Tag Archives: Houston Astros

Matthew McConaughey’s Cannot Miss Ballpark Accessory

Actor Matthew McConaughey recently visited Fenway Park with his son to watch a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros.

Normally a Matthew McConaughey Ballpark sighting would not be a big deal. Celebrities of all shapes and sizes often take in baseball games with their families; the only difference being they usually have better seats than the rest of us.

But during a television interview with the local Houston affiliate the Academy Award winner dropped some serious rationale for bringing back an often ridiculed fashion accessory.

That accessory is the fanny pack.

Mark my words before now no one has ever made the fanny pack look like anything other than a human kangaroo pouch.

I am sure if we are all honest with ourselves there was a time when each of us wore a fanny pack.

Then, when we spotted a vacation photo of us wearing the fanny pack we suddenly realized just how silly they looked and the fanny pack was moved to the back of the closet never to be heard from again.

Actor Matthew McConaughey recently visited Fenway Park with his son to watch a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros and may have started a new fashion trend in the process. Photo R. Anderson.

Actor Matthew McConaughey recently visited Fenway Park with his son to watch a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros and may have started a new fashion trend in the process.
Photo R. Anderson.

While the fanny pack certainly will not be part of any fashion shows, the accomplished actor made a very good point regarding their practicality during his in-game interview.

“I’m not afraid of the fanny pack, instead of stuffing your pockets,” McConaughey said. “You’ve got to kind of put it on the side to make it look a little not as nerdy, but still, practicality wins out. I’ve got so much gear in here that I don’t want in my pockets.

“How many times are you around somebody and they’re like, ‘I forgot my so and so, I got to go back to the car?’ And you’re like, ‘I got mine right here.’”

With many Ballparks employing a no reentry policy one can certainly be in bad shape if they find that they have forgotten their “so and so” after reaching their seats.

Back when I covered games as a sports editor I had a large bag that contained 20 to 25 pounds of everything I thought that I would possibly need to cover that particular game from pens to paper to snacks to rain gear.

Of course when going to games as a normal fan though a 25 pound attaché case complete with an Associated Press Style Guide, Dictionary and Thesaurus is not really practical.

So instead of a bag to carry my Ballpark essentials I have worn cargo shorts for many years on game day as a way to ensure enough room for my tickets, phone, camera, sunglasses, and other must haves.

But with one in-game interview Matthew McConaughey has made me question everything I thought I knew about Ballpark preparedness as well as Ballpark fashion.

I mean if a fanny pack is cool enough for a former People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, it has got to be cool enough for the rest of us.

While reality is probably not nearly as cool as conjecture I have the following scenario in mind when I picture a Ballpark bound Matthew McConaughey.

“Going to the Ballpark to see a game. Need my tickets and my camera. All right, all right. Need my phone in case my agent calls with a movie offer. All right. Need some righteous snacks since I don’t want to pay those inflated Ballpark prices. Into the fanny back they go and away we go. All right, all right, all right.”

In fairness it is hard to know exactly how many “all rights” are enough when it comes to Matthew McConaughey and his Ballpark fanny pack stuffing ritual. Who knows, as a big-time Hollywood star he may even have a dedicated fanny pack stuffer on staff.

While only Matthew McConaughey and the person at the bag check station know for sure what all is in the fanny pack, personally I hope it includes a miniature Oscar statue just for fun.

The term the McConaissance was coined as a way to honor the second act of Matthew McConaughey’s career which has seen the actor take on more challenging roles and even earn that aforementioned Academy Award.

For his efforts in freeing our pockets at the Ballpark, and in the spirit of the McConaissance, I say we honor Matthew McConaughey by renaming fanny packs to something worthy of their second act.

The McConaughey pack as a nice ring to it, don’t you think? I mean can I get an all right, all right, all right?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to see if I can dig up my old fanny pack before my next trip to the Ballpark.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Labor Day Marks End of the Line for Bo Porter Era in Houston

Today, September 1 is Labor Day.

While originally established in the 19th Century as a way to honor workers, through the years the first Monday of September celebration has turned into a time of barbecues, beach getaways and appliance sales.

In fact Labor Day weekend is often called the last weekend of the summer even though fall does not officially arrive until September 22.

For fans of the Houston Astros, Labor Day will forever be known as the day that the manager and bench coach were asked to turn in their uniforms and leave the building.

Earlier today the Astros announced that Manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley had been relieved of their duties. Tom Lawless will serve as interim manager through the remainder of the 2014 season.

Last Labor Day Bo Porter was managing the Houston Astros in a day game against the Minnesota Twins. Fast forward a year and Porter was fired by the Astros during an off day. Photo R. Anderson

Last Labor Day Bo Porter was managing the Houston Astros in a day game against the Minnesota Twins. Fast forward a year and Porter was fired by the Astros during an off day.
Photo R. Anderson

While no one ever likes to be fired part of me thinks that Porter and Trembley are relieved to be let go from the tire fire of a team that is the Astros. Plus, by being let go now Porter and Trembley have more time to line up jobs for next season.

Neither Porter nor Trembley should be held to blame for the performance of the Astros under their tenure. One can only manage with what they are given and few can argue that the front office has been very stingy in what they are giving the field staff to work with.

The company line for the Astros continues to be, “just wait we are getting better every day and are bolstering the farm system for continued success.”

While there has been slight improvement in the on field performance of the team this season there also has been a marked increase in stories about player discontent and mismanagement by the front office.

There was also the whole situation regarding failing to sign the first pick in this year’s draft and the release of confidential front office communications regarding trade negotiations.

Also, who can forget the absolute disaster centering on the team’s broadcast rights that has prevented much of the Houston area from being able to watch the games on television?

