The Hunker Down Chronicles, Part 3: Legends Weekend!

Aug 26, 2:30 pm: we saw another band come through around 10 am, but it left fairly quickly and moved north of us. It’s been calm ever since, but the radar shows that the rain should pick up here soon and hang around for a few hours. At any rate, it hasn’t been the deluge that we thought – at least not yet, which is good. It’s good that the bayous have had some time to drain before the next onslaught.
Time has been a bit of an enigma lately, what with the baby and all sorts of other life factors. So while it was just a scant week ago, the Astros’ annual Legends Weekend feels more distant. I suppose prepping for a hurricane will do that to you. I went to the game last Saturday with my pal Craig, and we met up early in order to hit up the “Legends” autograph sessions. Here’s a quick peek at my haul, before we delve into the details:
Not too shabby! Again, it was a mixed bag as far as “legend” status goes, but that’s to be expected. They pulled a fast one on us this year, though – in the past, signings have been on the lower concourse, and last year they were in the Union Station lobby, beyond the left field wall.* Since last year’s was fairly successful in that location, I’d assumed it would be back in the same spot.

But, that’s not how it worked. Instead, they (a) put the signing on the top concourse level and (b) only allowed people with (free) autograph vouchers to attend – fortunately I’d spotted when those were made available a few weeks back. This was much better than last year, where they arbitrarily cut the line off after a certain amount of people, and meant that you didn’t have to be first in line at the stadium to get to the signing. They did cut off vouchers at some point.

What they also did, though, and did not announce, was split the Legends into two different groups, based on the last name of who reserved the vouchers. So if you were A-K you got one group of guys, and L-Z got another. This was annoying, and I ran into many disgruntled autograph-seeking fans who were unhappy about the endeavor. We were in the A-K line. Here’s the problem – 3 of our allotted 12 Legends were missing. So the group started off with Ron Cook, a fine lefty who pitched a great season in 1970, then hurt his arm in winter ball and saw some limited time in 1971 before his big league days were done. He was also at last year’s signing, so I took the time to whip up a custom for him this time around. Ron really dug it, and told Craig and I that this photo was from Spring Training in Cocoa Beach, FL.

Next at the table was Shane Reynolds, a bonafide Astros legend who spent a decade in the rotation. We were supposed to be limited to one item, so I opted for the 1999 Topps – the Astros were celebrating the 1997 NL Central Championship team, so they were wearing the late 90’s uniforms, and it just seemed appropriate. I told Shane it was a difficult decision not to go with the 1992 Donruss Rookies rookie card though, and he goes, “hey, I’ll sign another. Gimme that.” When I told him thanks because I knew we weren’t supposed to get more than one, he said, “oh, I’m doing something I’m not supposed to do? Whoops, oh well. Let them get mad at me.” Then he told me to take one of the postcards he’d been signing before I walked off – what a guy!
After Shane, it was Carl Warwick – not quite an original Colt .45, but close. Warwick was acquired in the first trade the club ever made, when they traded away Opening Day starter Bobby Shantz. He was also at last year’s signing, so I went custom for him this time as well. He thought this one was really cool, so I gave him a spare copy.
Dickie Thon was one of the guys I was most excited about meeting. I’ve got a certified auto of his from 2013 Hometown Heroes, but you know – no logo, and it’s always nice to have something that was signed in person. I went with this classic 1983 Fleer of the then-phenom shortstop, before he took a career-derailing fastball to the face from Mike Torrez. Thon had racked up 13.5 WAR over the 1982-83 seasons after becoming a full-time player, but the fifth game of his 1984 season would forever alter the course of his career. Here’s a great Vice Sports (RIP) article on Thon’s career and struggles. Thon was all smiles at the event, chatting with fans and hamming it up with his fellow alumni.

Scipio Spinks and Billy Smith were the next two at the table – both of them were at last year’s event as well. Smith only had one Astros card, the 1982 Topps Astros Prospects which he shares with Danny Heep and Bobby Sprowl – both of whom were on the ’81 card as well. I was out of stuff for him, and unable to find a good photo couldn’t make a custom. But I did find another great Spinks image, and he thought the custom card was really cool. Thon saw it hit the table and said, “Look at that handsome fella! Who’s that?” with a big grin. Spinks had speed both on the mound and on the basepaths, enough so that the Cardinals took advantage of the latter by having him pinch run while he was there. Unfortunately, this led to him winding up in a play at the plate with Johnny Bench in mid 1972, and he tore several ligaments in his right knee while scoring. He made it back for 8 games at the big league level in 1973, but wasn’t ever quite the same and toiled a few more seasons in the minors before hanging them up.

Another true legend, Larry Dierker, was next to Smith. Larry made his debut with the Colt .45s as a September call-up  in 1964, starting on his 18th birthday. He pitched for the ‘Stros through 1976, tossing a no-hitter, and after retiring went on to several other positions in the organization, including broadcaster and managing the club from 1997-2002. He’s almost synonymous with the club’s history. I’ve been fortunate to get Larry’s autograph on several occasions, so I took the time to try out one of my new custom designs for this – it again went over very well. These customs are based on the 1962 Topps Football set, and is one of the first prototypes I’ve made of it. Hm, I ought to detail more of my customs in some posts.

