Saturday night. Carlos Lee got some catcalls though, which seems to be a certainty any time he has to run more than a few feet to retrieve a single or a double.
Back to that Mets game for a moment. Due to the Firebird breakdown, my friend Rod Griscom and I got to the game late and there were guys already sitting in our seats. Since there was ample seating available around them, we left them alone and found other nearby seats to occupy. The Mets grew a big lead and the two men in our original seats had lost interest in the action and were gabbing between themselves. Doug Rader hit a long fly which looked like it was heading right for me. I raised my glove and prepared to catch the prized spheroid when it hooked slightly and smacked the arm rest in between the two startled and uninterested gentlemen who had not raised their heads to see what the commotion around them was over. The ball then bounded away into the arms of another kid with a glove. Had we insisted in sitting in our ticketed seats, we could have celebrated catching a home run with our glowing faces beamed back to New York on WOR-TV.
While outfield seats put you a long way from most of the action, the trade off is the chance to come away with a home run ball. We took our seats when batting practice began and I saw several incidents where grown men were acting as kids, pushing and shoving to catch the offerings that Hunter Pence and Jason Michaels (mostly) peppered into the crowd. One shot caromed off a few gloves before it was snagged off the concrete by a young fellow of roughly 10 or 11 years. He had sat quietly the whole time and waited for a ball to come to him rather than pushing others to get his own.
In the Crawford Boxes, I felt as if I was sitting almost on top of Lee. I didn't even see Lee for much of the game. He was somewhere under the big scoreboard, out of my view. Ibanez, too, did not peek out from hiding except to grab lazy flies or change sides at the end of the inning.
I doubt there is any other ballpark in the majors with that sort of vantage point. It certainly wasn't like that at the Astrodome. Maybe those seats on top of the Green Monstah in Boston give the same sort of perspective but the seats are up much higher.
Used to sitting up high and behind the plate (my preferred vantage point), I can often tell whether pitches are inside or outside, but not high or low. In the Crawfords, I could tell if pitches were high or low, but I had no perspective on inside or outside. I'd have to take the umpire's word for it.
I went to the game to help celebrate the 1965 Astros and to get the freebie Astros retro jersey. I had been to the 1999 reunion of the '65 team so it was something of an update scene for me. Several of those who attended the 1999 reunion were not there this time because they had passed on since then. A few others are still living but chose not to attend for whatever reason. I wonder if there's a bottle of wine stored away somewhere for the last survivor of the '65 Astros, much as bands of soldiers often did after living through World Wars I and II?
As a postscript, I inherited that 1969 Firebird from my Dad and it took me to and from college in Austin during the late '70s. I learned the hard way that a dark green exterior and a black leather interior could make a car unbearably hot after sitting out in the Texas summer sun all day. My first job after college included driving it to and from the Dome while working for a local radio station. Once a man tried to buy the Firebird right out from under me as we were both flying down the Southwest Freeway at 70 miles an hour. I told him "no" then later sold it just before it reached 100,000 miles. Just like the Astros, some things can't help but break down with age.