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Baseball fans at Rice enjoying thrilling World Series


By Andrew Grottkau     11/1/17 12:40am

Editor’s note: This story is set on the day of Game 6 of the World Series. All use of present tense refers to Oct. 31.

Fans around Houston are anxious. The date is Oct. 31, the day of Game 6 of the World Series, which the hometown Astros lead three games to two over the Los Angeles Dodgers. A win tonight would mean the first World Series championship in Astros history. On Rice’s campus, residential colleges have organized watch parties. Students have worked all day long to finish homework in time to watch the game. Halloween is secondary—tonight is about baseball.

Jones College senior Mark Villegas was at Minute Maid Park during one of the most famous moments in Astros history in 2007, when Craig Biggio got his 3,000th hit. According to Villegas, a self-described lifelong Astros fan, this year’s World Series has been thrilling.

“The extra innings, the game-tying home runs, and every other clutch hit has turned this World Series into an exciting gladiator match,” Villegas said. “This is definitely the best World Series I have ever seen.”

Villegas says a win tonight would be cathartic.

“As diehard Astros fans, we have been there and endured all of the team’s ups and downs,” Villegas says. “We were there when the Cardinals took the National League pennant from us in 2004…We were there for all the years of restructuring and rebuilding. We were there for 3 consecutive 100-loss seasons. And now we are here fighting hard against the Dodgers to get our first World Series championship in franchise history. The World Series means everything to an Astros fan.”

Dodgers fan and Duncan College junior Greg Van Kirk is hoping Villegas’ dreams do not come true. His team had not been to the World Series since it won the title in 1988, long before he was born. Van Kirk says it’s been a season to remember for Dodgers fans.

“After reaching the NLCS in so many of the previous several years, it was very exciting to finally win the pennant and move on to the World Series,” Van Kirk says. “After some of the darker days for the Dodgers under FOX's and Frank McCourt's ownership tenures, it would mean a lot for the work of the past several seasons to culminate in a World Series win.”

Asked if it’s been difficult rooting against the Astros while going to school in Houston, Van Kirk says he’s endured some playful heckling.

“While I've come to think of Houston as my second home during my time here, I'm still a Dodgers fan through and through,” Van Kirk says. “Many of my friends from Houston have been trying to get under my skin but I've stood by my team.”

The World Series watch party at McMurtry College is tense. Some students are wearing Astros gear, but most are not. The game is projected on a big screen in the front of the commons. McMurtry junior Milad Najafabadi, a Dallas native, says during the first inning that the Astros playoff run has made him enjoy baseball.

“My palms are sweating watching this,” Najafabadi says. “I feel like living in Houston in this World Series has made me a fan. I never watched baseball before. Because of this World Series I’m learning about what baseball is. I didn’t even know the rules before this.”

Najafabadi says he is confident in the Astros’ chances.

“I think they have a lot of momentum,” Najafabadi says. “I think they’re ready to keep that momentum and finish it tonight.”

It’s scoreless in the second inning with the Dodgers coming to the plate. McMurtry sophomore Joyce Chen is nervous.

“I’m stress eating,” Chen laughs with a Chick-fil-a nugget in hand. “But I’m really excited. I hope we finish it off today.”

Chen spent her first birthday at an Astros game and says baseball is the one sport she cares about. She says a win tonight is a chance for the entire city to celebrate after a difficult fall due to Hurricane Harvey.

“Especially after Harvey, I think it would be a really great story after what the city’s been through,” Chen said. “We all definitely need a pick-me-up.”

As Astros right fielder Josh Reddick catches a fly ball to end the second inning, the Duncan commons claps and cheers. It’s more crowded here than in McMurtry—the Buffalo Wild Wings food supplied by the college is gone within a minute.

The first run of Game 6 comes in the top of the third inning when Astros centerfielder George Springer homers to right field. The Duncan commons erupts. While the Astros fans celebrate, Van Kirk sits in the front of the room and says he is not giving up hope.

“You don’t want to give up a home run but it’s one run, it’s a solo shot,” Van Kirk says. “It’s the third inning and the Dodgers are at home. I’m not too worried.”

It’s still 1-0 Astros in the bottom of the fourth inning. Starting pitcher Justin Verlander has allowed just one hit so far. Emmett Bertram, a Duncan college freshman and lifelong Astros fan, is celebrating his 19th birthday today. He laughs and says an Astros win would be the ultimate birthday present.

“It’s crazy; I never expected this,” Bertram says. “When I saw that there could be a game on Halloween, I thought, ‘this would be great, but I feel like we’re going to get swept again [like the Astros did in their last World Series appearance in 2005].’ But we’re here, so that’s amazing.”

Bertram is feeling good about the game.

“It’s definitely a great start,” Bertram said. “1-0 is always a good place to be. Verlander is still looking good. It would be great to end it tonight.”

The Astros start the top of the fifth by putting runners on second and third with nobody out. But Reddick strikes out, failing to plate a run and bringing the pitcher to bat for the Astros. An Astros fan in the Duncan commons yells, “Dammit Reddick! All you had to do was put the ball in play!” He slams his fists on his legs as he yells. The Dodgers escape the inning without allowing a run.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Astros are in trouble. Verlander allows runners to get to first and second with nobody out, and Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor smacks a double to right to tie the game and put runners on second and third. The next batter hits a deep fly ball to right and Van Kirk stands up and yells. It’s caught at the wall, but a run scores on the sacrifice fly to put the Dodgers up 2-1. Asked if he’s feeling better now, Van Kirk gives an emphatic, “Yeah!”

It’s now the bottom of the seventh inning. The Astros still trail and are running out of time. The Dodgers’ Joc Pederson hits a solo home run to left field to put them up 3-1. Chen concedes that it’s time to start getting concerned.

“I’m not feeling great,” Chen says. “But hey, we still have a little bit more of the game to go. It’s not over until it’s over. I’m still optimistic they can finish it off today but I’m getting a little bit nervous.”

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is lights out in the top of the eighth, and the Dodgers do not score in the bottom of the inning. The game heads to the ninth with the Dodgers leading 3-1 and Jansen coming out for his second inning of work.

The Astros can’t muster anything off of Jansen. He deals a 1-2-3 inning, and that’s the ballgame. Van Kirk claps and cheers loudly as Los Angeles celebrates the Game 6 win that ties the series at 3-3 and sends it to Game 7.

“I’m excited,” Van Kirk said. “Game 7. This series deserves a Game 7. I’m happy it’s coming and whatever happens, it’s been a great series. Go Dodgers.”

Meanwhile, Duncan junior Ashton Duke, an Astros fan, stands with his head in his hands a full minute after the last out.

“[The Astros] are going to win,” Duke says. “They’re going to win. I know they’re going to win. But this is depressing.”

Game 7 will take place Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on FOX. The winner will be the World Series champion. 

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