Of course with such spotty on field performance the last couple of years not being able to watch on television might be a blessing in disguise for those fans who do not get the games.

By many accounts the Astros front office did not give Bo Porter  much to work with during his nearly two seasons at the helm. The team will now look for a manager to share in the slow rebuilding process. Photo R. Anderson

By many accounts the Astros front office did not give Bo Porter much to work with during his nearly two seasons at the helm. The team will now look for a manager to share in the slow rebuilding process.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted no team is perfect but with each story that comes out it seems more and more like the Astros front office does not seem to have much of a clue on how to run a Major League Baseball team.

As Fox Mulder would say, “I want to believe” that things will get better in the not too distant future and that the Astros will once again be a playoff contender but with each day I fell more like they will be a Major League pretender.

Earlier this season it was announced that the Astros were going to raise ticket prices to help cover expenses. Asking fans to pay more to see a less competitive team does not seem like a sound business strategy.

Of course through their dynamic pricing model the Astros charge even more when the marquee franchises like the Yankees and Red Sox are in town to help cover the losses on the other games.

I do understand that there is a business side to baseball but continuing to fleece the fans will end up biting them in the end.

With the arrival of football season it is likely that even fewer people will pay attention to the Astros as they limp to the finish line of the 2014 season. While it is likely that they can avoid their fourth consecutive 100 loss season in the grand scheme of things it might be too little too late.

More and more I hear people say that Houston is a football town and not a baseball town.

While I do not yet believe that baseball will fail in Houston in the same way that Arena League Football, minor league hockey and Indy Car did, it is certainly a possibility under the current management team based on the recent track record of activities.

Thankfully there are the Sugar Land Skeeters to watch for a reasonably priced baseball fix. With the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball planning additional teams in the Houston area over the next few years there very well could come a time where fans grow tired of paying for the Astros antics.

While this is an entirely unlikely scenario the people of Houston could watch the Astros leave the fourth largest city in America and find themselves with two large empty sports complexes.

The fact that Houston is the fourth largest city in America is often brought up when people question how the Astros could be so bad. And while it is best saved for another column on another day, I believe that a city’s size does not guarantee success in sports. One need only look at the Los Angeles area and their inability to get a NFL team after 20 years as proof of that. Sometimes sports work better in a smaller market where there are less options for the fans to spend their money on.

Prior to coming to Houston Bo Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are having a much better year than the Astros and could reach their first World Series. Photo R. Anderson

Prior to coming to Houston Bo Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are having a much better year than the Astros and could reach their first World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

As for the next antics for the Astros front office they will in the words of general manager Jeff Luhnow seek “a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization.” If one was to read between the lines of that statement they could surmise the Astros are seeking a yes man manager who does whatever the front office asks of them and does not have an opinion of their own. Rarely does that sort of micro managing create a good working environment.

As for Porter and Trembley’s former teams, the Nationals and Orioles respectively, things could not be looking better as each team holds a commanding lead in their respective divisions and seems poised for deep postseason runs.

A beltway series between the Nationals and the Orioles would be a very nice thing and the way the teams are playing it very well could be a reality. Of course there are still several teams that could prevent that from occurring but one thing is clear it should be a very fun postseason with the inclusion of some teams that have not been there in a while.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Skeeters tickets to buy and a beltway World Series to prepare for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Death, Taxes and Baseball Remain Constants in Life

It has been said time and time again, since at least the the mid-18th Century or so, that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

To that duo of death and taxes, I would add a third certainty in life; baseball which came to the scene in the mid-19th Century.

With the exception of strike shortened seasons, the game of baseball provides nearly eight months of distraction a year through the ups and downs of taxes and death and all of the other parts of life.

And while the income tax deadline is still several months away, baseball continues to chug along as part of the summer tapestry before giving way to football in the fall.

In terms of the third side of the constants of life triangle, death, I have felt its impacts firsthand with two funeral home visits in the past couple of weeks.

Although two funerals in the past few weeks may seem excessive, it stands to reason that the older we get the more likely we are to witness the passing of friends and family.

Last night during a funeral home visitation I spoke with a man who has attended 14 funerals so far this year. While I figured that he would be depressed from attending so many funerals in such a short time span his words put it into perspective when he stated that as long as he was able to leave a funeral on his feet, and not in a casket, he figured he was doing all right.

Of course sometimes it seems that the ones in the caskets, the dearly departed, have it the easiest as they have reached the end of their pain and suffering while the living are left to work through the pain and suffering being experienced as a result of their loss.

For me the latest loss came with the passing of a friend whom I had spent many hours talking baseball with over the past 14 years or so.

While we certainly discussed other topics, inevitably our conversations would always turn towards observations about the Houston Astros and how we would run the team if ever given the chance.

In honor of our mutual love of the team, I wore my Astros tie to my friend’s funeral even though I am sure she would have been just as happy with something far less formal.

Recently I had the chance to wear my Astros tie in memory of a departed friend who never missed an opportunity to ask me how "our boys" were doing. Photo R. Anderson

Recently I had the chance to wear my Astros tie in memory of a departed friend who never missed an opportunity to ask me how “our boys” were doing.
Photo R. Anderson

I can almost picture her saying that there was no need to get all dressed up on her account but there are certain times when formal baseball attire is warranted and this was one such occasion.

As for our conversations about the Astros they would often start with her asking me what I thought about how “our boys” were doing.

And for most of the last decade the answer was that “our boys” were doing badly but hopefully more victories were just around the corner.

With a team that last visited the postseason in 2005, and is currently on track for a fourth straight season of losing over 100 games, it might be easy to lose faith in “our boys” but the belief that a turnaround would occur for the Astros never wavered.

In addition to talking about regular season baseball, each spring the topic of conversation would turn to trips to Florida for Spring Training.

While it had been years since my friend had seen Spring Training in person, her stories of past visits to the Ballparks of central Florida showed the timelessness of baseball and how one never really loses the spark once it gets under their skin.

Each year when I would return from a Spring Training trip I would give a report on how “our boys” looked and we would agree that this very well could be the year that they turned things around.

The next time I visit Osceola County Stadium, Spring training home of the Houston Astros, will feel a little different following the death of a friend and partner in Astros commiseration. Photo R. Anderson

The next time I visit Osceola County Stadium, Spring training home of the Houston Astros, will feel a little different following the death of a friend and partner in Astros commiseration.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course the turnaround has yet to gain significant traction but through my stories of trips to Florida I was allowing my friend to experience the joys of Spring Training once more as she recalled days spent under the Florida sun watching the Astros warm up for the season.

Much as my friend kept the faith through the dark times, and even thought of us attending a baseball game when she left the hospital, I also know that the Astros will turn it around some day and once again play the type of winning baseball that they once enjoyed during those years when my friend and her husband traveled to Florida to see them.

Hopefully I will make other trips to Spring Training Ballparks in the coming years. I am especially looking forward to a milestone birthday spent under the Spring Training sky next season with visits to several Ballparks I have yet to visit.

I do not know how many trips I will get to make to Spring Training through the remainder of my life. I do know that each trip will allow me to build memories to cherish for a lifetime and hopefully not return too sunburned.

Something tells me that my friend will still be keeping tabs on the Astros from her sky box in the clouds. Photo R. Anderson

Something tells me that my friend will still be keeping tabs on the Astros from her sky box in the clouds.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course the next time I do come back from Spring Training it will seem a little different without being able to share the stories from the experience with my friend.

Perhaps next year at Spring Training I will purchase an extra ticket in honor of my friend although I know her view of “our boys” from the sky box in the clouds, sitting next to her husband once again, will be even better.

I will miss my friend and our talks about baseball but I firmly believe there will come a time when we get to discuss “our boys” once more. I only hope we have a few winning seasons to discuss by then.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to watch the Astros in honor of my friend.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Rays Take Weekend Series at Minute Maid Park but Get Little Time to Celebrate

After winning a weekend series against the Houston Astros the Tampa Bay Rays could be finally heading in the right direction.

While still possessing the worst record in baseball the Rays can be encouraged somewhat by winning two out of three games against the Astros who many predicted would have the worst record in baseball for the fourth straight year.

The Tampa Bay Rays took two out of three games against the Houston Astros over the past weekend. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays took two out of three games against the Houston Astros over the past weekend.
Photo R. Anderson

The thrill of victory will be short lived though as fresh off of the series win the Rays return home to Tropicana Field tonight to host their American East Division foes the Baltimore Orioles.

Tonight will mark the sixth time that the Maryland based and the Florida based teams have met this season with the Orioles winning all five of the previous matchups.

Back during their Devil Rays days the Orioles and Rays would often be battling each year for the second to last spot in the division and bragging rights over the team that finished last.

In recent years the Rays and Orioles have both been among the top teams in the division which makes this season a bit of a historical mix up.

After the death of Don Zimmer, Desmond Jennings and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays are playing with heavy hearts and patches honoring Zim. Photo R. Anderson

After the death of Don Zimmer, Desmond Jennings and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays are playing with heavy hearts and patches honoring Zim.
Photo R. Anderson

While the Orioles currently sit in second place within the division a mere 4.5 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays the Rays are 13.5 games back and in last place.

As often noted I am always torn whenever the Rays and the Orioles play each other since I have deep rooting ties to both franchises.

In the past I have tended to root for the home team during head to head matchups, or I will often find myself pulling for the team with the best chance of representing the division in the playoffs.

Using that formula it should be a no brainer that I would root for the Orioles to sweep the Rays over the next couple of games since the Orioles stand the best chance of making the playoffs this season but I just can’t seem to discount the Rays yet.

I guess there is part of me that does not want to believe that the Rays, who many people felt had the roster to propel them to the World Series, are finished in mid-June.

The Tampa Bay Rays started a series with the Baltimore Orioles tonight and will look to keep the winning ways going. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays started a series with the Baltimore Orioles tonight and will look to keep the winning ways going.
Photo R. Anderson

That is not to take anything away from the success of the Orioles, or to suggest that I do not bleed Orange and Black, but I really am finding it hard to believe that the Rays are struggling as mightily as they are.

Granted the Rays have had to deal with the death of Don Zimmer and a string of injuries that have exposed their lack of depth in certain areas but many teams deal with injuries and tragedies each year and still manage to win games.

In a way my struggles with the unexpected fall of the Rays is similar to what many fans of the Miami Heat might be feeling following the five game series loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals last night.

The Spurs dominated the Heat throughout the series and posted the highest per game margin of victory in NBA Finals history so it was not a close series and even fell two point shy of ending in a sweep.

Prior to the series many Heat fans likely thought that the series would go to seven games as it did last year.

The Spurs and Heat are two of the best teams in the NBA and have been for many years accounting for eight titles since 1999, with three for the Heat (2006, 2012, 2013) and five for the Spurs (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014).

Of course each team made it to the finals in years where they did not win the title as well so one could make the case that the Heat and the Spurs have been the teams to beat for much of the 21st Century.

Despite those years of success there will be those that look at the “collapse” of the Heat as a sign that the roster needs to be ripped apart and rebuilt from scratch. What that approach fails to consider is despite the Ricky Bobby mantra of “If you ain’t first you’re last” there are second place finishers each year that in many cases were just as talented as the ultimate winners but fell short in the end for whatever reason.

Just as there will be calls from some fans to implode the Heat roster and rebuild following the finals loss there will be those who feel that the Rays will need to go back to the drawing board following the below expectations season they seem like to finish with.

Of course the Rays are known for late series miracles so I am not discounting that they can’t finish strong but I do think it is safe to say that a World Series game at the Trop is unlikely this year.

Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays will need an offensive spark and a miracle to live up to the expectations for the season and avoid a player purge at the trade deadline in July. Photo R. Anderson

Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays will need an offensive spark and a miracle to live up to the expectations for the season and avoid a player purge at the trade deadline in July.
Photo R. Anderson

Personally I do not subscribe to the theory of imploding rosters after a single bad year and prefer to look at the bigger picture and a team’s entire catalog of work.

The Rays can and will win again with the bulk of the players that they currently have just as the Heat can likely be a threat for the NBA title again next year with a few tweaks here and there.

Of course time will tell what those changes will be and rather the management of both clubs takes a scalpel to the roster to make fine adjustments or performs roster surgery with a chain saw.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to flip a coin to decide whether I am wearing my Orioles hat or my Rays hat tonight.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Are Tampa Bay Rays in the Midst of an Epic Meltdown or on the Verge of a Historic Comeback?

For the first decade of their existence the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were bad, really bad.

How bad?

So bad that if the Devil Rays early years were put to music they could easily include the lyrics stink, stank, stunk.

So bad that in those first 10 seasons of play, from 1998 to 2007, the team failed to end a single season with a winning record. In fact the most victories came in 2004 when they won 70 games.

Although the stingray tank at Tropicana Field remains the Tampa Bay Rays showed that the devil is in the details when they switched from being  called the Devil Rays to just the Rays after 10 losing seasons. The result of the name change was a trip to the World Series in 2008. Photo R. Anderson

Although the stingray tank at Tropicana Field remains the Tampa Bay Rays showed that the devil is in the details when they switched from being called the Devil Rays to just the Rays after 10 losing seasons. The result of the name change was a trip to the World Series in 2008.
Photo R. Anderson

But in a musical about face worthy of a Kenny Rogers song, the Devil Rays became the Rays in 2008 and they turned it around by not only posting the team’s first ever winning record but also managing to win the American League Pennant and earning a trip to the World Series in the process.

Since that turning around in 2008 the Rays have posted winning records in every season that followed and have made some more playoff runs to boot.

While they have yet to match the World Series run of 2008, the Rays have remained a threat to win the ultra-competitive American League East Division or Wild Card for the past six years.

That brings us to this year and a bit of history repeating as the Rays, who were predicated as World Series favorites by many experts, have taken an Olympic sized nose dive due to injuries and spotty offense that have them looking less like a perennial playoff threat and more like the Devil Rays of old.

With some key players lost for the season, and others going on and off of the disabled list with unusual frequency, the Rays have had their share of setbacks to overcome during the first quarter of the season.

In addition to injuries the Rays have had to battle through offensive slumps that have rendered many of the bats in the lineup silent.

Instead of being on track for the playoffs the Rays currently possess the worst record in all of baseball heading into a three game series against the Houston Astros.

It should be noted that the Astros started getting really bad around the same time that the Rays got really good.

The Tampa Bay Rays, holders of the worst record in baseball,  will look to turn their season around starting tonight when they begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays, holders of the worst record in baseball, will look to turn their season around starting tonight when they begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

After losing over 100 games for the past three years, the Astros are on pace to break even this season and possibly even post a winning record for the first time in years.

When the schedules were announced for the season few people would have believed that the Astros would have won five more games than the Rays heading into their weekend series.

After spending more on payroll than the frugal Rays had previously done, there were great expectations for this season. While the Rays could yet right the sinking ship that has become their 2014 season with each mounting loss the calls to trade away players grow louder as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

While the Rays are faced will calls to trade away players in return for prospects each season it is likely that a failure to return to competitive play could result in several current players being sent to new surroundings in July.

It is of course unfair to surmise that the Rays current rough season marks a return to the years of losing records. Teams have bad years now and then for a variety of reasons and usually bounce back within a year or two so there is no need to dust off those old Devil Rays jerseys just yet.

One need only look at the Boston Red Sox who won a World Series after suffering through an abysmal season the year before to see that one rough season is no cause to think that the sky is falling on a franchise.

The Rays still have time to turn the season around this year and have been known for late season heroics that have propelled them to victory in the past however the time to make that turnaround is decreasing.

A sweep by the Astros this weekend would likely be a huge blow for the Rays and would continue the downward spiral while a sweep by the Rays would be just the thing to move the season forward.

Time will tell which direction the weekend goes for the Rays but with each passing game the since of urgency grows a bit more to return to a culture of winning.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get to.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Hooks to Host Missions in Futures Game at Minute Maid Park

Tomorrow the Corpus Christi Hooks, who are celebrating their 10th year of existence, will play their first home ever game away from Whataburger Field when they host the San Antonio Missions in a Texas State League Futures game at Minute Maid Park.

While Minute Maid Park is usually home to the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball, the facility will transform into a Minor League Ballpark for one night as the Double-A Hooks of the Astros farm system play the San Diego Padres farm club the Missions.

Of course there are some people who might think based on the performance of the Astros the past few 100 plus loss seasons that Minute Maid Park was already playing host to a Minor League ball club.

Despite appearances at times the Astros are in fact a Major League ball club.

Even though the Houston region is home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent Atlantic League, tomorrow’s game will mark the first affiliated regular season Minor League Baseball game played in Houston in over half a century.

The Corpus Christi Hooks will play their first home game outside of Whataburger Field tomorrow night at Minute Maid Park against the San Antonio Missions. Photo R. Anderson

The Corpus Christi Hooks will play their first home game outside of Whataburger Field tomorrow night at Minute Maid Park against the San Antonio Missions.
Photo R. Anderson

Although there are three Ballparks that the Hooks normally play at within four hours of Houston, for those unable to travel to Frisco, San Antonio or Corpus Christi the Futures Game will be their first chance to see them play in person.

For many years I have traveled to Frisco, Texas to see the Hooks play the Rough Riders at Dr. Pepper Ballpark.

I even ventured out to see the Hooks at their home Ballpark a few years back but bringing the team to the base in Houston is an excellent way to build the brand while giving fans a chance to see the future of the big ball club.

Staging a Minor League game in Houston is also a great way to gauge potential interest in moving one of the team’s clubs closer to the home region as has been a recent trend among the relocation of Triple-A clubs.

Besides market research another thing the Futures Game has going for it is rarity since the chance to see a Minor League Baseball game within a Major League Ballpark does not come along that often.

It is likely that the atmosphere within the Ballpark will be a cross between the intimacy of a Minor League game and the spectacle of excess of a Major League game.

The trick with any event like this is striking the right balance between the two.

The players will also need to strike the balance of not getting overwhelmed at the prospect of being inside a Major League Ballpark and just play their game.

The Corpus Christi Hooks have called Whataburger Field home for all of their 10 seasons of play as a Minor League affiliate of the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

The Corpus Christi Hooks have called Whataburger Field home for all of their 10 seasons of play as a Minor League affiliate of the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

While the stands may be larger the distance between the bases and from the pitcher’s mound to home plate remains the same between a Minor League and Major League diamond.

As noted before I cut my in person baseball watching teeth mostly in the Minor Leagues and have a special place in my heart for the game at that level.

While there are always exceptions, the game at the Minor League level always seemed to be more about the players and less about the pay check.

While every Minor League roster includes high paid prospects for the most part the rosters are filled with guys just trying to make a living playing the game that they love for as long as they can.

Minor League Baseball is also very much about the fan experience. From the kids running after foul balls to the people filling out their score cards there is a certain atmosphere that makes the Ballpark come alive.

In recent years the corporate aspects of the Major League game have made their way into the Minor League system so it will likely not be too long until the Minor Leagues become just as corporate driven as their MLB counterparts.

One can only hope that Minor League games remain affordable to the point where families can continue to go to experience the game in person and pass that love of the game on to future generations.

At its core the game of baseball will always be best experienced live. There are certain elements that even the best surround sound high definition television cannot replicate.

Besides, one cannot catch a ball or a free t-shirt from the comfort of their couch.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get ready for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Power Outages and Home Runs have a Groundhog Day Feel to Them

For three days in a row last week the power in my neighborhood was turned off to allow crews to work on the lines following a blown transformer.

This meant that for three nights in a row last week I had to reset various clocks around my house.

I could just as easily have ignored the clocks and left them to blink “12:00” for as long as they wanted since at any given time I have a cell phone and a watch that can both tell me what time it is.

Instead each evening I made the rounds from clock to clock setting the correct time since, despite all of the advancements in portable time telling technology, it is still nice to have clocks around the house that can show me the time when I am being too lazy to look at the watch on my wrist.

By the time the third night of power outages rolled around the act of resetting clocks had me feeling a bit like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.

George Springer became the first rookie to hit a home run in seven straight games since 1937 earning him Rookie of the Month honors for May. Photo R. Anderson

George Springer became the first rookie to hit a home run in seven straight games since 1937 earning him Rookie of the Month honors for May.
Photo R. Anderson

For those who may be unaware of the film it centers on Murray’s character waking up and reliving the same day again and again and again.

No matter what Murray’s character does the previous day, by the time the alarm clock goes off in the morning he is once again faced with the task of reliving Groundhog Day.

It is a cute film that once again shows that Bill Murray is comfortable working around animatronic rodents as he first demonstrated in the classic coming of age tale “Caddyshack.”

Around the same time as my power outage, and repeated clock setting, fans of the Houston Astros were also experiencing a certain “Groundhog Day” effect as right fielder George Springer hit home runs in seven consecutive games from May 21-29.

While resetting clocks night after night can get tedious, knocking the ball over the fence night after night certainly does not.

The Houston Astros hope the combination of Jose Altuve (#27) and George Springer (#4) leads them back to the postseason after a yearly 10 year drought. Photo R. Anderson

The Houston Astros hope the combination of Jose Altuve (#27) and George Springer (#4) leads them back to the postseason after a yearly 10 year drought.
Photo R. Anderson

In fact, Springer’s seven home runs in seven games was the most home runs by a rookie in a week since Rudy York of the Detroit Tigers in 1937.

Springer finished the month of May with 10 home runs which had not been done by a rookie since Mark McGwire in 1987.

That offensive production was enough to make Springer the fourth member of the Houston Astros to be named Rookie of the Month, joining Hunter Pence (May 2007), Kirk Saarloos (July 2002) and Roy Oswalt (August 2001).

There is no doubt that George Springer will hit more home runs in his career just as there is no doubt in my mind that another power outage at some future point will have me once again climbing up on step ladders to change blinking clocks.

Such are the routines of life, the power will go out and power hitters will keep giving the fans souvenir balls through the art of the home run.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a strange urge to listen to some Kenny Loggins songs while watching a dancing gopher.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Championships are Not Won in April but They Can be Lost in April

It has been said that championships are not won in April but that they can certainly be lost.

That is to say that a team’s early success does not always carry over throughout the course of a full season as many things can happen between Opening Day and Game One of the World Series to shape a team’s fortunes and in some cases misfortunes.

While a team winning the bulk of their games early in a season does not guarantee continued success, a team that loses most of their games early on will in most cases continue that trend throughout the season.

While it is certainly neither the time nor place for celebration or despair in any of the 30 Major League Ballparks this early in the season it is certainly worth looking at some early trends in terms of expectations met and expectations that have not been met.

In the American League East few should be surprised that the New York Yankees are leading the standings during the Derek Jeter Swan Song Tour.

With the  New York Yankees in first place in the American League East very few people are likely to bet against them going deep into the postseason during Derek Jeter's Farewell Tour. Photo R. Anderson

With the New York Yankees in first place in the American League East very few people are likely to bet against them going deep into the postseason during Derek Jeter’s Farewell Tour.
Photo R. Anderson

Some may go so far as to suggest that the baseball stars will align so that Jeter’s last game occurs as a World Series Champion. That is not to say that baseball is rigged but there are certainly odd occurrences now and then. I am looking at you Boston Red Sox.

The rest of the American League East offers a few surprises.

Few would have thought that the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox who famously healed an entire region last year with a title following a terrorist attack at a marathon would be in last place in the division.

The Tampa Bay Rays who many predicted as a World Series bound team are also struggling a bit due to injuries to their starting rotation but it is likely that they will bounce back from the early season struggles and become the playoff team that many predicted them to be.

While the New York Yankees may be the current frontrunners in the East, one cannot discount Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays since no team has done more with less over the past five seasons. Photo R. Anderson

While the New York Yankees may be the current frontrunners in the East, one cannot discount Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays since no team has done more with less over the past five seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles certainly cannot be ruled out as well in what is often the most hotly contested division in all of baseball.

Traveling further down the geographic standings brings the focus on the American League Central where the usual suspects seem to be doing the usual things early on.

The Detroit Tigers will likely continue their reign atop the division while fighting off the advances of the Kansas City Royals who continue to improve each season.

The Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians will likely string together some impressive victories throughout the season but it is unlikely that they will rise to the top of the standings based on their early sample of work.

Out in the American League West the Oakland Athletics are in first place and the Houston Astros are in last place.

No real surprises there.

While the Texas Rangers will look to return to postseason play in the post Nolan Ryan era a more intriguing thing to watch in the division will be whether the Astros can break their streak of consecutive 100 loss seasons.

Early indications point to another long season for the Houston Astros. Fans can take comfort in the return of the view of the skyline however. Photo R. Anderson

Early indications point to another long season for the Houston Astros. Fans can take comfort in the return of the view of the skyline however.
Photo R. Anderson

Early indications certainly point to it being another very long season in Minute Maid Park but at least fans have a view of downtown again to entertain them during lopsided losses by the home team.

The Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will look to get some bang from their hefty payroll bucks and should easily finish higher than the Astros but it is doubtful that they will break the grasp the Rangers and Athletics have atop the division.

With the American League shaping up with few surprises it is time to look at the National League and any potential surprises or unexpected trends from the early parts of the season.

The National League East has the Atlanta Braves in cruise control atop the standings. With their days in Turner Field numbered it would be nice to see the Braves give the Ballpark a final taste of postseason play before it is reduced to a pile of rubble.

The Atlanta Braves look like the team to beat so far in the National League East. Photo R. Anderson

The Atlanta Braves look like the team to beat so far in the National League East.
Photo R. Anderson

The Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies will try to keep things interesting but the division does seem to have a heavy “tomahawk chop” feel to it with the Braves going the distance.

The Miami Marlins hold their familiar spot at the bottom of the standings showing that a Ballpark without payroll can lead to a very long couple of seasons.

The National League Central is shaping up to look like the division normally looks with the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals near the top and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs near the bottom.

It is likely that the 100th Anniversary season at Wrigley Field will end like many of the previous years with the Cubs shut out of the postseason.

The Cincinnati Reds will likely hold their familiar spot in third place in the division although Billy Hamilton will certainly give the Reds’ fans something exciting to watch as he scorches the base path with his base stealing speed.

Current Cincinnati Red Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases in the Minor Leagues  and became immortalized as a bobble head. The real life version is likely to entertain Reds fans for years to come. Photo R. Anderson

Current Cincinnati Red Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases in the Minor Leagues and became immortalized as a bobble head. The real life version is likely to entertain Reds fans for years to come.
Photo R. Anderson

As for the National League West the Los Angeles Dodgers are leading the pack with the Arizona Diamondbacks currently having the worst record in all of baseball.

The Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres will keep things competitive but the West has a feel of Dodger Blue as long as they don’t implode down the stretch.

While the standings in all six divisions are likely to change through the course of the season early indications do seem to point to a postseason filled with the usual suspects.

Of course there are no guarantees in baseball. Teams will need to battle through injuries and other factors as they approach October.

The only peak the Astros are likely to see this season will come in the form of Tal's Hill in center field. Photo R. Anderson

The only peak the Astros are likely to see this season will come in the form of Tal’s Hill in center field.
Photo R. Anderson

The teams that peak at the right time are the ones that win it all in the end. For some teams that peak occurs on Opening Day and lasts the whole season long. Other teams are more slow burners and need to build up to their peak.

Then there are the teams who are stuck in the valley where the only peak they see is the pitcher’s mound or in the case of the Houston Astros, Tal’s Hill.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about peaks and valleys has me craving a mountain view.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Rangers Mark 20 Years in Ballpark Tonight

Tonight the Texas Rangers will mark the 20th anniversary of the first game played at the Ballpark in Arlington with a game against the Houston Astros.

The Houston Astros visit the Texas Rangers tonight for the 20th anniversary of the first game at the Ballpark in Arlington. Photo R. Anderson

The Houston Astros visit the Texas Rangers tonight for the 20th anniversary of the first game at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from serving as the 20th anniversary game for the Ballpark, tonight will also mark the first game of the season between the two in state and, as of last season, American League West Division rivals in what is known as the Lone Star Series.

In recent years the Lone Star Series has been leaning heavily towards the Rangers but with both teams heading into tonight’s game with an equal amount of victories for the season anything is possible in the quest for the silver boot trophy.

While the teams have similar records heading into tonight’s game I tend to think the Rangers have the edge.

In a could not have planned it any better for the anniversary twist the Rangers will send their ace Yu Darvish out on the mound in a night honoring the past and the future of the team.

As far as the Ballpark in Arlington goes, it marked the 20th season with a new 10 year corporate naming agreement as it enters its third decade of service.

While the Ballpark may have a new corporate name as of this season for me it will always be the Ballpark in Arlington.

The Ballpark in Arlington replaced Arlington Stadium 20 years ago tonight. Photo R. Anderson

The Ballpark in Arlington replaced Arlington Stadium 20 years ago tonight.
Photo R. Anderson

While players have come and gone throughout the history of the Texas Rangers franchise the current Ballpark marks only the second home for the Rangers since they made the move from the east coast.

The Rangers begin their baseball life in Washington D.C. as the second team known as the Washington Senators following the exodus of the first Washington Senators to Minnesota.

Crowds over the last couple of years have seen two World Series come through the Ballpark in Arlington. Photo R. Anderson

Crowds over the last couple of years have seen two World Series come through the Ballpark in Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

Like the Senators before them who became the Minnesota Twins, the second version of the Senators also pointed their wagons, err moving vans, west in search of greener pastures and more suitable Ballpark amenities.

The Rangers first stop in Texas was Turnpike Stadium, a 10,000-seat Ballpark which had been built in 1965 to house the AA Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs of the Texas League.

After it was announced that the Senators were moving to Texas, improvements were made to Turnpike Stadium which after being renamed Arlington Stadium served as the home to the Rangers from 1972 to 1994.

In 1991, two years into George W. Bush’s tenure as Managing General Partner of the Rangers, ground was broken on The Ballpark in Arlington.

A couple of years ago the Rangers got a new neighbor when the Dallas Cowboys came to town.  Photo R. Anderson

A couple of years ago the Rangers got a new neighbor when the Dallas Cowboys came to town.
Photo R. Anderson

The Ballpark in Arlington opened in 1994 which was also the same year that Bush left the team after being elected Texas governor.

While George W. Bush went on to be President of the United States for eight years, the Ballpark he helped create has hosted two World Series among other notable events since it opened its doors.

While it currently is dwarfed by its new neighbor Cowboys Stadium the Ballpark still mixes the charms of an old time Ballpark with the conveniences of a modern Ballpark.

One thing that the Ballpark does not seem to have though is adequate air circulation in the hot Texas summer heat.

Unlike Minute Maid Park, and many other Ballparks built after it, the Ballpark in Arlington does not feature a retractable roof.

While the lack of a roof would not be as big of a deal in places such as Minnesota where the original Washington Senators turned Twins recently left a domed stadium behind for the open air comfort of Target Field, the lack of a roof in Arlington is definitely noticed on most game days.

Some times you really don't want to know hot hot it is as day games in Arlington often prove. It is likely the actual temperature was much hotter than 99 degrees. Photo R. Anderson

Some times you really don’t want to know how hot it is as day games in Arlington often prove. It is likely the actual temperature was much hotter than 99 degrees.
Photo R. Anderson

In fact, studies were done to look into the feasibility of placing a roof over the Ballpark in Arlington to help protect fans from the blistering heat and frequent thunder storms that the area is known for.

The study found that retrofitting the Ballpark with a roof would cost more than the cost of building an entirely new Ballpark so the issue was tabled leaving fans to continue to be exposed to the elements.

It is likely that in 10 years when the current team lease on the Ballpark is up there will be more studies looking into the options of building a retractable roof Ballpark in the Dallas area.

In Atlanta the Braves are abandoning Turner Field after only 20 years so it would not be unheard of to trade in a 30-year Ballpark for a younger model.

Despite the battles with the elements I hope that the Rangers do choose to stay in their current facility since it really is a nice place to catch a game and a tan.

It is likely that fans coming to see the Rangers in the coming years will still see the sky as a study down by previous team owners showed putting a roof over the stadium was cost prohibitive. Photo R. Anderson.

It is likely that fans coming to see the Rangers in the coming years will still see the sky as a study down by previous team owners showed putting a roof over the stadium was cost prohibitive.
Photo R. Anderson.

As a word of advice though if one does decide to venture out to see a game in Arlington I would suggest drinking plenty of water before the game and definitely wearing light colored clothing.

You can also try to schedule your visit around one of the t-shirt giveaway days which will give you something dry to change into for the drive home.

And try not to pay too much attention to that thermometer in center field.

It may say it is only 99 degrees in the shade but it will definitely feel a lot hotter when you are shoulder to shoulder with 30,000 of your closet friends.

Needless to say this is one anniversary game that I will be catching from my couch where there is plenty of elbow room and the temperature is always a pleasant 72 degrees.

Now if only I could find a hot dog vendor to avoid having to go to the kitchen it would be just like being at the Ballpark.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to watch.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Visit from Berkman and Oswalt Reminds of What Was, Points to What Could be Again

Once upon a time the Houston Astros were a yearly visitor to a magical land known as the Major League Baseball Postseason.

