Ortiz: Sharing a father’s love of baseball through Astros

Fittingly, perhaps, Minute Maid Park was the first public place where we dared take our baby Kathleen around thousands of people. Until then, my wife and I didn’t want our then-six-month-old around large groups where she could pick up any stranger’s germs.

The date was April 7, 2004. It was the third game of that season, the first start in an Astros uniform for seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, and the first victory of the season on a night future Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio drove in runs.

A few months later, my wife bought Kathleen her first replica MLB jersey, a white No. 5 Bagwell jersey. The baby had no choice on the selection, nor an opinion, for that matter. Two more girls and almost 15 years later, my girls donned their new No. 27 Astros jerseys for the first time this morning to celebrate their hometown team’s home opener.

Despite the Astros’ unprecedented losing ways from 2011 through 2013, my girls have lived through what has arguably been the franchise’s golden era. A day after Kathleen was born in 2003, Richard Hidalgo hit three home runs against the Rockies on Sept. 16, 2003, at Coors Field in what technically was the first game she saw on television from the hospital.

A year later, the Astros won a playoff series for the first time. A year after that they won their first and only National League pennant to reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Much has changed with the Astros since Kathleen was born, including the players, obviously, the team’s uniform colors and schemes, the spring training site, the owners and even the team’s leagues.

Much has changed with our family as well, adding two baseball-loving girls along the way.

One thing has remained consistent, though, and that’s the important place the Astros play in my kids’ life even if each has adopted a “favorite” National League team since their Astros joined the American League in 2013.

Despite a two-year sojourn to one of America’s true baseball meccas, St. Louis, the girls made sure we brought them back to Minute Maid Park at least once a year, including for the 2017 World Series.

Along the way, they began to grow out of their replica Astros jerseys, leaving us with a dilemma before Opening Day last week. The oldest celebrated baseball’s Opening Day by donning a Cubs jersey in honor of the NL team her maternal grandmother Donna taught her to love. The youngest, Sydney, 10, wore one of her many Dodgers jerseys in honor of my hometown team.

The middle daughter Maya Shea, 12, who was named in honor of Shea Stadium and has picked the Mets as her NL team, hoped to wear a former Mets rookie’s famous Astros jersey. Somehow, though, she left her No. 34 Nolan Ryan jersey behind.

How did this happen, I wondered. How did my wife and I forget to get the girls their new Astros jerseys for Opening Day?

We vowed to remedy the situation before Friday’s home opener at Minute Maid Park. As the trite saying goes, however, no good deed goes unpunished. A heated debate ensued with the youngest because we didn’t get her the jersey she would have picked.

When looking through the selection of Astros jerseys at a local sporting goods store, it’s easy to see why manager AJ Hinch has a squad that many baseball experts expect to contend for their second title in three years.

José Altuve, Justin Verlander, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman were the biggest names available on the jerseys for sale.

Altuve, the former AL MVP, seemed like the best choice. He embodies the best of Major League Baseball and sports, proving that you can succeed if you’re talented, hungry and don’t let others define you or limit you because of your height.

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Considering that Altuve’s contract is locked in through 2024, it also seems safe to assume that my girls can wear out and outgrow their Altuve jerseys before the perennial All-Star second baseman finishes playing with the Astros.

Houstonians are blessed to have had two Hall of Famers – Bagwell and Biggio – play their entire careers with the Astros. If you bought a Biggio or Bagwell jersey, you would grow out of that jersey before they ever stopped being part of the Astros organization.

That type of dual loyalty is rare in professional sports these days, but it’s good to see that Braves fans can expect to see reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr. in Atlanta for the next eight years. The same can be said on the south side of Chicago with Eloy Jiménez and in Houston with the charismatic Bregman.

Cardinals fans have been blessed to see Yadier Molina play his entire brilliant career with the Cardinals.

Closer to home, kids don’t consider contract status when picking a jersey. My youngest daughter wasn’t quite as thrilled about her Altuve jersey as her older sisters.

Although she has proudly kept an Altuve hit counter bobblehead since she was seven, Sydney considers Correa her favorite Astro. She even attempted to debate the merits of Correa over Altuve.

They’re both special, but Altuve is only the second Astro to be a league MVP, I argued. She pointed out that Correa was only the second Astro to be a Rookie of the Year.

On and on we went, father and daughter, discussing the merits of two young superstars. I’ve had similar discussions with Kathleen and Maya, but this one was more heated than usual. Sydney, after all, is the one who keeps daily tabs on the Astros and the Dodgers.

She’s the one who is always asking me baseball questions. Those chats are part of our daily soundtrack.

We share our love of baseball with our children, pass it down from generation to generation, enjoying even the heated debates over players.

I look forward to decades of similar arguments with my girls, just as countless fathers in Houston in previous generations had arguments with their kids on the Bagwell-Biggio debate.

Enjoy your home opener, Houston.

Featured Image: Courtesy Jesus Ortiz