When I woke up on Monday morning, I often looked at my phone waiting for it to ring.
After what the Houston Astros did on Sunday night — overcoming an early grand slam by the Atlanta Braves to win 9-5 on the road and keep the World Series alive — I knew I would get a call with my grandmother on the other end saying, “How about our boys?”
And even Wednesday morning, despite the Astros losing 7-0 to the Braves in Game 6 to give Atlanta its first title since 1995, I knew another call would come, and my grandmother would be on the other end saying, “Well shucks, they just couldn’t get it done.”
Unfortunately, those calls never came.
On Oct. 22, as I was sitting in the press box at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium awaiting the Tyler Legacy Red Raiders to take on North Mesquite for homecoming, my wife, Elizabeth, gave me a call to inform me that my grandmother, Irene Denning, had passed away at the age of 86.
The news hit me hard. For the majority of my childhood, I was her only grandchild, so we naturally had a really close relationship. And even as I became an adult, we still talked on the phone often as we lived nearly four hours apart, and the conversation normally revolved around the Astros.
As I covered the football game that night, the Astros’ Game 6 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox was on the TV in my room in the press box, so I was able to keep an eye on it, also.
After the game ended, I headed home to continue working and immediately turned the game on the TV.
When the Astros recorded the final out of a 5-0 win to clinch their fourth World Series berth in franchise history, emotions immediately came over me.
It was fitting that the night I got the phone call I had dreaded was also the night that the Astros advanced to the World Series.
Two of my colleagues and friends, Jack and Gary Stallard, are two of the Braves fans I know. On Tuesday, they found out their brother, Randy, had passed away. Later on Tuesday night, the Braves won their fourth World Series title.
As I was writing this column, I found out my grandfather, James, from my mother’s first marriage, passed away on Wednesday morning. He was also an Astros fan, but he really loved his Houston Oilers when they were around. And me being a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, we always had fun watching those games together when I was a kid.
It’s interesting how sports have a way of working out around real-life situations.
On the Tuesday the World Series began, I drove to Channelview for my grandmother’s funeral service. I arrived in time to watch Game 1, which the Astros lost.
The service was Wednesday, and my grandmother had her orange Astros rally towel in the casket with her. Later that night, I arrived back in Tyler to see the Astros win 7-2 and even the series.
My grandmother played a big role in me becoming an Astros fan. We lived in the Houston area, so that was the obvious choice — even though I didn’t adopt the same affinity for the Oilers.
She often took me to games. When she retired, we got to go to even more games, especially during the summer when I was out of school. When I moved to East Texas (first to Diboll) at the age of 8, I would still go down and stay with my grandmother during the summer.
If the Astros were at home, there was a good chance we were going to the game. Depending on the time, we would either go eat Mexican food before and then go to the game or go to the game first and then eat Mexican food after. I got to eat at two of the restaurants we often went to while I was down there last week for her funeral.
At the Astrodome, tickets were $4 for her and $1 for me, so it was reasonable to go to a lot of games, where these days, $5 won’t even let you drive by the ballpark. And it wasn’t reserved seating, so we would just sit wherever we felt like that day, but we often had certain seats we really liked if they weren’t already taken.
And if they were on the road or we just didn’t make it to the game that day, we would always watch it on TV, unless it was on the West Coast, in which case we would have to catch the tape delay the next day since this was before the days of DVR and streaming.
I never got to go to a game with my grandmother at what started as Enron Field and is now Minute Maid Park, but we always made sure to talk often about how the team was doing, even in the years that were really bad.
As we got older, not only did we talk about the Astros — and sometimes the Texans and Rockets — she also kept up with how San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt did each game. Belt attended Hudson High School with me just outside of Lufkin and played for a year at San Jacinto College, just minutes down the road from her house.
I was fortunate enough to see her for lunch in September, just a week after her birthday. I will always have that memory, along with all of the other memories we had throughout the years.
And when next baseball season rolls around, I’ll still be waiting on that call.