LAST NIGHT’S GAME featured Dallas Keuchel’s much-anticipated second start since coming back from injury, his first start having gone not so well. While the better of the two efforts, it was not quite the return to form we’d been hoping to see. Still, the upward trajectory is encouraging. And that is the most positive thing we can think to say about game 107 of the season, which otherwise offered eerie parallels to the previous night’s debacle (e.g., disappointing pitching, anemic hitting in the clutch) and resulted in another loss to the Rays, this time by a score of 3-0.
YULI TIDE… And to think, the day had started so well. It’s not so common for an Astro to be named American League Rookie of the Month, after all, especially when the rookie in question is actually 33 years old and a former Olympic gold medalist (2004, Cuba, baseball). But that is what Yuli Gurriel is, his July numbers (.304 average, 5 homers, 20 RBIs) having established once and for all that 1) the Sancti Spiritus Roosters' loss is the Houston Astros' gain, and 2) Aaron Judge is incapable of winning the title four times in a row. And that’s not the only honor slipping away from the Yankee. Jose Altuve, the American League Player of the Month (did they even have to take a vote?), proves with each passing day that the MVP title is his to lose.
MEANWHILE, IN ’STRO WORLD… We are all acquainted with the term insider baseball, whose meaning has traveled far beyond the diamond but originally referred to parts of the game that could only be understood by wonky, expert types. Outsider baseball, conversely, is the domain of those who understand little and pay attention only intermittently. Which brings us to our friends Bobby and Tracie Lee, a long-married husband and wife from Galena Park. The couple exists to remind us that on-base percentages, ERAs and four-seam fastballs are not the only matters of importance to Astros fans. There is the Minute Maid Park Kiss Cam, for instance, with which Bobby and Tracie Lee have a complicated relationship.
It is a curious fact of the couple that they get along best during games in which the ’Stros are struggling. During trying times, Bobby is filled with agitation, which Tracie Lee soothes in the time-honored manner of many fan wives, from Crawford Boxes to Club Level—by scratching her husband’s back. This is the source of no small annoyance to fans sitting behind them, but Tracie Lee guesses that the couple’s neighbors would find the alternative—Bobby’s writhing and stomping and knocking over the chili dog carefully balanced on her thigh—even more troubling.
For as long as there has been a Kiss Cam, it has been Bobby and Tracie Lee’s dream to appear on it. For years, they made an intense study of the apparatus, developing theories about its operator’s taste in couples and adjusting their tactics accordingly. They tried leaning in suggestively, they tried wearing matching outfits, they tried splurging on sub-300-level seats, they even tried a pose in which Tracie Lee lay cantilevered across Bobby’s lap, one sandal pointed to the scoreboard. Nothing.
By the time the Rays came to town, last Monday evening, the couple had long since given up on their chances. They would not game out the Kiss Cam operator. They would not pose. They would not even speak—this last because the Astros were playing well, exceptionally well, game-over-by-the-second-inning well, so well that the couple started arguing over things like the bushiness of his moustache and her bullheadedness. Soon, Bobby had moved one seat over, leaving an empty one between them. We don’t have to tell you what happened next.
“I don’t know how I knew we were on Kiss Cam, but I knew we were on Kiss Cam,” recalls Tracie Lee. “I didn’t even have to look or anything. I just got this feeling.”
Something similar came over Bobby. His face grew taut and he suddenly developed an intense interest in the peanut shells at his feet. “At first it was just a hunch, but then I started to hear all this laughter. It just grew and grew.”
Tracy Lee, as is her wont, vowed to stare straight ahead in defiance, her eyes boring into the sign on the other side of the outfield. “It was so weird. I’d wanted it for so long, and now that it was happening, I wouldn’t have kissed Bobby if he was a pork butt sandwich covered in fixins’.” Instead, she would play chicken with the Kiss Cam operator, and all because Bobby “had been making fun of my shorts nonstop from the time Jake [Marisnick] hit that homer till just about the time Jake [Marisnick] hit that other homer.”
The cheering and chanting and laughter grew deafening. Bobby remembers someone yelling in his ear and a tug on his shoulder from behind. Everything after that happened in slow motion. His eyes rose from the floor and slowly, painfully made their way to the Jumbotron. “Nothing really prepares you for a moment like that,” he says. “It’s you, but you’re a hundred feet tall, and every eye in the place is focused on you.”
So there they were, Bobby and the woman he’d ended up sitting next to after moving away from Tracie Lee. There was a long moment of uncertainty, but then he turned to face the stranger. “She had this what-the-hell look on her face, so I thought, you know, what the hell?”
Notwithstanding the fact that the two had never met, it was apparently one of the more elaborate Kiss Cam smooches that evening, one that would have caused a major rift in not a few marriages. Still, the union of Bobby and Tracie Lee has endured. Indeed, Tracie Lee's bullheaded refusal to turn her eyes from the Torchy's sign seems to have brought the couple closer than ever.
“He used to hate my stubbornness,” says Tracie Lee.
“Not no more I don’t,” adds Bobby.