HOUSTON -- When Mark Appel and his brother, John, were kids growing up in Houston, they would attend Astros and Rockets games and pretend they were playing for one of the hometown teams for which they cheered.
"The fact that one of us actually made it is surreal," John said.
Mark Appel has some work to do before he steps onto the field at Minute Maid Park as a member of the Astros, but he took a big leap toward fulfilling that dream by signing with the Astros, who drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft two weeks ago.
The Appel family grew up on the west side of Houston and relocated to California when Mark was 12 years old, but grandparents, aunts and uncles all remained in the Bayou City and were at the press conference Wednesday to introduce Appel.
"It's one of the proudest moments I've ever had," said Appel's paternal grandmother, Carolyn Caldwell. "But I'm proud of all my grandkids -- I need to say that."
Caldwell recalls how a young Mark had a poster of former Astros legend Nolan Ryan on his wall while the family lived in California. He was nicknamed "Tex" when he arrived in California and has stayed true to his Texas roots and his family.
Appel's mother, Sondra Appel, said she didn't know how tight the family bond was until she and husband, Patrick, a lawyer for Chevron, went off to live in China a few years ago and, "we didn't realize until we were living in Beijing for a year and a half how much we miss family," she said. "It's great to be back together again."
The fact Appel wound up returning to Houston, wearing an Astros uniform, was nothing short of a storybook ending to Mark's college career. He was drafted a year ago in the first round by the Pirates, but turned them down to return to college and had a stellar senior season.
That put him in position to be drafted by the hometown Astros.
"I had a little trepidation early on, but seeing how happy he was returning to Stanford caused all of my cares to go away," Patrick Appel said. "I think with baseball and college kids usually signing after their third year, they end up missing out on that senior year and having that wonderful fourth-year experience both my wife and I had at the University of Texas. I was happy for him on a personal level to have his fourth year of school."
Carolyn Caldwell never doubted her grandson's decision.
"I'm not sure he saw it as a risk," she said. "I really think he saw it as the course of events and he planned to improve and get that degree, and I was glad he made that decision."
To John Appel, Mark will always be his little brother. John, who lives in California, is about 2 1/2 years older than Mark and probably a few inches taller.
"He was a little bit annoying [as a kid]," John said with a smile. "We were pretty close and then got closer in high school and college. He was always there, always funny, always the guy joking around. It was a fun childhood."
A childhood full of dreams that could soon be fulfilled.
"It's one of the proudest moments of our lives," grandfather Tom Caldwell said. "We're just so thrilled to have him back here in Houston and playing for a team he loved so much as a little boy."
Appel's maternal grandmother, Jackie Haynes, was also in attendance for the press conference.