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

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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.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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