As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, let’s not forget about the lovable old catcher. (No, not Ausmus.)
One of the more enjoyable parts of Spring Training has nothing to do with watching hitters knock the cobwebs off their bats or pitchers shake off the rust as they get back into the groove after a nice restful offseason.
No, one of my favorite parts of Spring Training occurs when I pass by the equipment manager’s office and see a robust 40-something, graying-around-the-temples ex-catcher who never misses an opportunity to visit old Astros friends.
It’s hard to not notice former catcher Tony Eusebio these days, partly because of his healthy girth and partly because of his booming voice, both of which are easily identifiable when he makes his yearly visit to the Astros’ spring complex in Kissimmee. He settled in Kissimmee after he retired, as did a few other former Astros, so it’s easy for Eusebio, one of the team’s most well-liked players in the 1990s, to pop in.
Admittedly, I don’t think a lot about Eusebio, affectionately nicknamed “Soobie,” or, even more appropriately, “Wheels,” during the forty-some weeks that I do not spend in glorious Kissimmee every year. But recently, the old catcher (and by old, I actually mean ageless — literally. A running joke back in the day was that Soobie actually got younger in the media guide every year) came back to the forefront when we posed the question on Twitter a couple of weeks ago: Who would you like to see throw out of ceremonial first pitch next year during the Astros’ season-long celebration of their 50th anniversary?
We were flooded with responses. The poll is unscientific, putting it mildly, but I think I can safely say that anyone who had any sort of impact on this team in the last 50 years — from Denny Walling to Willy Taveras — was mentioned by one or more Tweeps.
I don’t want to say that he generated more responses than Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio — that would be silly, and disingenuous — but clearly, you haven’t forgotten about Tony Eusebio. At the very minimum, every third or fourth response included a Soobie reference of some kind.
And why not? Tough Tony was the perfect backup backstop during his time in Houston from 1994-2001, a great teammate who was as reliable as your dad’s slippers. As a part-time player in 2000, he strung together a then club-record 24-game hitting streak that took nearly as long, in days, as Joe DiMaggio needed to set the all-time record of 56 games in 1941.
In 1997, Eusebio pulled off the improbable by stealing a base during the Division Series. In 296 career Major League games before then, Eusebio had exactly zero stolen bases.
Asked about it after the game, he shrugged and said simply, “Soobie likes to run.”
We’re still in the planning stages of our 50th anniversary celebration, but it’s never too early to hear from you on this topic. So I ask you: Who would you most like to see throw out a ceremonial first pitch next year?
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