Once upon a time, the Houston Astros were a yearly visitor to a magical land known as the Major League Baseball Postseason.
Looking at the past few years, that statement may seem like a fairy tale. However, I assure you it is true. One need only look in the record books to see for themselves.
From 1997 to 2005 the Astros only missed the postseason three times and captured the National League Pennant in 2005.
Granted, it has been eight years and counting since the last postseason appearance by the Astros, but during those heydays of yore, men like Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt gave the fans something to cheer about as they packed into Minute Maid Park shoulder to shoulder.
Saturday night the fans were once again chanting for Berkman and Oswalt as both men retired from Major League Baseball as members of the team that drafted them by signing one day contracts.
The ceremony was certainly bittersweet for many of the long time fans who donned their Berkman and Oswalt shirts once more as they watched the two men ride off into the sunset during a pregame ceremony.
The Little Pumas, a group of fans dressed in puma suits in honor of Berkman’s nickname, “the Big Puma,” even dusted off their furry puma suits and took their place in the standing room only area in center field for one more time to say farewell.
In addition to standing ovations and tributes from the fans, both men were presented with Stetson hats, a rocking chair and perhaps more importantly framed jerseys from the 2005 World Series.
After being traded from the Astros to the Yankees, Berkman went on to win a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals before playing for the Texas Rangers last year. Although Berkman is a World Series Champion, I am sure he would have preferred to do that with the Astros.
Oswalt also played for a trio of teams after leaving the Astros, but time with the Phillies, Rangers and Rockies did not produce a World Series title for the “Wizard of Os.”
During the ceremony, notable accomplishments for both players were recited, and it was clear that they had successful careers. Despite that success, both men were quick to point out that the success did not come without sacrifice.
During his remarks, Oswalt thanked the fans for their support along with his family who “had never missed a game he played since he was four.”
While the Astros will likely return to the postseason at some point, watching them lose over 100 games year after year can harden even the most diehard of fans.
Very much aware of this fact, Berkman used a portion of his time at the podium to encourage the fans in attendance to “make the rafters shake” not for him, but for the current roster of players, many of whom were not even old enough to drive the last time the Astros were in the Postseason.
While the fans cheered for the new guys, it was clear that for many of the fans their hearts still belong to the players they grew up watching.
Perhaps no where was this fact more evident than from a woman a couple rows up from me who squealed like a preteen at a Justin Bieber concert when highlights of Berkman’s career were shown on the ballpark screen known as El Grande.
For the record, I have never heard a preteen scream at a Justin Bieber concert. However, I am guessing the sounds are pretty comparable to what I heard at the ballpark.
Berkman, Oswalt and I pretty much all arrived at Minute Maid Park at the same time. So, they were two of the players that I followed when I first became a fan of the Astros.
As mentioned before, I was at the Ballpark the day that Berkman was traded to the Yankees right before the game started. While I know players are traded all of the time, the Berkman trade seemed different since I had fully thought that he would be given the chance to retire as a member of the Astros.
In the end, after playing for three other teams, Berkman came back home if only for a day to retire with the Astros.
I can’t help but think that his presence the last couple years around the young players would have greatly benefited the team.
But roster turmoil is part of the game and very rarely do fan favorites get to stay with their team for their whole careers. Craig Biggio, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Derek Jeter are certainly the exception more than the rule.
Players come and go. Logos and team colors change, but the game goes on just as it has for generations as each group of players and fans contribute a stanza to the baseball sonnet.
After throwing out the first pitches to a pair of former teammates, Berkman and Oswalt left the field for most likely the final time to the roar of the crowd to enter their post baseball lives.
Oswalt is going to become a consultant for his long time agent and Berkman is rumored to be on the short list replace Wayne Graham at Rice University as the head baseball coach in a few years.
Both players may also come back to Minute Maid Park someday to see their numbers retired and hung up in the rafters with the other team greats.
But even if they do not have their numbers retired, they will still have given a generation of fans years of memories to look back on while they wait for the next generation to complete their stanza.
As for that next generation of Astros, they ended up losing the game Saturday night but did come back to win on Sunday afternoon.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put my Puma shirt back in the closet.
Copyright 2014 R. Anderson