Looking at the past few years that statement may seem like a fairy tale but I assure you it is true. One need only look in the record books to see for themselves.

From 1997 to 2005 the Astros only missed the postseason three times and captured the National League Pennant in 2005.

Long Time Houston Astro Lance Berkman retired during a pregame ceremony Saturday night at Minute Maid Ballpark. Photo R. Anderson

Long Time Houston Astro Lance Berkman retired during a pregame ceremony Saturday night at Minute Maid Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted, it has been eight years and counting since the last postseason appearance by the Astros but during those heydays of yore men like Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt gave the fans something to cheer about as they packed into Minute Maid Park shoulder to shoulder.

Saturday night the fans were once again chanting for Berkman and Oswalt as both men retired from Major League Baseball as members of the team that drafted them by signing one day contracts.

The ceremony was certainly bittersweet for many of the long time fans who donned their Berkman and Oswalt shirts once more as they watched the two men ride off into the sunset during a pregame ceremony.

During much of his time in Houston Lance Berkman's biggest fans the Little Pumas stood in the outfield in their furry puma suits. Saturday night the suits came out of the closet for one more time. Photo R. Anderson

During much of his time in Houston Lance Berkman’s biggest fans the Little Pumas stood in the outfield in their furry puma suits. Saturday night the suits came out of the closet for one more time.
Photo R. Anderson

The Little Pumas, a group of fans dressed in puma suits in honor of Berkman’s nickname, “the Big Puma” even dusted off their furry puma suits and took their place in the standing room only area in center field for one more time to say farewell.

In addition to standing ovations and tributes from the fans both men were presented with Stetson hats, a rocking chair and perhaps more importantly framed jerseys from the 2005 World Series.

After being traded from the Astros to the Yankees Berkman went on to win a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals before playing for the Texas Rangers last year.  Although Berkman is a World Series Champion I am sure he would have preferred to do that with the Astros.

Oswalt also played for a trio of teams after leaving the Astros but time with the Phillies, Rangers and Rockies did not produce a World Series title for the “Wizard of Os.”

Roy Oswalt joined Lance Berkman in retiring as members of the Houston Astros Saturday night. Photo R. Anderson

Roy Oswalt joined Lance Berkman in retiring as members of the Houston Astros Saturday night.
Photo R. Anderson

During the ceremony notable accomplishments for both players were recited and it was clear that they had successful careers but despite that success both men were quick to point out that the success did not come without sacrifice.

During his remarks Oswalt thanked the fans for their support along with his family who “had never missed a game he played since he was four.”

While the Astros will likely return to the postseason at some point watching them lose over 100 games year after year can harden even the most diehard of fans.

Very much aware of this fact, Berkman used a portion of his time at the podium to encourage the fans in attendance to “make the rafters shake” not for him, but for the current roster of players, many of whom were not even old enough to drive the last time the Astros were in the Postseason.

Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt threw out the ceremonial first pitches after a pregame ceremony honoring them for their time with the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt threw out the ceremonial first pitches after a pregame ceremony honoring them for their time with the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

While the fans cheered for the new guys it was clear that for many of the fans their hearts still belong to the players they grew up watching.

Perhaps no where was this fact more evident than from a woman a couple rows up from me who squealed like a preteen at a Justin Bieber concert when highlights of Berkman’s career were shown on the ballpark screen known as El Grande.

For the record I have never heard a preteen scream at a Justin Bieber concert but I am guessing the sounds are pretty comparable to what I heard at the ballpark.

Berkman, Oswalt and I pretty much all arrived at Minute Maid Park at the same time so they were two of the players that I followed when I first became a fan of the Astros.

As mentioned before I was at the Ballpark the day that Berkman was traded to the Yankees and while I know players are traded all of the time the Berkman trade seemed different since I had fully thought that he would be given the chance to retire as a member of the Astros.

Roy Oswalt was presented a framed jersey from the 2005 World Series during a pregame ceremony at Minute Maid Park Saturday night. Photo R. Anderson

Roy Oswalt was presented a framed jersey from the 2005 World Series during a pregame ceremony at Minute Maid Park Saturday night.
Photo R. Anderson

In the end after playing for three other teams Berkman came back home if only for a day to retire with the Astros but I can’t help but think that his presence the last couple years around the young players would have greatly benefited the team.

But roster turmoil is part of the game and very rarely do fan favorites get to stay with their team for their whole careers. Craig Biggio, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Derek Jeter are certainly the exception more than the rule.

Players come and go. Logos and team colors change but the game goes one just as it has for generations as each group of players and fans contribute a stanza to the baseball sonnet.

After throwing out the first pitches to a pair of former teammates Berkman and Oswalt left the field for most likely the final time to the roar of the crowd to enter their post baseball lives.

Lance Berkman was presented a framed jersey from the 2005 World Series during a pregame ceremony at Minute Maid Park Saturday night. Photo R. Anderson

Lance Berkman was presented a framed jersey from the 2005 World Series during a pregame ceremony at Minute Maid Park Saturday night.
Photo R. Anderson

Oswalt is going to become a consultant for his long time agent and Berkman is rumored to be on the short list replace Wayne Graham at Rice University as the head baseball coach in a few years.

Of course, the players may also come back to Minute Maid Park someday to see their numbers retired and hung up in the rafters with the other team greats.

But even if they do not have their numbers retired they will still have given a generation of fans years of memories to look back on while they wait for the next generation to complete their stanza.

As for that next generation of Astros they ended up losing the game Saturday night but did come back to win on Sunday afternoon.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put my Puma shirt back in the closet.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson