As part of the Astros' 50th anniversary, the weekly "Game to Remember" series features a former Astros/Colt .45s great discussing his favorite game while playing for the Houston franchise. This week: Rusty Staub.
HOUSTON -- With baseball more than a decade away from seeing its first million-dollar contract, it wasn't uncommon for players to find work in the offseason in the 1960s. For some players, that meant getting a job for the clubs for which they played in some capacity.
Rusty Staub made his debut with the Houston Colt .45s in 1963 and, during the offseason, worked with the team to help ticket holders make the transition from Colt Stadium -- the place the club called home for its first three years of existence -- to the Astrodome prior to the 1965 season.
Needless to say, a ticket to the first game in the Astrodome, an April 9, 1965, exhibition against the mighty New York Yankees, was the toughest sports ticket to acquire the city of Houston had ever seen. Simply put, it was a can't-miss event.
"I was in right field," Staub said. "I had an easy ticket."
Staub was signed by the expansion Colt .45s in 1961 and made it to the Major Leagues in '63 at the age of 19. He played in 150 games that season and batted just .224, making him just the second Major League rookie since 1900 to appear in that many games as a teenager.
Game to Remember
Rusty Staub was a mainstay of the Astros teams at the dawn of the Astrodome era.
Rusty Staub Facts and Figures
Full name: Daniel Joseph Staub
Game to Remember: April 9, 1965 (Astros 2, Yankees 1 in 12 innings)
Key stats with Houston: .273 batting average, 57 home runs, 370 RBIs, two-time All-Star
Claim to fame: Staub is the only player in Major League history with at least 500 hits for four different teams -- Colt .45s/Astros, Mets, Expos and Tigers.
Did you know? Staub became the first player in Major League history to play all 162 regular-season games as a designated hitter
What's he doing now? Staub currently serves in an ambassador role for the Mets and was a Mets broadcaster for 10 years following his retirement. He was active in the restaurant business for years in Manhattan, and has started two charities: The New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund, along with his foundation, which has food pantries throughout New York City.
With the Astrodome being built next door to the makeshift Colt Stadium, Staub had the privilege to go inside as much as the construction workers in the days leading up to the 1965 season.
"I worked for the club trying to transfer people from their seats at Colt Stadium to seats in the Astrodome," Staub said. "Then, you had all the people that wanted to buy tickets to the Astros. I was in there six days a week in that building, even before it was finished -- before the architects took the braces off in the middle of the field. I had seen a lot of that."
Still, when 47,876 fans filled the Astrodome for the first air-conditioned baseball game, with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the stands and Texas Gov. John Connally throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to a sea of flashbulbs, Staub was mesmerized.
He batted third behind Joe Morgan and Al Spangler and went 0-for-5 in the game with an RBI for the newly named Astros. It was hardly a memorable performance for him, but watching the great Mickey Mantle hit the first home run in the Astrodome -- a blast to straightaway center field -- and sharing right field with Roger Maris was nothing short of magical. The Astros won, 2-1, in 12 innings.
"Mickey Mantle hit a home run and people went crazy," Staub said. "I have to say for a non-entity game, I'm wondering if there has ever been that kind of excitement the night they opened the stadium."
Staub played in 2,951 regular-season games and had 2,716 hits in his stellar 23-year career. But the memories of opening the Astrodome -- "The Eighth Wonder of the World" -- haven't faded nearly 50 years later. The excitement of being a part of baseball history remains to this day.
"That was an exciting day," Staub said. "There was so much electricity in the stands. Everybody who was anybody in Houston and people from all over the country were at that first game. That night, the electricity in that ballpark was incredible."
The Astrodome lies vacant these days, with the Astros having moved downtown to Minute Maid Park in 2000. The stadium hosted numerous high-profile events, from college basketball's "Game of the Century," between Houston and UCLA in 1968, to a pair of Major League All-Star Games.
All that remains now are memories for the millions of people who were in awe of the Astrodome -- like Staub.
"Life keeps going on and stadiums have come and gone," Staub said. "Shea Stadium is a parking lot now. [The original] Yankee Stadium is history. The Dome? I would say one thing: It had its heyday. It was awesome."