Fifty years ago, they were the .45's
Houston franchise celebrates golden anniversary in 2012
The day the Houston franchise was born was one Bob Aspromonte will never forget.
As one of two expansion franchises in what was then the 10-team National League, the Houston Colt .45's played in a makeshift stadium with a ragamuffin group of players plucked from other organizations.
But on April 10, 1962, they were untouchable.
That was the day when Houston became a Major League town, and the Colt .45's celebrated the occasion by whipping the Chicago Cubs, 11-2, in the team's inaugural game. It's been 50 years since that landmark day, but Aspromonte speaks with enough passion to make you believe it was last week.
"When you come in for the first Major League Baseball game in the city of Houston and to get those people fired up like we did, it was really inspirational for a lot of the players, and we felt really good about it," said Aspromonte, a third baseman who got the first hit and scored the first run in franchise history.
W: Guthrie (1-0) L: Rodriguez (0-1)
SV: Betancourt (1)
"We played the Cubs on April 10 and it was hot," said Al Spangler, the starting center fielder. "We were just excited about playing, starting with a new team. We were just trying to win a game."
The Astros open their 50th anniversary season on April 6 against the Rockies at Minute Maid Park and on April 10 -- the 50th anniversary of the franchise's first game -- will wear replica uniforms worn by the original Colt .45's. Aspromonte will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"There was a lot of good memories how it all began and how that first game started and playing in the outdoor stadium," Aspromonte said. "It wasn't quite 100 degrees, but it was hot that day. Especially for younger players like us at the time, it was a great opportunity."
The franchise's inaugural game was played at Colt Stadium, a structure pieced together in only five months and used for three years while the Astrodome was being built next door. More than 25,000 fans braved the heat and humidity to witness history.
Aspromonte went 3-for-4 and scored three runs against the Cubs that day, but Cuban-born Roman Mejias swung the biggest stick for the Colt .45's. He swatted a pair of three-run homers and drove in six runs -- a club record that would stand for more than 25 years. Catcher Hal Smith went 2-for-4 with a homer.
Aspromonte led off the game with a single for Houston for the first hit in franchise history and wound up scoring the first run.
"For me, being the first batter and as we took that little Colt .45's field, the feeling with the fans was incredible," he said. "What I remember also was the way we played the game. We won that game by a big margin, 11-2, and played very well."
Houston starting pitcher Bobby Shantz pitched a masterful complete-game five-hitter and was traded away a month later. In fact, the nine players who started the game for the Colt .45's that day played the entire nine innings.
"The fans and how they cheered when we came in from left field and walked all the way to the dugout, the young kids were lined up yelling and screaming and slapping hands and wanted to really feel a part of it," Aspromonte said. "I thought that fan-player relationship was super."
Spangler, who had the first RBI in team history when he tripled home Aspromonte in the first inning, was taken by the Astros from the Braves in the expansion draft and couldn't help but wonder what he had gotten himself into.
"I was with Milwaukee and I supposedly had a shot at playing center field for the Braves in '62, but they called me and told me I was sold to Houston, Texas," Spangler said. "I said, 'Where the hell is Houston, Texas?' We ended up buying a house in Houston in August of '62 and we've lived here ever since."
And baseball has remained in Houston, too.
From quaint Colt Stadium, to the air-conditioned luxury of the Astrodome, to the modern amenities of Minute Maid Park, baseball and Houston have grown up together. There have been heartbreaks and disappointments along the way and dozens of memorable performances and names.
It all began on April 10, 1962 -- the day Major League baseball was born in Houston.