Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)

It’s that time of year again; backyards and ballparks are back in swing. I remember when it only cost a few bucks to go to a ball game.  Recent news reports show that it costs nearly $200 for a family of four to go to a major league baseball game these days – that is if you want to park your car, eat a hot dog, drink a coke and maybe buy your kids a baseball cap. 

I remember going to the Houston Buff’s games over on the Gulf Freeway, where Finger’s is now, and to Colt Stadium to watch the Colt 45s. When the wind blew, the wooden bleachers at Colt Stadium would sway.  It was a big deal back then to go to a game.  Most of the time, we listened to the broadcast on a transistor radio. (Are there any of those left?)  Okay, now I am sounding really old, but there’s still nothing better than listening to a game on the radio. 

I will never forget the first game in the Eighth Wonder of the World – the Astrodome.  I was there, as a high school student, on April 9, 1965, to see the Astros beat the Yankees, 2-1 in 12 innings.  Governor John Connally threw out the first pitch and President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady Lady Bird joined Astros President Roy Hofheinz in his suite.  There were so many flashes going off it was blinding.  It was a marvel to the world, the ushering in of indoor baseball.

I’ve got to say, there was nothing else like the Dome.  I remember the players would stand in centerfield and hit balls straight up to see if they could hit the roof.  And who could forget the gun slinging cowboy on the scoreboard?  It was the best. 

My kids remember going to the games, wearing Nolan Ryan’s number 34, and cheering for players like Terry Puhl, Joe Niekro, Craig Reynolds, Alan Ashby, Billy Doran and yelling out Jose Cru-u-u-u-u-u-u-z.  Of course we have had many greats along the way, including Biggio, Bagwell and Berkman – the Killer B’s.  But one of my all-time favorite players happens to be none other than Kingwood’s own, “Scrap-Iron” Phil Garner.  You may not have known it, but we have been living amongst a legend right here in our own backyard.   

Phil Garner was known for his hard-nosed style of baseball.  His defense as an infielder, playing both second and third base in his career, earned him the nickname “Scrap-Iron.”  He was known for breaking up double plays, diving for balls, and always playing tough. He left it all on the field every play, every game.  He didn’t start his career in Texas, but like I say about all great transplants – he got here as fast as he could.  And lucky for us he did. 

As a two-time All-American for the Tennessee Volunteers, he was drafted by Oakland in 1971. Ten years, three All-Star appearances and a perfect .500 average in a World Series victory with the Pirates later, he landed in Houston.  After hanging up his cleats, he hired on as an assistant coach under then Astros Manager Art Howe.  He went on to later become manager for the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers before coming back to Houston. And like I said, lucky for us he did.

As Skipper for the Astros, Garner led the team to greater success than any other manager in franchise history.  Among the many successes the team had under his leadership, nothing was greater than the team’s first and only World Series appearance. Even though I lost the bet with a Chicago Congressman and had to send them some real Texas barbeque from the “Tin Roof” Bar-B-Q when the White Sox beat the Astros, I went down swinging with “Scrap Iron.”

I have known Phil and his family for many years.  His example and character has had a tremendous impact on my son, Kurt, as well as many other young people that have had the pleasure of knowing him.  The Astros, and the entire city of Houston, are lucky to call him one of our own.  

The great thing about baseball is everyone can enjoy the game.  You don’t have to be the biggest or the fastest to play.  And if you don’t want to take out a loan to go to a major league game, there’s still plenty of ball to been seen.  You will be hard pressed not to find a little league, high school or college game just about any day of the week and I can assure you our local talent won’t disappoint and won’t break the bank. 

I can’t wait to start baseball all over again – this time as a grandfather and take my grandsons and granddaughters to the “National Pastime.”  I wish all the area youth leagues, high schools, colleges and of course, the ‘Stros the best of luck this season.  Now, let’s play ball! 

And that’s just the way it is.