BOB MCKINNEY: What I know


BOB MCKINNEY: What I know

In the summer of 1966, my parents were in the middle of having a house built for our family, which consisted of the two of them, my older brother and me.

It would be the home they would stay in the rest of their respective lives, until my mother died in 1996, and my father in 2006.

They had bought the lot a year earlier, and I remember how excited they were. They had plans drawn up and construction began in the spring. From the rental we lived in at the time, I took nearly daily trips with either or both of them across town to the new home site to monitor progress.

Getting “stressed out” was not common terminology at that time, but that would have accurately described both of my parents. Picking out carpet, paneling, light fixtures and paint colors, while staying within budget and on schedule, proved to be overwhelming for both of them. This was especially so for my mother, who would have probably been a little more willing to compromise the budget than my dad.

But she knew him, and she knew the budget was the budget, and she would have to live with it. Knowing what I know now, I’m guessing they were paying both rent and a construction loan payment. Things had to have been tight.

So with a summer consumed with home building and getting ready to move, and hearing nightly conversations about the budget, it came as somewhat of a shock to my brother and me when our parents announced we would be taking a vacation in August (back when August was still part of summer break from school).

We would be going to Houston, Texas, about an eight-hour drive from where we lived in south Arkansas, to visit a new attraction called the Astrodome – an indoor stadium, of all things. It was billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and was the home of the Houston Astros, an expansion National League baseball team formerly known as the Colt .45s. We would be going to a couple of games, my dad said.

He was a baseball fan and would faithfully watch Saturday afternoon TV games. I’m sure the new major league stadium within driving distance was a draw for him.

I knew nothing about it, and was not much of a sports fan, but he said the hotel where we would be staying had a pool, so I was in. (It also had color TV!)

I wrote about this in a previous column in November 2013, when I learned that the Astrodome was scheduled for demolition (which never happened, I am happy to report). I recounted there some details of that first trip to the Dome and my lifelong affection for it following that visit.

It was at that first game we attended, between the Astros and the Milwaukee Braves (yes, the Braves were in Milwaukee before relocating to Atlanta), that I became a baseball fan and adopted the Astros as my favorite team.

When I think back on that trip, I remember how my parents for those few days relaxed and put budget and house discussions aside. They swam in the hotel pool with us, took us to fun restaurants and  let us stay up late to watch the aforementioned color TV.

Ever the penny pincher, my mother brought little boxes of cereal for us to have for breakfasts. The boxes were perforated down the middle and could be broken open so milk could be poured right into the box. I thought that was almost as cool as the hotel pool and TV.

But the Astrodome was truly the highlight of the trip. Joe Morgan hit a home run at that first game and a likeness of him appeared in lights on a gigantic board above the highest seats– a forerunner, I suppose, to the huge video boards now standard at nearly all stadiums of any size.

My dad and brother were patient in explaining to me everything going on during the game. My dad thought it was hilarious when he mimicked the concession guys going up and down the aisles shouting, “Cold Beer!”

My mother, never a sports fan, was even impressed with the Dome — probably because it was air conditioned.

My brother, a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan, pulled for the Braves just to annoy me, but in future years he was always respectful of my affinity for the Astros. As we grew apart as adults and at times struggled for things to talk about, the Cardinals and the Astros would serve as a bridge into conversations for us. After the Astros switched to the American League in 2013, we even kidded each other about a World Series between the two teams and going to one of those games together.

Well, if you’re even the most casual of baseball fans, you know where I am going with this.

After years of being a team that spent more time in the cellar than many wine bottles; after having some god-awful uniforms; after abandoning the Astrodome for a new and improved park with a retractable roof in downtown Houston; after winning a handful of division titles but only one Pennant ever, in 2005, for the National League, only to be swept by the White Sox in the World Series; and after switching to the American League (which I have never completely gotten over), my erstwhile hapless Houston Astros won it all last week and are the World Series champs.

It was truly a Series for the ages, going seven games, and I savored every moment. (I even stayed with Game 5 until its ending at 12:45 a.m.).

As fate would have it, I was out of town last week and watched that final game with nobody else around. And although I would have loved having my family with me, I think it was almost appropriate that I experienced that final out alone.

My phone blew up with text messages from family and friends, with emojis of baseballs, confetti and mugs of beer.

But of all the emotions I was experiencing as I rejoiced in the win, the strongest was the memory of where it all started for me 51 years ago, with three people no longer with me.

Somehow, somewhere, I hope they were remembering that too.

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at bmac1018@yahoo.com.

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