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 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!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012 Astros: Why Should You Care?

Pretty much everybody in the Houston media is using the first signs of Spring as an excuse to crack on the hometown Astros. "Will they win 40 games? If no fans are left, does anyone hear the outrage over moving to the American League? Can we start football season in April?" etc. etc. etc. The thing is, there are still a lot of die hard Astros fans like myself that I have met over the last few months and the common thread between most of us: growing optimism. Call me crazy (you wouldn't be the first), but I am more excited about the start of this baseball season than I have been in several years. Here's my top 5 reasons why:

1. New Ownership. Everything I have read, seen, and heard about the trio of Crane, Postolos, and Luhnow has me believing that the Astros are in much better hands. Let's get one thing straight.....I HATE moving to the AL, but that was never an option for Crane and co. (they were forced by Darth Selig). It now seems like the Astros have real plans in place to contend again. There is an emphasis on things like player development, statistical analysis, and a strong minor league system which is refreshing given that the previous regime seemed to think those things were all inconsequential. We are going to have even more reasons to get out and enjoy beautiful MMP with the reduced prices, and I think we'll be bringing our own snacks into the juicebox very soon to see a team competing in the deep AL West.

2. Prospects. Prospects. Prospects. Baseball unlike other sports has the ability to get fans excited about players who won't play on their team for several years. The previous administration didn't have the faith to believe that fans would buy into an all out youth movement/rebuilding effort. The more I talk to Astro faithful, the more I think we're ready to not only buy into a youth movement, but EMBRACE I would imagine Carlos Lee embraces the last taco of a Grande Meal. We have more prospects in the minors than we have in a while thanks to some end of regime Ed Wade deals, but don't take my word for it. Check out my man Andy's top ten Astros prospects blog over at The Houston Sports Counterplot. If that doesn't get you excited for the future then maybe the upcoming inaugural draft for Luhnow and company will. The Astros have committed far more than the $5.75 (rough guesstimate) they have been spending on draft picks in recent years AND the silver lining of last year's debacle is they get the #1 overall pick. Should be the most exciting draft I can remember as an Astros fan!

3. The Young Guns. The aforementioned youth movement got a head start last season. There will be a LOT of young faces at the big league level this year, and that will make for a very interesting season. Lyles, Bud, Martinez, Altuve, Castro, Wallace etc. These will all be names the big league club is counting on in 2012. The two names I will be watching the closest are Bud Norris and Jason Castro. Bud has shown flashes of being a top of the rotation guy, and if he can become an anchor for that rotation the Astros rebuilding effort will take a major step forward. Q is really an underrated catcher. Nothing great, but he gets the job done. However you know what you're getting with Quintero, and Snyder for that matter. Castro was a former top prospect, and if he returns from injury in 2012 to show signs of being an above average bat who can also handle a big league staff.....then again, the rebuilding efforts take a major step forward. In my opinion, if just two of the youngsters who will start out as everyday players in April can show that they can be part of a contending team in a few years.... then the Astros will be happy. Hopefully we are seeing the first wave of what will be a steady stream of young talent coming to the bigs.

4. Luhnow Trade Skills. This may be #4 on the list but could be #1 on my interest-o-meter. What will the first Jeff Luhnow trades garner the Astros? Will this regime have a knack for seeing talent in other teams' systems? Obviously most fans would like to see the Astros turn Wandy, Myers, and possibly others into yet more young talent for a club at least a few years away from serious contention. Admittedly, I have been cool towards the recent news that Myers will be the team's closer. I guess I was hanging onto a pipe dream where Brett resembled 2010 Myers for a few months and tricked teams into over bidding for his inning chewing services. I'll be the first to hop on board though if a) it means more innings for the previously mentioned young arms b) Myers garners more attention as a closer and creates a wider trade spectrum for he and Wandy (separate markets for starter/closer) and c) if it means he grows the goatee 4 feet longer to become a more menacing presence out of the bullpen. If Luhnow were somehow to turn Carlos Lee by the trade deadline (I'm thinking something like the deal Stillwater got for Penny Lane in Almost Famous), then I would probably begin the petition to get a Luhnow statue erected outside MMP.

5. End of an Era. Speaking of the big fella, this should be the end of the Carlos Lee era in Houston. Despite silly rumors of him DHing next year(if there's ANY truth to that I will carve my eyeballs out with my Biggio starting lineup), there should be NO WAY he is in Astros discussions at this time next year. That my friends is encouraging news. Every game this season means we are one game closer to Adios Caballo.

Although win/loss record won't be a very good indicator of how this season goes, I will predict the Astros to finish 70-92. You may look at that and decide the Astros aren't worth your time(you probably were only a huge fan during a few months in 2005), OR like myself you may choose to look at the reasons I've outlined above to be excited about our Astros. They can take us out of the NL(BUD!!!!!), they can make us play home games in Milwaukee, they can even refuse to let one of the great 1b of all time into the HOF.....but they can NEVER take the Astros away from the fans. AL West here we come!