Last, but certainly not least of all the Legends at our table was the Toy Cannon himself, the original slugger for the club: Jimmy Wynn. I’d prepared one of those ’62 football customs for him as well, but I’d also brought a pair of balls to get signed, just in case. Again, Mr. Wynn has been at the last few of these events I’ve been to, between Legends Weekend and FanFest, so I’ve already got a few cards signed by him. I was nervous about how a ball would turn out, though – he’s in a wheelchair and while he takes a very deliberate and determined approach to signing, I know that sometimes with the older guys balls and flats are completely different stories. However, I noticed a guy a few spots up in line getting a ball signed, and it looked good, so I hurriedly rushed to get one out. It turned out amazing, and he even added the Toy Cannon inscription I requested. I’m so happy to add this one to the shelf in my office.

“Wait – he said last at the table, but there’s clearly more than that in this post!”

Yes, indeed – you are correct! The A-K voucher table was at one end of the top concourse, the L-Z voucher tables were at the other end. Craig and I decided that since the game didn’t start for another 45 minutes, we might as well test our luck at the other end and just see if we could get in the line anyway. Well, the guy there was a stickler, and despite our protest and the very light line, he wouldn’t let us past the stanchions.

I took a gander to see who had actually made it, as there were still a few guys missing at this set of tables as well, including Bob Aspromonte, the original fan favorite of the .45s. Still, there were a few guys I wanted, so we stepped to the side, and I pulled out some cards in case the situation changed. It did, and the ladies that took over the line monitoring originally gave us the same rejection – but when we lamented the fact that they split the group and hadn’t announced it, and pointed out that there were only ten people left in line, they – well, they still said no. But then they had pity on us and relented. So here’s to more autographs! I’ll try to be a little quicker on these.

First up was catcher Johnny Edwards. I’d written him in the past and received several extra photos from him – he’s tremendously nice. I found a spare ’74, and whipped up another Wilson-Franks style custom. He obliged me to take one of the team provided postcards as well.

Next was Jackie Moore – bench coach for the middling 2008 club helmed by Cecil Cooper, and former manager of the Round Rock Express. Moore spent one season in the majors with Detroit and has decades of coaching and managing experience. He remarked that someone must have “hit a real big home run” in the moment depicted on the custom I made.

Another early Astros catcher, Bill Heath, was on hand as well. I’d acquired him through the mail after he was a no-show at last year’s event, so – yup – more customs! 

Gerald Young, speedy centerfielder for the club at the time my fandom was just beginning, was up next, and he could not have been more excited to chat with fans. When I walked up with this pair of rookie cards in hand and asked how he was doing, he immediately reached out to shake my hand and said “Good! How about you? How’s things going?”

Craig had opted for the ’89 Upper Deck, which I got signed by Young at last year’s event. That card shows Young making a fabulous home-run robbing catch at the wall, which Craig remarked was one of his favorite cards as a kid. Gerald went into story time, telling us, “oh yeah – at Dodger Stadium! I saw my first game as a kid there, with my brother,” and went on to recount the memory. He handed me a postcard as well.

Former Astros first baseman – and skipper of the club during my formative years of fandom – Art Howe was up next. I asked when the last time he’d seen one of the SSPC cards was, to which he remarked, “Hey, my rookie card! It’s been a while!” I couldn’t resist the ’81 Donruss with the tequila sunrise striping so fabulously on display either. He handed me a postcard as well.

Next to Art was right-handed reliever Ryan Bowen, one of the young pitching prospects on the club when I first started watching the team. I got another card and postcard, but Craig got a story. He’d selected a spare ’92 Upper Deck of mine, which shows Bowen being carried piggyback by the late Darryl Kile (again, a card I got signed last year). Craig said something about DK, and Bowen told him that he had a copy of the card signed by Darryl.

Last at the table was my only true frustration of the day – one Louie Meadows, of whom I know I have some nearly two-dozen junk wax cards sitting in my dupes box. He wasn’t on the announced list, and doesn’t appear to answer mail requests. I’d come prepared with a box featuring cards of nearly 80 guys that might have shown up, but Meadows wasn’t among them, so I was resigned to getting this 1987 Fleer Team Sticker back signed, and another team-provided postcard. Gah! Louie was super nice though, so many thanks to him.
To get back downstairs, we decided to walk to the other end once again, as that’s where the escalators were, and I decided to check and see if any of the missing ‘Stros had shown up. A couple had, so I asked politely if I could go back through just to get them, and the line attendant said yes.

Short-term ‘Stro Philip Barzilla was first. He’s got one Astros card with varying parallels – the 2006 Topps ’52 Edition, but I was unable to locate one. Perhaps next time.

Barzilla was at the very first table. Since the other guy I wanted was next-to-last among the signers, I decided it would be kind of a jerk move to cut down the tables just to get him. Since I was waiting patiently in line, I got another pair of cards signed by Warwick and Thon. I’d pulled the ’63 Topps out of my binder, so now I’ll need another for the collection.

Another short-term ‘Stro, backup infielder Jerry DaVanon was the last guy I needed at the table. He doesn’t answer his mail either, from what I can tell over at SCN, so this was a nice opportunity to land him.
Finally, I was left with one more Jimmy Wynn card in my collection (I’d given him the other ’62 football custom), so I went ahead and got that signed as well.

Phew! Well, I certainly killed some hunker time with that post. It’s now 4:00 pm and still no sign of that next band of rain. Perhaps we won’t see any more until tonight. We’re still ready, though.

Until the next update,

 – Marc

P.S. Oh, I almost forgot! They gave away a bobblehead – and not just any bobblehead, but a TRIPLE bobblehead of the celebration moment after the Astros clinched the ’97 NL Central title, featuring Bagwell lifting Biggio in the air and an excited Mike Hampton running over to embrace them. It looks great!

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