Some years ago, my IBM colleague Sam and I went down in Texas to teach an "Object Oriented Design" class at the Clear Lakes office. Like most of the guys in our group, Sam preferred to stay in a Marriott. He was collecting frequent-sleeper points in hopes of someday going on vacation to somewhere exotic -- where he would reside in a hotel that was just like the ones he stayed in on our business trips. Back then, Clear Lakes (home of the Space Center) didn't have a Marriott, and the closest one was in Houston. I didn't care about collecting Marriott points, and would have preferred to stay close by the IBM office, so I could get a little more sleep and a little less commute. But this time, I didn't argue -- the closest Marriott just happened to be in the vicinity of the Astrodome.
So the deal was, I'd agree to stay in the Marriott near the Astrodome if Sam would agree to go to a ball game in the evening, after we got back from Clear Lake. Deal. We went to the Astrodome -- a huge thrill for me! I hadn't been back there since I'd moved away from Texas some years earlier. I picked the seats -- out in the bleachers, where I'd always sat as a kid growing up in Houston. The game started...
...and the Astros stunk. And worse, although I could rattle off the names of every starter on the team back in the day, I didn't recognize any of these guys. The year was 1991.
[Side note: Remember what it was like before the Internet? Although I've always been an Astros fan, there were a number of years after I moved away from Houston when it was very difficult to be a very engaged fan-in-exile. Until the Internet came along - game stories, then pitch-by-pitch, the online radio, and finally streaming live video - my daily source of Astros news was generally limited to a sentence or two and a box score in the Washington Post. I became a fanatic in exile with my first subscription to mlb.tv in 2004.]
So back to 1991... Who were these guys? A quick review of the roster in my program explained why the players were so foreign to me. Many of them were in their first year in the big leagues -- like Jeff Bagwell, who went on that year to be the MLB Rookie of the Year. Other rookies: Darryl Kile, Luiz Gonzales, Kenny Lofton. There were some other young guys I'd never heard of, who were in their first (or only) year with the Astros: Curt Schilling, Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch, Mark McLemore. And a few others, whose names I'd know better in later years: Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Casey Candaele, Jim Deshaies...and coach Phil Garner. I don't remember who I saw on the field that night -- not even who pitched. Mike Scott, one of the better known Astros players, was in his last injury-plagued season, and didn't pitch that night -- I would have remembered that!
The night I went to the Astrodome, the Astros lost -- badly. It was one of many bad losses that year, as they went on to finish with a 65-97 record, one of the worst seasons in franchise history, tied for the most losses in a season. As we are all well aware, the 2011 Astros stand to demolish that record.
I'm telling this story for two reasons: First of all to celebrate how the Internet has made it possible for fans to really stay in the game for their home teams, even if they are exiled far away. Second, and more importantly, to remind us all that a team full of young nobodies one season may be a team full of winners later. The Astros had a .500 season in 1992, and did not have another losing season until 2000. In the meantime, they were first or second in the division 6 times in those 8 years.
So 2011 is a throwaway season - one to groan about or laugh about, depending on your outlook. Maybe both. One long Spring Training, without the nice Florida-in-March weather. But in losing Oswalt and Berkman and Pence and Bourn (and Wandy today?), we've picked up some young quality players. We've signed a lot of our draft picks, and who doubts that we're due to get the first pick in next summer's draft? By stocking up on prospects and rebuilding our miserable farm teams, the Astros just might have some fun years ahead.
Now back to our regularly scheduled loss...