Old Friends: Hall of Fame broadcaster, Colt .45s visit with fans
By: Mike Jones , Sports Editor

Kevin Gillenwater and Butch Ghutzman, at left and second from left, and DeAnna Horton, right, share a moment with longtime Astros announcer and recent Pro Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Gene Elston at Cranks, Rooters & Fans on Saturday.
Staff photo by JERRY BAKER

THE WOODLANDS - It was a blast from the past Saturday for some area baseball fans.
Cranks, Rooters & Fans, a sports memorabilia store, displayed a Houston Colt .45s exhibit in conjunction with the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. Those who came out had the honor to reminisce with some former Colt .45s, who were the original Houston Astros, as well as Hall of Fame broadcaster Gene Elston, whom fans enjoyed from 1962 to 1986 telling the story of the team on radios throughout the state.

Besides the conversation, fans were treated with a nice display of Houston baseball memorabilia, including sections for the Colt .45s, old Astros and Houston Buffs, the minor league team that originated in 1888 as the Houston Babies.

"The exhibit is fantastic," said Jimmy "The Toy Cannon" Wynn. "It brings back good memories seeing the shooting stars (on the old jerseys) and the Colt .45s uniforms. It's also nice to see the seat where I hit my long home run. It's just good memories."

One of the items displayed was the seat that was painted with a toy cannon after the slugger hit a home run into the upper deck in the Astrodome, the first to reach that spot.

"I hit it off the old knuckleballer Phil Neikro," said Wynn. "Every time I see him he looks at me funny, like he's wondering how a guy that little could hit it so far. They didn't have tape measures in those days. So anytime anybody asks me, I tell them it went 600 feet. It was a home run, that's all I knew. I didn't know how far it went until I went back into the dugout and they pointed to where it was. I just looked up and smiled. I couldn't believe it."

Wynn, as well as teammate Bob Aspromonte, have their numbers retired by the team.

"It feels good to be recognized as one of the greats and to have my uniform retired," said Wynn.

Aspromonte enjoyed thinking back all those years.

"Nothing was as great as when the Astrodome opened after we played outdoors for three years in old Colt .45 Stadium," he said. "The transition was incredible. We watched it being built. When we took the field in front of 55,000 people, including the president (Lyndon Baines Johnson) for the first game, it was an incredible time in our baseball careers.

"The astronauts were there, too, and they threw out 10 first pitches to the players. Alan Shepard threw the ball to me and we became friends thereafter. It's great to recall those moments as time goes by."

Aspromonte remembered wearing the old cowboy cut suits and boots and carrying the replica Colt .45 on the plane to road games.

"We had 30 people wearing them and every time we walked through an airport people would ask us where the rodeo was," he said with a laugh.

Elston, who joined the broadcasting wing of the Pro
Baseball Hall of Fame this year, came to Houston in 1962 after working in the minors and for the Cubs in a career that began in 1946.

"It's a great honor to be in the hall of fame," he said. "I didn't expect it. It's an awesome feeling when you go to Cooperstown. When I look back at my long career and put myself in with the others, it's great."

Elston enjoyed seeing all the old Colt .45 artifacts.

"This is great," he said. "It's nice somebody is doing something to remember the old ball club."

Elston remembered a light moment when broadcasting a Colt .45s game, when left fielder Jim Pendleton, who was on first, should have easily scored from first on an extra-base hit but slowed rounding third and just made it home safe.

"The umpire and the catcher were laughing," he said. "We didn't know why. Later we found out his cup had fallen down to his knee. It prevented him from running very well."

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