Saturday, March 15, 2014

#BBQPalooza2014 : The Decision

Sometimes things just come together: the 1995 Rockets playoff run, the Sgt. Peppers album, the cast of Breaking Bad, and the 2014 #BBQPalooza. All epic. All spectacular. All full of several important decisions. We arrived bright and early in Austin on Tuesday to get into the world famous Franklin's BBQ line. We had a tight itinerary that had been perfected over several weeks. When we turned the corner at 8:20 am to see the longest line we'd ever encountered, the wind flew out of our sails. We decided to get in line anyway, but a Franklin employee came by to get our order and said we'd be eating around 1 pm. There we were in a figurative BBQ studio with a sauce slathered Jim Gray anxiously awaiting our decision. Would we stay in line and possibly have to scratch several plans (probably the uneducated decision we would have made a few years ago), or would we scratch the plans and embrace a new path? Like LeBron we decided to "take our talents" elsewhere and that was the domino which started a chain reaction of great decisions, great timing, and most importantly great barbecue.


We left the line vowing to wake up early the next morning and be at the front. Franklin's could wait until tomorrow. We would be heading for John Mueller Meat Co. Now it is widely known that John is the unchallenged bad boy of Texas BBQ, which some complain about, but I've always thought only adds to his mystique. He didn't disappoint. We made the slight mistake of standing by his fence too early and he snapped a pic of us (one member had a @BBQsnob t shirt on), "I'm sending a picture of you jackasses to Daniel. He'll get a kick out of that shirt." He may or may not have intimidated a few of our group. One thing John is always hospitable about.....MEAT. You don't like your BBQ with a little attitude? Fine, go somewhere else, but know that your search for the best Q in Texas is severely lacking if you've never sampled John Mueller's smoked offerings. His brisket was tremendous, ribs were delicious, and we were all blown away by the meat consistency of his sausage this year. Like any good Texan I'm not big on sauce, but if that's your thing then John's dipping sauce was tremendous as well (I mostly used it on bread to cleanse the palate after the meat fest). As he usually does he showed that his love for those who appreciate good BBQ is barely masked by that bad boy exterior when he gave a young kid at the front of the line his last t shirt, "Just don't wear that one to school bud.....they won't let ya." It featured his signature motto, "You can all go to hell....I'm going to 6th and Pedernales" (I was jealous of that kid). He also sought us out to offer some expert advice on our itinerary and visit for a minute before commenting, "Well.....I'm bored with you guys now." John's the best... and his Q is a must.....and I'm not even saying that out of fear that he may stab me with a beef rib through the heart on my next visit.


Once we finished at John's we got into the truck to head to the next spot when I happened to see a tweet from la barbecue. I quickly hit them back asking if they were open that day (usually they are closed on Tuesdays), and within a minute Ali (who does a terrific job running their twitter) replied they were open for SXSW! We saw an opening to knock out another big spot without even fighting a line. This was our first trip to the new location on E. 6th St., and I must admit we all preferred their previous spot. Parking was a little difficult and the area felt more crowded, but on the upside there was no line! John Lewis is still cranking out some of the best smoked meats in the world. We got our first beef rib of the trip, and it was exceptional. The moist brisket melted in your mouth and the side of chipotle cole slaw was a perfect choice. Last year la barbecue was the biggest eye opener for me trying it for the first time, and the change in venue has done nothing to water down the quality of barbecue that is being cranked out at this paradise of Q. La barbecue was the only spot in Austin that we visited still offering free beverages to its patrons. It's a great laid back spot to get some of the finest food in the world!


Next we decided to head on over to Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew to spend the rest of the afternoon. We had been in contact with Shane and Lance through twitter (I believe Shane's wife runs the account.....and she does a tremendous job promoting the restaurant) so we were excited about the possibility of meeting the two men behind this Austin landmark. If you don't know, the building where Stiles Switch is located was none other than the Emporium that Matthew McConaughey famously hung out at in Dazed and Confused. The vibe that existed in that legendary film still lingers over this mecca of hangout spots today. If perfect BBQ, large screen televisions, washers on a beautiful patio, local craft beers on tap, and a guaranteed enjoyable atmosphere are your thing......you can't do better than Stiles Switch! It was the perfect spot to sit on the patio a while and throw some washers while our Mueller double header digested. Unfortunately, I lost at washers and had to pay for the Q when we were ready to eat (although I would gladly fork over any amount of cash for the opportunity to partake in some of pit master Lance Kirkpatrick's exceptional food). Don't be fooled by the relaxed atmosphere or the fact they rarely sell out like other spots (by design ....these guys work their tails off to smoke enough meat to ensure their patrons can eat through the evening), YOU WILL NOT EAT BETTER Q THAN STILES SWITCH. We threw down a trinity plate and Lance's succulent beef rib and it was tremendous. We all agreed that the brisket was even better than we remembered last year and the ribs were perfectly rubbed. We would have left happy right then and there, but then Shane Stiles came out to the patio and took us back for a pit tour. We got the opportunity to see Lance at work and talk BBQ with two of the giants in the industry! Getting to hear Lance tell us a bit about his approach to smoking meat and seeing him rubbing down a few briskets was truly a priceless experience. Shane was extremely candid with us about everything from how he got started, his business strategy, thoughts on other Texas BBQ spots, and even football. You can tell that the enthusiasm for good barbecue and mutual respect these two have toward each other really translates into the restaurant as a whole. There's not two more genuine guys in the barbecue business than Shane and Lance, and there isn't a better atmosphere to eat World Class BBQ than Stiles Switch. It was easily the best experience we had on a trip.


After a short regroup at the hotel it was time to head out to our first new spot of the year....Freedmen's Bar. Admittedly I was a little skeptical about this so called "fancy" BBQ spot that doubles as a retro-inspired cocktail lounge. There was even a short argument over whether we would partake in a 4th plate of BBQ for the day or just sample some of the fancy sides and desserts, but the honorary Texan in our group demanded, "Guys....we came to eat barbecue!" And eat barbecue we did my friend. We sampled the holy trinity plate with German potatoes, grilled cabbage slaw, and house pickles. Quite frankly this was the revelation of our 2014 trip. Pit master Evan LeRoy is one of Zagat's 30 under 30, and I must say we severely underrated him. We have never made a better choice than ordering that holy trinity plate. Despite being full of smoked meats, there was not a single morsel of food left on our beautifully laid out tray. I can't recommend Freedmen's Bar enough.....you WILL NOT find a better meal being offered of any type than what Evan is churning out here. We are putting this spot firmly in the annual rotation and I for one can't wait to return for a second meal at this "fancy" Q establishment. It might be fancier than your run of the mill backyard BBQ, but I would challenge any died in the wool BBQ redneck to sample Freedmen's delicious brisket and ribs and claim that they are not authentic enough or worthy of being in the top echelon of barbecue in the world. We all left after some smoked chocolate mousse singing descriptive adjectives for the food experience of Freedmen's. Go there.


After a "short" 2 mile hike that has since been affectionately dubbed the "Bataan Death March", we finally stumbled upon Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ. What better way to end a perfect day of smoked meats than topping it off with some brisket tacos. This is the perfect late night snack truck for true Texans! Anybody that knows me knows I love BBQ and Mexican food, so Valentina's is like heaven in a food truck. They've got great barbecue, great tacos, and a friendly staff to meet all your late night food needs. Those tacos were the perfect topper to a great first day, but now it was time to get some shut eye.....Franklin's round 2 would commence early the next morning.


What a difference one day and one hour makes. This time we got up early and showed up to Franklin BBQ at 7:20. Only a few people were waiting in their car (it was colder and very windy), so we braved the elements to stake claim to our first ever "first in line at Franklin's" experience. As always we met some great people in line to discuss barbecue, this time some fine folks from Georgia who admitted their barbecue usually existed solely on chopped pork! Boy were they in for an experience. A lot of people bag on Franklin for having such a ridiculously long line, and I admit if I were a native of Austin there are other less crowded spots I would frequent far more often, but everyone should do Franklin BBQ at least once. People wait in line because as Texas Monthly has proclaimed twice now....It's the best. Aaron deserves all the attention he is getting. When he showed up at our table to see how things were.....I have to admit a small part of me knew what teenage girls at a Beiber concert feel like. If anyone is the rock star of Texas Q it's Aaron Franklin....not because he sells out everyday.....because his barbecue will bring grown men to tears. I have never been to Franklin BBQ and left feeling like I had wasted my time waiting in line for food.


After dining at the most famous BBQ spot in the world it was off to last year's diamond in the rough Micklethwait Craft Meats. Last year the now famous Mr. "Microwave" (courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel) was hardly a household name, but just like we figured after sampling his meats......he's a reluctant rock star in his own right now. There was a far bigger line this year, but the iconic food truck was still churning out lots of "craft meats" for the fans. We were disappointed when we heard they were out of sausage (widely considered by us the best in town), but when they offered to throw in the last link of kielbasa....we were stoked. It was very easy to see how Tom recently won the Austin Beef Rib Challenge....his offering was roughly the size of my 2 year old son and nearly as tender as the brisket! Tom and his staff are some of the nicest people you can meet and we were all excited to see the much deserved success that Micklethwait (the th is silent) is enjoying. This year we followed up our meat splurge with some of his world famous homemade Moon Pies.....Sweet Mother of all things Holy!!! that was the greatest ending to a BBQ feast I've ever had. I've already promised to try to throw one in an ice chest for my wife next year.

From last year's diamond in the rough we traveled to our last stop and probably best chance at this year's soon to explode spot... Kerlin BBQ. Again we had a small debate on whether we would head back home or try out this new spot we had heard a lot about, and I am glad we made the trip! Get to Kerlin BBQ now before the lines do. They were the only spot we visited with live music, and the bluesy rock was a perfect compliment to their moist brisket, tasty ribs, flavorful sausage, and pickled jalapenos. They have a great outdoor seating area where you can hang out and throw some ladder golf (which we did). The highlight here was a middle aged man who rode up on his bike and asked, "Is this John Mueller's spot?" HAHAHAHAHA....We all had a great laugh thinking about him finding John's spot and asking the man himself that silly question. No sir....this isn't John's spot, but if Kerlin BBQ keeps cranking out the kind of meat we tasted on this day people might just be riding around Austin in the very near future asking,"is this the famous Kerlin BBQ?"

One place you never have to wonder if you are at the right spot is Louie Mueller BBQ. Our last stop on the way home was at the iconic granddaddy of them all in Taylor, Texas. If you have never been to Taylor then your BBQ resume is severely lacking my friend. Nothing says Texas BBQ like the historic Louie Mueller building. Last time we came Lance himself was serving the meat and John and LeAnn both learned the ropes here as well. Mueller's is still in the Texas Monthly top 5, and while we feel like there is no place in Texas boasting BBQ quite like Austin anymore.....Louie Mueller and our hometown spot of Killen's BBQ are two of the few joints that can serve the rest of Texas world class cue. It was an excellent last meal of the trip and in a way an opportunity to end where it all started. I'm never more proud to be a Texan than during my annual BBQ pilgrimage and the environment at Louie Mueller's sums that feeling up to a T.

In life we're often faced with forks in the road and #BBQPalooza was no exception. At 8:20 on a Tuesday morning we wisely chose to leave the line at Franklin's and go off the plan for our annual trip. Dangerous? Possibly. Daring? Maybe. Genius? Absolutely.....and much like LeBron quickly turned his doubters into fans, our decision led us down a path of World Championship BBQ that we will never forget. Easily one of our best trips due to chance, experience, and more than a little luck.....#BBQPalooza will be remembered as an epic trip of smoked meat goodness. Hope you had as much fun reading about it as we did living it.....now go get some Q!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

BBQpalooza 2013 "Texas Hospitality"



la barbecue Austin, Tx
 Sometimes things just seem to come together: peanut butter and chocolate, the Showtime Lakers, the cast of Shawshank Redemption......the 2013 version of our annual BBQ tour. This year marked our third annual trek into Central Texas to partake in copious amounts of God's gift to men (besides woman of course) ...BBQ. This year's tour began with a downer, but the news that one member would have to come late, like nearly everything else that happened this year soon became a huge positive (more on that later). Even the rainy weather we saw in Austin over the weekend was as if God was shedding tears of joy and blessing over our ambitious journey (no way we would have been able to hit all these world class joints if the weather hadn't chased some less than diehards away!) This year's bbqpalooza was marked by fortune at every turn, and the best hospitality we have ever received on our treks into BBQ holy land. Without further adieu.......here's what transpired.


Tom's trailer was a meat beacon in the night
We arrived in Austin on Friday evening and our one stop was to be a relatively new spot recommended by @TXCleaver called Micklethwait Craft Meats. A trailer specializing in BBQ and relatively unknown (NOT FOR LONG!) to many... even in Austin as we would find out throughout the weekend. This was an awesome start! Every other BBQ joint we have hit previously were pretty well established and well known, but here we all got the feeling that we were getting in on the ground floor of something special. Owner/Pit Master Tom Micklethwait was an extremely cool guy, recommending the homemade greens as a side, telling us how he converted a water heater from an old school into his smoker, and even throwing in a pork shoulder (which turned out to be delicious!) into our to go order. His handmade sausages (we had an andouille and veal sample) are some of the tastiest I've ever eaten. We all agreed we would have rather the sausage not cut so small (as we enjoy being able to bite into the snap casing), however that's not to take anything away from a sausage that was bursting with tremendous flavor and texture.  The moist brisket had obviously been smoked with the care only few people living in Central Texas have perfected, and the ribs got thumbs up all around. The greens we ordered featured rutabaga and sausage, and I'm not throwing out hyperbole by saying they were the best greens I've ever tasted. Getting back to the hotel that night and discovering the pork shoulder was the icing on the cake. Get to Micklethwait's Craft Meats before it becomes another sacred BBQ joint where waiting in line is part of the process! We needed all the rest we could get before the gorging on Saturday so we headed out to the East side for a short night full of hipsters, food trucks, and eclectic dives only Austin could supply before calling it an early night.


Line outside Franklin BBQ at 9:45 a.m.
We woke up bright and early Saturday because, well.....it takes dedication to sample 7 BBQ joints in one day. We knew we would need to be at the front of the line at Franklin's to accomplish our lofty goals for the day. So at 8:20 we were excited to see that we would be tenth in line at Aaron's temple to all things meat.

As previously mentioned, our buddy Rashad was having to meet us Saturday morning. A giant letdown at first, until he came up with an idea that will go down in BBQ lore alongside indirect heat. See, truth be told when our buddy Chris released the 2013 itinerary we were all a little disappointed. Due to time constraints and its limited hours, Snow's BBQ in Lexington would be left off the list for the first time in three years. You have to understand.....Snow's brisket (in my humble opinion) is the single greatest piece of meat in Texas (thereby also the World). It is a mecca to moist, fatty, meat goodness that demands to be tasted by all true connoisseurs of BBQ. Never fear: Rashad left extra early, was first in line at Snow's, and showed up in front of all those hungry Franklin's patrons with a foil wrapper filled with the only breakfast worthy of BBQpalooza......Snow's brisket! Needless to say we became the most popular men in line, and a few kind folks who had previously extended some Texas BBQ hospitality our way during the long wait were rewarded with a slice of their very own Snow's brisket.


Franklin's received our best overall ratings
It was finally 11:00 and time to head into Franklin BBQ. Aaron Franklin is the closest thing the BBQ world has to Elvis. People wait hours to eat his BBQ daily, he's been on the cover of Texas Monthly, and his YouTube channel has given our pal Chris the biggest man crush since Howard Cosell met Ali. Unfortunately, Aaron was busy out back preparing to not only feed the hundreds lined up at his restaurant, but also cater a huge SXSW event (the perils of BBQ royalty...). We sat down slightly disappointed, however before we could dig in Benjy (Franklin's right hand man) approached us and proceeded to take pics, give us the rundown on the weekend, and share our love for BBQ. It takes more than a single man to meet the high standards of BBQ lovers each and every day, and I'm sure Aaron knows this already, but Benjy is a great representative of the restaurant and a preview of how our day would go. As for the meat.....well friends....people don't stand in line for hours to partake in inferior BBQ. For the second straight year Franklin BBQ received the highest overall score from our group. The brisket is quite possibly only second to Snow's, the pulled pork was fantastic, the sausage had a perfect snap, and OH DEAR that pork rib! I had a strong inclination that it was the best rib I had ever eaten. Before the clock had hit high noon, we had already consumed Snow's brisket and an entire plate of Franklin BBQ.

L to R: Me, the Legend himself, and Chris
We left Franklin's hoping to make it to John Mueller's new spot in time to catch some of his legendary BBQ. John's up and down story is Texas BBQ legend, and the man did not disappoint. The twitter bio for @JSM_meats says it all, "You may go to hell, I'm going to 6th and Pedernales". John Mueller Meat Co. is quite possibly the most "Texan" place I've ever visited (that includes the Alamo). When we turned the corner into the lot we were met by a gigantic Texas flag, the actual sound of meat sizzling right by us, and John himself greeting guests with free Lone Star beer. Mr. Mueller was a terrific host (who says this guy can't run a business?), and his beef rib is a must try. I'm sure he has a lot of nicknames, but I'd add "King of Texas Beef Ribs" to the mix. All the meat received top marks from our crew, and as for ambiance.....well....you would really have to hang out with John and eat his BBQ to appreciate how amazing this place is. On our way out he came by once more to ask about our adventure and when he found out we would be sampling a few places around Austin ...and then Lockhart, in true Mueller fashion he dropped an "I ate in Lockhart once" on us. Truly one of the best experiences we have EVER had eating BBQ....


The entertainment at la barbecue
When we left John Mueller Meat Co. we headed over to his former place of employment, and sister's current spot ...la barbecue. We had to fight some terrible SXSW traffic, and it started to rain hard when we got there. The seats were wet, water was dripping on me, and I just didn't really have the same anticipation as I had for other spots. My mistake. La barbecue deserves the same treatment as all the other world class spots we hit in Austin. The new pit master supposedly came from Franklin, and the melding of Franklin/Mueller delivered some of our best overall scores (despite the terrible weather conditions). As if not to be outdone by brother, la barbecue had its own free ice chest full of Lone Star, gave out brisket to those in line, and even had two old guys playing bass and an acoustic guitar belting out some tunes that sounded straight out of O Brother, Where Art Thou. This was easily my best surprise of the weekend. If the siblings want to break off and make two temples to meat instead of one?.....well...all the better for us my friend. Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor is great, but for my money what the siblings lack in historical sites they more than make up for with superior meats now. The brisket was top 3, the pulled pork was excellent, and even the chipotle coleslaw was the perfect palate cleanser. I cannot recommend this spot to you highly enough.....go there!

Spread at Stiles Switch BBQ
The last stop in Austin was to be Stiles Switch BBQ. I'll admit, at this point I was full and ready to start heading back through Lockhart. With all the Twitter chatter I was getting, my fatigue and busy timeline made me forget that Stiles Switch had wanted us to say hello when we got there and probably had been the most welcoming pre-meal place! I made a restroom break and allowed another member to place our order. He returned with an incredible plate of meat (as you can see above)....LOOK at that Beef Rib....it was amazing! The pork rib and sausage were right on par with the rest of the perfectly smoked meats at the other Austin spots.....but something was wrong. The brisket was rather dry and not up to the standards of what we'd been eating. Apparently, my friend did not request the moist cut (party foul), and I didn't follow through on my promise to say hello. In swooped pit master Lance. He could have been offended that we forgot to say hello and didn't even finish our brisket (honestly I probably would have), but just as I was remembering my promise Lance approached our table with grace, mercy, and a generous amount of moist brisket. "Hey, I'm Lance. I noticed you guys didn't get the moist cut. We've been making more meat than usual this weekend and must have slipped a drier piece in there. Try this out guys." Unbelievable! In a day filled with tremendous hospitality, it was Lance at Stiles Switch who truly took it to the next level. He stayed and talked for a bit while we assured him that his brisket was some of the best in the world. Extremely moist, excellent fat rendering, and super bark. Take this as my formal apology sir, I assure you that next time I'm in Austin I'm going to head to Stiles Switch one evening to eat that glorious BBQ on an empty stomach, throw washers on the enclosed porch, and hang out for a couple of hours at this meat temple.

Black's BBQ
On the way home we went through Lockhart, often referred to as the BBQ capital of Texas. We've been here every year and each time we have felt like Black's delivers the finest overall meats in Lockhart. Their beef ribs aren't as tasty as JMueller or Stiles Switch, but they are big enough to feed a small militia. Black's has delivered amazing meat plates every year we've been ...full of tasty ribs, pork chops (first time to try), sausage, previously mentioned dinosaur sized beef ribs, and in my opinion... the best brisket in Lockhart. If you're in Lockhart Black's is a must go. Smitty's makes up for slightly less tasty meats with some of the best BBQ atmosphere anywhere. You have to walk right by their giant pits on your way to order (you can literally feel and smell the pending feast)! Make no mistake Smitty's is a tremendous BBQ joint, but probably a slight notch below the other places on this list. Last year we ranked Kreuz third among the Lockhart locales, but due to time and an extremely busy afternoon (probably due to their more commercial friendly lay out and proximity to the main road), we had to skip it this year. We were also hoping to visit Chisholm Trail, but alas that will have to wait at least another year (what? don't act like 7 plates wasn't impressive). Overall Lockhart was tremendous as always, but the general consensus on the way home was that Austin has the most delicious, numerous, and ambitious Central Texas BBQ in the state. No knock on Lockhart, but as the kids say these days...the Austin BBQ scene is blowing up.   
BBQ is the one cooking technique that's been around since caveman days, and it may have taken thousands of years, but the people of Central Texas have perfected the art form. What stands out most about this year? Easy, we all agreed that the meat was tremendous, but the people who bring the very best BBQ to the masses are just as important and if possible....just as enjoyable as the gifts of meat they bestow on their patrons. Until next year.......TEXAS FOREVER!

L to R: Rashad, Chris, and Jason at Smitty's Market
 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Anthony Davis Doesn't Pass the Eyebrow Test


Now that King James has finally won his crown, we can look to the NFL season NBA draft that is less than a week away. Don't worry......despite the title of this post it will NOT be a 4,000 word rehash of the 20,000 uni brow jokes on Twitter. I think those have been exhaustive and Twitter has once again succeeded in beating a dead horse, but I do think there is something to Anthony Davis' look (both his refusal to shave that thing and his actual basketball game) that doesn't exactly blow me away.

When New Orleans won the draft lottery it spawned 5,000,000 "The NBA is fixed" blogs/tweets. Everyone thought that Stern fixed it so the Hornets could select Anthony Davis and suddenly be a juggernaut in the West......I'm not so sure. Look around the NBA.....much like in the real world the good looking people tend to also, in an unfair twist, be the most successful. Lebron, Wade, Kobe, DHoward, Jordan....the best players in the NBA might not be Brad Pitt, but they almost all have style and a certain magnetism. Of course I guess you could argue that none of those guys have had their image immortalized with breakfast cereals. Something tells me Anthony Davis will likely not grace the cover of GQ during his career. Remember some other #1 picks who didn't exactly "look the part"? Greg Oden, Andrea Bargnani (double whammy of also having a girl's name), Michael Olowokandi........ actually there's been a lot of first round "can't miss" bigs who missed. And let's be honest here, Davis brings an entirely new meaning to "face of a franchise".

"That's ridiculous, you can't say a player will be a bust because of how he looks?!?!?!?" Okay, fine, then let's discuss actual basketball. Remember the much ballyhooed NCAA Championship game? Davis played spectacular defense, but was 1-10 from the field for 6pts. He's 6-10 220.....pretty big for today's one and done NCAA field, but not exactly a giant in the middle in the NBA. I saw him struggle a little bit when opponents got physical with him. Davis averaged 14 and 10.....not exactly Lebronesque stat stuffing numbers against mostly undersized competition. In his senior season his high school began the year 0-6 and finished 6-19!!! Surround Lebron, Kobe, or Rose with 5th graders and I'm not sure they'd lose 6 straight games as seniors! Especially at 6-10! Of course he grew some 10-12 inches during HS and saw his basketball hopes skyrocket and his game change (he was the primary ball handler in HS....which I doubt he will serve as in the pros). Can he play D? The answer would seem to be a resounding yes, but when has Serge Ibaka been the face of the OKC Thunder?

Davis does have some unique skills, and pretty much only has a season or two of post development under his belt. I like his intensity, which when applying the eyebrow  eyeball test is one of my first questions, but how will he fare against consistent NBA bigs over 82 games? My guess is he will be an average NBA big somewhere in the Samual Dalembert, Marcus Camby mold with a Serge Ibaka ceiling. He seems like a good kid and I wish him the best. NBA fans know the league could use a few more dominant big men for fans to watch, and I would be glad for him if he became one, but I'm not holding my breath. Sometimes you just have to throw the hype out the window and listen to what your eyes and head say. Good luck New Orleans.....I'm sure the billboards for next season will be traffic inducing at the least.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Carlos Conundrum


Why do you hate Carlos Lee? If you follow my twitter feed or listen to one of my random Carlos rants, you are likely to ask this question.....several people have before. However, I in fact do NOT hate Carlos Lee. Carlos actually provided a walk off grand slam at one of my greatest "I was there moments", at the end of the Biggio 3000 hit game. I also briefly met Carlos at Gallery furniture the week he was signed by the Astros (I can neither confirm nor deny that Carlos was asking for "the largest bed you have"). Carlos Lee is universally recognized as a "nice guy" and my own experience along with others cannot refute this. So let's start by acknowledging that I do not hate Carlos Lee.

The vitriol that I and other Astros fans direct toward Carlos begins with a number........18.5 million. That is what the Astros are paying their "1st baseman" this season. So far that has bought us a .263 hitter with 2 home runs and 14 RBI's. AL East lover Richard Justice (who used to cover our beloved team) would like you to know that Carlos is the toughest hitter to strike out in the NL, but what he and others haven't told you is that he is the easiest to pop out as well. Carlos routinely hits infield flies (on his bad swings) or warning track flies (on his good swings). His power that once produced 30+ homers is all but gone. If you're looking for a 1B for your fantasy team, you'd be much better off with Billy Butler, Bryan LaHair, or pretty much any 1B besides Pujols (just felt good to drop that jab in there).

Most of my subtle jabs at Carlos revolve around his waistline. I'm over 30 now, and do not get paid millions of dollars to perform physical tasks, but somehow I manage to keep myself in decent enough shape that I could run from home plate to third base without knocking on death's door from over exhaustion. When whispers started growing after Carlos was the last man to arrive at Spring Training that he was "out of shape", fans continued to pile on Lee even as the media defended him because of his happy-go-lucky demeanor. I can't speak for every fan, but it is much easier for me to forgive Yao Ming's injury plagued drop off amidst his tireless hours of playing basketball, than it is for me to forgive Carlos for his drop off amidst years of apparent physical apathy. So yes Carlos Lee is FAT, and in light of the amount of money and time I spend supporting the Astros I feel justified in throwing some jabs his way.....even if he is a "nice guy".

The biggest issue I have is that the Astros are good. Yes! Those Astros who the media dismisses at every turn, are turning heads and overachieving this season. We are young, hungry, and play with fire. None of those adjectives accurately describes Carlos......except hungry, but more for wings than wins. Unfortunately, in light of the above reasons it may be highly unlikely that GM Luhnow can move Carlos this season for more young prospects who are turning this organization around. So, the best we can do is start a CarlosWatch to count down to the last day of his massive contract. I know I won't be the only Astros fan celebrating the day his 18.5 million comes off the payroll.

So I don't hate Carlos, but I do hate that he plays for my team. Some of my hatred stems from things outside his control (payroll) and others he clearly can be blamed for (Fat). I wish Carlos nothing but the best when his time in Houston is done......I just wish that time would come sooner rather than later.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Must Win????

The Astros had a wildly successful Opening Day last night, save for the minor detail of not winning the game. Tonight is obviously not a "must win" game in the long 162 game season. That phrase is thrown about in sports too often, and the reality is that game 2 counts exactly the same as game 162. But the Astros, possibly more than any other team in MLB, cannot afford to get off to a slow start. They absolutely need to win tonight and/or throw at least 3 wins together on this home stand to begin the year. Why? Well, if you're reading this blog you're probably a die hard Astros fan who is excited about the new ownership and future no matter what happens on this home stand, but look around you. A LOT of those "fans" who packed MMP last night don't understand a double switch, let alone the intricacies of a rebuilding process. New ownership will need more to hang their hat on when the second home stand begins than just $5 beers and bringing your own peanuts to the game. The crowds will return when they start to see the fruits of the rebuilding process on the field, but it would be great for this franchise, under new ownership, to generate some early excitement about a competitive ball club that can carry throughout the long summer.

Let's be honest too, if the Astros were to begin the year 0-5, the idiots in the media would be circling like sharks. You know the ones, they cracked ridiculous jokes about the Astros in their season previews. They've already started with the, "Astros are on pace to go 0-162" jokes. They are looking for ANY reason to flex their humor muscles at the expense of our hometown 9. Personally, I think a good start could be extremely valuable for this young team. Getting some positive media, and a boost in support from the fans could go a long way toward expediting this rebuilding process we have begun.

Is game 2 a "must win"? Of course not. But if this team struggles to get out of the gate the effects WILL be felt. The bandwagon fans will hop off, and the Houston-bashing media (sometimes the most brutal are the local ones who should have our back) will pounce. I'll be there for all 162 games like every season, and I'm sure if you're reading this you will too, but there are a lot of fans who will turn on this team quickly. Here's hoping a strong rest of the home stand will kick start a new era of Houston baseball. Despite the result, last night was a great hint at how this city can become a terrific baseball town. Go Astros!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Puma on the Prowl for Houston


"I feel basically like the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros." - Lance Berkman

I have been itching to write on this subject for several days now. I've always appreciated Berkman's candid responses to questions, and his self-deprecating humor. Baseball is sorely lacking players who both speak their mind, and don't take themselves too seriously. Lance was a fan favorite while crushing baseballs from both sides of the plate and constantly producing during the Astros most successful decade in their history, but little did we know his Houston legacy would be cemented while playing for the hated Cardinals.

Back in November I wrote an article for Apedonkey.com asking who would be the DH for Astros fans. Little did I know four months later that the DH who would step up to bat for the city of Houston would be a current St. Louis Cardinal! What Berkman said was what we as Astros fans have been trying to convey (all while being drowned out by our apparent East Coast transplanted Houston media). Moving a team that has been in the NL for 50 years is unfair and it sucks! We didn't have a say in it, and we've been told at every turn to shut our mouths and enjoy it (because, after all, the great Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers play in this new superior league!). But Lance Berkman has a much bigger pedestal than some dinky blog that a few dozen people read. He was able to express the outrage of what happened to OUR team in a way that got the attention of the heavy hitters. As Andy from  The Houston Sports Counterplot likes to say....the Puma will #DefendHouston, and for that, Astros fans will never forget him.

Had Lance stopped right there and left his comments about Darth Selig and MLB speak for themselves, he would have solidified his place in Houston lore, but he went on this week to make the rounds on Houston radio sounding like someone who was trying to run for mayor of Astro Nation. I heard him interviewed on both 790 and 1560 this week, and while he toned down the "extortion" vernacular (he was probably threatened by Selig's henchmen), he continued to defend his position that the Astros fans (himself as a Houstonian included) had received a raw deal from MLB. He was also asked about the best all-around players he's played with. I'm sure Richard Justice and the rest of the baseball "know-it-alls" would expect Puma to wax poetic for 30 minutes about the great Albert Pooholes (a recognized villain in Houston), but instead Lance didn't skip a beat by naming Jeff Bagwell the best all around player he's played with. GASP! You could hear the outrage from Bristol! Surely Pooholes was second right? NO! He then quickly added that Craig Biggio would come in a close second. I am not ashamed to admit that I have never had feelings for another man quite like I did for Puma at that moment.

On Tuesday I joked that Crane should immediately erect a giant Puma statue in front of MMP, but is it really that far fetched? Lance was already beloved by Astros fans. A hometown hero from Rice whose outspoken honesty was a welcome departure from the ho hum daily detachment of Biggio and Bagwell. Jimmy Wynn's jersey is retired (rightfully so), but in one more season Puma racked up 103 more HR's and 371 more RBI's! He holds the single season records for extra base hits and RBI's. No decade in Astros history was as successful as the one Puma played in. And now, we find out that more than anybody else associated with the team, Lance Berkman cares deeply about our beloved franchise. Last season I took a picture with my newborn son and 4 year-old daughter next to the Biggio/Bagwell statues behind the Crawford Boxes. I look forward to telling them how their Dad got to see Biggio's 3000th hit in person, and the magical MVP season Bagwell had in 1994. But rest assured, I will also tell them about one of the greatest switch hitters of all-time, who not only played on our first ever World Series team, but who loved our franchise long after he left. Thank you Lance Berkman. Houston will not forget how you stood up for us.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I just came to.......Is that Lasagna?

I'm still here?

Remember when you had that girlfriend who just wasn't the same girl you met a few months ago, was beginning to act a little crazy, and started increasing the boredom factor 10 fold every time she showed up? You tried to go to her place to drop the news softly that, "Things just aren't working out".....but when you got there she was whipping up your FAVORITE dinner? Now, you couldn't just pull the trigger and break up with her under those circumstances, so you swallowed your pride and "stuck it out" another week for the sake of stellar pasta. That's kind of how I feel today with Kevin Martin. I mean it was one thing that the Rockets couldn't make the big move that has eluded Daryl Morey his entire career, but I always felt like March 15 would be the last day KMart resided in Houston. He's played basketball like a woman scorned ever since David Stern ensured Rocket mediocrity and vetoed the Gasol trade. I guess all we can do now is hope that this "relationship extension" will reignite Martin's love for the game.....looks like we will be needing him for a first round playoff series.

What's that? Yes, even though the Rockets didn't land the big fish, I think they improved their team enough to lock down a playoff spot. We picked up Marcus Camby for a 2nd rounder, a baby giraffe(Thabeet), and a bag of peanuts(Flynn). He will surely provide better depth off the bench, and a much needed defensive presence when the Bert has to sit. Camby has a home in Houston so I'm sure he is excited to come down here and play during a postseason run. I would predict an early bump in his play for the first few weeks as he experiences some renewed excitement at the tender young age of 37. Camby will never be confused with Dwight Howard, but he is a solid pro who should do nothing but improve Houston's chances to lock one of the 8 playoff spots down.

The other move needs a little closer examination. On the surface it seems as though the Rockets traded Jordan Hill for the Los Angeles version of Stockton(Fisher). However, sources close to the Rockets have filled me in on the true reason they traded for one of Houston's most hated sons. You may remember a certain elbow that Scola took in a game against the Lakers once.....well apparently so does D Morey. Immediately after the trade, word broke that the Rockets were interested in other pg's and looking to buyout Fisher. Perfect! Apparently the Rockets will "rent" Fish for just long enough to allow Scola a chance to "rectify" the situation behind closed doors. Once Scola gets his revenge....adios Fisher....welcome back beloved Kyle Lowry. Win-win. Never fear Houstonians, you WILL NOT have to sell your soul to Stern and buy a red and yellow "Fisher" jersey(just threw up in my mouth a little). Thank God. Oh yeah....we also got Dallas' protected pick in the deal as well....that may have had something to do with it too.

One last thing. Watching THESE Rockets as constituted is not the worst job that NBA fans have. The last two games have shown that when this team moves the ball, plays motivated, and puts some effort on the glass(Camby should help) they can compete on a nightly basis with anybody in the West. How would you like to be an NBA fan in Charlotte, Toronto, or even New York? I get a lot of basketball pleasure from watching guys like Lowry, Dragic, Lee, Patterson, Scola and others each night. So Martin gets a stay of separation, the front court is improved, and Scola gets to settle an old score.......maybe not what Morey had in mind but......I for one can't wait for the stretch run. Go Rockets!