What has changed since the last time we heard the words “Houston wins the Pennant?”

Jeff Bagwell was near the end when the Astros played in the World Series in 2005. Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Stringer/Getty Images

After the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, I read an article about the country’s most depressing sports cities. This was obviously an exercise in futility because every city that has a long drought from winning titles feels uniquely depressed in their own way. The last “Big Three” Houston sports team to win a championship were the Rockets in 1993-94 and 1994-95. If the Astros win the World Series, I imagine the “then and now” articles will be even more drastic. The last team to even go to a championship game were the Astros in 2005 and they were swept by the Chicago White Sox. Houston and the entire country as a whole has completely changed since 2005. I was just a high school senior, working as a server (in 2005 they called us waitresses) at a wing restaurant where I experienced the euphoric highs of watching my boys win the pennant and the lowly lows of watching that same team get beaten four straight times. It almost feels like the 2005 World Series never happened. We celebrated FINALLY beating the St. Louis Cardinals, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath us in a week.

How much has Houston changed in the 12 years that have passed since the Astros last won the pennant? Well, for one – the Astros are now an American League team, the only team to win a pennant in both the American and National League. Where there used to be a hill in the outfield, there is a now a Torchy’s Tacos, and both Saint Arnold and Karbach have a presence at the ball park. The make-up of this team is also very different. Young players acquired through the draft supplemented by veterans give the team an underdog feel, but also a locker room with experience in the postseason.

But outside of the Astros and their home field, how much has changed? The answer? Everything.

Let’s start with downtown Houston. In 2005, downtown was a complete disaster. Houstonians drove into downtown to go to work, then immediately left to head home. There was no bar scene, the light rail system was used by no one except people looking to migrate from one part of downtown to the other, or homeless people trying to get out of the elements. There were barely any restaurants downtown and any places that did exist closed at 5 pm. It was a barren wasteland of office buildings and space begging to be utilized. Flash forward to now and you’ll see a completely revitalized downtown. Hotels that never existed before, a revitalized and expanded rail system, and a transformed bar scene on Main that attracts patrons from neighborhoods that 12 years ago were just as downtrodden and hopeless as the city center itself.  

My current neighborhood, Montrose, was one of those neighborhoods. In 2005 it was generally still a haven for the art crowd, and LGBTQ folks hoping to find a safe space where they wouldn’t be ostracized. As a weird teenager in 2005, I longed to escape the suburbs and move to Montrose. Now, Montrose is where yuppies looking for an artsy neighborhoods tear down bungalows and build giant apartment complexes and three story townhomes. Gay bars have been replaced by kitschy restaurants and the annual Pride Parade has moved from the neighborhood to downtown Houston for no other reason than the complaints of people who’ve never experienced the parade in the first place.

What about the world as a whole? What changes have we seen since 2005? Currently on it’s 8th iteration, the phone that has completely changed the world and how we experience it wouldn’t even be released for another two years. In 2005, the phone to have was the Motorola Razr – a slender flip phone that fit perfectly in your back pocket. You were still using T9 to text your friends and plans that included “data” weren’t even necessary. No one thought about accessing the internet on your cell phone. You used it for calls, texts if you were good enough and taking grainy low resolution pictures.

Because the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet, you had to access Facebook from your actual computer. Twitter didn’t exist. The idea of taking a photo that lasted for only 10 seconds was a thought would only occur to Brett Favre or Anthony Wiener – and in 2005, both of them still kept their pants on. If you went out for a delicious dinner, there was no Instagram to share your meal with. Apps didn’t exist, so highlights were consumed via SportsCenter or on your computer. You couldn’t watch game highlights on your phone seconds after they happened. For me, one of the most jarring changes of the past twelve years comes in our exposure to athlete’s real time thoughts on social media. In 2005, if a player felt a certain way about social issues, or team issues, or even other players in the league we didn’t know that unless they spoke with someone in sports media. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have given us access to athletes in a unique way. We are seeing them as people and not just the carefully crafted robots that the media have access to. Because of this, instead of beat reporters or sideline reporters having the best information about a team, it’s many times their own words on social media that people dissect. Generally, we’re not interested in a canned locker room response to a specific question, but rather a set of emoji eyeballs on Twitter, or a random Instagram like from an athlete.

The No. 1 song in October 2005? Gold Digger by Kanye West. Batman Begins was released. George W. Bush was still president.

Our city has changed drastically in the past 12 years. But more important still, our world purview and access to the athletes we’ve seen before only as entertainment has changed the most. This year for the World Series I’ll be trading in the Wings N More from 2005 for a sports bar, favoriting tweets from the Astros social media, and keeping up with my internet friends online. Along with all of the changes in Houston and the world, let’s hope the boys have a different outcome on the field as well.

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Play ball! Composite image by Jack Brame.

Nothing puts an exclamation point on the arrival of spring like baseball’s Opening Day.

“Beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today, we’re born again, there’s new grass on the field” – John Fogerty, rock ‘n’ roller in Centerfield.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring” – Baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby.

“Opening Day. All you have to do is say the words and you feel the shutters thrown wide, the room air out, the light pour in. In baseball, no other day is so pure with possibilities” – Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mary Schmich.

"Spring! Rejuvenation, rebirth, everything’s blooming, all that crap” – Pretend latex salesman George Costanza.

The Houston Astros, born 1962, will play their 62nd Opening Day game at 6:08 p.m. Thursday against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park. Megan Thee Stallion will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, Mark Wahlberg will holler “play ball” and the Astros will begin the defense of their 2022 World Series title. The national anthem will be performed by Cody Johnson.

There will be a pre-game street festival outside the stadium from 3-6 p.m. There will be live music, (oh no) face painting and photo booths, corn hole and, of course, beer and food glorious food. You’ll need a ticket to the game to get inside the street fest gates, however. The game officially is sold out, but literally thousands of tickets are available, at a marked-up price, on secondary market sites. It’s the new economy, that ain’t so new anymore.

The Astros are riding an MLB record 10 consecutive Opening Day wins. Astros starters have an incredible 1.20 earned run average during the streak. Both Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander started three Opening Day games during the stretch, all Astros victories. Framber Valdez will be on the bump for the Astros in their 2023 opener. He started and won last year’s opener, 3-1, outdueling Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani. The way the Astros stick with Opening Day pitchers, this could be the start of things to come for Valdez.

Roy Oswalt had the most Opening Day starts, eight in a row between 2003-10. Shane Reynolds started five Opening Day games in a row from 1996-2000. Mike Scott started five openers in a row from 1987-91. J.R. Richard started five in a row from 1976-80.

Bobby Shantz started the first Astros (then the Colt .45s) opener in 1962, a complete game 11-2 win over the Cubs at Colt Stadium.

Down through the ages, the Astros franchise has a 33-28 record on Opening Day. The team with the most successful Opening Day record is the New York Mets, 40-21, for a .656 winning percentage.

After 61 seasons, the Astros-Colt .45s finally pushed their all-time won-loss record over the .500 mark last season. By winning 106 regular-season games and going 11-2 in the postseason, the Astros now have an all-time mark of 4,831 wins and 4,820 losses.

This year, for the first time in baseball’s modern era, every team will play every other team during the regular season. While the Astros won’t be meeting (beating) their traditional American League West rivals like the Angels and Rangers 19 times each, they’ll make up for it by playing National League patsies Pirates, Rockies, Marlins, Reds and Nationals.

All 30 teams will open their season on Thursday. All 30 teams also will be in action on Jackie Robinson Day on April 15. They’ll do the same on Roberto Clemente Day on Sept. 15.

While MLB is making changes like the new schedule, bigger bases, pitch clock and no shift, maybe it’s time to put a different name on spring training. Spring? Teams arrive in Florida and Arizona in early February, the dead of winter, and they’re practically breaking camp on March 21, the first day of spring. I guess “winter training” is too gloomy an image, though.

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