Vol. 3, No. 2: Today’s Baseball Fans photo

October MagicMadeline Kay Sneed

When March comes around, I start to dream of October. Baseball and fall and a sea of orange taking over Houston. The Astros have made it a sacred time for Houstonians, the past seven years a clinic in dominance. Seven ALCS appearances, four World Series appearances, two World Championship rings.

There have been triumphs, betrayals, heartbreaks, and history. I’ve loved every second of it.

There are people who don’t understand my fantasticism, especially since I’m a lesbian from Texas. Shouldn’t I spend my time saving the state? Probably. Don’t half the players and front office hate people like you? Probably. The fans, too? Probably. Just look at the official Astros social media posts promoting Pride night. The comments range from excited and supportive, to cruel and unrelenting meanness, all citing the same book that tells them to be kind, to be patient, to let love fill them up and drown out their own ego and understanding, replacing it instead with a grace unbeknownst to anyone, truly, because it is a grace that surpasses all that can be known.

But, I digress. One of the reasons I love sports is because it isn’t about semantics. It’s not about the self or one’s place in the world or how other people might make keeping that place more difficult by the day. It is an emptying of the self. When I walk into Minute Maid Park or turn on the local broadcast, I’m still Madeline, but I’m also, more than anything, an Astros fan. It’s not equality, and it’s not even real, but for a few hours, it’s what matters most to me.

Having grown up in the Christian tradition, I’ve heard a lot about miracles throughout my life. Jesus showed up, he did stuff, and he left the people in awe. It sounded so wonderful. To have nothing and then, suddenly, with a snap of two holy fingers, something magnificent.

What sports makes me understand is that miracles don’t just happen. There’s preparation, work, grit, and that nearly manic, adrenaline fueled desperation to win. If you’ve loved a sport and played it at any level, you know that locked-in sort of focus, the way the world shrinks down to the boundaries of a field or court, and your mind thinks of nothing except burying the other team into the ground. It’s the primal urge to conquer, refined by years of practice, study, experience.

Take the 2019 MLB Postseason for example. ALCS. Astros vs. Yankees. It’s Game 6. The bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Tie game. One man on. And Jose Altuve steps up to the plate.

In another city, in another time, this will prompt boos, f-bombs, plastic trash cans tossed onto the field. In Houston, at Minute Maid Park, affectionately called The Juice Box, there is a roar and then a held breath. Prayers said silently, even by the nonreligious. In October, everyone wants a miracle. Every team has its player they turn to when they need one. The player who can change the game with one swing. The giant walking among them.

Houston’s giant stands at 5 foot, 6 inches. A second baseman from Venezuela with a mischievous grin and a shocking amount of power. He takes his bat to a pitch on the outside corner and drives it out to the left field wall. The home run sends the Astros to the World Series and Houston into a

state of jubilation.

“Do you believe in miracles? YES!” Al Michaels roared during the final seconds of the Miracle on Ice. That jubilant joy of victory. The dream chased during every season. The impossible transformed into the realm of reality.

When you witness enough miracles, they start to feel like a right. For the first three years of the

Astros’ historic dynasty, I was over a thousand miles away, going to grad school on the East Coast, trying on pretension and polished words and pushing down my subtle southern accent so people wouldn’t question my intelligence, a habit now a distant memory, my long vowels restored to their natural order.

There, I watched the Astros win and lose in Boston bars, clutching a beer and letting the tears flow freely down my face. The euphoria, the complete loss of control. Heartburn. Heartbreak. Hope. All offered up at the altar of October. The pain is a privilege for fans when their team establishes greatness as a habit, championships as the only goal.

When the local nine plays like that, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

The romance, of course, only exists in the city where they call home. The Astros are the villains of the MLB. Mention their name anywhere outside of Houston or on social media, and you’ll receive three standard replies: trashcan emojis, “cheaters,” and vague, threatening comments about the moral reprehensibility of supporting a team that cheated in the MLB. Sure, there’s been cheating before, and there was cheating by other teams, too, they seem to say, but no one did it worse than the Astros.

That’s all fine and good. It’s the natural penance for the 2017-2018 sign stealing scandal that transformed the Houston baseball team’s reputation from loveable, unlikely heroes, into the Shakespearean villains, the unforgivable bad guys that everyone loves to hate.

Everyone, that is, except the fans in Houston.

When the Astros get to October, it’s nothing but love here in the H.

Minute Maid Park has a retractable roof that stays closed for most of the season, and thank goodness for that. The hellish summer heat of Houston would be unbearable to sit through, even for me, a sycophant of the sport. But, here, again, is another miracle of October. It’s 2022, and it’s the ALCS, and the Yankees are in town, and the roof cracks open. Crisp air whips through my hair as I take in the glory of the downtown skyline from the last row in the nosebleeds. Some folks say Michelob Ultra is water, and if that’s true, then the stuff they pour at Minute Maid is holy. Cup bigger than my head, my dad next to me, the boys jogging out to their positions, and Bob Ford’s familiar boom voice pronouncing, “...your HOUSTON ASTROS!!!” Framber Valdez on the mound, Alex Bregman home run, affectionately called a “Breggy Bomb” to the Crawford Boxes, fans in the stadium and all over the city waving rally towels and screaming at the top of our lungs, one thought pressing into our cerebellum with an unrelenting force: this is our year.

And then, weeks later, as Kyle Tucker sprints to make the final out in foul territory, it is so. It is our year. And the entire sports world groans. While, down south in Texas, an entire city erupts.