Castro the Astro Named All-Star Cuz Someone Had to Be

Saturday night Major League Baseball announced the starters and reserves for this year’s All-Star Game.

With the exception of a final fan’s choice vote for each league, and some players to be named later by the managers, the rosters are pretty much set.

For the most part the rosters seem sound and despite the ill conceived notion of fan voting, the bulk of the players seem to have gotten on the team through merit.

Of course since the introduction of the “all teams have to be represented by at least one player rule” some of the reserve players would not be on the team were it not required for someone from their team to be there.

Jason Castro was named to his first All-Star game Saturday. Photo R. Anderson

Jason Castro was named to his first All-Star game Saturday.
Photo R. Anderson

This brings us to Jason Castro, catcher for the Houston Astros. Castro was named to the All-Star game as the sole representative of the Astros.

To think that his level of play reaches the level of an All-Star leads one to have to make a quantum leap of reasoning.

Even given the notion that someone from the Astros has to be selected as an All-Star, Castro does not even lead any offensive categories on the team. Which means that he is not even the best of the worst team in baseball.

Castro ranks second in batting average behind Jose Altuve (last year’s Astros All-Star representative) and also ranks second on the team in runs scored and home runs.

Granted Castro had a “see I belong in the game” moment Saturday night when he hit a three-run home run against the Rangers as part of a shocking upset in Arlington but the case remains puzzling as to why he is heading to the All-Star game as a reserve catcher.

To be fair I have nothing against Jason Castro despite the Astros seeming to have a man crush on him since drafting him with the 10th pick of the 2008 draft and repeatedly shoving him down the throats of the fans despite the presence of better catchers on the roster.

While there have been some catchers through the years that have swung the bat well those are usually few and far between. And in the case of former Astros catcher turned second baseman Craig Biggio catchers that can hit are usually moved to other positions to prolong their careers. Had Craig Biggio remained a catcher it is very probable that he would not have had the long career that allowed him to obtain over 3,000 hits.

So to me the job of catcher first and foremost is that of a defensive player that works well with the pitchers and can throw runners out at second base. Through the years prior to Jason Castro arriving at the Astros there were a string of such players who while not known for consistently driving in runs they definitely minimized opposing teams scoring through their work behind the plate.

Future Hall of Famer Ivan "Pudge" Rodriquez spent only part of a season with the Astros before being traded to the Rangers. Photo R. Anderson

Future Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez spent only part of a season with the Astros before being traded to the Rangers.
Photo R. Anderson

To me the best catcher to ever wear an Astros uniform was Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.  With a young team and a future Hall of Famer behind the plate, it seemed like a no brainer to keep Pudge in the Astro pinstripes for as long as possible to allow him to mentor the pitching staff and provide veteran leadership in the clubhouse.

Sadly the Astros traded Rodriguez to the Rangers midway though the 2009 season. But during his time there he was definitely fun to watch and showed Astros players and fans what a real catcher looks like.

J.R. Towles was another catcher who called a good game but fell short at the plate. Towles and Castro were both competing for the starting job at the same time. Towles beat out the injury prone Castro twice in spring training for the job and received high praise from many of the Astros pitchers for his presense behind the plate.

For my money former Astro J.R. Towles was twice the player Jason Castro is where it counts most, defensively. Unfortunately for Towles the Astros disagreed and kept sticking with the error prone Jason Castro behind the plate. Photo R. Anderson

For my money former Astro J.R. Towles was twice the player Jason Castro is where it counts most, defensively. Unfortunately for Towles the Astros disagreed and kept sticking with the error prone Jason Castro behind the plate.
Photo R. Anderson

Unfortunately Towles struggled mightily at the plate generating far more outs than hits. After a few seasons of battling between the Majors and Minors, and with Castro still the anointed catcher of the future, Towles was finally let go paving the way for the Jason Castro era to begin.

Still even after Castro was anointed the starter he still faced injury issues and actually missed the entire 2011 season with a knee injury received during Spring Training.

It seems that he is finally showing the offensive spark that they had hoped was there but there are still glaring defensive issues visible in his game in the amount of passed balls that get by him. His ability to call games and be in sync with his battery mates is also an area that is still in work.

I certainly hope that I am wrong and Jason Castro can become a successful every day catcher for years to come and help the team with both his bat and his glove. I just have not seen enough evidence of that to date to give me confidence in his ability to be that player down the road.

Granted, as a reserve there is no guarantee that Castro will take the field at any point in the game. The rules say a member from every team has to make the roster but it does not say that the managers are forced to use every player like some Little League pay to play situation.

I truly hope that both fan voting and guarantee representation from all teams are removed from the All-Star Game landscape in the coming years to return the game to its roots where the best players, regardless of team affiliation, are battling each other for bragging rights and home field World Series advantage.

Until that day comes the All-Star Game will carry a virtual asterisk next to it meaning that the accomplishments made within it should not be judged the same way as the the pre fan vote era.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to start planning my All-Star Game menu.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Celebrating a Trio of All-American Traditions

Yesterday was the Fourth of July. Which aside from meaning that today is the fifth of July, means that yesterday was a day set aside to celebrate America’s independence from the occupying British forces.

That independence from British rule established principles regarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As part of my pursuit of happiness this year I took part in a trio of All-American festivities. At the time I woke up I was only planning to partake in one American tradition but as the day wore on I soon added a pair more to my original plan.

For nearly a century people have been eating Nathan's Hot Dogs on the Fourth of July. Of course some people end up eating way more than others. Photo R. Anderson

For nearly a century people have been eating Nathan’s Hot Dogs on the Fourth of July. Of course some people end up eating way more than others.
Photo R. Anderson

The first tradition I took part in was eating a Nathan’s hot dog on the fourth of July.

For about a century now Coney Island, New York has hosted the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Championship.

And while competitors come from nations all over the world the item remains All-American in that it occurs on July 4th.

This year, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win another title.

To honor this achievement of man concurring frankfurter I decide to stage my own hot dog eating on the Fourth of July.

While I did not eat anywhere near 69 hot dogs I did venture to my local Sam’s Club to get an authentic Nathan’s hot dog. In hindsight I should have worn my Nathan’s hot dog contest shirt to the Sam’s Club but that would have required a wardrobe change before adding to the next item on my list of All-American activities.

Nathan’s was one of the brands I grew up with on the east coast and they are hard to find here in Texas. Don’t get me wrong there are some very nice hot dog choices here but to me a hot dog on July 4th has to be a Nathan’s hot dog. I am sure there are people that feel the same way about whichever hot dog they grew up with as well.

With my hot dog properly washed down with a Cherry Coke it was time to move onto what would become the second side of my freedom celebrating pursuit of happiness triangle.

The second side of the triangle was of course an afternoon baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays.

It does not get much better than being in a ballpark on July 4th. Photo R. Anderson

It does not get much better than being in a ballpark on July 4th.
Photo R. Anderson

I had attended the Wednesday night game but considering the Rays do not visit Houston often I felt it was justified to see them two days in a row. Plus, there is just something special about watching a game on July Fourth as part of the American tradition.

The Astros typically honor soldiers at each home game and yesterday was no different. But getting to show support for soldiers on the day that we honor America had a little extra significance.

Getting to see an extra inning marathon game was just an added bonus.

As mentioned before I typically root for both the Astros and the Rays. Since I have followed the Rays longer than the Astros I proudly wore my Rays gear and cheered them on to victory yesterday.

During Wednesday’s game the Astros won so in a way one of my teams won both nights.

After coming home from the game I had every intention of staying home the rest of the night and watching the celebration and fireworks from the Nation’s Capitol. If you have never caught the broadcast on the local PBS station I highly recommended it.

The third leg of the All-American triangle included fireworks, lots and lots of fireworks. Photo R. Anderson

The third leg of the All-American triangle included fireworks, lots and lots of fireworks.
Photo R. Anderson

Broadcasting from the steps of the Capitol the Capitol Fourth show features music and fireworks. This year’s performers included Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and John Williams.

Each is an American icon in their own right and seeing them in the same 90 minute broadcast was certainly a treat.

But a funny thing happened as I was watching the televised fireworks from Washington D.C.  About midway through it occurred to me that fireworks would be going off about three miles from my house in about an hour.

Now there had been signs on the road for weeks warning people to stay away from the area where the fireworks would be held due to the crazy amount of traffic that was expected.

But I figured I knew a back way to get there and could avoid the traffic while still catching the live fireworks that Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow’s patriotic numbers inspired me to want to see.

More fireworks. Photo R. Anderson

More fireworks.
Photo R. Anderson

I think on any other day I would have lost serious street cred by uttering the phrase, “Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow inspired me do it.”

But, someone on the Fourth of July there is no shame in the men behind Sweet Caroline and Mandy providing a patriotic bit of encouragement to get off the couch and go see some fireworks.

So hyped up on feelings of patriotism I piled into my car and made the three mile trek to a Walmart parking lot that would allow me to see the show and in theory quickly escape the traffic in the same way upon the completion of the show.

There were no issues getting there but the escape from the Walmart took a little longer than I anticipated.

And you guessed it, more fireworks. Photo R. Anderson

And you guessed it, more fireworks.
Photo R. Anderson

With my July Fourth triangle of All-American activities was completed it was time to go home.

I suppose I could have gone inside the Walmart and purchased an apple pie to turn the All-American triangle into an All-American square but I went home and had a V8 and some carrots instead.

Perhaps next year I will add a pastry component to the celebration or maybe even add a second hot dog.

Who knows what the celebration will entail. After all I have an entire year to plan it.

I do know that it will likely include a baseball game if at all possible. While the day game this year did not allow for post-game fireworks the on field action was certainly explosive.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a strange urge to listen to Copacabana for some reason.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Tampa Bay Rays Join My Triple Double Club

Tonight around 7:30 or so I will be at Minute Maid Park watching the Tampa Bay Rays play the Houston Astros in the third game of a four game series.

While the night will include postgame fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, it occurs to me that it will mark another milestone as well.

While it did not occur to me at the time when I purchased my ticket, tonight’s game will mark the second time that I have seen the Rays play in Houston. Add that to two games at Tropicana Field and two games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and the Rays become the first member of my Triple Double Club.

Fresh off their first World Series appearance in 2008 I visited the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 for a long overdue trip to Tropicana Field. Photo R. Anderson

Fresh off their first World Series appearance in 2008 I visited the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 for a long overdue trip to Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

There have been numerous teams that I have watched come and go through Minute Maid Park through the years.

But with the exception of seeing a few of them for Spring Training games, there have not been many that I have seen in multiple Ballparks so the Rays induction in the Triple Double Club is sort of a big deal.

The fact that the event will be met with post game fireworks is sort of a happy coincidence.

Okay so the Triple Double Club may be something that only matters to me but I thought that it was pretty cool.  Considering that I have only made it to four of the 30 Major League Ballparks so far the fact that I saw the same team twice at three of those ballparks is nothing to sneeze at.

I have seen the Baltimore Orioles play at three stadiums during the regular season but only once at each ballpark so they are in the Triple Single Club. Of course seeing them play in two different Ballparks over a four day period gives them bonus points. And I have seen them play in three ballparks over the years during Spring Training.

A second ballpark viewing of the Rays was added in Arlington when I saw them take on the Texas Rangers. Photo R. Anderson

A second ballpark viewing of the Rays was added in Arlington when I saw them take on the Texas Rangers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Texas Rangers are in the Double Double Club as I have watched them at both their home Ballpark and Minute Maid Park. It stands to reason that they would be a strong candidate to join the Triple Double Club as all it would take was a trip to an additional ballpark when they were in town to get them there.

The Toronto Blue Jays make it into the Double Single Club as I have seen them play at both Tropicana Field and Minute Maid Park.

The Houston Astros are the team I have watched the most due to the close proximity between my house and the Minute Maid Park.  I have probably seen close to 100 games at Minute Maid Park over the past decade but ironically I have never seen them play a regular season game at any other Ballpark.

I’ve made numerous trips to Florida to see the Astros play in Spring Training games but during the regular season it seems that the desire to see them play far from home just doesn’t exist. In that way the Astros closeness is both a blessing and a curse.

Minute Maid Park became the third ballpark to watch the Rays in when I saw them take on the Houston Astros in 2011. Photo R. Anderson

Minute Maid Park became the third ballpark to watch the Rays in when I saw them take on the Houston Astros in 2011.
Photo R. Anderson

There have been years where I thought about making the four hour drive to see them play the Texas Rangers in Arlington but those thoughts were usually quashed quickly at the thought that I could just wait until the Rangers came to Houston.

But there are certainly worse places to watch games than Minute Maid Park.

With the Astros move to the American League this year the odds of me completing the Single Thirty Club of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park is pretty high.

I do not have the number in front of me but it seems highly likely that I am less than five teams away from reaching that goal of seeing all 30 teams from the air-conditioned comfort of Minute Maid Park.

Off of the top of my head I know I have yet to see the New York Yankees play there but the other teams that I am missing escape me at the moment. The Oakland Athletics seem like another team that I have yet to see play but with them sharing a division with the Astros that is an easy team to cross off of the list.

Tonight will mark the sixth Tampa Bay Rays regular season game that I have attended and the second at Minute Maid Park earning an inaugural induction into the Triple Double Club as I have seen a pair of games at Tropicana Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson

Tonight will mark the sixth Tampa Bay Rays regular season game that I have attended and the second at Minute Maid Park earning an inaugural induction into the Triple Double Club as I have seen a pair of games at Tropicana Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

I suppose it is entirely possible that the Yankees and Athletics are the only missing teams but I will definitely have to look into that.

I do know that the National League, and in particular the National League Central, is well represented in my list of teams that I have seen multiple times there.

While the focus tonight will be placed firmly on enjoying the Rays and the induction of the first member of the Triple Double Club the festivities will be short lived.

Tomorrow afternoon I will start my way towards the Triple Triple Club as I will be catching a matinee game between the Rays and the Astros.

I guess that means I need to plan road trips back to Arlington and St. Petersburg to complete the Triple Triple Club for the Rays.  I don’t think my arm will be twisted to hard to make that happen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide which Rays shirt to wear to tomorrow’s game.

 Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Fan Votes for All-Star Game a Bad Idea

As we cope with the fact that the year is entering its seventh month despite feelings of Christmas being only yesterday here at Triple B the arrival of July means two things.

First, it is another reminder that I have lived in Texas far too long as it was a first week of July move that brought me to the state that only recognizes one lone star.

The second thing that July means is that the Major League Baseball All-Star Game is upon us. This year’s game will be July 16 in New York.

And unlike other All-Star games in sports, the MLB game has the feeling that it is being played to win by both sides. Of course some added incentive to win was added a few years back when home field advantage in the World Series was given to the league that won the All-Star game.

While I enjoy the home run derby and the All-Star game itself there is one particular aspect of the Baseball All-Star game season that I can do without.

That element of All-Star Game party foul is the fan vote. I know I will get lots of grief for saying this but I do not believe that the fans should be voting for the All-Star participants.

Sure, people will say that as a reporter I am being unfair to the common fan by saying that only members of the media and league officials should have a vote but let us examine what the fan vote portion of the All-Star voting really entails.

Unlike say the election for the President of the United States where a registered voter is allowed to cast a single ballot there are no such restrictions for MLB balloting. In fact, excessive voting is encouraged by the 30 teams who offer various prizes for filling out excessive amounts of ballots.

That boys and girls is called buying votes no matter how you slice it. And yes I am not trying to say that electing representatives to the All-Star game is more important than electing the President. Sadly I would not be surprised if more people vote in the All-Star race than the general elections to decide who will run the country though.

As an aside, as we approach July 4th when the founding fathers declared America’s independence and envisioned the framework of democracy I really think they expected more participation by the people in that process.  The fact that voter turnout is so dismal means that those who do not vote really have no right to complain in the outcome of any election since they chose to not use their right to make a choice.

But enough about civics and responsible citizenship. Let us cast our gaze once more at the ballot process for the MLB All-Star game.

As part of the ballot stuffing certain power voters submit hundreds if not thousands of ballots. Of course it stands to reason that they are voting for their home town favorites so it becomes a battle of which team has the most active fan base in selecting some of the leaders of the voting pack.

So instead of an All-Star game where the most talented individuals at a given position are selected to represent both their team and their league, the All-Star Game becomes like high school with only the popular kids getting in to the party.

Granted, sometimes the most popular player is also the best player at that position but there has been a long history of players with better stats getting left out.

Cal Ripken Jr. had a Hall of Fame worthy career but some late career All-Star Game selections seemed based more on past performance than current stats. Photo R. Anderson

Cal Ripken Jr. had a Hall of Fame worthy career but some late career All-Star Game selections seemed based more on past performance than current stats.
Photo R. Anderson

Let us use Cal Ripken, Jr. as an example. As noted numerous times, Cal Ripken, Jr. was my favorite player to follow growing up along with Don Mattingly. Few could argue that Cal Ripken, Jr. was a great ballplayer and every bit deserving of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

But as happens with all of us as we age we are not as productive as we once were. So despite declining skills Cal Ripken, Jr. still was selected to All-Star games late in his career when he was still widely popular but no longer the best player at his position.

There are examples of players on the disabled list getting a large amount of votes for inclusion as well. Derek Jeter has not taken the field all season long yet he is included on the All-Star Ballot. There are also players who have been released or optioned down to the Minor Leagues still on the ballot.

At least one member of the Houston Astros roster will travel to New York for the All Star Game. Does that mean that they are having an All-Star caliber year? Not necessary. It just means the rules say every team will have one player there to show support. Photo R. Anderson

At least one member of the Houston Astros roster will travel to New York for the All Star Game. Does that mean that they are having an All-Star caliber year? Not necessary. It just means the rules say every team will have one player there to show support.
Photo R. Anderson

Another wrinkle in the All-Star game is the rule that all 30 teams need to have at least one representative selected.

This rule helps ensure that no team feels left out and harkens to the age where everyone gets a participation ribbon so that no one is left out.

And yes there are good players on bad teams but am I really to believe that a player on say the Astros who have about 30 wins is playing at an All-Star level?

Granted there is probably not a perfect solution for balloting due to the fluid nature of the game and the ballots being released two months before the game. But, The fact remains I do not feel that allowing fans to vote as often as they can based on their ability to pick up enough ballots at the ballpark makes a mockery of the whole process.

For those people still wanting to get their votes in and take place in the mockery the polls close on July 4th this year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I will not be filling out an All-Star ballot but I will start to plan my menu for the All-Star game tailgate.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson