Tag Archives: Astros

Fate of Tal’s Hill at Minute Maid Park Decided by Astros

After threatening to bulldoze over a unique feature of Minute Maid Park for the past few years, the Houston Astros made their threats official yesterday when they signed the death warrant for the quirky little incline in center field known as Tal’s Hill.

Tal’s Hill, named for former Astros executive Tal Smith, and a feature of Minute Maid Park since it opened in 2000, will be leveled at the end of the 2015 season and replaced by a $15 million redesign that will be ready in time for Opening Day 2016.

Highlights of the redesign that were announced by the Astros include, field level seats in center field, a new section of seats atop the field-level boxes, an observation tower with a winding staircase as well as a see-through elevator equipped with LED lights with the Astros’ name and logo, and adding a smaller, self-contained section of mezzanine seats to replace three sections of current seats that will be removed as part of the redesign.

Tal's Hill, a fixture in Minute Maid Park since it opened in 2000, will be removed at the end of the current season to make room for more revenue generating areas. Photo R. Anderson

Tal’s Hill, a fixture in Minute Maid Park since it opened in 2000, will be removed at the end of the current season to make room for more revenue generating areas.
Photo R. Anderson

Additionally, as part of the makeover the Astros will move the center field fence in from 436 feet, the deepest in Major League Baseball, to 409 feet while reducing seating capacity by about a hundred seats.

From the ashes of Tal’s Hill’s 30-degree, 27-foot-long incline will arise more space to entertain fans at premium prices.

While not coming right out and saying it, it is pretty obvious that as long as the are corporate sponsors and business willing to pay for premium seating areas teams will continue to build them while reducing the number of seats for the working class fan.

A few years back the press box at Minute Maid Park was moved up a level to make room for a lounge behind home plate. While reporters still cover the team I guess the real estate they previously occupied while doing their jobs was deemed to valuable to waste on media members.

A few years back the press box at Minute Maid Park was moved up a level to make room for a lounge behind home plate. While reporters still cover the team I guess the real estate they previously occupied while doing their jobs was deemed to valuable to waste on media members. Photo R. Anderson

A few years back the press box at Minute Maid Park was moved up a level to make room for a lounge behind home plate. While reporters still cover the team I guess the real estate they previously occupied while doing their jobs was deemed to valuable to waste on media members.
Photo R. Anderson

So now where the press box once stood is a super exclusive seating area where tickets likely are $600 to $1000 a game, if not more.

So if even a press box is not sacred why let a unique feature such as Tal’s Hill get in the way of revenue generating opportunities?

After all, much to the chagrin of team officials while it was popular with the fans for 15 years all Tal’s Hill did was sit there and grow grass.

Marcel Braithwaite, the Astros’ senior vice president of baseball operations was quoted in the Houston Chronicle as saying that, “Communal areas like this are what the fans want. They want to watch the games with their friends and family, they want to see what other game are going on. We are looking to create destination areas, gathering places that enable you to enjoy the game with a good vantage point while enjoying some good food and drink and spending time together.”

It very well may be a generation gap thing but I have always felt that the main reason to go to a baseball game is to see the game on the field and take in the sights and sounds of a Ballpark experience while snacking on hot dogs and other baseball concession staples at my seat.

Through all of my years attending games in both a professional and strictly fan scenario I have never thought that I want to sit in a lounge or sports bar atmosphere at the Ballpark while a game goes on in the background.

Unfortunately the new trend in Ballpark design is creating immersive environments and mini bars where one can stay an entire game without actually seeing the action on the field.

Adam Jones and the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Houston Astros on the day it was announced that Tal's Hill would disappear at the end of the season. As a center fielder Jones had a close up view of the unique incline in the outfield whenever he visited Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson

Adam Jones and the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Houston Astros on the day it was announced that Tal’s Hill would disappear at the end of the season. As a center fielder Jones had a close up view of the unique incline in the outfield whenever he visited Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course these areas need to include Wi-Fi hotspots as well to cater to the constantly plugged in fan of the 21st Century.

It seems to me that is someone is wanting to watch the game on a big screen television and eat pub food with their friends there are cheaper ways to do that then paying for a ticket to the ballgame if one has little desire to watch much of the ballgame.

Of course in this social media fueled Millennial madness I suppose they feel it is better to tag their Instagram posts with pictures from inside the Ballpark when they take a chance to remember that they are at a baseball game.

So like the press box before it Tal’s Hill will go to make room for yet another revenue stream in the form of gathering places and towers of light.

At least the outfield is not covered by large billboards that block the architectural elements of the Ballpark.  Oh wait, never mind.

Besides making room for more revenue streams, another reason given for the demolition of Tal’s Hill was concerns for the safety of players. In the 15 years that the hill has been there to my knowledge there have not been any major injuries.

Next season the outfield at Minute Maid Park will look very different. Photo R. Anderso

Next season the outfield at Minute Maid Park will look very different.
Photo R. Anderson

Or to put it another way, I can worry about 99 ways for a player to get injured, but a hill with a pitch ain’t one.

The removal of Tal’s Hill is unfortunate and I think that it is a mistake. It is not the first mistake that the Astros have made and it will not be the last.

Unfortunately each mistake adds fuel to the fire of me questioning how many more times I will visit Minute Maid Park.

