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Where have you gone, Bill Doran?05/05/2002 3:50 PM ET
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- When the Houston Astros hosted their final regular-season game in the Astrodome on Oct. 3, 1999, nearly every player who made a significant contribution to the club in its 35 seasons of baseball in the "Eighth Wonder of the World" was invited back to say one last goodbye.
Among those players was Bill Doran, the Astros' scrappy second baseman who was an ingredient of some of the most exciting squads in franchise history during his Houston career from 1983-90.
The deafening applause for Doran by the standing-room-only crowd that had just watched the Astros clinch their third straight division title was a testament to the indelible mark Doran left on the franchise, despite the fact that fans hadn't seen him in a Houston uniform in nearly a decade.
Although Doran moved on to other teams, retired as a Brewer in 1993 and eventually served as a coach for the Reds, the Cincinnati native said that without a doubt his years in Houston were the finest of his 13-year Major League career.
"Those were by far the best memories," he said. "Nothing could replace that. We played together the entire time. That was back when teams stayed together. We were a close-knit group."
While Doran felt a tinge of nostalgia when he returned to Houston to participate in the closing of the Dome, he can't say that he was terribly disappointed to see the Astros move on to their brand new downtown home.
"I thought it was sad when they expanded it," Doran said, referring to the 1988 Dome refurbishings that replaced the 470-foot outfield scoreboard with more seats. "It used to be a cozy, unique place to play. Then they took the scoreboard out and it lost a lot."
These days, the 45-year-old Doran is the father of two grown daughters -- Dana, 23, and Amy, 20 -- and 15-year-old son Ryan, who is a freshman in high school and a three-sport athlete in baseball, basketball and football. The Doran family resides in Cincinnati, where Bill and his wife, Lori, spend most of their time going to Ryan's games and are currently making plans for Dana's wedding. Both daughters followed in their dad's footsteps and attended Miami (OH) University, where Doran played college baseball.
"They're working on improving the family GPA," he said.
Doran described his experience as a Reds coach last season as difficult in terms of the team's performance, but rewarding in other respects.
"It was a tough season," he said. "When you're hurt and guys don't play particularly well, as a coach there isn't much you can do about that. But it was fun getting around to different cities and seeing some of the people I hadn't seen in a while off the field."
Doran's trips to Houston were the most enjoyable, as it gave him a chance to reunite with former teammates who are still affiliated with the Astros in some capacity, including broadcasters Alan Ashby and Jim Deshaies and first base coach Jose Cruz.
"When you finish playing, it's the people that you look back on, not the games," he said. "Wins and losses are immaterial."
Doran was quick to point out that it wasn't just the uniformed personnel who made the Houston experience so enjoyable. He noted a number of behind-the-scenes folks who may not have been in the spotlight but were an integral part of the close-knit Astros family. Among his favorites: public relations exec Rob Matwick and Chuck Pook, clubhouse manager Dennis Liborio, head trainer Dave Labossierre and traveling secretary Barry Waters.
"It wasn't just the players," he said. "It was everyone. The relationships went a lot deeper than just the players, the guys in uniform. There wasn't a lot of turnover ... there was such quality personnel. The whole time I was there I never came across anybody that I wouldn't invite for dinner.
"Houston was a great place to play," Doran continued. "Fans appreciated effort. It wasn't nearly as cutthroat as some of the other places I've played. As a player, you certainly appreciate that. Guys who move on to other teams always say, 'Gosh, I never realized how good I had it (in Houston).' It was because of everyone affiliated with the team, not just the people you see in uniform."
If he were to get back into baseball in some capacity, Doran said Houston would be one of the few organizations he would consider.
"It's probably the only place I'd go back to," he said. "I enjoyed Cincinnati, but if I'd go anywhere else it would be Houston."
Doran cited the lure of the Astros' downtown ballpark and the continued loyalty of the Houston fans as reason enough to return.
"(Astros Field) was my favorite place to be of all of the new ballparks I saw when I was coaching with the Reds," he said. "Houston by far had the best atmosphere."
Doran's Astros career came to an end when he was traded to the Reds in 1990. Had it not been for back surgery, he would have been part of Cincinnati's World Series championship team that year -- he was checking into the hospital the day the Reds clinched the division.
"I missed the whole thing," he recalled. "I didn't feel like I belonged. I was just a rented player."
He was anything but rented in 1986, when the Astros were part of arguably the most exciting postseason series in franchise history. Although that team ended up losing a hard-fought National League Championship Series to the New York Mets, it's an experience Doran wouldn't trade for anything -- that is, except maybe a World Series ring.
"I wish it would have turned out better," he said. "But it's better to have had the chance to be in the playoffs and come up short than it is to never be involved. It was one week of memories that I still think about today."Alyson Footer covers the Astros for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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