Tag Archives: Houston Astros

Milo Hamilton’s Passing Leaves a Void

It has been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes with each leaving a void in both wallets and hearts.

Yesterday the world of baseball grew a little dimmer and hearts grew a little heavier with the passing of Hall of Fame Broadcaster Milo Hamilton whose calls of “Holy Toledo” echoed from a record 59 Major League Baseball Ballparks during a 60-year career.

As one of the last of the golden era of announcers, Milo Hamilton, who was 88 when he died, worked for the St. Louis Browns (1953), St. Louis Cardinals (1954), Chicago Cubs (1956-57, 1980-84), Chicago White Sox (1962-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-75), Pittsburgh Pirates (1976-79) and the Houston Astros (1985-2012).

One of Milo Hamilton's final appearances at Minute Maid Park occurred om April 18, 2015 when he honored the 50th Anniversary of the Astros partnering with NASA. Photo R. Anderson

One of Milo Hamilton’s final appearances at Minute Maid Park occurred om April 18, 2015 when he honored the 50th Anniversary of the Astros partnering with NASA.
Photo R. Anderson

Milo’s 60 years broadcasting Major League Baseball games is second only to Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully who has 66 years in the booth.

Although retiring from full time broadcasting work in 2012 Milo remained a special ambassador for the Astros and made several on field appearances up until June of this year.

Milo received the Ford Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.

While Milo’s career encompassed half of the 20th Century I did not discover him until 2000 when I moved to Houston and listened to him regularly until his last broadcast in 2012.

Those 12 seasons of listening to Milo helped me feel a connection to a forgotten era of broadcasting.

Although I read many books on Red Barber, Vin Scully and other great broadcasters of the Golden Age of Baseball, until listening to Milo I never had the opportunity to hear one of them call a game live.

After retiring from the broadcast booth in 2012, Milo Hamilton served as the master of ceremonies for the 2013 Opening Day that marked the American League debut of the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

After retiring from the broadcast booth in 2012, Milo Hamilton served as the master of ceremonies for the 2013 Opening Day that marked the American League debut of the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

Milo had a relaxed style that captured the action on the field with a conversational ease that few broadcasters can get right.

Milo understood that the action on the field was what people were listening to catch as opposed to many of today’s announcers who seem to forget that a game is going on.

With his Blue Star light shining whenever a player did something spectacular Milo was Houston’s version of Vin Scully, an announcer who had seen decades of changes within the game of baseball from behind his microphone and had entertained generation upon generation of fans with his Midwestern style.

One of those long time fans was former President George H.W. Bush who issued a statement on the passing of his friend.

“Barbara and I mourn the loss of Milo Hamilton, a genuine baseball icon, a Hall of Fame sportscaster — and, happily for us, a good friend,” Bush said in a statement. “In time, Milo was so endeared he became his own Houston institution, and the countless good causes he helped made him one of the brightest Points of Light we knew. It was hard for him, and indeed all Astros fans, when he stepped away from the booth in 2012 after his legendary career, but from this day forward we can take comfort that he will always have the best seat in the house. Holy Toledo, what a good man he was — and we were fortunate to know him.”

While Milo Hamilton was known by generations of fans in Houston, one of his most famous calls took place in Atlanta. That memorable moment, which is forever housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame archives, is the radio call of Henry “Hank” Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.

Milo Hamilton signs an autograph during the 2014 Astros Fan Fest. Photo R. Anderson

Milo Hamilton signs an autograph during the 2014 Astros Fan Fest.
Photo R. Anderson

“Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all-time! And it’s Henry Aaron!”

Ironically Milo Hamilton was behind the microphone capturing history in Houston when Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s record in 2001.

Other memorable calls made by Milo Hamilton included calling 11 no hitters as well as being on the call for Nolan Ryan’s 4,000th strike out in 1985.

Milo Hamilton was also there to cover the only trip the Houston Astros made to the World Series in 2005.

Milo Hamilton spent more years with the Astros than with any other team and was honored with a street outside of Minute Maid Park being named in his honor as Milo Hamilton Way.

Milo Hamilton spent more years with the Astros than with any other team and was honored with a street outside of Minute Maid Park being named in his honor as Milo Hamilton Way. Photo R. Anderson

Milo Hamilton spent more years with the Astros than with any other team and was honored with a street outside of Minute Maid Park being named in his honor as Milo Hamilton Way.
Photo R. Anderson

With the death of Milo Hamilton and the pending retirement of Vin Scully next season the world of baseball is losing more and more of the connections to the past.

Milo Hamilton’s autobiography Making Airwaves is highly recommend for anyone who is fascinated by the way announcing used to be.

