I may be a New Yorker, but Texas holds a special place in my heart. As many of you know, I lived in Texas from 1985 until 1989, and then from 1991 to 2000. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, worked out of state for a few years after college, and then moved back to Austin. And for eight years, I worked in state government at the environmental agency that is now known as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Anyhow, Chuck Epperson was one of the managers I worked for at the agency. A native Houstonian, lifelong Houston Astros fan, and all-around good guy, he lives in Austin. And we've talked a bunch during the year about the stunning ascent of the Astros. Nobody expected them to get this good this fast -- least of all, their fans! Remember, it was just last year that they were 70-92. And that looked like a great record compared to the previous three years, in which the Astros lost over 100 games. There was a reason the team is known as the Disastros.
I asked Chuck some questions about his team. Here are his thoughts:
First memories of the Astros: It is showing my age but I remember going to Astros games in the late 1960s. I vividly remember the exploding Toy Cannon graphic whenever Jimmy Wynn hit a home run. Also, I belonged to Astros Buddies and my Astros Buddy was Larry Dierker, our first 20-game winner.
Favorite Astros moments:
* 1986 -- Mike Scott's no hitter to clinch the NL West on the last day of the season,
* 2005 NLCS Game 6 -- Beating the rival Cardinals to get into the World Series.
* This season - Every game that Dallas Keuchel (The Beard) pitched at home (unbelievable), Mike Fiers no hitter, the 21-5 massacre of the DBacks the last week of the season.
All-time favorite Astros: Larry Dierker, Joe Morgan, Don Wilson (very underrated), J.R. Richard, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt,
This year's favorite Astros: Captain Caveman/El Oso Blanco - Evan Gattis, Jose Altuve, Colby Rasmus, The Beard, mild-mannered Colin McHugh, the look-alikes (Correa/Springer), and the underrated Will Harris.
Watching games this season: For the first time in the past 5 years, I was not able to go see them play but also for the first time in that many years, all of their games were finally televised in the Austin market!
When did I think they would make it to postseason?: They were in first place for so long that I thought they were going to make it in early September, of course by the end of September, when they got behind the Angels, I thought - it's OK they still did better than expected. Thye broke their road trip losing way on their last trip, and they were in. With continued winning on the road so far, they may just make it to the World Series.
Thoughts on the current team: This team is very different and I think is better and will be better than the really good Astros teams in the late 90's and the 2005 world series team. Those teams seemed to be carried by a few good pitchers and a couple of decent hitters. For those teams, we added in some late season players to get us into the playoffs - Randy Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, but they were temporary measures at best.
This year's team's best players are mostly homegrown and are very young. Except for Rasmus and Kazmir (who has not really helped us much), even the other acquisitions (e.g. Valbuena, Gomez, Fiers) meshed well and seem to be in the long-term plans. It has been a weird season with the low batting averages, high strikeouts, along with the excellent pitching and great defense but they find a way to win, whether it is 1-0 or 21-5. It feels great after so many losing seasons and I think that both the owner, Jim Crane, and the GM, Jeff Luhnow, have put together a good plan for this teams's future success.