HOUSTON -- 102-2-15: Numbers that I will always remember.
They're the section, row and seat where I was sitting (and standing) for my most memorable moments in Astros history -- catching the ball Lance Berkman hit for a grand slam, and catching the ball Chris Burke hit in the bottom of the 18th inning to end maybe the greatest baseball game ever.
What turned out to be a long day of providing memorabilia to the Hall of Fame started with batting practice. We arrived at Minute Maid Park around 10:30 a.m. CT on Sunday, and we were sitting in the Crawford Boxes in seats given to my father-in-law, Ray Joslin, by Donnie Click at Click's Tire in Porter, Texas. I brought my glove, thinking I might get a ball in BP.
We had two balls sail over our head onto the train track. There was also one ball to our right and several to our left.
I have been an Astros fan all my life. As long as I can remember, my dad would throw the ball with my brother and me in the backyard. I played Little League at Northwest 45 in Spring and played in high school at Central Christian Academy. My previous "claim to fame" was in Little League, when I walked and stole second base off future World Series MVP Josh Beckett. It was a regular family joke -- until Sunday, that is, when I became one of the luckiest Astros fans and caught my way into Astros history.
We watched all 18 innings from our seats, and we were standing more than sitting. It was a baseball atmosphere like none other I had ever experienced. The Houston Chronicle wrote that the roof was closed to make it much louder and more intense, but you don't get the full effect until you're there at the game.
With the Astros trailing, 6-1, in the eighth, we had not given up hope. We had talked about leaving after the eighth inning if the 'Stros were still down by five runs. Then, as many times before in Astros history, they dug down deep and rallied. With the bases loaded, Berkman hit a line-drive grand slam into the Crawford Boxes. We were sitting in the second row. The line drive came in low toward the first row. The fan sitting in front of me, who had been wearing his rally hat since the Braves took the lead, stuck out his gloveless hand to catch it. I reached down and snagged the home run. I was so excited and called my wife, Brandi, who had seen the home run, but did not know I had caught it.
That narrowed Atlanta's lead to one run. Then Brad Ausmus hit the game-tying homer in the ninth. From our seats, we couldn't see where the home run hit, because it banged the wall right over the yellow stripe in that nook area in left-center. We knew it was gone when fans across the stadium threw their hands up in celebration. It was very reminiscent of Billy Hatcher's homer in 1986, when the crowd went wild as the ball cleared the fence.
After that, we watched tensely as the Braves would get a man on base and then strand him, and the Astros would get a man on then leave him on base. I especially liked Phil Garner's decision to put Burke in to pinch-run for Berkman in the 10th. Even though he didn't come in to score then, it showed Garner's genius in using his bench as well as playing small ball.
Initially, we thought the ball Luke Scott hit to left was the game-winner. From my seat, I could not tell if it was fair or foul. The left field umpire ruled it a foul, although the fans in the Crawford Boxes did not place much faith in his judgment, since there were a couple of questionable calls (from our view at least) earlier in the game that went against the Astros.
Chris Burke's game-winning home run was momentous. It, like Berkman's, was a line drive. It came in higher than Berkman's and to my right. My father-in-law ducked out of the way and I snagged it. Everyone around us was giving high-fives and celebrating. Several people wanted pictures of the balls. After the game, an usher directed us to members of Astros staff, who took us down toward the clubhouse. While we didn't get to go in the clubhouse due to the celebration, the Astros staff took my information and promised that they would contact me. It was still pretty neat being down there near the clubhouse. We got to meet team broadcaster Jim Deshaies, who I had watched pitch for the 'Stros as a kid, and GM Tim Purpura.
I am going to the ballpark on Friday after the Astros return to Houston from Game 2 in St. Louis, and I'll meet the team and present the two baseballs. It's my understanding that one or both of the balls are going to Cooperstown. I am happy to be a little part of that and help the players see that happen.
All my life, I had always dreamed of catching a ball, any ball, at an Astros game. We usually sit in foul territory along the base lines and I had hoped to get a foul ball.
I never imagined I would catch not only one, but two home run balls.
Neither did my friends. I am the comptroller at Joslin Construction Co. in Porter, and Mr. Click fixes all the flats on our equipment. We are a family business, so everyone was really excited about the game and the catches. It's been a busy time doing a lot of interviews in our area, and I'm just enjoying it.
In a game that set so many records, it was a special day for me. It was special to be a part of Astros history and to have something to pass down to our son, Tyler.