by Craig Wright
“Don’t tell Mom….Don’t tell her. I’ll give you my Mark Grace rookie card.”
My knee had hit the concrete pathway thanks to my brother’s push from behind. I had just caught a touchdown pass from our neighbor, Ryan, as we played 2-on-1 football in his front yard. That’s a pretty big deal to a second grader playing with a couple of middle schoolers. My competitive brother was less than enthusiastic as his push sent me flying. My knee was the size of a grapefruit within seconds and I couldn’t even walk home.
“Seriously,” I thought, “…what an offer!!” Of course I wasn’t going to tell Mom, there was a Mark Grace rookie card on the line.
My baseball story begins on my birth certificate. I was born in Houston, Texas. My wife reminds me that I only lived there a handful of months before my family moved to Nashville. She rolls her eyes that I consider myself a Texan. You can take the boy out of Texas, but not Texas out of the boy. The birth certificate says Houston and that’s all that matters. With no professional baseball team within 4 hours of our new home in Nashville, my family carried a love for the Astros with us to Tennessee. My dad’s work required travel back to Houston often. The whole family joined him on some of these trips and we experienced the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park on many occasions. I matured from 6 to 25 years old during the careers of Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. They probably shoulda been groomsmen at my wedding since I shared so many memories with them.
In my youth, I spent my afternoons in one of two places: our neighbor’s front yard or my brother’s bedroom floor.
After school, I’d immediately call our neighbor’s mother and excitedly ask, “Can Ryan come out and play?” Within minutes, we would be outside with tennis balls and bats playing Home Run Derby. Ryan’s front yard was perfect for this: a flat lot with a perfectly positioned ditch by the street which formed the warning track. Many an ankle was twitched and knee scraped as we chased balls through the ditch hoping to save a homer.
In my brother Charlie’s bedroom was our Nintendo. My heart begins to race just thinking of those memories: Duck Hunt, ExciteBike and of course…RBI Baseball. Typically, the real version of anything is better than a virtual substitute. This was simply not true when it came to the way Bret Saberhagen could whip that side-arm delivery. He was unstoppable! Glenn Davis, Jose Cruz, and Alan Ashby…Cooperstown might not remember these legendary Astros, but my memories sitting in my brother’s floor playing as the ‘88 Houston Astros will never be forgotten.
Another cornerstone of my youth was Kenner’s Starting Lineup sports figures. “Can we check for Starting Lineups?” If my mother had a penny for every time my brother and I asked that question! Any store with toys had the chance to possess these now extinct treasures. One time, I lobbied my mother to get me a Pete Incaviglia, a less than memorable Texas Rangers’ outfielder. I told her this narrative of how I just loved him and was a huge Rangers fan. My mother bought it – both my plea and the Pete Incaviglia. He may have stood longer on my bookshelf than he did in the majors.
Throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed baseball in a variety of ways. I’d sit with my Papaw in Jackson, Tennessee as he listened to Jack Buck call his beloved Cardinals’ games on KMOX radio out of St. Louis. Whereas Papaw had his radio, I grew up in an era watching superstation WGN broadcast all those summer afternoon Cubs games as Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson roamed the ivy-laden walls of Wrigley Field. Even today, I appreciate the iPhone’s MLB At Bat app which allows me to stream every Astros game directly onto my car’s stereo. However, there is no venue in all of sport better than a baseball park. Experiencing a game in person simply cannot be surpassed.
Like all baseball fans, my bucket list includes attending every ballpark. I’ve completed 17 current stadiums and a handful that have been demolished. Favorite memories include my first World Series game in Atlanta in 1999 featuring the best teams of the ’90’s – the Braves vs. Yankees. I attended a 2001 game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland as the Indians overcame a 12 run deficit to defeat the Mariners. I witnessed the Astros defeat the Braves in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS. This was an 18 inning showdown which featured Roger Clemens coming out of the bullpen in the 15th inning. I went to Game 4 of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park as the Astros were on their way to their first World Championship in an epic series against the L.A. Dodgers. And how could anyone forget their first trip to Wrigley or Fenway?!?!
Webster’s dictionary defines the word pastime as the following: an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work. What an awesome thought! Even though our carnivorous culture tries to rebuke it, baseball is our National Pastime. While the Astros are my number one sporting love, I am proud to be a fan of the entire sport that remains integral to our American culture.
Featured image: October 2017. Craig with his parents before Game 4 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston, TX.
Craig Wright lives in Brentwood, TN, with his beautiful wife, two children (ages 4 and 2) and their Goldendoodle, Tucker. Craig works as a family doctor in Franklin. He loves meeting people from all over the country and finding a way to connect with them – often through a love of sports. His life’s goal is to raise his children in the way they should go – as Astros fans.