HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Halfway home at the rodeo

The Marlie McDonald interview was an early highlight. abc13.com

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!

We’re at the midway point for Rodeo Houston: 10 days down, 10 to go.

And, yes, there are times when it feels like all the days run together. The events that get the crowds going are the same events you see every performance. But even though those of us who do all 20 shows chuckle and say we feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, there are moments every night that get you going.

For me, it’s just before they come to me for the intro for first event of the night: tie-down roping. As Boyd Polhamus, Bob Tallman and Andy Seiler welcome the crowd, I wait on the incredible new star stage, which is pushed back toward the ropers.  

The Grand Entry wagons and riders circle the arena. The Star Spangled Banner echoes through NRG and the virtual flyover fighter jets race across the big screens. Then the lights go down and they crank up the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s theme song – Party With Your Boots On.

That’s when routine goes out the window. I get chills and goosebumps and I’m ready to go. It’s the adrenaline shot. It’s like chugging a Red Bull before the rodeo starts.

That’s always the moment for me. Every night.

What follows next is my introduction of one of the tie-down ropers. Each night I pick one and try to give the crowd a little insight into not only his accomplishments, but into his story. Maybe it’s something about his strategy, or his hometown – Fred Whitfield from Hockley, TX, or Richie Champion from The Woodlands. Or Tyson Durfey who wears pink because he’s trying to raise breast cancer awareness. It’s about telling the story, and helping the crowd trying to identify with these cowboys.

With that, the night is off and running.

Groundhog moments notwithstanding, there have been a lot of great moments in the first half of Rodeo so here are a few of my favorite moments thus far:

* Most people love the Mutton Bustin’ and always ask or comment about interviewing those five and six year old winners.  Well, I love it. One of my favorite moments so far was interviewing the opening night winner – six-year-old Marlie McDonald, who stole the show with her curly red hair and dreams of saving the world as a spy.

* A few nights later, a little boy with little red glasses and little red tennis shoes was pretty precious, too. He said he practiced on his mom and used a blanket, but that kept slipping off. They tired a towel and that worked. When I asked him where he got his glasses, he looked at me and said, “at the prescription store of course!”

* The night Astros president Reid Ryan and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio rode into the arena and Reid had the World Series Trophy cradled in his right arm.  Some folks were concerned about Reid carrying the trophy on horseback, but as the saying goes, “This wasn’t his first rodeo...” and he knew EXACTLY what he was doing!  When Bob and Boyd announced that the World Series Trophy was in the house, the entire crowd erupted and went crazy.

* Later that same night, Craig came over and helped present the Mutton Bustin’ award. The little boy who won wants to be an Aggie baseball player when he grew up. I asked if he knew who that was kneeling next to him. He said no. The one kid who actually wanted to be a baseball player had no idea who Craig Biggio was. So I told him he was getting his buckle from perhaps one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  His mom and dad appreciated the moment a lot more than he did!

* Now I’m not a huge country music fan, but opening night with Garth Brooks had more energy than any night I’d ever seen. One, it was opening night. Two, Garth Brooks hadn’t played at the Rodeo in years  so the place was packed. They closed down gates and even people with (go everywhere) gold badges couldn’t get in. The usually late arriving crowd was in early, they were amped up, it was crazy and it was a great way to kick things off.

* The new stage has just been phenomenal and one of the highlights was on Black Heritage night with Leon Bridges. All five points on the star actually rise up, so it goes pretty high. The points have a tip on them and a guardrail. He was the first entertainer to take it up and actually utilize it. As cool as the stage has been and just watching it for the first time – the whole on countdown, the intro, the lights – everything is impressive. But to see Leon Bridges up there was really cool.

* On First Responders’ Night, Rascal Flatts did an incredibly  emotional tribute recognizing hurricane Harvey and the efforts of the first responders. The first responders surrounded the stage and arena on the dirt and Rascal Flatts sang, showed videos, expressed their gratitude, and had tears in everyone’s eyes.

* And there’s one other favorite that really epitomizes what it’s like to work the Rodeo.  It’s the Mares and Foals. It’s the second year for the generational presentation and it falls between the bull riding and calf scramble. They dim the lights and spotlight a 24 year-old mare, then introduce her daughter and the daughter’s daughter and, finally, a leggy foal who is the youngest in the line. They all run the arena floor together, and the crowd just eats it up. It’s all about family, just like the Rodeo itself. And it never gets old.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome