Promise by Houston Astros Owner Costs $4.2 million

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Astros' improvement this year from baseball's worst team cost its owner, Houston furniture mogul Jim McIngvale, more than $4 million to make good on a promise to fans.

         The man known in Houston as "Mattress Mack" last spring offered to reimburse the first 500 customers who spent more than $6,300 on furniture at his stores if the Astros won 63 games — matching the age McIngvale turned this year. The Astros won 70 games.

         Sunday was payoff day and some 420 customers picked up their money at a party at McIngvale's store.

         "I could have put it at 70, which would have made it much more difficult, but I wanted to give the customers a better chance to win, and that's the way it turned out," McIngvale said. "The customers are happy, we're happy."

         Two lines of happy customers stretched the length of the store to collect their winnings, munching on free food and chatting with and getting autographs from former Astros players Larry Dierker and Jose Cruz, plus Reid Ryan, the club's president.

         "You never like to put a certain win number out there, since we're in the rebuilding process, but we thought, you know what, this is a good way to get people excited about the Astros again," Ryan told Laura Gillespie with The Houston Chronicle.

         Kyle Nix, 34, compared his $6,500 reimbursement check to a winning lottery ticket.

         "It feels really good," he said. "I've been an Astros fan for a long time … it made my wife interested in baseball for the first time. She's usually not a sports fan, but she watched every game with us. She actually knew some of the players' names by the end of the season."

         It's not the first time McIngvale has used sports as a publicity tool for his business.

         In February, customers who picked the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl picked up $7 million in furniture refunds.

         "I wish it had not been so costly, but it is what it is," McIngvale said.

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