I have had the chance to listen to Vin Scully call a few games over the past couple of years and know that there will likely never be a pair of announcers like them again.

It is inevitable that the game of baseball continues to move on but it is also important to take time to remember those shoulders that the game is built upon.

Although he is gone, Milo Hamilton, shown in bobblehead form will live on in the memories of generations of fans and in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Photo R. Anderson

Although he is gone, Milo Hamilton, shown in bobblehead form will live on in the memories of generations of fans and in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Photo R. Anderson

A decade after their last trip to the postseason the Astros are once again a playoff caliber team, although they recently saw the Texas Rangers take over the top spot in the division.

While only time will tell if this is the year that the Astros return to the World Series one can be assured that whenever they do return to the October Classic there will be a blue star shining in the heavens for them that can be seen all the way in Toledo.

Thanks for the memories Milo.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like listening to some historic Milo Hamilton calls.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

 

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

Wallet Lost, Good People Found

The other day I did something that I have never done at a Ballpark, and hope to never do again.

That something was becoming separated from my wallet.

Through the years I have attended games at many Ballparks from Little League to Major League and every league in between.

At each of those games my wallet and I remained attached at the back pocket from the time I entered the Ballpark until the time I left.

Sure the wallet would come out from time to time to purchase concessions or souvenirs but after each transaction was completed the wallet would return to the security of Mr. Pocket despite the discomfort of sitting on a wallet on a hard plastic seat.

Saturday's Houston Astros game started with three astronauts throwing out ceremonial pitches and ended with a frantic search for a lost wallet. Photo R. Anderson

Saturday’s Houston Astros game started with three astronauts throwing out ceremonial pitches and ended with a frantic search for a lost wallet.
Photo R. Anderson

For some unknown reason during a recent visit to Minute Maid Park my wallet decided that it no longer wanted to be in my pocket and decided to venture out on its own.

I did not realize that my wallet had gone on a walkabout until I was standing on the lower concourse after leaving my seat on the upper concourse.

Upon first realizing that my wallet was no longer tucked safely inside my pocket, my first thought was that perhaps I had been the victim of a pick pocket since several people had bumped into me during my trek through the mass of humanity within the facility.

My next thought regarding my lost wallet was that perhaps I was not the victim of a pick pocket and instead it had fallen out somewhere along my journey between the highest point of the Ballpark and the lowest.

Shortly after watching George Springer cross home plate after a solo home run I was greeted by the sinking feeling of an empty back pocket where my wallet should have been. Photo R. Anderson

Shortly after watching George Springer cross home plate after a solo home run I was greeted by the sinking feeling of an empty back pocket where my wallet should have been.
Photo R. Anderson

I decided that the only course of action was to retrace my steps and hope that the needle that was my wallet could be located within the hay stack that was Minute Maid Park.

As I began my sprint back to the upper deck I allowed my thoughts to drift to the worst case scenario that at that very moment someone had my wallet and was up to no good.

While I was certainly not hoping for a worst case outcome, I knew that I needed to prepare myself in case that turned out to be what happened.

I knew that in this scenario whatever cash I had in the wallet was gone along with my driver’s license and credit cards.

There was nothing I could do about the lost cash, so I focused on the credit cards and who I would need to call to report the cards as stolen. While it would be a hassle to call them I knew that it was the only way to protect myself in the event the cards were stolen.

Ironically it was not the potential loss of cash, nor the loss of the credit cards that had me the most upset.

The view of the grounds crew raking the field was nice. Sprinting from the lower bowl to the upper deck in record time was not quite as nice. Photo R. Anderson

The view of the grounds crew raking the field was nice. Sprinting from the lower bowl to the upper deck in record time was not quite as nice.
Photo R. Anderson

The thought that troubled me the most as I ran up the three sets of escalators, was that I was going to have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new driver’s license.

It is sad that the DMV was the place I most dreaded, but as anyone who has spent an afternoon waiting in line can attest it really is a fate worse than lost cash or credit cards.

Speaking of the escalators, as I approached the usher at the top of the last one he looked briefly like he was going to tell me not to run but I must have had a look of either shear motivation or madness that told him to step aside and let me through.

Clearly I was a man on a mission.

About a hundred or so paces from the escalator was the tunnel that led to the section where my seat had been.

After turning the corner and entering the tunnel I saw another usher holding something brown that looked surprisingly like my walkabout wallet.

As I got closer I could tell that the light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case the brown object in the usher’s hand, was in fact my wallet.

The view from the top where a kind stranger helped ensure a wallet lost would be a wallet found. Photo R. Anderson

The view from the top where a kind stranger helped ensure a wallet lost would be a wallet found.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I was out of breath from my multilevel sprint I managed to utter the words, “That is mine, thank you.”

Without a word in return the usher gave me my wallet and I turned around to head back to the lower concourse.

All of the worst case scenarios that I had feared, including that trip to the DMV, were no longer in danger of coming to pass.

My wallet, complete with cash, credit cards and driver’s license was once again safely in my pocket.

I still do not know how my wallet managed to extradite itself from my pocket, nor do I know exactly who found it and gave it to the usher.

What I do know is that someone in Section 410 of Minute Maid Park did the right thing and turned a situation that could have been very bad into something very good.

While I certainly don’t wish the stress of a sprint to find a lost wallet on anyone, sometimes it is those things that are needed in order to see the big picture.

Even though newspapers and television newscasts seem to be filled with only the stories of all of the bad things happening in the world, now and then it is important to be reminded that there are still good people in the world.

So to whoever found and returned my wallet last Saturday night I say, “thank you,” not only for the return of the wallet but for also showing a complete stranger an act of kindness and compassion.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to buy some shorts with a Velcro closure on the back pocket to keep my wallet from further unapproved walkabouts.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Astros Fan Fest Disappoints Once More

This past Saturday the Houston Astros hosted their annual Fan Fest.

Fan Fest is a time when fans can go to Minute Maid Park and take in the sights and sounds of the Ballpark before the team heads off to Florida for the start of Spring Training.

There are games for the kids and opportunities to take batting practice or run around the bases like a Major League Baseball player.

Additionally there are various state of the franchise forums where team management outlines their expectations for the upcoming season.

Fan Fest is also a place where fans can purchase player autographs, past promotional items and other things with the proceeds all going to the team’s charity.

Batting Practice is just one of the activites for fans during the Houston Astros Fan Fest. Photo R. Anderson

Batting Practice is just one of the activities for fans during the Houston Astros Fan Fest.
Photo R. Anderson

On the surface Fan Fest is a win for everyone and is a great way to spend a sunny Saturday in January.

Unfortunately much like the Astros players have a tendency to strike out at the plate, the past couple of Fan Fests have been mostly a swing and a miss from my perspective.

I have attended around six or seven Fan Fests through the years and this was the second one that I had attended since the new ownership took over the team.

While I am sure there are still growing pains to address I was really not too impressed with what I saw.

For the second year in a row, instead of letting fans move throughout the whole ballpark with activities spaced out, activities were limited to a U shape on the concourse which created log jams of humanity having to turn around and move back upstream like spawning salmon when they reached the two black curtain dams.

This meant that there was less elbow room than in past years and made for a bit of a claustrophobic situation.

I am sure that there were many nice activities, but with so many people in such a small space it was hard to tell.

In the future I would recommend spreading the activities out a bit more to avoid the packed sardine feel.

Another disappointment came in the annual garage sale of past promotional items.

In previous years I have been able to get many team hats, shirts, and bobbleheads at the garage sale while doing my part to help charity.

This year when I arrived the garage sale was already sold out of items. I find it very hard to believe that there were more people buying items this year to the point that they would be sold out an hour after the doors opened and think that the team made less items available for the fans to purchase.

Speaking of things for fans to purchase, both team stores were open to allow people to stock up on hats, shirts and other gear ahead of the season.

The only problem with this was the proximity of the children’s bounce house zone to the store.

Once again anyone wanting to get to the main team store had to fight their way through lines of people waiting to get their bounce on.

There has got to be a better location for the bounce houses that allows the children to play and the adults to get to the store without having that salmon feeling again.

It is very likely that there were people who did not even go to the team store since they did not want to fight their way through bounce house land to get there. So in this way the placement of the bounce house zone likely cost the team money.

I did not venture to the Club level to hear any of the forums with team personnel since that would have been another upstream battle to get to the stairway that led to the forums.

In previous years the fan forums were located in the Union Station lobby next to the team store and were easily accessible without battling the compressed humanity.

I am sure that the forums were good and I certainly wish I could have seen for myself but it just wasn’t to be.

After two straight disappointing Fan Fest experiences I will certainly think long and hard before returning next year.

I am sure I can find other ways to mark the arrival of the baseball season without swimming like a salmon with thousands of other fans crammed into a tight space.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about salmon has me hungry for some seafood.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Gas Prices are Falling, the Sky is Not

It has often been said that there are at least two sides to every story, and somewhere in the middle is the truth.

I have been thinking about that saying lately as I read the news coverage about the falling price of oil and gas which depending on who you ask is either the best thing ever for consumers, or the beginning of the end of western civilization as we know it.

There are many oil companies in and around Texas and when a gallon of gas sold in the $3 to $4 range they were giddy and beside themselves as they swam Scrooge McDuck style in their big vaults of money.

To be perfectly honest oil companies probably do not have a big money vault, but if they did there is no doubt that they were swimming in it.

With the average price of a gallon of gas below $2, and falling, many oil and gas companies are   shedding employees as they try to stay competitive in a changing market. Photo R. Anderson

With the average price of a gallon of gas below $2, and falling, many oil and gas companies are shedding employees as they try to stay competitive in a changing market.
Photo R. Anderson

Now, that the average price of a gallon of gas is below $2, and falling, those same companies are screaming that the only way they can remain in business at such low prices is by shedding employees as they try to stay competitive in a changing market.

Former oil executives are also telling anyone who will listen that the price of oil will soon rise again much like the phoenix rising from the ashes and that $5 a gallon gas is coming.

All the while the bulk of the country finds more money in their pockets since the price to fill up at the pump is dropping.

More money not going to gas means more money available to spend on other things which in theory should help the economy.

Restaurants and other retailers should benefit from consumers spending less money in gas to arrive at their establishments.

Plus, companies spending less on gas to ship items means they are less likely to need to pass the costs on to those same consumers.

While I do not have an advanced business degree it seems a very simple equation that lower fuel costs are good and higher fuel costs are bad.

When I first started driving many years ago, gas was still under $1 a gallon.

I remember the uproar when the stations had to add the third line of their signs when the price of a gallon of gas had the audacity to cost more than a buck.

The rumblings continued each time gas surpassed another dollar milestone as people dug deeper into their wallets each time they went to the pump as $3 and even $4 gas became a part of life.

The only people who would benefit from $5 a gallon gas also happen to be the only ones saying that it is coming. I guess they are hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course gas is not the only factor affected by the laws of supply and demand.

Prices are higher when demand is great and supplies are low.

Conversely prices tend to drop when supplies raise and demand drops.

The factors of supply and demand are not limited to just oil commodities and play a role in the world of baseball as well.

When a team is red hot and demand to see them in person is high, the prices go up. When a team is struggling in the standings and the turnstile prices usually do not go up.

Under dynamic pricing fans are charged more to see the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees compared with other teams where demand is not as great. Photo R. Anderson

Under dynamic pricing fans are charged more to see the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees compared with other teams where demand is not as great.
Photo R. Anderson

Teams call this the dynamic pricing model. In Houston the Astros use this practice to raise the price of admission whenever the Yankees and Red Sox come to town since they know that more people want to see those games and are willing to pay the higher prices.

Personally I have always thought that the same seat in a Ballpark should cost the same amount of money regardless of who the opponent is but it seems that dynamic pricing is here to stay as teams try to find ways to make as much money as they can.

Ticket prices are just one of many factors that go into the makeup of a competitive baseball franchise just as the price of a gallon of gas is just one of the factors that drives the economy.

Falling gas prices will not doom the economy and baseball fans will still pony up the dough if they want to see a team bad enough.

So with Spring Training around the corner it is time to take advantage of the low gas prices and take a road trip to see the action at the Ballpark.

Just don’t be surprised if you see oil executives in fancy suits on the side of the road holding up their sky is falling signs along the way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Spring Training trip to plan.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Craig Biggio Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

Former Houston Astro Craig Biggio was elected to the 2015 Class of the Baseball Hall of Fame on his third year of eligibility.

Having missed out on being inducted last year by two votes, Biggio made his third time on the ballot truly a charm.

Joining Biggio in the Hall’s first four person induction class in 60 years are pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz who each were elected on their first year of eligibility.

The selection of Johnson, Martinez, and Smoltz marks the first time that a trio of pitchers was inducted in the same Hall of Fame class.

Craig Biggio will become the first member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to be enshrined wearing a Houston Astros cap. Photo R. Anderson

Craig Biggio will become the first member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to be enshrined wearing a Houston Astros cap.
Photo R. Anderson

Failing to make the cut this year were a pair of Biggio’s former teammates, Jeff Bagwell and Roger Clemens.

Biggio received 82.7 percent of the votes (549 ballots cast). Johnson received 97.3 percent, Martinez 97.1 percent and Smoltz received 82.9 percent.

While each of the three pitchers elected to the Hall played on multiple teams during their careers, Biggio spent all of his 20-year Major League Baseball career from 1988 until 2007 with the Houston Astros.

Biggio is the 49th Hall of Famer to have played his entire career with one organization.

The seven-time All-Star will become the first player enshrined in an Astros cap when the induction ceremony is held on July 26, 2015 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

It is fitting that the Astros first Hall of Famer was born the same year that the team took on the Astros name since perhaps no other player has been so widely associated with the Astros brand as Biggio.

There are of course other players in the Hall of Fame who have played for the Astros during a portion of their career, including Nolan Ryan, whose last year with the Astros was Biggio’s first season with the team, but each of those players were inducted wearing another team cap on their Hall of Fame bust since the bulk of their success occurred on teams other than the Astros.

Craig Biggio was an Astro to the core and is often mentioned by fans as their ideal manager candidate to lead the team back to the glory days that seemed to disappear right around the same time that he retired. Photo R. Anderson

Craig Biggio was an Astro to the core and is often mentioned by fans as their ideal manager candidate to lead the team back to the glory days that seemed to disappear right around the same time that he retired.
Photo R. Anderson

In fact, fellow 2015 inductee Randy Johnson also briefly played for the Astros as a teammate to Biggio but he will not be enshrined wearing an Astros cap and will most likely have an Arizona Diamondbacks cap on his bronze statue since he won the only World Series title of his career in the desert.

Biggio was an Astro to the core and is often mentioned by fans as their ideal manager candidate to lead the team back to the glory days that seemed to disappear right around the same time that Biggio retired.

Whether he was playing catcher, outfield, or second base one consistent component of Biggio’s game was his performance at the plate.

As a member of the exclusive 3,000 hits club, Biggio finished his career with 3,060 hits to become one of only 28 players to have at least 3,000-hits. Photo R. Anderson

As a member of the exclusive 3,000 hits club, Biggio finished his career with 3,060 hits to become one of only 28 players to have at least 3,000-hits.
Photo R. Anderson

As a member of the exclusive 3,000 hits club, Biggio finished his career with 3,060 hits to become one of only 28 players to have at least 3,000-hits. Biggio is fifth all-time in doubles and first among righthanded hitters with 668.

Whenever Biggio would come to the plate, the entire Ballpark would chant B-G-O in unison.

In true remember the glory days fashion, the Astros will honor Biggio with a public celebration at Minute Maid Park on Friday at 5 p.m. and it is likely that the B-G-O chant will once again echo through the rafters as fans pay their respects to a player who gave his all whenever he stepped onto the field.

The Astros will also offer fans a seven-game ticket plan centered on games where Biggio will be honored this season.

No word yet on whether those seven games will fall under the umbrella of dynamic pricing, or if they will be made affordable for the every day fan.

As the Astros continue to rebuild and move forward, there will no doubt be many moments this upcoming season where they look back at what was during the Biggio years.

There were certainly many memories generated during those two decades with the Astros.

I started following the Astros towards the tail end of his career but even in that short time Biggio became on of my favorite players and reminded me of a player I grew up following, Cal Ripken, Jr. Like Biggio, Ripken also played the game the right way while spending his entire career with the same team.

In this era of free agency and trading for prospects, it is entirely likely that Biggio will be the last member of the Astros to spend 20 years with the team.

Such are the economics of baseball where teams trade away their players in the same way that children used to trade baseball cards with their friends.

But once in awhile a team will stick with a proven commodity and the results can truly be Hall of Fame worthy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to dust off my Biggio shirt for one more trip to the Ballpark.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Cyber Monday Deals of the Baseball Variety

Today is known across much of the internet connected world as Cyber Monday.

While Black Friday involves sales from the brick and mortar stores, today is the chance for online retailers to lure shoppers in with discounts and free shipping on everything from Apple Computers to Zenith televisions. (Granted Zenith is now owned by LG but I needed something that started with the letter Z for the sake of an A to Z analogy).

Personally I have never understood the herd mentality that has people camping out at stores to save a few bucks on an off brand appliance or some fleece pullovers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bargain as much as the next person, but I am not going to body check hundreds of other people trying to get the same item.

Online shopping provides the ability to get deals without feeling like one has survived a heavyweight title fight but it still only includes savings on the items that the retailers want you to buy.

So instead of getting corralled into buying things that I don’t need on this Cyber Monday I am going to focus on four baseball teams and what needs they should address in terms of their holiday shopping.

After losing Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners the Baltimore Orioles are in need of a new designated hitter under the Birdland Christmas tree this year. Photo R. Anderson

After losing Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners the Baltimore Orioles are in need of a new designated hitter under the Birdland Christmas tree this year.
Photo R. Anderson

Let us begin with the defending American League East Division winning Baltimore Orioles.

