Fifty years after first game, Colt .45s honored
Former players return to Houston for pregame ceremony
HOUSTON -- By most accounts, the unseasonably hot weather that enveloped Minute Maid Park on Tuesday afternoon wasn't too different from the conditions in Houston exactly 50 years earlier. The hot wool uniforms, wooden bleachers and mosquitoes? They were thankfully nowhere to be found.
There aren't many things that remain from the day a Major League Baseball franchise was born in Houston on April 10, 1962, when the expansion Colt .45s took the field at makeshift Colt Stadium, in the parking lot of what would become the Astrodome, and whipped the Cubs, 11-2.
Fifty years to the day of the birth of the Colt .45s -- who three years later moved into the wondrous Astrodome and became the Astros -- several players from the franchise's inaugural team threw out ceremonial first pitches before Tuesday's game against the Braves at Minute Maid Park.
"I had already played quite a while before I came to the Colt .45s and I really enjoyed it," said Hal Smith, who was the catcher in the inaugural game and hit a home run. "Once nice thing about it is it was a great bunch of people, there was a great bunch of guys playing with me and we stayed friends for years. Not only that, I've never left. I was from Michigan and I ended up that year in Texas and never left."
Neither did Bob Aspromonte, a third baseman from Brooklyn who got the first hit and scored the first run in franchise history. He played for the Houston franchise from 1962-68 and remains a Houston resident and an Astros season-ticket holder.
Aspromonte was honored outside Minute Maid Park on Tuesday afternoon with a plaque on the new Astros Walk of Fame, which is located along Texas Avenue. The team's nine retired numbers players -- Jim Umbricht, Don Wilson, Jose Cruz, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Larry Dierker, Jimmy Wynn, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio -- and Hall of Fame broadcasters Gene Elston and Milo Hamilton have also been honored with a plaque on the wall.
Each month during the 2012 season, a new member will be inducted.
"It's very special," Aspromonte said. "I'm very sensitive to think about what happened 50 years ago, and to bring all that back and be surrounded by the players that were here today is something you won't forget."
Colt .45s players Smith, Aspromonte, Carl Warwick, Bob Bruce and Al Spangler, batboy Rick Cagney and broadcasters Elston and Rene Cardenas were honored on the field before the game.
"I wish we had a park like this," Spangler said.
Tuesday's anniversary game also took place on the 100th birthday of Astrodome visionary and original team owner Judge Roy Hofheinz, something that wasn't forgotten by Aspromonte.
"He deserves a tremendous amount of praise," he said.
Aspromonte went 3-for-4 and scored three runs against the Cubs that day in 1962, but Cuban-born Roman Mejias swung the biggest stick for the Colt .45s. He swatted a pair of three-run homers and drove in six runs -- a club record that would stand for more than 25 years. Smith went 2-for-4 with a homer.
Houston starting pitcher Bobby Shantz pitched a masterful complete-game five-hitter and was traded a month later. In fact, the nine players who started the game for the Colt .45s that day played the entire nine innings.
Bruce, who didn't play in the inaugural game, understandably remembers the game for something other than what happened between the lines.
"The hot uniforms," he said. "Not the mosquitoes, those hot uniforms. When we'd sweat in those things, they'd turn to like 50 pounds."
The current Astros wore replica Colt .45s uniforms on Tuesday -- complete with the revolver below the team name -- in the first of their season-long flashback promotions. They will wear throwback jerseys from different eras in team history throughout the season.
Some players, like Jose Altuve and Brian Bogusevic, wore the uniforms with the striped socks and orange stirrups visible, but most wore the long pants that are the standard among today's players.
"I think they're cool," third baseman Chris Johnson said. "I'm one of the guys that likes wearing throwbacks, though. It's a change. Honestly, I think it brings a team together. Guys are in there trying on different uniforms, trying on the stirrups guys wore back in the day.
"But, then again, once the game starts, we want to take it seriously and play hard because we're honoring those guys. That's what today is about."