I have already greatly reduced the number of games that I attend each year as I do not find the Ballpark experience as exciting as it used to be. That is not to say that I will no longer support the Astros if I stop going to see them in person.

I have never been the type of person who believes that the biggest fans of a team are determined by being the biggest spenders or the ones who attend the most games.

There are diehard fans in every sport who have never had the opportunity to see their teams play in person either through financial or geographic limitations.

That does not make them any less of a fan. In fact in some ways it might make them a bigger fan since they actually pay attention to the team more than an amenity such as a revenue generating lounge.

The Astros are winning more so that will bring in a new crop of fans so in the grand scheme of things I am sure they will not miss the hundreds of dollars that I used to spend in their facility.

With Tal's Hill disappearing the next unique feature that the Astros will likely want to get rid of is the train that moves and whistles whenever the Astros hit a home run. I am sure there is some revenue generating oprion up there on the tracks with the train out of the way. Photo R. Anderson

With Tal’s Hill disappearing the next unique feature that the Astros will likely want to get rid of is the train that moves and whistles whenever the Astros hit a home run. I am sure there is some revenue generating option up there on the tracks with the train out of the way.
Photo R. Anderson

The locomotive of baseball continues to chug along and people get on and off of the train at various stops along the way.

Speaking of trains I suppose the next unique feature that the Astros will want to get rid of is the train that moves and whistles whenever the Astros hit a home run.

After all, it is not like the site of the Ballpark is built on the grounds of the old Union Station railroad yard where it would make sense to have a locomotive as a tie to the past. Oh wait, never mind.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to mourn the loss of a pile of dirt.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

Spending Summer’s Last Gasp at the Ballpark

Today marks the first day of fall.

By and large fall, or autumn if you prefer, is my favorite season.

I enjoy the changing leaves, and the chill in the air, along with the various pumpkin flavored items that hit the grocery stores and restaurants this time of year to mark the season.

Of course having lived in Florida and Texas for the majority of my life, I usually have to settle on pumpkin flavored ice cream and chilled apple cider since for the most part  temperatures are still too hot for changing leaves and breaking out the fall coats.

But when I lived in Maryland as a much younger version of myself, I would visit the local apple orchard and pumpkin patch each year on school trips and jump into leaf piles that were above my head.

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows. Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows.
Photo R. Anderson

I may yet return someday to a land where autumn and other seasons exist but for now I will take part in the two Texas seasons of hot and not quite as hot.

So on the last day of summer with temperatures still in the low 90’s, I decided to mark the occasion with a baseball game.

After all baseball players are often referred to as the Boys of Summer so what could be more American than baseball to mark the end of summer?

When it came down to picking where to catch this fall eve last gasp of summer game I had the choice between the Houston Astros or the Sugar Land Skeeters since both teams were in town.

In true Robert Frost poem fashion it was much like I was standing before two roads, one well-traveled and one less traveled.

Were I to choose the more traveled road of the Astros, I would be watching a meaningless game in a mostly empty air conditioned Ballpark that seats 45,000 or so as the Astros went through the motions of finishing out another losing season that cannot end soon enough for players and fans alike.

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday. Photo R. Anderson

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday.
Photo R. Anderson

On the other hand, were I to choose the less traveled road that led to the Skeeters, I would be watching a game outside as nature intended in a much more fan-filled Ballpark as the Skeeters battled to clinch the Second Half division title.

With choices like that it was easy to pick the Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball over the Major League Baseball Astros.

That is not to say that I have completely given up on the Astros, but with some of the front office moves made by the team lately it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify spending MLB type money to see a lesser product.

I will continue to wish the Astros well in their rebuilding effort but for now will be voting with my wallet by not supporting them in person until they make more strides towards being a competitive team. That will not stop me from visiting Minute Maid Park next year to see my Orioles and Rays play however.

While many of the recent players for the Astros seem to be in over their heads at times as they try to establish their careers many of the players for Skeeters are just trying to hold on to their careers a little longer.

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.  Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Photo R. Anderson

Players in the Atlantic League for the most part will not be confused with Major League All-Stars, with the exception of Scott Kazmir who parlayed a stint with the Skeeters into a return to the MLB All-Star Game.

Rosters are comprised of former Major Leaguers and other players who could not find a place on an affiliated team roster for whatever reason.

The play in independent leagues, such as the one the Skeeters call home, can sometimes be sloppy with routine plays turning into errors on occasion but for the most part the errors even out as both teams are making them.

But what the players lack in polished skills they more than make up for in heart and determination. That is not to say that there are not Major League baseball players who play with heart and determination but as a whole those seem to be the exception.

Consider this, with entire team salaries far below what a single Major League Baseball player would make the men who make up the Skeeters roster are playing for the love of the game and the chance to put on a show each night for a couple of thousand fans under the lights.

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence. Photo R. Anderson

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence.
Photo R. Anderson

They know that their playing careers are finite but while they can they will continue to play the game that many of them have played as far back as they can remember.

So with these reasons in mind my last day of summer was spent under the sun watching the Skeeters defeat the York Revolution to clinch that division title for a berth in the playoffs.

I will take a game with players giving their all on every play over a game with players going through the motions every time. Also, a reasonably priced concession stand does not hurt either.

Two game diverged in a field, and I – I took the one where the players have the most heart. And that has made all the difference.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some playoff tickets to buy.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Astros Score the Hat Trick of Mediocrity

Last night the Houston Astros lost their 100th game of the year marking the third straight year that they have accomplished that dubious feat.

In 2011 the Astros went 56-106 in recording their first 100 loss season in team history. Their second straight 100 loss campaign followed in 2012 with a record of 55-107. As of last night the Astros are carrying a 51-100 record for the 2013 season.

In 2005 the Houston Astros were in the World Series. That was the last time they played in the postseason and this year marks their third consecutive season with at least 100 losses. Photo R. Anderson

In 2005 the Houston Astros were in the World Series. That was the last time they played in the postseason and this year marks their third consecutive season with at least 100 losses.
Photo R. Anderson

Time will tell how many of the remaining games the Astros end up losing. With a series against the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees still to go this season it is highly probable that we have not seen the last Astros loss of the season.

While few people should be surprised at the fact that the Astros have lost 100 games and counting this season, it is surprising based on their play at certain points this year that is took them until September to reach that milestone.

On paper it seemed more reasonable for the Astros to hit the 100th loss mark in August based on the way the team has played.

And of course the 100th loss, much like the previous 99, had its share of errant throws and even a “butt slide” that made people wonder if perhaps the players on the field were Major League players or more like the baseball equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.

I actually had the fortune, or perhaps misfortune, to be at the game last night when the 100th loss occurred.

After spending much of the day dealing with some water damage at the Triple B Gigaplex, I arrived at Minute Maid Park a little later than usual so the game was already underway by the time I got inside.

As I entered the ballpark in the top of the first inning the Astros were already trailing the Cincinnati Reds 4-0.

Jonathan Villar tried to stretch a single into a double in the first inning of a 10-0 loss Tuesdays night and ended up getting tagged out in a most compromising position. Photo R. Anderson

Jonathan Villar tried to stretch a single into a double in the first inning of a 10-0 loss Tuesday night and ended up getting tagged out in a most compromising position.
Photo R. Anderson

It should be noted that the Astros went on to lose the game 10-0 which is 100 (as in 100th loss) if you remove the dash. A scary coincidence or stroke of marketing genius?

As for the face to cheek slide heard round the world, that occurred in the bottom of the first inning when Jonathan Villar tried to stretch a leadoff single into a double to start the inning.

Instead of a runner on second with no outs however, Villar was tagged out at second base while somehow managing to face plant the left butt cheek of Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips.

While the Astros have certainly been the butt of many jokes this year that particular play seemed to sum up the season rather literally.

Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips applied the tag heard round the web on Jonathan Villar Tuesday night. Photo R. Anderson

Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips applied the tag heard round the web on Jonathan Villar Tuesday night.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course not every Astros game this season has resulted in a loss and last Friday night I actually witnessed one of those hard to come by wins when I saw the Astros in action against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (also known as the we can see Disneyland from our Ballpark Angels). Okay, so the Angels are not called that but they can in fact see Disneyland from their ballpark in case you were wondering.

One a personal note the Angels became the 29th team that I have watched play at Minute Maid Park.  My journey to 30 teams is set to be completed on September 27th when the New York Yankees come to town for the last three games of the year.

In celebration of my achievement of seeing all 30 Major League Baseball teams at a single Ballpark there will be postgame fireworks. Okay, so the fireworks are not for me but as I watch those majestic explosives light up the downtown Houston sky I am going to pretend that they are.

Seeing Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim put me one team away from seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson

Seeing Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim put me one team away from seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Against the Angels, the Astros looked both good and bad en route to the Friday the 13th 9-7 victory.   There was a grand slam hit which showed that the Astros were able to get consecutive hits to load the bases and then have that all important final hit to get them all home.

The game also featured the first career Major League hit for Cody Clark, a journeyman Minor League catcher who had been called up following a string of injuries behind the plate for the Astros.

It is likely that Clark will be back in the Minor Leagues next season but the record books will forever show that on September 13, 2013 Clark got his first hit in the Major Leagues.

Astros Catcher Cody Clark recorded his first Major League hit Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels. Photo R. Anderson

Astros Catcher Cody Clark recorded his first Major League hit Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels.
Photo R. Anderson

In a show of class for the milestone of the first career hit Clark was presented with the ball. Years from now Clark can show his grandkids and anyone else that is around the ball that fell in the outfield to allow him to join the fraternity of Major League hitters.

It is moments like Cody Clark getting his first career hit, even in a lost season, which show there are still reasons to put on the uniform and compete every day.

There is no doubt that 100 loss seasons will probably happen for at least one or two more years but the players are being forged in the fire of adversity and should come out stronger on the other side. And of course if they can work on their base running a little more, and avoid embarrassing slides into the backsides of their opponents, they just may end up smelling like roses.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it is time to slide into the kitchen for a snack.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Triple B Hits the Century Mark

If you happen to be reading this right now, it means that you have arrived at the 100th column entry here at Triple B.

Now, 100 columns is certainly a milestone worth noting and as it got closer there were increased thoughts at the Triple B Gigaplex regarding the best way to celebrate it.

The first thought of how to celebrate the occasion was actually to not celebrate it at all.

Let’s call this the “act like you’ve been there before” approach.

In the act like you’ve been there approach one just continues doing what they have always done without drawing attention to reaching a particular milestone such as say the 100th entry made since January.

For example, instead of talking about it being the 100th column the space could be devoted to discussing the fact that the 2014 Major League Baseball schedule was released yesterday and includes the Houston Astros opening the season at home against the New York Yankees.

The 2014 Astros schedule also gives me the chance to see the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, and Washington Nationals from the air conditioned comfort of Minute Maid Park.

Or instead of pointing out that this is the 100th column we could talk about the cheating scandal that is rocking NASCAR and has led to a shake-up in which teams get to compete for the coveted championship.

Another topic we could cover is the total disappointing effort put out by the Washington Redskins in Monday Night Football despite us going to the trouble of getting a special cookie cake for the occasion to go along with a tray of imported cheese, rosemary crackers and pinwheels.

Instead of tasting sweet like victory, this Washington Redskins chocolate chip cookie cake tasted bitter after a lackluster effort by the Redskins in Monday Night Football. But that is not what we are here to talk about. Photo R. Anderson

Instead of tasting sweet like victory, this Washington Redskins chocolate chip cookie cake tasted bitter after a lackluster effort by the Redskins in Monday Night Football. But that is not what we are here to talk about.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course as many on field celebrations show, the act like you have been there approach is often thrown out the window in favor of the “party like it’s 1999 approach.”

One particular example of the excessive celebration in baseball is the walk off win.

As the name implies a walk-off win occurs when the teams simply walk off the field after the home team has scored a decisive run in the bottom of the ninth inning that leads to a victory.

I have never really understood baseball teams that choreograph routines for walk off celebrations. I get the emotion of the moment and the fact that the victory is secured but when some teams have set roles for people to play during a walk off celebration such as who get to catch the batting helmet as the runner touches home things have gone too far.

With the act like you’ve been there approach ruled out thoughts on how to celebrate turned to the television clip show approach.

I am sure everyone has watched a television show at one time or another that was comprised of clips from previous shows as the actors on the show “looked back” at pivotal moments of the past year.

This approach usually involves a contrived set-up that allows for the seamless inclusion of remember when moments that serve as flashbacks for the viewer.

One of my favorite shows growing up, MacGyver, was notorious for the clip show approach. It would never fail that each season would include a look back at shows and events which sometimes happened as far back as the episode that preceded the clip show.

A MacGyver clip show would usually involve the main characters in some sort of a jam and then they would realize they had gotten out of worse scenarios in the past by saying something like, “Remember when MacGyver disarmed that thermonuclear device with a bottle cap and a whisker from a Russian Dwarf Hamster?”

And then a clip would be shown of MacGyver disarming said device earlier that season armed with a Swiss Army Knife, a bottle cap and of course that all important non conductive whisker from a Russian Dwarf Hamster.

Okay, to my knowledge Macgyver never disarmed a thermonuclear device with a hamster whisker. But if he did, and there was footage of that, I would certainly deem that to be clip show worthy.

So if we were to take the clip show approach here I would say something like remember when we talked about how bad the Astros are this year?

And of course that phrase would have been hyperlinked so that you could navigate back there to read the previous article about when we talked about how bad the Astros were.

Although I think many of the past 99 columns referred to how bad the Astros were this year so that would be a lot of hyperlinks to have to go back and add.

So instead of talking about the Astros we could say remember when we talked about (fill in the blank)? And of course the link would magically transport you back to reread that particular article.

I was never really a big fan of the clip show approach when MacGyver did it and I am definitely not going to do it now since it always struck me as a cheap way for the writers to not really have to work hard at coming up with new material.

So we aren’t taking any shortcuts here, although remember when we talked about…

With the act like you’ve been there before approach and the clip show approach being ruled out we had to think of a third way to celebrate the milestone of reaching 100 columns.

What better way to celebrate 100 columns than with some cake. Photo R. Anderson

What better way to celebrate 100 columns than with some cake.
Photo R. Anderson

That led us to the third way to mark the occasion of reaching our 100th column, we bought a cake and put some candles on it.

I mean who doesn’t love baked goods? After all, remember a few paragraphs up when we were talking about a Washington Redskins cookie cake?

And when the cake is filled with Boston Cream one really can’t go wrong. (By the way remember when we talked about Boston?)

So, there you have it, the 100th post here at Triple B.

Here’s to many more to come as we offer observations from the cheap seats, the beach seats and everywhere in between.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cake to eat. Of course, if you had been here yesterday I could have offered you a slice.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Bad Year to be an Astro Especially for Catchers

The other day The Houston Astros added another catcher to their roster.

Normally this would not really be news worthy since teams often add a third catcher in September when the rosters are expanded.

What makes the latest Astros addition of a catcher newsworthy is the fact that it is the third catcher the Astros have added to the roster since August 20th due to injuries.

Carlos Corporan was injured August 19 when he took a foul ball off of his facemask. Max Stassi was called up to replace Coporan and he was hit in the head by a pitch two days later and hasn’t played since. Both Corporan and Max Stassi remain on the seven-day concussion disabled list.

The latest injury to an Astros catcher occurred Monday when Jason Castro was pulled from the game after an RBI single in the second inning with a sprained right knee. It should be noted that it is the same knee Castro had surgically repaired in 2011.

Jason Castro meets with Manager Bo Porter and the athletic training staff before being pulled from the game with a sprained knee. The injury is being called day to day leaving the Astros without their only All-Star representative for the foreseeable future. Photo R. Anderson

Jason Castro meets with Manager Bo Porter and the athletic training staff before being pulled from the game with a sprained knee. The injury is being called day to day leaving the Astros without their only All-Star representative for the foreseeable future.
Photo R. Anderson

So with two catchers out with concussions and Castro deemed day to day with a cyst on the medial side of his right knee, the Astros were left with only Cody Clark on the roster as a catcher.

Clark is a real life Crash Davis having spent 11 years bouncing around the Minor Leagues before being called up August 23.

The Astros don’t want to call up a third catcher from within their farm system since their Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City and Double-A affiliate in Corpus Christi are both going to the playoffs and probably want to have someone available to catch balls that are thrown by the pitchers.

So with no more catchers to promote from within, the Astros were forced to look outside the organization for back stop help.

The team acquired Minor League catcher Matt Pagnozzi from the Braves in exchange for cash considerations.

In announcing the signing of Pagnozzi the Astros press release noted that Pagnozzi was beginning a drive to his home in Arizona from Gwinnett, Ga., and had just changed a bulb on the headlamp in his truck at a Walmart when he got the call he had to head to Houston.

After reading that it reminded me of the movie Major League when the potential manager gets a job offer while working at the tire store and thinks at first that the offer is a joke.

It also reminded me that some reporter likely asked a question along the lines of, “So Matt, what were you doing when you found out you had been traded to Houston?”

First base coach Dave Clark reminds catcher Cody Clark to stay injury free as he is the only able bodied catcher at the time. Photo R. Anderson

First base coach Dave Clark reminds catcher Cody Clark to stay injury free as he is the only able bodied catcher at the time.
Photo R. Anderson

As an aside, if one is ever asked that question the correct response is never, “Well, I was in the bathroom checking my e-mail and saw that I had a message from my agent.”

Even if that is what you were doing, it does not make a good quote and will inevitably lead to the follow up question of “did you wash your hands before replying?”

Although, it should be noted that Walmart bathrooms are certainly a nice place to stop during a road trip, especially if you need to get a bulb for your truck as well.

It is likely that Pagnozzi’s time with the Astros will be short as Corporan will begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Wednesday for Double-A Corpus Christi with the hopes of rejoining the Astros on Monday in Seattle.

I just hope that his time is not shortened by injury since the Astros really are running out of places to find catchers.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am off to the sporting goods store to get a catcher’s mitt and mask since at this rate I very well could be the next catcher called. I just hope they don’t call me while I am at Walmart.

 Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

One Down, Two to Go

With a Labor Day matinee day game today between the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins I inched one team closer to seeing all 30 Major League Baseball teams at Minute Maid Park.

I had seen the Twins in Florida many times for Spring Training but until today I had never had the chance to see them play a regular season game.

Later in the month I will see games against the Angels and the Yankees to complete the 30 teams in a single Ballpark quest.

Of course a larger goal of mine is seeing all 30 teams in their home Ballparks but having them all come to me is certainly a good first step.

The journey to see all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park started modestly enough with a 2001 game against the San Francisco Giants on October 4, 2001. It was also the only game at the Ballpark while it was called Enron Field.

With the Minnesota Twins officially crossed off of the list only the Los Angels Angels of Anneheim and the New York Yankees stand between me and my goal of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson

With the Minnesota Twins officially crossed off of the list only the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Yankees stand between me and my goal of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

But, for any purists out there who say that it shouldn’t count for seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park rest assured I have seen the Giants play during the Minute Maid era.

The game had originally been scheduled for September but was moved to October after a week of games was cancelled following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

For those who may have forgotten October 4, 2001 was the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.

The stands erupted in cheers when that record setting homer sailed over the wall. Of course it is not often that a home run hit by the opposing team gets such a response but this was history in the making. Or at least it was history tying in the making.

Bonds very well may have broken that record as well during the same game that he tied it aside from the fact that the Astros manager decided to give Bonds an intentional walk later in the game ending any chance that home run number 71 would occur on Houston soil.

I recall writing at the time that the history denying intentional walk was not in the spirit of competition and was manipulating records.

Of course, after having 12 or so years to reflect it occurs to me that not wanting to have the tainted home run occur on his watch was a wise move on the manager’s part.

Perhaps that Astros manager saw through the hype before the rest of us and realized that Bonds was likely using some pharmaceutical enhancements to crush those long balls.

Every journey starts with a single step, or in some cases a single ticket. On October 4, 2001 I saw my first game at Minute Maid Park which was known as Enron Field at the time. By the end of this season I will have seen all 30 Major League teams at least once at the Ballpark. Photo R. Anderson

Every journey starts with a single step, or in some cases a single ticket. On October 4, 2001 I saw my first game at Minute Maid Park which was known as Enron Field at the time. By the end of this season I will have seen all 30 Major League teams at least once at the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Since that night Bonds went on to be disgraced with many fans wanting an asterisk by his record to reflect that it was not earned cleanly and should not be the official record.

The record will stand until another player, perhaps Baltimore’s Chris Davis, breaks it the clean way without any attachment to performance enhancing drugs.

While not every game at Minute Maid Park was as exciting has my first there have certainly been other memories made by the various teams that have come through the visitor’s clubhouse. And of course from time to time the home team has made a few memorable plays.

Although lately it seems that many of the plays made by the Astros are memorable for all the wrong reasons.

I am sure there will come a day when the Astros once again fill the Ballpark with fans wanting to see great things from the home team.  Many fans are boycotting the move to the American League and the change in ownership.

While the new ownership has certainly made its fair share of blunders, and moving the team from the National League to the American League was highly unpopular among many in the Astros fan base, ironically it was the unpopular relocation of the Astros to the American League that helped speed up my quest to see all 30 teams. Without the Astros moving to the American League West I would not have been able to cross off Seattle and Oakland earlier in the season.

While all of the teams would eventually have rolled through town under the old Interleague schedule infusing some new teams into the mix was certainly a welcome rest from multiple games against National League Central opponents each year.

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron's career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.  Photo R. Anderson

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.
Photo R. Anderson

I grew up on American League baseball with the Orioles and Rays and had not seen a National League game in person until the first one at Minute Maid Park. While I have now seen more National League games than American League games in my life I have to admit I still prefer the American League style with the designated hitter.

I know there are baseball purists who are cringing right now and crumpling up their felt pennants but I really would whether see 9 people that can potentially hit than 8 and a guaranteed strike out or sacrifice bunt from the pitcher.

I still think the Astros make a better National League team than an American League team but one does have to play with the cards they are dealt as opposed to always shouting at the dealer to reshuffle the deck until a hand that suits them is dealt.

So, like it or not the Astros are an American League squad. Granted, they are not a very successful one but they are one nonetheless. And with the constant presence of Interleague play now the lines between National and American League rules and playing styles will continue to get blurred until all of the teams are basically the same.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to get some tickets to see the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or Burbank or whatever L.A. suburb they are including in their name these days. It sure was easier when they were just the California Angels but I guess too many people were getting lost on the Pacific Coast Highway trying to find them somewhere between San Diego and Sacramento so some better geographic indicators were needed.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Astros and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Game

My affinity for the movie Bull Durham is well known.

In fact, I have been known to quote the movie quite frequently as there seem to be quotes that fit almost any occasion in life.

So while I was watching Monday night’s debacle of a game between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers there were many Bull Durham lines that came to mind as the Double-A talent level Astros players with the big hearts and limited talent fell victim to the much more talented and much more Major League Baseball level Texas Rangers.

Bull Durham is one of my favorite movies. The Houston Astros are spending the season reenacting many of the scenes from the movie, and not in the good way. Photo R. Anderson

Bull Durham is one of my favorite movies. The Houston Astros are spending the season reenacting many of the scenes from the movie, and not in the good way.
Photo R. Anderson

One line from Bull Durham that kept coming to mind as I watched the wheels fall off for the Astros once again was, “You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you?”

And of course anyone who has seen the movie knows that the answer is lollygaggers.

The Astros have found ways to make a very simple game of throw and catch anything but simple the past few seasons as they lollygag through their games.  Of course this year they look like doctoral students in the study of ways to lollygag during ballgames.

Quite frankly, each game tends to lead itself to even more absurd ways to lose. Balls falling between three outfielders? Check. An overworked staff of pitchers giving up more leads than a reporter on deadline? Check.

The list goes on and on with the creative ways that the Astros have found to lose this year. But Monday night seemed to find new levels on the losing scale.

In addition to the game reminding me of some scenes from Bull Durham, it also harkened back to some bedtime stories that my mom used to read to me.

One of those books in particular came to mind Monday night as I was watching the Astros go through yet another epic fail. That book was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which was written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz.

In the book, as the title suggests, Alexander has a bad day.

The way the Astros' season has gone I wouldn't be surprised if the song Bad Day is on a constant loop in the clubhouse. Photo R. Anderson

The way the Astros’ season has gone I wouldn’t be surprised if the song Bad Day is on a constant loop in the clubhouse.
Photo R. Anderson

The book came out in 1972 which was long before the days immortalized in Daniel Powter’s one hit wonder song Bad Day.

So, for the more musically minded readers one can replace the imagery of the printed page with the melodies of song if they wish.

Whichever way works the fact remains the Astros had a very bad day, err night Monday.

As part of the bad night the Astros gave up 11 runs in the third inning with all nine Rangers players in the batting order scoring at least one run during the third inning scoring marathon.

Then in the fourth inning the Astros lost their catcher to concussion like symptoms. Normally when that occurs the backup catcher is rushed into the game since most squads carry two catchers on the active roster for situations like this.

Of course when you are using your other catcher as the designated hitter, as the Astros were doing, a little rule goes into effect where they cannot go behind the plate without a team being forced to use a pitcher at DH to replace them.

So with the options limited at catcher, the Astros turned to their emergency catcher, Jake Elmore. It is not like Elmore had never caught before. The announcers on the broadcast were very quick to point out that Elmore once caught an inning in a Double-A game in Mobile, Alabama a few years back.

To his credit, Elmore did a good job behind the plate. Of course he was helped by the fact that the Rangers were not trying to steal any bases with such a sizable lead.

At least the hats are sharp for the Astros to make up for some of the less than sharp play on the field. Photo R. Anderson

At least the hats are sharp for the Astros to make up for some of the less than sharp play on the field.
Photo R. Anderson

The night for Elmore got even weirder in the eighth inning when he was called upon to pitch since it was determined that with the game so out of reach the Astros would just give the rest of the bullpen the night off.

Elmore needed only 11 pitches to get three outs and proved to be the most productive pitcher of the night for the Astros. Not bad for a guy making his Major League debut as both a pitcher and a catcher.

While there have certainly been games where infielders have been called on to pitch these are usually extra-inning games when the bullpens have been completely depleted. Elmore became only the 14th person to be both a catcher and pitcher in the same game.

The Astros keep preaching rebuilding and patience but when they decide to completely rest an ineffective bullpen in favor of an infielder who has never pitched in a Major League Game and he makes it look easier to get batters out than the bulk of the full time pitchers, there is definitely something horribly wrong and will certainly test the patience of Job.

So, it is likely that there will be many more terrible, horrible, no good, very bad games for the Astros this year. And the trend will likely continue for several years to come. There is no quick fix for a team that does not want to spend money on talented players.

Of course, there are players like Jake Elmore that have the talent and the heart to be Major League ballplayers for the Astros they just aren’t being given the supporting cast to be successful and are left feeling like they woke up with gum in their hair day after day after day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there is a certain book from my childhood that I think I will pull off of the shelf and read.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Pudge Takes His Place Among Texas Ranger Greats

This past Saturday in Arlington, Texas, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez became the 16th person to be inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony occurred prior to the Rangers and the Orioles taking the field. And while the game itself clearly belonged to the Orioles, the pregame ceremony was about honoring Pudge for his time as a Ranger.

During a 21-year career that started in 1991 when he was only 19-years-old, Pudge was voted to the All-Star game 14 times. He was named the 1999 American League MVP and earned seven Silver Slugger Awards with six of those coming during his 13-year tenure with the Rangers.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the 16th person inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Saturday before the Rangers versus Orioles game. Photo R. Anderson

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez became the 16th person inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Saturday before the Rangers versus Orioles game.
Photo R. Anderson

While the bulk of Pudge’s career was spent in a Rangers’ uniform he played for the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros and Nationals before retiring at the start of the 2012 season.

While Saturday night was all about honoring his years with the Rangers, I tend to remember Pudge more as a member of the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins squad as well as a member of the Astros in 2009.

It was during his brief time with the Astros that Pudge broke the record for most games caught. Fittingly enough Rodriguez surpassed Carlton Fisk’s record of 2,226 games caught during a game against the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington allowing the Rangers’ fans to take part in Pudge’s record setting evening.

Shortly after breaking the record the Astros traded  Pudge to the Rangers for the remainder of the 2009 season. The 2010 and 2011 seasons were spent with the Washington Nationals and Pudge ended his career with a major league record of 2,427 games behind the plate. It is doubtful that his record will ever be broken.

I have little doubt that Pudge could have kept playing. The fact that a team did not add him to their roster in 2012 is definitely a travesty in my mind. But baseball is a business and even the best players do not get a farewell tour. Of course the season long tributes that Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera received are certainly the exception more than the rule.

While Pudge was known for having a rocket launcher of an arm and an ability to pick runners off at ease, he was also no slouch at the plate as a hitter.

Pudge was known as much for his play at the plate as behind it and leads the Rangers in many offensive and defensive categories. Photo R. Anderson

Pudge was known as much for his play at the plate as behind it and leads the Rangers in many offensive and defensive categories.
Photo R. Anderson

In 1,507 career games with the Rangers, Rodriguez hit .304 with 217 home runs with 842 RBIs.

He is second in club history in hits (1,747), doubles (352) and multi-hit games (490).  Rodriquez also leads several categories across all of baseball for a catcher.

I was fortunate enough to see Pudge play on several occasions late in his career. I was definitely one of the people who thought that the Astros should have kept him around a little longer to help mold their pitching staff.

When none other than Hall of Famer, and Texas legend, Nolan Ryan calls Pudge the best catcher ever, one would think that people would listen. And Nolan would know a little bit about catchers and Pudge in particular.

During Pudge’s second game as a Major League ballplayer in 1991 he caught Nolan Ryan. Now 22 years later, Pudge works as a special assistant to Ryan to assist the Rangers in several areas, including international scouting, player instruction on the major and minor league levels and talent evaluation. He also represents the team in community and marketing endeavors.

Pudge spent part of the 2009 season with the Houston Astros but was traded back to the Rangers prior to his Bobblehead giveaway game. Photo R. Anderson

Pudge spent part of the 2009 season with the Houston Astros but was traded back to the Rangers prior to his Bobblehead giveaway game.
Photo R. Anderson

I last saw Pudge play in 2009 after he was traded back to the Rangers.

Ironically enough while Pudge was suiting up for the Rangers in a game against Tampa Bay, about four hours to the south the Astros were celebrating Pudge bobblehead day. I guess once you order the bobbleheads you still need to hand them out even if the player has moved on.

I went to some Spring Training games for the Washington Nationals in 2010 and 2011 but sadly Pudge did not play in any of those games.

Three years from now Pudge will become eligible for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and his career numbers should make him a shoo-in for induction on his first year of eligibility.

From everything I can tell Pudge played the game the way it should be played. Hopefully that will earn him a trip to Cooperstown to take his rightful place among the other Hall of Famers.

There is little doubt that when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame he will go in as a Ranger and that should certainly make his former battery mate and current boss, Nolan Ryan, very happy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball games to watch.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

We Knew They’d Be Bad, But This Bad?

With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game behind us, and about two and a half months of season ahead of us, this is the time that most prognosticators roll out their list of surprises and predictions for the rest of the season.

This allows them to pat themselves on the back on the things they got right, and remind us how fluid the game is and make new predictions for the ones that they got wrong.

Over the past few days I have read many such articles of predictions gone well and predictions that didn’t quite pan out at the midpoint of the season. While I made predictions at the start of the season I do not believe in a mid course correction. Instead we will see how they hold up at the end of the year.

As part of this yearly ritual of assessing the season at the halfway point the subject of which teams will be trading away players and which teams will be getting players also comes up.

Lance Berkman was traded to the Yankees in the first phase of the Astros epic rebuilding process. He has been on winning teams ever since. The Astros have yet to post a winning record since the trade. Photo R. Anderson

Lance Berkman was traded to the Yankees right at the trading deadline four years ago in the first phase of the Astros epic rebuilding process. He has been on winning teams ever since. The Astros have yet to post a winning record since the trade.
Photo R. Anderson

July 31, is considered the main trade deadline and a flurry of activity usually occurs with teams far from contending dumping players and payroll to teams that still have a chance at playoff glory but may be missing a piece or two in that winning formula.

For the past few years the question of how many games over 100 will the Astros lose and how many players will they trade en route to that inevitably gets discussed in the local Houston media and with a third straight year of futility in progress the national media has been weighing in on the matter as well.

So everyone agrees that the Houston Astros and their lowest in baseball by a long shot payroll are not going to the playoffs in any way, shape, or form. In fact, by most estimates, it will be several years before the Astros can even think about such lofty goals.

But the baseball season is a long season and the Astros want to put fans in their ballpark since fans equal money and money keeps the lights on.  But fans have been staying away in large numbers this season since most people enjoy spending their hard earned money on entertainment where the outcome is not assumed ahead of time. And with very few exceptions it is assumed that when the Astros take the field it will result in a loss.

I will give the Astros credit though over the past month their losses have become more creative and usually involve at least one instance where an error of tee ball magnitude occurs.

The Astros should embrace these errors and perhaps by making such huge errors the other ballplayers will have to leave the game from laughing so hard and pulling some rib cartilage.

I know there have been games that I have watched at home that have left me sore from a combination of cringing and laughing at the ineptitude on display.

So with it understood that the Astros are bad, really bad, the only question is who is in their same league of badness?

For that we can look to Miami where the Marlins are giving the Astros a run for their money in the battle for who can win less. And I think this battle for the worst record in baseball should be embraced by both teams and a World Series of Futility should be created for them.

But Ryan you say isn’t it wrong to root for a team to be so bad that they are dead last? To that I say no, because the team was set up as way to replenish the farm system. And everyone knows the best way to replenish the farm system is through the hit and miss way of drafting prospects who may or may not ever make it to the Major Leagues.

Personally if I were running a team I would want a roster comprised of proven players with a few prospects sprinkled in but I am not running a team and no one asked my opinion.

So the Astros are looking at things from a strictly pasta throwing kind of way.  When cooking pasta one can hurl it at the wall and if it sticks then the pasta is cooked. If the pasta falls to the floor than it is not cooked.

Jimmy Paredes is one pasta, err player, that just has not stuck no matter how many times the Astros throw him at the wall. Photo R. Anderson

Jimmy Paredes is one pasta, err player, that just has not stuck no matter how many times the Astros throw him at the wall.
Photo R. Anderson

So think of the Astros as a big pot of pasta.  Every so often upper management will take one of the players from their Triple-A club and throw them out on the field and hope that they stick, or at least slide slowly enough down the wall that they can buy some time until the pasta in Double-A gets cooked.

To date, most of the players brought up have not stuck to the wall. This can be caused by them not being seasoned enough in the Minor Leagues or it could be that they just aren’t Major League quality regardless of how long they stay in the pot.

So the Astros need more pasta, err players, in order to field a competitive team. So a battle for last place gives them something to shoot for. And in a season that was declared lost at the start I think the majority of the fans may enjoy seeing a little competition with the Marlins for that coveted first pick.

Plus, if the Astros do end up with the first overall pick next year it would be the third year in a row that they did that. And that boys and girls is called a winning streak which is certainly in short supply when it comes to the Astros.

While waiting for the Astros to be competitive again fans at Minute Maid Park can enjoy plenty of elbow room and of course an obstructed view of downtown. Photo R. Anderson

While waiting for the Astros to be competitive again fans at Minute Maid Park can enjoy plenty of elbow room and of course an obstructed view of downtown.
Photo R. Anderson

So embrace the rebuilding and the futility that comes from it. Watch some players make the kind of errors that just should not be seen at the Major League level and attend a game or two if you are in town. Just don’t expect to see a consistent winner for a few more years.

Of course hopefully by then those annoying billboards in center field will be gone restoring the view of downtown. Because when the action on the field is too unbearable to watch it is certainly nice to be able to watch a nice sunset or watch the cars go by.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get ready to watch some baseball and hope that I don’t end up hurting myself.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

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