HOF Luncheon kicks off Big League Weekend
Lou Brock, Nolan Ryan and others commence second year of series at Alamodome
SAN ANTONIO -- Hall of Famer Lou Brock is best remembered for legendary feats he reached with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he also holds a rather interesting distinction that took place hundreds of miles south, and a little bit west, of Missouri.
Brock, as a 23-year-old Cubs outfielder in just his second Major League season, became the first Major Leaguer to take an official at-bat in the state of Texas. The year was 1962, the venue was Colt Stadium, and Brock stepped to the plate against the Colt .45s as the first ever batter in the first official Major League game played in the Lone Star State.
Pretty cool, no?
"Well," Brock said with a chuckle, "I was trying to forget about it."
It's not that he isn't grateful to be the answer to one of the more random, obscure trivia questions in sports lore. It's just that the at-bat didn't go so well.
"I struck out on three pitches," Brock recalled. "That was my introduction to Houston and Major League Baseball."
Clearly, the 74-year-old Cardinals legend had more pleasant experiences in Houston in the ensuing years, and that was more the focus as Brock reunited with fellow Hall of Famers on Thursday in San Antonio.
This weekend has been dubbed "H-E-B Big League Weekend," featuring exhibition games between the Astros and Rangers at the Alamodome. Thursday's Hall of Fame Luncheon officially kicked off the event, with appearances from Brock, Gaylord Perry and Nolan Ryan, as well as former Astros pitcher and manager Larry Dierker and former Rangers catcher Pudge Rodriguez.
Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins is also expected to participate in the weekend festivities.
Those in attendance at the Hall of Fame luncheon were treated to a light-hearted and engaging roundtable discussion among the three legendary players. The conversation briefly touched on how the game has changed over time, and all three acknowledged the drastic differences between how pitchers are handled today as opposed to the past.
For example, when pitchers from Perry and Ryan's era started a game, they did so with the intention of also finishing it. That's different from today, where pitch counts and specialized relievers are the norm.
"Every time you went to negotiations with a general manager, you had a hard time getting a raise," Perry said with a chuckle. "I started 40 games and finished 29 of them [in 1972]. He'd say, 'Well, I have to pay those other guys for finishing the 11 games you didn't.'"
Brock, one of the game's most feared stolen-base threats pre-Rickey Henderson, offered some humorous insight into the unwritten rules of the game.
"When a pitcher hit you and it wasn't intentional, they would go three, four years making sure they didn't hit you again," he said. "So you could get a lot more aggressive, because you knew you wouldn't get hit. That applied to everyone."
With two exceptions, of course.
"Him," Brock said, pointing to Perry. "And him," pointing to Ryan.
"When they hit you once," Brock said, "they hit you again."
Big League Weekend, organized by Ryan Sanders Baseball, is in its second year. The inaugural series took place in 2013 between the Rangers and Padres and drew 75,000 fans over two days.
The upcoming series is expected to draw as well or better, which comes as no surprise considering MLB's two Texas teams will be facing off in an area where fandom for both the Astros and Rangers runs rampant.
"I think the fact that the Astros are in this series is a natural [fit]," said Ryan, who recently signed on with the Astros as an executive adviser after ending his tenure as the Rangers CEO. "When you have the fan bases for both teams here in San Antonio, it gives the fans the opportunity to see whatever team they really follow. I think it's a good climate for baseball in San Antonio, and here in Texas."
The Astros and Rangers will play Friday at 7:05 p.m. CT and Saturday at 1:05 p.m. Tickets begin at $10 and can be purchased at www.bigleagueweekend.com/buy-tickets or by calling 1-800-745-3000. In addition, there will be a sports collectibles show during the games and a Saturday postgame concert with Jack Ingram.
"It's a good event," Brock said. "A testament to baseball, and a testament to the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros."