The Strange Grace of Players Trading Places

image via Flickr user abbygdawson (click-through)

You would be hard-pressed to find another franchise that’s had a two-day period the likes of the Astros recent whirlwind. Not only in terms of volume of activity, but when you consider that the Astros traded away the two players who have defined the team for the last decade. Two pillars, gone, in two days.

As I mention occasionally, deep down I’m an Astros fan (despite a recent diversion to the Mariners). I grew up on them, cut my teeth in the Astrodome, etc. Lance Berkman has been one of my favorites since he played at Rice University in Houston. He’s charming and self-deprecating (“I think any great performer or athlete has to have a little bit of a gut to be great.” – from an interview with Dan Patrick). He has a sweet swing. In short, he’s a great franchise player, who is both likable and awesome.

Oswalt isn’t as likable, but his manner of pitching makes up for that. He’s always had a somewhat distinct style, with his hard, straight fastball, excellent command and a loopy curveball. His stern-faced business-like manner was the counterweight to Berkman’s more jovial nature.

Other Astros came and went–great players and nobodies–but there was always the feeling that Berkman and Roy-O would be around. They were the main planetary bodies and the rest of the team orbited around them. They were drafted by the Astros and came up with the Astros, signing large contracts when they didn’t need to. If timelessness and aesthetic consistency is your baseball jam, then these two were Hall of Famers.

They’re gone now. Both of them. In days. Even from my displaced POV, this is a shock. Like if your parents sold off your childhood home and moved to a condo without telling you. Reasonable, yes, and probably necessary. But strange and disconcerting nonetheless.

The sense that there’s nowhere left to go home to. But that’s growing up for you, and growing older, and the most any of us can do is make a home with what we have, right where we’re at.

Today, I’ve got my Berkman t-shirt on. It’s clean, and fits me well. And I look forward to see him wear Yankee pinstripes, odd as that may be to say. Great players should play on big stages, and though he’s past his greatest days, his swing is still pretty and he does well what the Yankees like in their players: getting on base and playing well calmly. Same, too, for Roy Oswalt, though he’ll be in the same league. He’ll show some new fans what he does well, and that’s something.

There is pleasure to be had in seeing something well-known and beloved in a different setting. You can’t stand still, after all. You’ve got to move forward.

Jump to: it’s a couple of days since I wrote the above. I’ve watched Berkman play in two games. In the first, he went oh-fer. Today, he had a ringing single. In a reverse of roles, I was as glad as a parent to see him get his first Yankee hit. Watching Lance make his way in the big wide world, out of the comfort zone of Houston. When others bestowed praise on him, I accepted it personally.

The brain adjusts quickly to change, even if previously the prospect seemed unbearable. My brain’s new challenge is to accept the Lance Berkman of the Yankees, and the Roy Oswalt of the Phillies, and to get on with it, taking pleasure where I may as the Astros (slowly) nurture new heroes. After all, Chris Johnson‘s having a pretty good month….

2 Responses to “The Strange Grace of Players Trading Places”

  • I can understand what you’re saying. Growing up as I did in the late 70s, for me, it was inconceivable that Reggie Jackson should be in any other uniform than New York’s. (This was before I knew about his early career. Seeing Patrick Ewing not in a Knicks uniform was bizarre as well. And I could never, ever imagine seeing Jeter or Rivera in another uniform. It would be awful. But, as you said, it is time for the next generation of Oswalts and Berkmans to come up.

  • You bring up a good point, Paul, which is the perhaps irrational fear that no one will ever rise to take their place when the team’s generational core members leave.

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