Earlier today it was announced that the O’s had failed to sign free agent Nelson Cruz. Instead Cruz is taking his league leading home run bat west to Seattle for the next four years.

In the end it may prove to have been a wise decision by the Orioles to not overpay for a slugger who has battled injures throughout his career. Recent history is full of examples of teams who have overpaid for players long past their productive years. The contracts of Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder come to mind.

But in the short term the Orioles need to do something to replace the bat of Cruz if they want to defend their division title so for the residents of Birdland I will put find a new Designated Hitter on their Christmas list.

Further down the American League East in both geography and the standings sit the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for only their fifth manager in franchise history following the unexpected departure of Joe Maddon at the end of last season. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for only their fifth manager in franchise history following the unexpected departure of Joe Maddon at the end of last season.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have already traded several players since the end of the season and will likely make more tweaks to the roster as they look to regroup and rebuild after a disappointing 2014 season that started with preseason predictions of a playoff run and ended with the team’s first losing season in six years. The Rays were also left with the departure of manager Joe Maddon, who decided to take his muscle cars and hoodie up to Wrigley Field.

While it is unlikely that the Rays can find a manager right out of the gate with the same skill set as Joe Maddon, they need to find a manager who can handle the challenges the Rays face in a way that sees them remain competitive and not fall into the devilish ways of their pre Maddon years.

Failure to find a strong manager who can find a way to remain competitive in the toughest division in baseball against retooled Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox could very well doom the Rays for decades to come.

So while many may think replacing Tropicana Field is the team’s biggest need this Christmas, I maintain finding the right manager is the most crucial holiday need. I just hope that one of the three identified finalists becomes at least a fraction of the manager Joe Maddon is.

After suffering their first losing season since a name change and new uniforms the Tampa Bay Rays may need to dust off the old uniforms if a new manager fails to maintain their winning ways. Photo R. Anderson

After suffering their first losing season since a name change and new uniforms the Tampa Bay Rays may need to dust off the old uniforms if a new manager fails to maintain their winning ways.
Photo R. Anderson

If he does not then even a new Ballpark would not be enough to help the team’s long term future and they may as well dust off the green uniforms that took the field for many previous losing campaigns.

For our third holiday need we travel west from St. Petersburg, FL and find ourselves in Houston where today marks the 50th anniversary of the Astros being called the Astros.

For most of their five decades of existence the Astros found themselves in the National League. The 2015 season will mark the team’s third season of American League play and yet another season of rebuilding as the front office tries to find the right formula for building a winner on a budget.

Of course the build a winner on a budget approach only works when the other teams in the division play along. With skyrocketing salaries within the American League West and the Mariners, Angels and Athletics entering an arms race the best the Astros can realistically hope for in the coming years is to do better than their in state rivals the Rangers.

With a steady diet of Mike Trout and other power sluggers in the American League the Houston Astros are likely hoping a return to the more friendly National League Central is in their stocking this year. Photo R. Anderson

With a steady diet of Mike Trout and other power sluggers in the American League the Houston Astros are likely hoping a return to the more friendly National League Central is in their stocking this year.
Photo R. Anderson

A division title is likely not in the cards for the Astros in the American League any time soon. One can preach the sermon of rebuilding until they are blue in the face but that does not make it so when other teams aren’t reading from the same playbook.

With that said, my Christmas gift for the Astros would be a move back to the National League. Of course like that brown Matchbox police car that Santa could never locate for younger version of me despite the best of intentions, a move back to the National League is likely another unfulfillable wish no matter how much one wants it to happen.

For our final stop along the holiday gift giving trail we move a little south of Houston to Sugar Land, TX which is home of the Sugar Land Skeeters. The Skeeters, who play in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, will start the 2015 season as defending champions of their division and with new ownership in place.DSCN7359

With all of their opponents located on the Atlantic Coast, my gift to the Skeeters, were it in my power, would be closer opponents to make those road trips not so long.

There are plans to expand the Atlantic League’s footprint in Texas in the coming years so it is likely that the Christmas wish will become reality before too long.

There are my four Cyber Monday gift ideas that are not available in stores but if they were they would certainly make the perfect stocking stuffers for the Orioles, Rays, Astros and Skeeters.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take care of a little Christmas shopping while I am in the Holiday spirit.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

A Trio of Meaty Baseball Stories to Sink Your Teeth into

One of local barbecue restaurants I frequent has a plate called the pork three ways that includes pork ribs, pulled pork and pork sausage.

I mention this fact not to make people hungry for barbecue pork, but to point out that sometimes it is hard to pick a single entree leading to the need to combine things into a single meal.

In that same spirit we are going to focus on three entrees from the world of baseball since focusing on just one would not do justice to the other two, much in the same way that just getting ribs leaves out the pulled pork and sausage.

Our first entree comes to us from the Houston Astros who stepped on a player’s moment to create a look at us moment Monday.

For the first time in team history a member of the Houston Astros won a batting title. That player was second baseman Jose Altuve. Altuve not only had the best batting average in the American League but had the best overall average in all of baseball this season.

Jose Altuve won the American League batting title this year and had one day in the spotlight until the team announced it had hired a new manager. Photo R. Anderson

Jose Altuve won the American League batting title this year and had one day in the spotlight until the team announced it had hired a new manager.
Photo R. Anderson

Altuve also set a new team record for hits in a single season.

For a team that has known more about losing than winning the last couple of years this individual achievement by Altuve gave fans of the Astros something to cheer about as another lackluster season came to a close.

Traditional wisdom would say that in a situation like this a team would give the spotlight to the player for a couple of days to give the proper attention to such a stellar achievement such as having the best average in all of baseball.

Instead, the smoldering tire fire that is the Astros front office saw fit to take the attention away from Altuve less than 24-hour after the end of the season to announce that they had hired a new manager.

The Astros certainly needed to fill the vacancy at the manager position. However, was the news that they hired a man with a losing record as a manager, who has been out of the dugout for four years, so important that they could not wait a day or two to announce it? Apparently in their minds it was and thus ended the spotlight on Jose Altuve.

While the hiring of A.J. Hinch left many fans underwhelmed and thinking that the Astros should have hired a more established manager the fact remains that more established managers have enough sense to stay away from the Astros in their current state.

As for the manager the Astros did get, Hinch managed the Arizona Diamondbacks from May 2009 until July 2010, and was fired after a 31-48 start. Hinch served as the vice president of professional scouting for the San Diego Padres from 2010 until this past August.

Not a very successful resume at first glance, but I will wait to see what he can do with his second opportunity to manage a big league club.

Speaking of managers, our second entree takes us to Minnesota where the Twins fired longtime manager Ron Gardenhire after a fourth straight losing season.

While I do not follow the day to day operations of the Twins as closely as I used to, I have been a fan of Ron Gardenhire since his days as the manager of the Orlando Sun Rays of the Southern League.

Ron Gardenhire spent nearly 25 years in the Minnesota Twins organization including the last 13 as manager. Photo R. Anderson

Ron Gardenhire spent nearly 25 years in the Minnesota Twins organization including the last 13 as manager.
Photo R. Anderson

As mentioned before I attended many Minor League Baseball games growing up in Orlando and several of those years were spent pulling for Gardenhire led teams at Tinker Field.

All in all Gardenhire spent around a quarter of a century within the Twins organization, including 13 seasons as manager, and was there for much of the teams success.

Unfortunately in a what have you done for me lately world, past success can only go so far in covering up current problems.

The Twins offered Gardenhire a front office position which he declined stating that he feels that he still has things to offer as a manager.

Personally I would not mind the Texas Rangers giving the reins to Gardenhire if for no other reason than to say that he managed both teams that used to be known as the Washington Senators as the Twins leaving Washington D.C. for the twin cities paved the way for the expansion team version of the Senators that became the Rangers.

Even if Gardenhire does not end up with the Rangers I have little doubt that he will end up in another dugout before too long.

Our third baseball entree takes us to Sugar Land where the Skeeters are hosting the first two games of the Atlantic League Championship Series against the Lancaster Barnstormers.

The series opened up last night with the Skeeters losing to the Barnstormers 10 to 6. Game two of the series is tonight and will find the Skeeters trying to even the series.

Regardless of whether or not the Skeeters hoist the championship at the end of the year they can be proud of what they accomplished this year.

Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti led his team to the playoffs for the second straight season. The Skeeters opened the Atlantic League Championship Series last night. Photo R. Anderson

Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti led his team to the playoffs for the second straight season. The Skeeters opened the Atlantic League Championship Series last night.
Photo R. Anderson

Among those accomplishments are hosting the All-Star Game in June, making the playoffs for the second straight year, and winning the first playoff series in team history against the York Revolution.

It is likely that the Skeeters will continue to build on their success next year during their fourth season of existence as they continue to form an identity

There you have it, three delicious entrees from the world of baseball this week.

As every good three meat plate needs a couple of side dishes, it should be mentioned that the Major League Baseball Playoffs kicked off last night with the American League Wild Card game between the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics and continues tonight with the National League Wild Card game between the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about entrees has made me a little hungry.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Derek Jeter Walks off into Sunset at Yankee Stadium

Yesterday, Derek Jeter, long time shortstop for the New York Yankees, played in his last game at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium is the second to last stop in the farewell tour that began at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros in April to honor the career of a man who played two decades in pinstripes.

At each stop along the way teams have paid their respects to Jeter by bestowing gifts upon him, and making donations to his charity.

The final stop on the tour will be Fenway Park this weekend and it will be interesting to see what kind of tribute Red Sox Nation has for the Captain.

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions,  lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium. Photo R. Anderson

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions, lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans throughout baseball have saluted Jeter all season long, yesterday was about saying goodbye to the hometown fans at Yankee Stadium.

Even unfavorable weather forecasts that threatened to move the game to Monday, or cancel it altogether,  could not dampen the spirits of fans who paid well above face value on tickets to be able to say that they were there when Jeter said farewell to Yankees Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles.

In the end the rain stayed away, and the Yankees defeated the Orioles 6-5 thanks to the retiring bat of Derek Jeter.

While Derek Jeter’s career was certainly full of big moments, one could argue that securing a victory in his last game at Yankee Stadium with a walk off single was one of the biggest, if not one that he will remember the most.

There are those fans of conspiracies and hats made out of tin foil who are sure to claim that the fix was in to allow Jeter to hit that game-winning walk off single since a) baseball loves happy endings and b) Orioles Manager Buck Showalter was Jeter’s first manager with the Yankees.

Could the fact that Derek Jeter drove in the winning run in his last at bat at Yankee Stadium be called just a little too convenient? Sure.

But as Peter Parker’s uncle Joe would say “With great power comes great responsibility” and for Jeter that responsibility is helping his team win when placed in positions to do so.

It also helped that the Yankees bunted a runner into scoring position ahead of Jeter’s at bat to avoid risk of him hitting into a double play.

While the ending was certainly worthy of a Hollywood sparks falling on the field from the lights kind of thing, to those tin foil loving conspiracy fans I say that there is no way that the game was fixed to allow Jeter to win it.

One need only look at what happened to Charlie Hustle himself, Pete Rose, to see what baseball thinks about game fixing.

For those too young to remember, Rose received a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games he managed since it was believed that he could somehow manipulate the results in a manner favorable to his wagers.

Another example of what Major League Baseball thinks about throwing games, further back than Rose, is the Black Sox scandal where several players of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life for fixing the World Series.

Beyond the threat of being banned for life for throwing a game, another issue that shoots holes in the “they let him win” argument from the tin foil hat society is the fact that, while Buck Showalter may have managed Jeter for 15 games 20 years ago, his current team, the Baltimore Orioles, are trying to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter's first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter's Orioles did not let Jeter's Yankees win despite what some might think. Photo R. Anderson

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter’s first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter’s Orioles did not let Jeter’s Yankees win despite what some might think.
Photo R. Anderson

A team looking for home field advantage in the playoffs does not intentionally lose games, even if it makes for good Hollywood stories.

So to be 100 percent clear the fix was not in last night to allow Derek Jeter to score the winning run of the game.

It just worked out that way and gave Derek Jeter another lasting Yankee Stadium memory.

Much like Mariano Rivera did during his farewell tour last year, Jeter has said that he wants his final on-field memories to be from Yankee Stadium despite the team still having three games left in the season.

Jeter will be available as a designated hitter during the series against the Boston Red Sox, but fans expecting to see him standing at the shortstop position at Fenway Park will be greatly disappointed much like the fans at Minute Maid Park were last year when Rivera decided to stay in the bullpen and not make a curtain call appearance against the Astros.

While Derek Jeter’s career will end with a few plate appearances in the designated hitter’s role against the Boston Red Sox, instead of in another World Series as many had hoped at the start of the season, few other players in the history of baseball have had as much success or had the type of fan base as number 2 had.

While Derek Jeter’s career is ending the debate regarding whether he will be the first unanimously chosen member of the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in five years is just beginning.

Between now and the time the Hall of Fame voters fill out their ballots in 2019, Derek Jeter will try to become a normal person and do the things that he put off during a 20-year career in pinstripes. Only Derek Jeter knows what that next chapter will be.

What is known is that for 20 seasons, in one of the most intense environments around, by all accounts Derek Jeter played the game of baseball in a way that he can be proud of and in a manner that many would be wise to duplicate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for the last weekend of the regular season.

Copyright 2014 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