Romeo, Romeo, wherefore Art Howe, Romeo?
If this is Sunday, then Art Howe is in Chicago. In the twilight of a monthlong road trip, the manager of the Houston Astros is trying to return his team to its original upright position. This task might remind him of air travel, which in turn might remind him of United Airlines' confounding scat-pocket safety-instruction cards, which warn: "If you cannot read this card...please notify a flight attendant."
Then again, what wouldn't remind Howe and his Astros of the idiocies of air travel these days? By the time they return to Houston—which they left on July 27—for a home stand that begins on Aug. 25, the Astros will have flown 9,062 miles and bused another 124 to complete their current away stand.
The Astros will also have played 26 games in 28 days in eight cities and three time zones, encountering, along the way, 35,000 attorneys, one inflatable woman, an untold number of livestock (during the indignity that is Farmers' Night in Cincinnati), five comical members of a Navy color guard and—it's a cliché, we know—a hotel filled with temperate Pentecostals and hardware salespeople.
In short, Dinger or Homer or whoever it was who wrote the Odyssey didn't know jack about travel. Now, this is a road trip: Houston to Atlanta to Cincinnati to Los Angeles to San Diego to San Francisco to Chicago to Houston (for 36 hours off) to St. Louis to....
"Philadelphia?" asks Astro shortstop Casey Candaele. "I think the last stop is Philadelphia, isn't it? That's my favorite city on the trip—the last one."
The Astros, you may know, were rendered homeless by the Republicans, who required a full three weeks of preparation in the Astrodome before beginning their four-day national convention there on Monday. Astro owner John J. McMullen graciously came to the aid of the party last summer, when he volunteered his team's joint to the G.O.P.
"We weren't happy at all when we heard about it," recalls Astro first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who is still not terribly pleased. "It's a shame. It's unprecedented. Other teams aren't playing 28 days on the road. What would have happened if we had been in a pennant race when we started this trip? Everybody keeps saying it's supposed to be a good experience, but I don't know about that."
Still, what was supposed to have been a long day's journey into ninth for fifth-place Houston has hardly been a disaster for the team: Through Sunday the Astros were 8-12 on the trip, which still leaves them 19½ games out of first in the National League West. So perhaps this is a good experience, after all?
"Well, I tried to stress that they should have fun," says Howe. "Coming in, I looked at this trip as an opportunity for the players to get to know each other a little better. I think that is happening."