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'Thanks for the great season'
10/25/2004 4:58 PM ET
HOUSTON -- Fully 30 minutes before the "Thanks for a Great Astros Season" rally was to start, 20-year-old Charlie Thrash of Baytown walked into Hermann Square in downtown Houston.

You couldn't miss him. Shuffling through a small sea of fans wearing Astros jerseys, T-shirts and other gear, his sleeveless red pullover accented the two large tattoos on each upper arm.

One was a portrait of Craig Biggio, the other of Jeff Bagwell. Thrash told how he had the tattoos inked last June, had gone to several Astros games and even once sat near Bagwell and Biggio's wives. "They liked them," he said of the tattoos. "They wanted pictures of me with them.

"I love Bagwell and Biggio. I love the way they play. They're not like the new players who like to show off a lot. They just play ball."

Thrash was there Monday, along with a crowd estimated at more than 2,000, to pay homage to his beloved heroes on the day Houston Mayor Bill White proclaimed "Thanks for a Great Astros Season Day."

In the midday heat of nearly 90 degrees, Thrash joined other diehard Astros fans who, though disappointed they still have never made a World Series, wanted to show the team their appreciation for the just-completed season. Many brought handmade signs, including several that exhorted free agent-to-be Carlos Beltran, who wasn't there, to return to the team.

The celebration was held in a carnival-like atmosphere on the City Hall steps in front of the Hermann Square reflecting pool. Circling the pool were tents and multicolored trucks from more than a dozen local radio stations.

Some gave out placards that read "Thanks for the great season," while others handed out the "We Believe" towels that became popular in the playoffs. Still others gave out coozies and wristbands and bumper stickers.

There was a large "Thank you Astros" banner stretched high across the middle of the City Hall building and a 20-foot inflated baseball on the patio before the steps. At the opposite end of the pool was a large blank banner that was quickly filling up with well-wishers' signatures and professions of love and allegiance to the team. There were hot dogs and soft drinks and peanuts and popcorn.

Fifteen minutes before the ceremony, tapes of playoff highlights recorded from the team's flagship radio station began playing over a loudspeaker. With television helicopters whirling overhead and more than a dozen TV cameras on a platform, the team mascot, Junction Jack, appeared on the steps and, along with helpers, threw soft baseballs with the team logo on them to the crowd.

Finally, the clock struck noon and Milo Hamilton, the Hall of Fame voice of the Astros, appeared on the dais. Not far behind were the rest of the dignitaries, including the mayor, U.S. Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Tom DeLay, several city councilpeople and Astros representatives. Velvet Ice, a local hip hop/R&B trio, sang the national anthem and then two confetti blowers began to shower the stage area with red, black and silver pieces of crepe.

Four Astros -- Biggio, Brad Lidge, Morgan Ensberg and Brandon Backe -- appeared along with manager Phil Garner, general manager Gerry Hunsicker and team president of business operations Pam Gardner. Each was introduced and made a short speech to the cheering fans.

Fans chanted "Bee-gee-o, Bee-gee-o" for the popular outfielder and "Back-ee, Back-ee" for the rookie pitcher from nearby Galveston. So Ensberg was a little sheepish when he came to the podium.

"My name's not as easy to chant as a Biggio or Backe," he said with a laugh. "But I appreciate all of you just the same."

Afterward, the Astros contingent met with the media inside City Hall. Biggio and Backe seemed especially grateful for the rally.

"I can't tell you how much I enjoy hearing them chant my name," Biggio said. "It's always meant a lot to me. This was really nice today."

Backe said the crowd chanting his name brought him back to just over a week before, when he heard the Minute Maid Park crowd chant his name during his dramatic Game 5, eight-inning, one-hit performance against the Cardinals that sent the National League Champion Series back to St. Louis.

"That was the first time I ever heard them chant my name," Backe said. "I went to bed that night dreaming about it and woke up a couple of times in the night still hearing them chant it. It was great and it still is great today."

Hunsicker praised the fans in attendance Monday and the thousands who sold out Minute Maid repeatedly in the playoffs.

"You'd expect something like this if we had gotten to the World Series," Hunsicker said of the rally. "The fact they came out today even though we came up a little short says something about this city and the mayor and the fans.

"I think this team and this season has done a lot toward making this a real baseball city."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.