Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

July 8, 2006

Field of memories

By April Barbe

Sitting near the top of Ameriquest Field in Arlington, recently, home of the Texas Rangers, I could feel the warm summer breeze ... and the memories ... brush against me.

Baseball — America’s pastime — the game that reminds folks of Cracker Jacks and hot dogs.

Baseball as James Earl Jones’ character “Terrance Mann” says in the movie “Field of Dreams,” has been a constant in a world that’s always changing.

It’s a simple game, reminding people of simpler times, in a way. I remember some of those times, although I didn’t have the privilege of the real “good ‘ole days.” But my life roughly 15 to 20 years ago was much less complicated than it is today — so although they weren’t so long ago, they were the good ‘ole days.

As a pre-teen, my world was made up of only a few things besides school — and baseball, namely the Houston Astros, was one of those things. My Aunt Teen (short for Christine) introduced me to the eighth wonder of the world — the Houston Astrodome, former home of the Astros.

I remember walking into the iconic structure for the first time. Standing at the top of the outfield seats, I looked down onto a field of green which was like none I had ever seen. It was so much bigger than on TV. We sat in the mezzanine section that first game, but soon I discovered that the “cheap seats” in the outfield were the best. The fans were different ... more appreciative of the game — more excited.

Batty Bob was one of my favorites. He was this guy dressed up in Astros’ apparel who stood in front of the outfield crowd and led the cheers with great enthusiasm. One time, during a lull in a game, Batty Bob took out his permanent marker and stood ready to receive autograph seekers. However, there were apparently some shy kids in the crowd. After a few minutes, my Aunt Teen started fumbling around in her purse and out came her checkbook.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “Here,” she said, handing me a blue booklet of the same size out of it. She had Houston Astros checks (yep, a fan if you ever saw one), and inside there was a baseball autograph book ... never used. “Go get Batty Bob to sign this for you,” she said.

As I walked down the steps toward him, a smile came across his face like he’d seen a long lost friend. I told him my name, and he signed “God Bless You Always April — Batty Bob.” When I turned around to go back up the steps ... there was a whole line of kids behind me. Aunt Teen knew what she was doing, as always.

We got lost one time (so Aunt Teen told me ) in Houston ... a town in which she had been a taxi cab driver (so I’m sure we weren’t lost!) The next thing I knew we were pulling up in front of the Dome. “Well, look there’s the Dome,” she said. That was Aunt Teen ... full of life and full of surprises. While it was the Astros and the Dome she introduced me to, it was life that she prepared me for. She taught me to live life. She taught me that when things get tough ... go to a baseball game, have a hot dog and yell at the umpire. And through the years no matter how tough life has gotten, I’ve let the good things overshadow the bad.

I have strayed away from the sport through the years — somewhat disillusioned by the strike in the ‘90s and a 12-player trade between the Astros and the Padres shortly thereafter, but otherwise just busy with other interests.

But baseball still runs in my veins — on a warm summer night overlooking a perfectly manicured baseball diamond, I can’t help but get misty-eyed. Aunt Teen passed away, four years ago come November. She was my closest relative, and I think of her constantly — especially when I’m watching baseball. I can still hear her holler “Use your good eye Ump!”

She was at the Rangers/Astros game last week. They honored a former Colt .45s player (what the Astros were called before moving to the Astrodome) at the beginning of the game. She was there. And as the memories flooded my mind, it was all I could do to watch the game in front of me ... for all the snapshots in my head of games past.

Baseball — the game that brings friends and families together to create lasting memories and has done so throughout the good times and the bad.