It is. "There haven't even been any fights," said Astro second baseman Craig Biggio after two weeks on the road. "But the trip isn't over yet. Wait until the last week. Then we'll really see how well we're all getting along."
The Astros are the youngest team in the National League, with an average age of 27.12. The players are still fairly new to one another, as well as new to most baseball fans. Let's face it: The most famous Astro is still George Jetson's dog. "About the biggest difference for us on this trip," says Bagwell, "is all the media attention."
That's media attention, which rhymes with Republican convention which culminates on Thursday in the dome, when George Bush accepts his party's nomination for President of the United States on a podium erected near second base. Vice-President Dan Quayle's seat is along the rightfield foul line. (Reader: Insert your own joke here.)
Whatever happens at the G.O.P. convention, the Republicans have already made history, or at the very least they have made the Astros make history. Sure, the Montreal Expos took an extemporaneous 26-game road trip over the final 28 days of last season, when Olympic Stadium was declared structurally unsound. But the Expos visited a mere five cities and assembled a scant 6,526 frequent-flier miles on their international tour.
And, yes, the Phillies did play 28 games in 27 days in 1944, but eight doubleheaders gave the club four scheduled off days on that trip (the Astros have two days off). And, of course, the Phils didn't have to endure the joys of modern-day air travel. Last week some of the Astros were alarmed when their charter plane from San Francisco to Chicago seemed to dip toward the Bay before struggling skyward upon takeoff. "Whew," said Astro relief pitcher Joe Boever, recounting the moment. "We had to strap on the pontoons for that one."
It can be argued that the Astros' trip is the worst since the Cleveland Spiders played 50 straight away games over 52 days in 1899. And the Spiders—whose 20-134 record that season was the worst of all time—didn't have to shell out a fin to get their underwear starched and hangered. "Six bucks for a pair of jeans!" said Astro leftfielder Luis Gonzalez in Chicago, shaking his head at hotel laundry prices that strained the credulity of even the lavishly salaried big league ballplayers. "We needed that extra money."
In addition to the usual $59 per diem for meals, each Astro was given $150 in laundry money for the trip. "Already used mine," Bagwell said on Day 19. "I don't have a lot of clothes," Candaele said somewhat unnecessarily as he sat at his locker in San Francisco wearing sweatpants and a windbreaker. "I only brought one bag. They relaxed the dress code for the trip."
Last Friday at Wrigley Field, Astro outfielder Gerald Young held up a handmade cardboard sign to the television cameras: HEY MOM, SEND CLEAN UNDERWEAR! I'M OUT. Said St. Louis native Boever when the team was in Chicago, "I'm looking forward to St. Louis so I can use my mom's washing machine."
"Because we hit almost every city in the National League, everyone on the team sees a relative or friends somewhere along the way," notes former Astro pitcher and current broadcaster Larry Dierker, who is carrying a small camera with which he will have taken nearly 500 snapshots when the trip is finished. "I hope to put them together in a book and give copies to the players. This is a unique thing. It may not be fun, but it is memorable."
A favorite picture from the trip is of Boever and Butch Henry winning the cow-milking contest for the Astros on Farmers' Night in Cincinnati. Given the Astros' victory over the Reds earlier in the calf-feeding contest, the Houston team was not as dejected as it might have been about its loss in the corncob toss that night. "I played in Louisville," said a triumphant Boever, unfazed by Red owner Marge Schott's latest absurdity. "Loo-wuh-vull. You learn to milk a few cows in Loo-wuh-vull."