You may have seen Mike Fitzgerald around town the last two or three weeks wearing a unique baseball cap.
"The Colt .45s cap," he said Monday. "That's what the Houston franchise was originally called before it became the Astros. I've had a few people ask me about it the last couple of weeks."
Everybody who follows pro baseball is talking about the Astros as they attempt to defeat the Washington Nationals for a fourth straight game tonight in Game 6 of the World Series. A win then or Wednesday night would clinch the Astros' second world championship in three years.
But that's not really why the 70-year-old Fitzgerald is wearing his throwback cap, even if it is an exact replica of the one the franchise wore when it first took the field as an expansion member of the National League in 1962.
No, it's far more personal for Fitzgerald than just being a fan. His father Lou managed the Colt .45s Class AA farm club — the San Antonio Bullets — to back-to-back Texas League pennants in 1963 and 1964. Before that, Lou managed the 1962 Durham Bulls to a pennant in the Carolina League.
"They played in the same stadium where they filmed 'Bull Durham,'" Mike Fitzgerald said of the wildly successful 1988 baseball movie about life in the minors.
But the Colt .45s were the introduction of major league baseball to the Lone Star State in 1962, which was when the New York Mets also entered the NL. Lou Fitzgerald, Paul Richards — "He invented the elephant ear baseball mitt," Mike Fitzgerald noted — and Judge Roy Hofheinz were instrumental in helping build the Houston organization from the ground up.
"Dad and Mr. Richards were career baseball people and Judge Hofheinz had been the mayor of Houston," recalled Mike, who was a part-time batboy on those early Houston teams. "When they moved into the Astrodome in 1965 (by then Hofheinz was the club's sole owner), they became the Astros."
If Lou Fitzgerald's role in the Astros franchise was largely that of a championship minor league manager who helped develop eventual Astros stars Jimmy Wynn and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, among others, he later become one of the sport's top judges of young talent.
It was Fitzgerald, who after watching a young Nolan Ryan pitch, was asked if he wanted to see what the speed gun had recorded on a Ryan fastball.
"Why?" he replied. "I don't need to see how fast he's throwing. All I need to know is that they're not hitting it."
Later, as a Braves scout, he was asked to assess Greg Maddux, who was still with the Chicago Cubs. A plaque located in the Scouts Alley section of Turner Field displayed Fitzgerald's assessment of Maddux long before he made the Hall of Fame.
"Best changeup I've ever seen," he proclaimed.
Yet Lou Fitzgerald's best talent evaluation may have come in the weeks before the 1990 amateur draft.
Though Texas high school pitching sensation Todd Van Poppel reportedly had told the Atlanta Braves that he wouldn't sign with them if they used the overall No. 1 pick on him, there was some pressure on the team to draft him anyway.
Instead, Lou Fitzgerald encouraged the Braves brass to take Chipper Jones. Van Poppel eventually retired from the sport with a losing professional record. Jones, of course, was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 2018.
"I think that worked out pretty well, don't you?" Mike said Monday.
Fitzgerald also managed Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench when the all-time Cincinnati Reds great was in the minors in Buffalo. Bench thanked Fitzgerald when he was inducted into the Hall.
Another favorite story of Mike's regarding his father, who passed away in January of 2013, comes from his time with the Durham Bulls.
"He managed a player named Aaron Pointer, who later refereed for 17 years in the NFL," Mike said. "My dad later asked him what his best moment in sports had been. He said it was watching his sisters sing the national anthem. His sisters were the singing group the Pointer Sisters."
Both Fitzgeralds eventually wound up in the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame for their baseball exploits. Lou returned home to Cleveland, Tennessee, after his baseball days ended to run its parks and recreation department.
In his final bit of employment in the professional game, Lou became a scout for the Florida Marlins in 1992.
"We went to the World Series together five years later," Mike said.
Mike says he doesn't watch much baseball anymore during the regular season.
"But I'm all over it during the playoffs, he said.
And what's it like watching the Astros?
"It brings back so many fond memories," he said.
If Houston can become the first team in this series to win a home game, Mike Fitzgerald will have a new fond memory to add to so many old ones regarding his dad.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
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