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Published August 20, 2019

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Memories of baseball’s bygone days and today’s Astros

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

One thing I can still do as a paraplegic is watch the Astros on television.

I also watch the Rockets and Texans, but I don’t plan my day around them like I do with the Astros. I barely know what to do with myself when the Astros have a day off.

It’s fun watching the Astros because they play with so much joy. I know the players are paid millions and play in beautiful ballparks before big crowds, but they give the impression they would be just as happy playing a pickup game in a sandlot.

I love the enthusiasm of Jose Altuve, the smile on George Springer’s face after a hit, the poses of Alex Bregman after a homer, Yordan Alvarez’s raw power and even Yuli Gurriel’s hair. It’s a team that is hard not to root for. And winning helps.

The Astros haven’t always been my team, however.

I was born in Los Angeles in 1947, a decade before the Dodgers arrived. As a kid, I watched the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels, two minor league teams. For 25 cents, a kid could sit in the bleachers for a doubleheader.

I would watch Dizzy Dean announce major league games on black and white television, but I had no rooting interest. That changed when I was six and my dad took me to Yankee Stadium during a vacation.

Dad wasn’t the type to stay put. So before the game, he told my cousin to look after me. He was going to look around.

Minutes later he returned and said he wanted to show me something. He led me into the bowels of Yankee Stadium, where I was introduced to his new friend, who happened to be the security guard outside the Yankees locker room.

The guard told me to wait there and gave me a baseball to get autographs. Sure enough, out came the Mick, Whitey, Moose, Yogi and the rest of the Yankees in their pinstripes. I was hooked on the Bronx Bombers.

I was such a Yankees fan that I got in trouble smuggling a transistor radio into school so I could listen to the 1955 World Series.
I remained a Yankees fan even after the Dodgers moved west for the 1958 season.

Sure, I went to Dodgers games at the Coliseum. I would go early for batting practice because the left field seats were only 251 feet away, inadequately protected by a 42-foot high screen.

This enterprising Little Leaguer could corral enough baseballs from batting practice homers to supply his team for the season, particularly when Willie Mays and the Giants came to town.

But while family and friends were rooting for the Dodgers, I remained loyal to the Yankees.

I was heartbroken in 1963 when the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the World Series behind starting pitchers Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres.

It was a broadcaster, not a player, who converted me into a Dodgers fan. Night after night, while doing homework, I would listen to Vin Scully weave wonderful stories about baseball and the players. His would be the last voice I would hear before falling asleep.

In 1969 I came to Houston to interview at the Houston Post. I made sure to visit the Astrodome with its air conditioning, spectacular scoreboard and five restaurants. It truly did seem like the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

After a two-year stint with Uncle Sam, I took the job at the Post. I rooted for the Astros, except when they played the Dodgers. I was crushed in 1980 when Joe Niekro beat the Dodgers 7-1 in the winner-take-all contest for the NL West.
My allegiance shifted one afternoon in 1986. I played hooky from work and witnessed the thrilling 16-inning National League Championship Series game with the Mets. The Astros lost the game, but gained a fan.

I have been a fan through the Killer B’s, Lima Time and seasons with more than 100 losses.

The 2017 victory in the World Series gave me bragging rights over family and friends back in L.A.

My father, a devoted Dodgers fan, had passed away several years earlier. He had died in bed watching a Dodgers game.

He requested that the pastor at his funeral lead mourners in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

It was unconventional, but it actually turned out to be a memorable moment.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com)