Editor’s note: Paul Muth is an Army vet who lifts heavy and drinks heavier. He talks a lot, so when his friends tell him to stop, he either writes or talks to a microphone and calls it a podcast. He writes better with a beard and looks better with a beer. Or something like that.
This is his first offering for Houston Sports and Stuff. Follow him on twitter at @abumnamedpaul
By PAUL MUTH
The other day I went on a tour of Minute Maid Park. I took my roommate’s scooter over to the park to buy my new jersey for the upcoming season (Astros Navy ‘91 Batting Practice Pullover, for those curious. Bagwell, obviously.). I was walking out of the team store when I noticed a sandwich board advertising guided tours at 10 a.m. and noon, daily. I checked my watch. 11:40 am. “Let’s do it,” I thought to myself.
Now let’s get something out of the way. This was not my first time at Minute Maid Park. Far from it. I wasn’t interested in the tour at all, really. This was a fact-finding mission. Reconnaissance. I needed to see how far along the new center field remodeling was. What Tal’s Hill was being replaced with. This mattered to the point that after already spending $110 in the team store (only to add a fouth Astros jersey to my collection), I willingly tacked on another $15 to the bill to wander around a ballpark I had wandered around on 29 other separate occasions merely one season prior.
Because I’ve decided that it matters. In spite of an Astros team only tasting World Series baseball once in 52 years, these are my guys. Ride or die.
I heard a perfect explanation in regards to fandom. “It gives us a socially permissible outlet to act completely irrational.” It makes complete sense. One of my close friends is a damn dirty Chicago Cubs fan (the kind that rocks a damn Ryne Sandberg jersey, not the “circa November 2, 2016” kind). Until that date, it had been completely irrational to root for that team. Yet not only does he do just that, but I respect him more for it.
It’s a forum for loud-mouths like me to yell as loud as I want at other grown men perfectly capable of folding me in half like a lawn chair with no consequence, save cheering and laughs from nearby patrons.
It’s the same reason I purchased the MLB game streaming service in 2011 so I could watch the Astros trudge through a laughable 56-106 season on my 6 p.m.-6 a.m. night shift in a server farm across the planet in South Korea. Most would see that as a waste of money. I saw it as a constant. I saw it as a connection to home.
The tour guide took us up to the second level of the park. I wasn’t listening to most of what he was saying. I was too preoccupied on my phone uploading pictures of the outfield renovations to the groupchat I have running with my fellow Astros diehards. We stopped in front of a wall decorated with team photos spanning the team’s history in its entirety.
“We have every team photo except for one,” The tour guide explained. “Can anyone tell me which year we’re missing?”
The elderly married couple accompanying me on the tour responded with puzzled facial expressions. I was busy reading my friends’ reactions to the photos.
“You’ve been pretty quiet so far, sir. Care to take a guess?”
“1994. Strike-shortened season. Bagwell was NL MVP.”
I looked up from my phone for confirmation of my answer from our Guide. He seemed impressed. Then I realized how much of a dick I must have sounded like. I put my phone away and stopped acting like a millennial.
A month prior, five friends and I had shown up to the Juicebox for the Astros’ annual Fanfest. We spent about two hours in the park, all of which was spent sitting in the front row of the Crawford Boxes. Part of that was because we were all nursing hangovers. The other part was because we were all just content to be back at our collective place of refuge. We didn’t come for autographs or giveaways. We came because we just wanted to be back in the park. Irrational.
In three weeks the 2017 baseball season begins and I can exhale. In three weeks I’ll be finishing pregaming at the local bar with my friends and sneak under highway 59 towards the hallowed halls. In three weeks we’ll take a group photo near the left field entrance, where a brick with all of our names inscribed on it was recently installed. And in three weeks I’ll have all of the bat cracking, heat slinging, and leather flashing I have so sorely missed these past 5 months. I’ll grab my peanuts and Saint Arnold brew, probably sit in a seat I didn’t pay for, and exhale.
This is merely an essay from a baseball-starved fan. It’s an over-romanticized, wildly melodramatic materialization of my irrational yearning for my favorite sport to resume.
Look, just give me back my baseball and I’ll pipe down, ok? Also, Go Rockets, Go Texans, Go Coogs, and Go Dynamo (Cubo Torres, am I right?!).