Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day = Father's Day

Opening Day of the baseball season is one of the biggest holidays we celebrate here in America. Sure football is king right now, but baseball is still America's past time. Sunday afternoons encourage all day couch consumption, but to many people, baseball encourages family and friends. Football is best consumed with a gigantic bowl of nachos, sitting in front of a 50' HD television screen. Baseball is best consumed at the park with family and friends. Baseball is about Fathers and sons, even more vivid to me in light of my first son being born this week, just days before opening day. Some of my best childhood memories include my Dad and baseball. Whether it was playing catch in the front yard or sitting together in center field at the Astrodome, baseball plays a big part in our relationship. Now I am excited to share those experiences with my son. Watching Astros third baseman Chris Johnson talking with his dad, a coach for the Red Sox, before yesterday's scrimmage showed how baseball brings even adult fathers and sons together. Maybe it's the long seasons filled with ups and downs that reflect real relationships. Maybe it's the rich history of fathers and sons who became heroes and legends. Maybe it's just the idea of spending nine innings debating strategy with your Dad. Whatever your reason for enjoying baseball and fathers I hope you are as excited for this season as I am. I know the biggest highlight this year will be taking my little guy to his first game at Minute Maid Park. ........and yes I am hoping he won't have to wait as long as my Dad and I have to see the Astros win it all.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

5 Reasons To be Excited About 2011 Astros


I have heard a lot of Astro-bashing going on in the weeks leading up to the 2011 season so in an effort to drum up support for the hometown 9 here are my top 5 reasons to tune in to the Stros this year.

5. Brett Wallace.  The dude is mashing in spring training. I know, I know, that's like saying be sure to check out Transformers 3 because the 30 second preview with no acting or story lines looks AMAZING! But seriously, he is hitting over .350 and leading all ML in spring training RBI's. Wallace was a big time prospect when drafted and it should be fun to see if he can live up to at least some of those expectations.

4. The new scoreboard. Alright 2 reasons in and I am already reaching, but here is an actual conversation from earlier today. ME: "Give me your top reason to watch the Astros this year." BUDDY: "To see the new scoreboard'" Doesn't exactly make you want to go out and buy season tickets, but seeing Carlos Lee in 3 stories of HD should be mildly entertaining to say the least.



3. Brett Myers. This dude delivered in 2010. Count me among the doubters who will be looking for a slight drop off considering the sheer number of innings Myers chewed up last year, but it will be fun to see whether he had a career season or he has become a front of the rotation guy. Cautiously pessimistic.

2. Drayton selling. Like a produce sale at the grocery mart Drayton McLane has all of the sudden become VERY interested in a bargain. If you buy what Richard Justice and others are saying as of today it is nearly a done deal that Houston businessman Jim Crane will purchase the Stros. Consider me enthused. Drayton has owned this team during its most successful years, but he has also made some bone headed baseball decisions (Gerry Hunsicker). I think some new blood in ownership would be welcome by the Astros faithful.

1. Youth Movement. I've been begging for it for a few years now, and it seems as though the Astros are finally headed towards building this team back up through young players and the minor leagues. Sure losing Castro was a big blow early but we will still get to see Johnson, Wallace, Bourn, Pence, and by season's end, Jordan Lyles continuing to mature as ballplayers. Bud Norris could develop this year into a solid starter, and there are several more in the minors like Delino DeShields to watch closely.

Look, I love baseball and I love the Astros so I will be rooting them on as always. If this list doesn't excite you, then you can always heed the words of my wife, "At least there won't be that many people at the games this year." .........So there is that too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

175 YEARS 1 DAY 11 HOURS: A BBQ ADVENTURE

March 5, 2011. What do 4 junior high football coaches do to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the greatest republic in the history of mankind? They plan an all day 8 stop journey to some of the most legendary bbq establishments in the world. This is that story.
8:00am. The four of us meet up at the junior high where we all teach and are lucky enough to be employed in that  oldest and most respected Texas pastime: football. Our group consists of three lifetime Texans and one recent transplant from Michigan, where good bbq is about as common as a south Texas blizzard. The lawn chairs are packed and the ice chest is loaded as we all admit to being way too excited to sleep well the night before. Our Michigan friend has already learned that Molson Ice and ginger ale will not be making the trip. Instead we have iced down a true Texas trio of Dr. Pepper, Topo Chico, and Shiner. The only breakfast allowed today will be a tall thermos of coffee. We pull out of the parking lot with anticipation as we head out toward Snow’s bbq in Lexington.
Before we reach our first destination, we must fill up on gas and answer the call of too much morning coffee. To our astonishment our northern buddy and one native Texan have never been to the greatest rest stop known to man: Buccees. We immediately pull over when we see the beckoning beaver and fill our tank. There is no better way to get a Texas bbq trip started than by making a pit stop in a gas station where you can salute the Texas flag hanging above your urinal. We head back out on the highway and start reading articles extolling the greatness that is Snow’s bbq.
We take a couple of back roads in Lexington and suddenly like a smoky beacon in the night we catch our first glimpse of Snow’s bbq. Snow’s is only open on Saturdays until it sells out of meat, usually by 2 in the afternoon. We arrive at 10:30 and there is already a line of 20 or so kindred spirits who have traveled to this tiny town in search of what Texas Monthly has named the best bbq in the state. Snow’s looks like a 2 bedroom shack with an enormous outdoor kitchen in the backyard. As we anxiously await our turn in line, we admire Tootsie, the 75 year old angel of bbq who tends the brisket with all the love and respect that bbq this delicious demands. We grab our food and take a seat outdoors so that we can view Tootsie at work while we partake. As the four of us begin to chew the brisket all talking ceases. Some things in life are better enjoyed in silence, and let me assure you this brisket is the holy grail of meat. I’m not sure if it is the out of body brisket experience but I am almost certain I see a tear come to my buddy’s eye and a smoky halo hovering above the head of Tootsie as I let the last piece of brisket sit on my tongue and melt slowly in my mouth. 11:15 and already this trip has exceeded expectations.



Our next stop is the town of Taylor, Texas. Here we eat at two great establishments beginning with the world famous Louie Mueller’s. Mueller’s is housed in what seems like an old warehouse. Everything is covered in smoke from the kitchen and the meat is delicious. You know you are at a real bbq house when the fingerprints on your Styrofoam cup are outlined in soot. From there we head around the corner to Taylor Café where we meet the second larger than life persona on our journey. Taylor Café is owned by a WWII veteran named Vencil who has been serving up bbq for decades. His restaurant seems like something out of a King of the Hill episode. THIS is small town Texas, complete with regulars at the bar, oversized Texas flags, pool tables, and Vencil himself enjoying an afternoon nap behind the bar. We gladly pay our tab and get a picture with the legend himself before heading back out on the road.

The conversation on the road to Lockhart ranges from sports and music to family histories and near death experiences. Everyone is now feeling the weight of eating at three superb bbq restaurants but the holy trinity of bbq goodness that awaits us in Lockhart helps maintain our focus. We begin the Lockhart trifecta at Blacks where the overall quality of ribs, brisket, and sausage is as good as we have indulged in. We head down the street to Smitty’s where you can actually feel the fire from the pits as you wait to sample the ribs, which would eventually win our best ratings of the day. We park behind Kreuz Market to let our food settle and buy some time before finally mustering the intestinal fortitude to complete our Lockhart triple play. As if Lockhart hasn’t already won our hearts, Kreuz gives us the winner of our specialty meat category by serving us a gorgeous pork chop with heapings of the most delicious sauerkraut I have ever tasted. If you love bbq and have never been to Lockhart, Texas; you don’t love bbq.
At this point in our journey, doubts about finishing begin to creep into our heads, but we are merely one town and two spots from completing our meat mecca so we head toward our last stop in Luling, Texas. We quickly enter Luling City Market and are pleasantly surprised to find that despite our swollen stomachs we find the best sausage that we have eaten all day. Like a tailback running out the clock in the fourth quarter, we plow through another plate of meat and with steely resolve walk across the street to our last stop. Unfortunately Luling BBQ is nearly out of meat, but thankfully our bellies accept what little they have left as a final peace offering for the day.
As we drive back home, eleven hours after setting out on our quest for the best bbq, we can now make some conclusions. Luling has the best sausage, Smitty’s boasts the best ribs, and one day a week a little shack in Lexington serves up the best brisket in this life or the next. Blacks and Louie Mueller are amazing places to eat and most importantly in an unanimous vote we award our Michigan friend honorary Texan citizenship. How do 4 junior high football coaches celebrate the 175th anniversary of Texas? The only way Texans know how, with good friends and great BBQ!

 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Doc Rivers better Recognize

Doc Rivers might not know much about Kyle Lowry, but Rockets fans sure are learning a lot. The point guard who took over the team full time following the Aaron Brooks trade has made believers out of the whole city. What this team has always been missing is a go-to guy. Kevin Martin was obviously not that guy. He is a good piece but his main talent is drawing fouls when he has absolutely no way of actually making the shot he is taking. (An underappreciated quality by the way). He is a Tim Meadows. Capable of carrying a sketch or two, but you are never going to watch a whole movie that revolves around him. Kyle Lowry on the other hand is developing into a show stopper. He seems to genuinely relish having the ball in important situations. And why not, he is fully capable of getting to the basket or creating a shot for a teammate. Just ask Chuck Hayes aka the Chuckwagon who is having his best offensive season as a pro. Add to that Lowry's work ethic which has caused him to develop into an above average outside shooter (you might want Rondo to take some notes here Doc) and you get a player who has been scorching teams in the last month. Sure we are still missing a piece or two Rockets fans, but let's sit back and enjoy this playoff run that Kyle Lowry is taking us on and trust D Morey will continue to build a contender. Just remember when the Rockets season is over all we will have are the Astros. And oh yeah.......I'm pretty sure after last Friday Doc Rivers knows EXACTLY who Kyle Lowry is.