Is Anyone Sitting Here?
It was a Saturday afternoon, at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston, Texas, home of the Houston Astros. I had two weekend season tickets in the last row behind home plate. On this particular day a fellow dressed in a suit and tie approached me and asked, “Is anyone sitting here?” “No,” I said, “have a seat.” He was elderly, stood over 6 feet tall, slender and wore glasses, with gray hair. I was used to seeing people all dressed up, as the seats I had were first class and somewhat expensive. Over the years I had sat close by many different baseball scouts and former players from other teams and once met President George Herbert Walker Bush and his wife Barbara, along with owner Drayton McLain. My new friend asked if I knew a lot about baseball.” I said, “I think so.” Then he said, “I see you like to keep score,” and I nodded yes. “Do you know who holds the record for grand slams?” he asked. I said, “Yes, it’s Lou Gehrig with 23.” “No,” he said, “I mean for the Astros. Who holds the record for grand slams for the Astros?” I did not know but was willing to guess. I offered up Jimmy Wynn, Jose Cruz, and Rusty Staub, and then I said, “I don’t know, who was it?” He said, “It’s me.” Now I’m embarrassed, especially since I’ve had a radio sports talk show for about ten years and really do spend a lot of time on baseball. So, I said, “And who are you?” He grinned like a catfish, stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Bob Aspromonte.” I remembered the name and shook his hand while he snickered at me. I knew a bit about his background and asked him for his autograph. He was actually with his brother Ken, who had played professionally for six different clubs before becoming the Manager of the Cleveland Indians. They both had seats down in front of me. I remembered a story I had heard years ago about Bob and a kid who was blind. I asked him to tell me the tale. Bob Aspromonte signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957 at the age of 18. He was from Brooklyn, New York, and went to high school with Sandy Koufax. He played third base from 1962-1968 and became one of Houston’s first baseball stars. He set the National League record for errorless games with 57 at third base. Bob hit 60 home runs during his thirteen-year career and in 1971 he became the last Brooklyn Dodger to retire. In 1962, a nine-year-old kid named Billy Bradley, living in Arkansas, was struck by lightening, and blinded while playing on a baseball diamond. He was moved to Methodist Hospital in Houston for eye surgery and listened to the Colt 45’s games on the radio. His favorite player in baseball was Houston’s Bob Aspromonte. Billy called the Colt 45’s and asked to meet Aspromonte. Bob was told what Billy had said and decided to visit Billy in the hospital. Bob took Billy Bradley a signed ball and a glove. Billy was blindfolded and could not see anything, including Bob. Shades of Babe Ruth--Billy Bradley asked Bob to hit a home run for him in his next game. Once the press caught wind of the request, added pressure was applied in interview after interview. As fate would have it, in Bob Aspromonte’s last at bat with Billy Bradley listening to the game on the radio in the hospital, Bob hit a home run. Houston announcer Bob Elston screamed, “This one is for you, Billy Bradley.” Interestingly, the following year, Aspromonte visited little Billy one more time in the hospital, and again Billy asked Bob to hit him another home run. Bob Aspromonte delivered this time with a grand slam. Luckily for Bob, Billy regained part of his sight, but this is not the end of the story. On July 26, 1963, after receiving partial sight from further surgery, little Billy Bradley attended his first Houston Colt 45’s baseball game. He had asked Bob Aspromonte to hit him another homerun. Billy was finally going to see his hero play in person. “When he asked again, I said, ‘Billy you’re really pushing your luck. Will you settle for two base hits?’” said Bob. In the first inning, Bob came to the plate with the bases loaded against the New York Mets. Pitching for the Mets was Tracy Stallard, the same guy who had given up Roger Maris’s 61 home run in 1961, to break Babe Ruth’s single season home-run record. Apsromonte hit another grand slam over the left field wall, and the place went crazy. Bob was crying; Billy was crying. The fans were crying. The game was stopped so Billy could come down on the field where the two embraced. Bob gave Billy the baseball. All was right in the world, or was it? This was not the end of the story either. In 1974, during a freak accident, Bob Aspromonte was blinded when a car battery blew up in his face. The same surgeon who had restored Billy Bradley’s vision performed surgery on Bob Aspromonte. The surgery gave Bob back about 40% of his sight, but required him to wear glasses. Bob Aspromonte hit a team-record six grand slams for the Astros and became a successful Budweiser Distributor, and Billy Bradley became an executive with Merrill Lynch Insurance Company in Memphis, Tennessee. They still visit with each other quite often. So, that’s the story of how I met Bob Aspromonte. “Is anyone sitting here?” Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or .