Maybe some of Jordan Lee’s Classic magic rubbed off on the Houston Astros, who won their first World Series title Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
The Astros’ Minute Maid Park was the site of Lee’s record comeback win in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. That was late last March, days before Major League Baseball started a season that ended with the Astros finishing off the Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7.
“I always kiddingly say the Bassmaster Classic and the World Series, what more could any place want in the same year?” said Jerry McKinnis, who like many folks reveled in the fact that bass fishing shared the same venue as the World Series champions. “I realize we didn’t do that much for baseball, but baseball sure did a nice little number for us. It’s legitimized us a little bit more.”
McKinnis said he found it uplifting that Houston, which was devastated by horrific flooding from Hurricane Harvey, won the world championship, which should give its citizens some positive vibes while they continue their recovery.
“I think it is great that they got to have both these events,” he said. “Obviously, we’re such a small piece compared to the World Series, but it was really neat that a lot of bass people got to see the park and experience it – people who would probably never be able to go (to the World Series). And now they’re sitting back and seeing where they were on TV.”
McKinnis, a former minor league baseball player, said he related a lot of what happened in the World Series to the Classic. He recalled certain plays between third base and the shortstop positions.
“I thought, ‘That’s right where our stage was sitting,’” McKinnis said. “Just to think we were right in the middle of that, doing our little thing. I think that’s pretty cool that there’s that connection with our sport.”
Just like at the Classic, baseball fans were given free entry to Minute Maid Park for the World Series games in Los Angeles. They sat watching as the TV feed played on “El Grande,” the ballpark’s 124-foot wide, 54-feet high big screen, just like the fishing fans. The seating along the left field side for those viewing parties was similarly configured to the seating for the Classic.
The World Series viewing parties, which had about 20,000 for each of the last two games, drew around 5,000 more than the biggest Classic crowd. So it’s understandable the roar when second baseman Jose Altuve threw out the final batter was also a few decibels louder than when 25-year-old Lee weighed in 27 pounds, 4 ounces and was crowned Classic champ six months earlier.
Connections with baseball are long with McKinnis, who played several seasons of minor league baseball as a pitcher in the Kansas City A’s organization. An avid follower of the St. Louis Cardinals, McKinnis threw out the first pitch for an Astros-Cardinals game in 2016 when B.A.S.S. announced that Houston would host the Classic.
“It was neat to look out there on that ballfield and see them pitch on that same rubber as I did. That’s pretty awesome,” he said.
McKinnis also met with Reid Ryan, president of the Astros, who gave him advice on his pitch. McKinnis was thinking of maybe standing in front of the mound, but Ryan, son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, told him he’d get booed.
“I also asked him, and I was kidding about this, if he thought the fans would mind if I asked (Cardinals catcher) Yadier Molina to come over and catch my pitch,” McKinnis said. “He didn’t think that was such a good idea.”
He also commented about the grass in Minute Maid Park, which has a retractable roof that makes turf management trying. During the Classic week, all the B.A.S.S. workers and anglers were given explicit instructions to keep off the grass. McKinnis said he saw the Fox TV crews dragging their set across the field after games.
“I bet the grounds crews were cringing,” he said, “but I bet they didn’t jump on them like they did us.”
At least one angler also felt a special bond with the team and big league facility that the Classic borrowed for a week. On his Facebook page, Lee posted the photo below with these words:
“Congrats to the Houston Astros on the World Series! Minute Maid Park is a special place!”