More so than other sports, baseball fandom tends to be multigenerational. Sure, you get plenty of fathers and sons at football and basketball games. But it’s only at baseball games where families—even three generations of them—are as much the rule as the exception.
And it is not just fathers and sons, as Cheryl Clark and her fourteen-year-old daughter, Kayla, prove. Theirs is now a three-generation Astros family passed down on the female line, one that began with Cheryl’s late mother, Flo. In a feature I wrote on the Astros’ ultimately disappointing 2016 season, Cheryl remembered how much fun she had in her high school days, when her mom would buy cheap upper deck tickets in the Astrodome and kindly ushers would spirit them down to cushy field level seats on the first-base side. She recalled those nights in the Dome, mostly spent watching the mediocre teams that followed the agonizingly close to pennant-winning 1986 squad, as some of the best in her life.
Years later, she and her mother and her daughter watched in horror on that terrible night in 2005 when Albert Pujols hit a mammoth ninth-inning go-ahead home run off Brad Lidge in the National League Championship Series, giving PTSD to long-suffering Astros fans.
“The silence was unbelievable,” Clark recalled. “My mom, my brother, we all saw the ball hit. Kayla was there too, at age two. Heard the clunk. I just stared at it and was like, ‘Why?’ You physically felt it, like someone punched you in the gut. We didn’t breathe.”
Over the next few years, the three of them attended a number of games together as the Astros went into another extended period of mediocrity and worse. Flo passed away in 2009, having never seen her beloved Astros win a World Series game, a fate shared now by several generations of Astros fans.
Over the next few years, Clark and Kayla shared the belief that Flo’s spirit had passed into the body of a butterfly. Every time they saw one, they would say that it was Flo fluttering past for a quick visit.
And Flo was much on the minds of Cheryl and Kayla in the winter of 2015, when Clark was pondering taking the plunge for 2016 season tickets. While touring an empty Minute Maid Park, an Astros sales rep hovering nearby, Clark was still on the fence: Should she get a partial-season ticket package or plunk down for the whole shebang? She was leaning toward the former, at best, when fate intervened.
“Hey, Mom!” Kayla shouted. “There’s a butterfly!” Sbure enough, right there in the stadium, there was a monarch dancing in the air, way late for its migration to Mexico.
Clark told the stunned Astros rep to sign them up for the whole season. In 2016, the Astros disappointed. She renewed in 2017, and this year, her beloved team hasn’t let Clark down.
Over the past two seasons, Cheryl and her daughter have become widely known to fellow Astros fans thanks in part to the colorful home-made signs they bring to every game, sparkly as the set of The Price Is Right. Many of them honor George Springer, Kayla’s favorite player (and Clark’s current fave—all-time honors still belong to 1980s second baseman Billy Doran), but others take a more general approach, like this one, the prophetic placard they made for Opening Day, predicting, “2017 will be EPIC!”
And indeed it has been—even if it has required a little more faith from long-loyal fans.
This time last week, many Houstonians, fatalistic after 55 seasons of heartbreak, feared that the New York Yankees were about to deal us another crushing blow. But not Clark.
“I never doubted that they could win both games here,” she says. Even after the Yankees tied the series in the Bronx, Clark did not give up hope. “Ok Boys, time to get the heck out of the Bronx and home to the fans that love you,” she wrote on Facebook. “We are here waiting and are so excited to be there when you EARN the next two wins at MMP!”
And the Astros did indeed. “I knew the crowd was gonna be the way they were, and they just relax at home,” Clark says. “Even though we didn’t play as well at home as on the road this year—which was weird—I just felt they could relax, be able to find their rhythm, their little happy place.”
To Clark, something seems different about this Astros team: a confidence, a joie de vivre, a knack for finding a way to win that was lacking in previous Astros post-season teams. Even 2005’s World Series team, with Roger Clemens and Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, was missing some key ingredient. This team seems to have that essential something. “I don’t want to say those teams were defeatist, but they didn’t have the same vibe,” she says. “I don’t know that I believed then that those teams would make it, and I don’t know that they did either.”
But as she watched the Astros cruise past the Yankees with relative ease in this season’s playoffs, thanks to the arms of Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers Jr.—and the reawakening of the Astros’ bats—Clark believed.
Kayla was not by her side for those games. Now a freshman in high school, her social life has temporarily elbowed aside some of her passion for baseball, and last weekend was homecoming at her school. Instead, Clark brought along lifelong friend Shannon Beirne, one of her former cohorts back in her Dome-going high school days. And they both brought along luck: Because the Astros won game six, baseball superstition required that both Clark and Beirne wear the same clothes to game seven.
“Usually I wear the same accessories after a win, not the same clothes,” says Clark. But in the playoffs, they both wore the exact same clothes to game seven. “We did wash them,” Clark clarifies, “especially because somebody accidentally spilled a beer on me on Friday.”
In game seven, with the Astros up 4-0, the final four innings crawled past like an eternity.
“I will tell you, from the sixth inning on, I was already crying,” Clark says. “We were counting outs. There were twelve outs left, and with each one, we’d give each other a silent fist-bump. And then when Bird popped up, I was like ‘Oh my God thisisit, thisisit, thisisit!’ It was amazing. Just joy.”
Well, not just joy. “I almost went blank,” Clark says. “So much of it was also relief. Relief for everyone, the team, the fans, everyone, so we could finally shut the naysayers up and let people know that this team is not a fluke.”
Clark celebrates as the Astros won game seven of the playoffs.
When the team returns to Houston on Friday after fighting to triumph over the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, Clark will have a new sign to wave from her customary outpost on the first base line, as a tribute to her mom. She considered making one in the playoffs, declaring that the ‘Stros were World Series bound—but that wouldn’t fly in star-crossed Houston. “I thought that would jinx it, so I didn’t make it,” Clark says. “But now I am going to make one. Something with my mom. And a butterfly.” This time, when Clark waves her sign in Minute Maid Park, Kayla will back by her side.
What’s next? If the Astros win, Clark will mark the victory in permanent ink. “I do not have any tattoos, and I never thought I would have any, but one day Kayla and I were talking and I said out loud—and she recorded me—that if we won the World Series I would get a tattoo,” says Clark. “So I have to do it now—that will happen, and a butterfly will be involved.”