Every other year, former members of the Rice University baseball team return to their alma mater in Houston, Texas, to play a baseball game. I went down to check it out.
I went on a similar vacation last year at this time, and though there was a lot more panic about the economy then, the deals weren't as good. Last year, the planes were packed. Though the number of passengers had dropped like a rock, the airlines had compensated by cutting back the number of flights. (Probably parking the planes by the Reds' spring training complex, as seen in Slyde's photo.)
This time, the flights were empty. I didn't have to sit next to anyone, for the first time in years, on any of my flights. The flight attendants gave me stacks of peanuts, pretzels, and cookies, instead of the usual one bag. There wasn't even any fighting over space in the overhead bins.
I stayed at the Marriott. Usually I'm more of a Days Inn type, but the Marriott was actually cheapest hotel in the area. They were offering a special deal. The rate listed on the back of the door was $400/night, but I paid less than quarter of that.
The view from my hotel room at dawn.
The hotel was less than a mile from Rice University, so I walked over. It was a beautiful day for a baseball game. Just perfect. Warm and sunny, not a cloud in the sky.
The current Rice baseball team signed autographs before the game.
The best defensive shortstop (and worst relief pitcher) in Major League Baseball:
Yup, Paul Janish was there. He didn't play (the active players usually don't), but he was there.
The alumni used to play against the current Rice team, but a NCAA rule change disallowed it. So now, they play against each other.
The alumni lined up on the field.
Janish is at right, in the dark shorts. He was introduced as the Cincinnati Reds shortstop, and got a big hand from the crowd who clearly remembered him well.
A sign honoring past champions:
Jeff Blackinton, catcher from the 2003 championship team:
He's now a post-doc at Duke, doing research in neuroscience or some such thing. I guess it's true that catchers are the smartest!
Peter Terrana, Class of 1999:
He was a good pitcher for Rice, but wasn't drafted. He played a year in the independent leagues. He now owns a software company.
Jeff Jorgensen, Class of 2003:
No relation to Ryan, so far as I know. He was a track star who some thought might make the Olympic team, but he quit to play baseball. He was drafted by the Astros in the 7th round, but never played a single game of pro baseball, probably due to injury.
Enrique Cruz hit a triple in the first inning.
Paul Janish, Class of 2005:
Not sure if he's trying to grow a beard or was just too lazy to shave.
The little kid sitting next to me was hoping Lance Berkman would be there, but he wasn't.
Jeff Niemann was there, however. He was easy to spot, towering over everyone else.
That's Janish he's talking to.
Steven Herce, Class of 2003:
He was drafted by the Pirates, and played a year in the minors.
Glen Fuller, Class of 1950:
Bobby Bryan and Philip Ghutzman:
Bryan should have been out, but Ghutzman booted it. He then picked up Bryan to keep him from crossing the plate.
Ghutzman was signed by the Reds as an undrafted free agent in 2001, and played a couple of years in Sarasota and Billings.
Jason Ogden, class of 1992:
He was drafted by the White Sox in 1992, and played a couple of years in their minor league system.
After the game, there was a home run derby, between an alumnus and a current Rice player. The alumnus won easily.
Adam Zornes, home run derby champ.
He was drafted by the Padres in 2008, in the 7th round, and played A-ball for them last year.
There was a Rice intrasquad game after the alumni game and the home run derby. I wanted to stay to watch it, but my time in Houston was limited, and there was something else I wanted to do: find the old Astrodome, and take a photo of it.
The Oilers were a pretty good team in my misspent youth, and they were on national TV a lot. I remember my dad telling me the Astrodome was the world's first domed stadium. Its astroturf surface was considered state of the art (with no one suspecting the injury problems it would lead to).
According to Mapquest, it was only a little over two miles away from Rice, so I set off on foot to find it. I wasn't sure it was actually possible to walk there or if I would be able to get close to it. I knew it wasn't in use any more, so I thought I might have to look at it from a distance, through a chain-link fence or something. (Yeah, yeah. I could have asked. But what fun would that be?)
It turned out to be a fairly pleasant walk. There were sidewalks all the way, passing through some interesting old neighborhoods and over some sort of canal. And it was pretty quiet and peaceful. There were a lot of joggers around Rice, but once I got away from there, I had the sidewalks to myself.
Then, there it was:
I didn't have to worry about access. The Astrodome is part of a larger complex including the new Reliant Stadium, and the place was hopping. No games at this time of year, but there was some kind of liquidation sale, and a monster truck show, and a kids' show (Sesame Street, maybe?).
I walked around the Astrodome, the old Houston Oilers fight song running through my head.
Houston has the Oilers, the greatest football team.
We take the ball from goal to goal like no one's ever seen.
We're in the air, we're on the ground, always in control,
And when you say the Oilers, you're talking Super Bowl.
'Cause we're the Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers,
Houston Oilers, Number One.
(I've always wondered what that line in the third verse meant: "Houston Oilers, Number One - Five - Seven - Eight, We're the best from the Lone Star State!" What's the significance of those numbers?)
The new Reliant Stadium is right beside the Astrodome.
It was only a couple of miles back to the hotel, but I got lazy, and decided to take the train. It's a light rail system, with overhead electric lines. In some places, it shares a lane with cars.
There was a stop right outside the stadium complex, and I was curious to see how it worked.
I'm still not sure how it works. No one seems to take tickets. But it did work.
I didn't get to check out Minute Maid Park, which is further away in other direction from Rice, but one day I will.