For the first 31 years of my life, I was a Houston Astros fan.
I grew up on a farm in Southwest Iowa, so when it came time for me to choose my loyalties, I didn’t find a team – a team found me. My dad was a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, and took me with him on his annual pilgrimages to Busch Stadium. I realize now that he was trying to get me to be a Cardinals fan, but for whatever reason, it never stuck. Instead, on one of those hot summer nights, I noticed a man on the field during batting practice who had my first name on the back of his jersey.
The Houston Astros were in town, and that man was Nolan Ryan.
I was immediately hooked. As a little kid, that was about the coolest thing that I had ever seen. Just like that, an Astros fan was born in Iowa. After I returned home, I set my sights on turning my room into the Astrodome. My father expressed his disappointment over and over again. However, he was accommodating, and from then on we scheduled that summer trip to St. Louis around the Astros being in town.
During this same time, the Royals were at their peak, and we made it to Kansas City once a summer as well. But in spite of that trip, and the fact that the Omaha Royals were just up the road, I never really felt an alliance to the team that was closest in proximity to where I grew up.
In 1985, the Royals won the World Series and I barely noticed. In 1986, the Astros were the National League Western Division Champs and my excitement couldn’t be contained.
I was so completely into the Astros teams of the mid 80′s that when my world was rocked with the news that Nolan Ryan was going to play for the Texas Rangers, I decided to remain an Astros fan. It was a really tough decision for an 11 year old to make on his own.
The turnover in Astros players was totally approved by this fan. As Mike Scott, Dickie Thon, & Jose Cruz were replaced by Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Derek Bell, my loyalty was unshaken. I loved these guys even more than the previous roster. My dad even took me to the Astrodome in 1999 – the last season that the team played there. I felt like this was my team for life.
However, after I graduated from college and ended up in Kansas City, I started paying more attention to the Royals. Not necessarily by choice, but because I couldn’t escape it. The games were on TV & the Radio. I liked Denny Matthews. I could read about them in the newspaper (back when those existed). I started to learn the players’ names & went to more games every summer. I fell in love with the K. I had my wedding reception there.
At the same time, the Astros roster started turning over again. Some of the players that I was fond of left. The team hit their peak of glory in 2005, when they reached the World Series. I stressed through each of those close games, but they were beaten in four games by the White Sox. Their loss was crushing to me, but I remained loyal.
Bagwell was done after the 2005 season, and Biggio retired in 2007. My two favorite players were gone, as was the spark.
I was left with Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, and Kaz Matsui. I liked Lance Berkman, but he was not enough to keep me hanging on. I came up with a two-year process to transition my loyalties from Houston to Kansas City. In 2008, I rooted for them both, and in 2009 I was a Royals fan. Both teams promptly finished 5th in their division. Do you believe it? While the Royals were struggling so badly year after year, they somehow gained a fan in me.
Now, it could be just my curse because at the time, the Astros were the worst team in the NL & the Royals were the worst team in the AL. There are several similarities between the two teams, one key fact being that the Royals haven’t made the playoffs since they won the World Series and the Astros haven’t made it since they lost the World Series. It is not a charmed life that I’ve led.
So, now this series has become an uncomfortable one for me. It kind of feels like I’m walking down the street and I run into my old girlfriend with my new, younger girlfriend on my arm. Sure, she’s a bit rough, but she’s got a lot of potential. I feel a bit awkward, and want the best for my old girlfriend, but I can tell that she hasn’t really taken very good care of herself since we split.
I’ve been watching this series with a close eye, hoping that my new team can forgive me for being nostalgic. We had some good times together, went through a lot of ups and downs. They helped raise me. Now though, they are completely in my rear view mirror. I caught them just by coincidence during a work trip to Miami and I only recognized three names in their lineup. I felt a bit ashamed for a minute, but that quickly vanished as I buried myself into a chocolate ice cream mini-helmet.
The Astros will always hold a special place in my heart, but we are through. The Royals are my team now. I wish them well, and will root for them as long as they’re not playing the Royals from here on out. The end.