Astros baseball dinner and FanFest provide a heavy dose of nostalgia. The 50th anniversary celebration is underway.
Larry Dierker witnessed plenty of great moments during his four decades with the Houston Astros as a player, broadcaster and manager, but there’s one event in particular that stands out as more significant than the rest.
Keep in mind that Dierker threw a no-hitter, had his number retired by the team and struck out Willie Mays in his Major League debut on his 18th birthday in 1964. But those moments come in a distant second to Oct. 3, 1999 — the last regular season game played in the Astrodome.
The Astros had to win that game against the Dodgers in order to clinch the division title, and had they lost, the postgame celebration — one that included dozens of former players who flew in for the finale — surely would have been muted.
But they didn’t lose. They beat the Dodgers handily, and the party was on. Confetti fell from the gigantic Astrodome ceiling. Players rode onto the field on motorcycles and lit up the cigars. It was pandemonium, followed by an amazing tribute to Astrodome history: the All-Time team was honored on the field, and players from every decade were invited onto the field to commemorate the beginning, and the end, of a wonderful run in the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Dierker smiled at the memory.
“For about 30 minutes,” he recalled, “It was baseball heaven.”
Dierker shared that story a couple of times on Saturday at FanFest, capping a nostalgia-filled weekend that started with the annual baseball awards dinner, featuring nearly 20 players from the Astros’ past.
The weekend officially springboarded what will be a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Major League Baseball in Houston. The Colt .45s officially opened for business in 1962, became the Astros in 1965, and over the next five decades produced dozens of iconic figures and exciting moments that shaped baseball history in the Space City.
The end of this season will mirror that final day in 1999, in that the All-Time 25-man roster will be determined through a fan vote and a panel of experts. The players who comprise that roster will be invited back during the final homestand as part of Legends Weekend.
Other significant initiatives were revealed during FanFest. Here’s a few to look out for:
* An Astros Walk of Fame: areas outside of Minute Maid Park will be dedicated to honoring the best of the past. This year, names that will be made indelible on the grounds surrounding the ballpark include all nine retired numbers plus one player from each decade, as voted on by a panel of experts.
* Flashback Fridays: the Astros will wear retro jerseys from past decades every Friday home game this year, starting with the Colt .45s (minus the pistol, which was deemed inappropriate to include on a uniform).
* Great Moments bobbleheads: most Astros fans remember Mike Scott’s no-hitter, Jeff Kent’s walkoff homer in Game 5 of the 2004 NLCS and Chris Burke’s game-winning homer in Game 5 of the Division Series in 2005. Those moments, and more, will be recreated in the form of bobbleheads, to be given out at various games this year.
Images from a nostalgic weekend: