Saturday, January 3, 2009

Interview with Alyson Footer

Alyson Footer covers the Astros for I once was able to have dinner with The Great Milo Hamilton and I asked him who he thought did the best job covering the Astros. His reponse? Alyson Footer. So Astros County sent along some questions, and she took time out of her holiday to answer. Here they are - and thanks again, Alyson - Honorary Citizen of Astros County.

Have you always been - or are you currently - an Astros fan?
There’s a fine line between being a reporter and being a fan. I’m a fan of baseball and having been around the Astros for 12 years (four as a front office employee and eight as a reporter for, I am always hoping for the best for the team. But my job is to report objectively on the goings-on of all things Astros, and there’s no fandom involved there. The best way I can describe it is, when they do well, I’m happy for them, and when the season is over, I’m happy for me.

What's the organizational focus of the Astros this off-season?
The Astros will have a $100 million payroll but had to shed some of the larger contracts in order to stay under the umbrella. Ed Wade is attempting to keep the team competitive while adhering to budget guidelines. That’s why they have Boone instead of Wigginton and Hampton instead of Wolf. Whether this works remains to be seen. They’re building the farm system and the organization should be in a good place in the next couple of years, but 2009 could be thin at the big league level. The roster is pretty much intact at this point.

What can Astros fans make of some of the lower-profile moves Wade has made?
It’s not been a happy offseason for the fans, but all I can say is, it is what it is. Teams cannot build farm systems overnight. Better times are ahead but these things take time. I like the Hampton signing – if he’s healthy, he has better stuff than Wolf. The only thing is, obviously, we don’t know if he can stay healthy and clearly, he has struggled in that department for many, many years. I like the Boone signing. He’s a professional hitter, a veteran, a good right-handed hitting complement to Geoff Blum at third. I’m not that impressed with the Jason Michaels signing but he’s a bench player, a pinch-hitter and certainly he’s not going to make or break the team. I give this offseason a C.

Who is the heart of the '09 team?
Berkman. Oswalt. Lee. Valverde.

What is the league-wide perception of the Astros organization?
The general feeling is they have a good nucleus of players with very little waiting in the wings down on the farm. They were once the toast of baseball in terms of organizational talent; now, they’re at the bottom. They’ve made some bad decisions and had some bad luck in the last few years. But they’re never a team other teams take for granted. They always find a way to be there right at the end of the season, even if they weren’t good for four months. As long as they have an ace, two superstar sluggers and an All-Star closer, they’ll continue to garner respect around the league, even if they’re not regarded as elite, as they used to be.

Who is your favorite Astro to talk to?
Past players include Billy Wagner, who we all know isn’t afraid to voice his opinions. Jeff Bagwell always gave you good insight and never relied on clichés. He also understands the job we have to do and respects us. Brad Ausmus is the most professional player I’ve ever been around. Always accessible, returns phone calls during the offseason, understands that in a lot of ways, we’ll all co-workers. Current players: Lance Berkman, Wesley Wright, Doug Brocail, Roy Oswalt. The list really goes on and on. Lots of great ones along the way. Mark Loretta is another one, as is Blum.

Give us one reason to think that '09 won't be a complete disaster...
Because they have good players – Berkman, Lee, Oswalt, Pence, Valverde. Guys like Tejada do wonders for a clubhouse chemistry. They may not win the division, but they’ll be competitive. They’re not the Pirates. They have plenty of talent at the big league level, and they’re always fun to watch.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Call For Stories: Random Encounters

Have you had a random encounter with a member of the Houston Astros organization - players, managers, staff, scouts, front office personnel? E-mail it to and we'll post the best stories as they come in.

Comment of the far.

Thanks to El Mamey, who posted a comment regarding Miguel Tejada on the post about Miggy playing for Aguilast Cibaenas in the next six weeks. If you missed the comment, I have reposted it in its entirety below...

I'm Dominican, and Águilas Cibaeñas hardcore fan since 7 years old. I truly don't understand why people wonders when Miggy says he's willing to play for Águilas this winter (once again) after saying many many times he wouldn't (once again, too).

He plays NOT for the money. I'm sure we all agree that the payment we give him is nothing compared to whatever he earns playing for the Astros or any MLB team.

Miggy is a complicated man, but he's also very simple when it comes to this sport. He plays for the pleasure and for the fans in his native Dominican Republic. He's so lucky to be a very healthy, strong man that does play many many games without injuries or sickness, and so, he enjoys being on the field.

I guess this won't sound very professional, but I'm sure he cannot feel the same "love" for playing on the MLB than playing here in the DR. It's not the same, and I hope this won't sound disrespecting to you (God forbids). I envy all the technology and commodities you have in any MLB baseball field, but you should envy how passionate the Dominican baseball fan is about his/her team and players.

Miggy is a hero in my country, and is very respected by all teams and all players. And most important, he's a leader, a motivator... the Águilas are down 0-3 in the post-season, but just by suggesting he's going to play for us, the whole team changes to better. That's something be cannot pay in any way.

Believe me, for the normal baseball fan in DR, it's magic paying less than 10 dollars to see Miguel Tejada (among other MLB stars) playing so hard for a team. That's why we adore him. He never missed a season since 1995 playing for the Äguilas, even during his streak of consecutive games in MLB, he always played for us too.

The Águilas fans are more than grateful for him. The season he decides (and stay!) off the team, we would not condem him ever. He already gained a place in the All-Time glories in my country, in my team, in the history, in my heart.

...hmmm... I speak too much... I better stop now... sorry!!

PS: I know that cheerleader... as well as the rest of them... That picture of Ivonne is famous... ;)

Check the Águilas Cheerleaders of this season

A word or two about El Mamey's insightful post. It's true about the level of fandom in the Dominican Republic compared to that of MLB teams. I ordered ESPN Deportes a couple of seasons ago in order to watch Caribbean Basin baseball, and the excitement and conviction showed by fans was unreal. The only thing I can possibly compare it to is Premier League Football.

As far as the level of joy Miggy puts into the sport, you can't deny it. All season long Richard Justice would talk about the energy and enthusiasm Tejada brought to the clubhouse, and with $13 million coming in 2009, playing for Aguilas Cibaenas is purely heart - there's no economic factor whatsoever.

Excellent post - keep them coming. And El Mamey, thanks for writing. If you want to be the first international citizen of Astros County, shoot me an e-mail.

E-mail Astros County with your thoughts and comments.

Max Sapp update

Alyson Footer is reporting Max Sapp is now breathing on his own, without the aid of a respirator.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett said Sapp has suffered significant memory loss as Sapp was unconscious for "quite some time," and is expected remain hospitalized.

Best wishes, Max.

Welcome, Citizen Jim

Our next installment on profiles of citizens of Astros County. Want to be included? Send an e-mail.

Jim from Slidell, LA

How long have you been an Astros fan?:
Since 1986 - earliest season I can remember.

What is your favorite feature at Minute Maid Park?:
The retractable roof.

If Roy Oswalt were to go insane and bring his bulldozer to the clubhouse, who do you think is the first to get dozed?
Humberto Quintero.

On the current team, which players - if any - are locks for the Hall of Fame?
None yet, but Roy and Lance are on the right path. A few more years at their current pace and they'll be in.

Who was the biggest player the Astros let "get away?"
Johan Santana is the first one that comes to mind, but I think Carlos Beltran was the biggest one. Look at what's happened to center field since he left.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Debut of the MLB Network

Glory of glories! 2009 is already better than 2008 with the debut of the MLB Network (DirecTV 213, if you've got it).

However, if you don't get the MLB Network and you're an Astros fan, there's little reason to rush to get it for Astros content. That's because...uh...there isn't any. It's a mouthpiece for the Yankees/Red Sox/Cardinals conglomerate - like MLB. I'll keep an eye out and let you know when Cathedrals of the Game: Minute Maid Park is on.

Happy 2009.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Max Sapp ill with meningitis

The Houston Chronicle is reporting that prospect Max Sapp has been hospitalized in Orlando with a particularly severe case of meningitis.

Assistant GM Ricky Bennett said Sapp is breathing with the help of a respirator and has been suffering from occasional seizures.

The "best" part of this article? Regard the closing sentence:

Bennett was unsure how the illness would affect Sapp for the upcoming season.

Are you kidding? Who cares? Best wishes for Max and his family for a full recovery.

Might Miguel Tejada go back on his word?

(That's the kind of sensationalist headline writing, with no real tie to the story, that pisses me off. Happy New Year's Eve.) is reporting that Miguel Tejada might decide to play in the Dominican Winter League, after all.

Just over a month after saying he would not be playing winter ball for the first time in his career - in order to prepare for the 2009 season - Tejada couldn't stand seeing Aguilas Cibaenas lose on television anymore. So he flew to the Dominican to watch them lose in the dugout. Because that's more personally satisfying.

What do you think? Might, at some point this season, Miggy get upset watching the Orioles lose on television and show up in Toronto in the dugout wearing a suit?

Whatever it takes to get his spring training started early, I'm all for it.

However, I am concerned with the company they keep. I mean, this is one of their cheerleaders...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Some Minor League transaction notes

The Astros made a couple of minor league moves - signing two first-basemen: John Gall and Josh Pressley. They also signed Reggie Abercrombie to a minor league contract with a Spring Training invitation. Getting the pink slip was pitcher Agustin Pinales.

John Gall: 30-year old righty (cousin of Eric Byrnes). Hit a home run over Taiwan, carrying Team USA to the bronze medal game of the 2008 Olympics. Gall hit .312 for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes in 2008 with 112 hits in 98 games. Struck out 50 times, walking 31 times in 359 at-bats (.369 OBP and .493 SLG) last year.

Josh Pressley: 28-year old righty who spent the last two seasons in the independent Atlantic League. Killed the ball last year with a .354 average (173x489) with 30 HR and 101 RBI in 133 games. 76:73 (K:BB) and a .605 SLG earning the Atlantic League's 2008 Player of the Year award.

Agustin Pinales: 21-year old righty appearing in 16 games for Greenville in 2007 allowing 36 earned runs in 39.1 innings, going 1-4 with an 8.24 ERA.

Monday, December 29, 2008

So...Run-DMc favors a salary cap. Why?

In an article entitled "Astonished by spending, McLane favors a salary cap," Run-DMc gave us these nuggets:

“We would love to have a salary cap, but the (players') union has been very resistant to that,”

“These are challenging times for banks and car dealerships,” McLane said. “None of us have knowledge of what the economy is going to do, and that’s a concern for everyone.”

“A lot of people are sitting with season-ticket renewal forms in front of them, choosing to wait awhile and sort things out and see what they‘re able to do with whatever resources they have,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll make a decision to commit to the ballclub if we get off to a good start in April, and some of the people sitting on the sideline will feel they need to get in and get involved.”

A few things to note: it's well-documented how diverse the playoffs have been in baseball over the last eight years (seven different World Series champions). Over the last eight years, the NBA has seen five different Champs; the NFL - six. Hockey? I used to remember a game called that...

But here's the bottom line. A smart owner puts smart people in charge, and everything takes care of itself. The NFL has a salary cap and the Patriots have (until yesterday) what could be considered a dynasty. The San Antonio Spurs have thrived. Handfuls of teams have the pieces in place to compete in any financial circumstance.

I said it before, a high salary does not guarantee success. The Mariners had a $100 million payroll last year, and lost 100 games - the first time in MLB history that has ever happened. Here are your top ten payrolls in 2008: Yankees (missed playoffs), Tigers (missed playoffs), Mets (missed playoffs), Red Sox (lost in ALCS), White Sox (lost in ALDS), Angels (lost in ALDS), Cubs (forgot to play in NLDS), Dodgers (lost in NLCS), Mariners (forgot to play in 2008), Braves (missed playoffs).

So high salaries obviously - and again, this is well-documented - don't translate to playing in October.

Instead, what we're seeing is teams who spend money in player development and scouting are taking over. The Phillies spent $111 million LESS on payroll than the Yankees. The Rays spent half of what the Astros spent on 2008 payroll.

What Drayton seems to be forgetting is that one of the main reasons for the Astros success was two things: (a) A smart GM in Gerry Hunsicker and (b) like it or not, ponying up the money to buy Roger Clemercenary. Having smart people in personnel leads to a lower payroll, because you've constantly got an influx of young talent, which then provides the flexibility to get the missing piece in free agency. Filling nine missing pieces in free agency (Baseball a la Bronx) or running your team like you're trying to complete the 1988 Topps set doesn't work.

What Drayton really wants is Major League Baseball to force owners to not be dumb. Drayton, and that jackass in Milwaukee, wants Bud Selig to provide owners with the excuse that they're unwilling to shell out the money to make the team competitive. Because what's better than not spending the money to get Mark Teixeira? Having fans accept - without question - that your team won't be getting Mark Teixeira. That's what a salary cap does: forces fans to accept financial limitations of men who have no financial limitations.

No one put a gun to Tom Hicks' empty head to sign Alex Rodriguez to a $252 million deal. No one made Drayton sign Carlos Lee to a $100 million contract. The owners put themselves in this mess, and they're pissed that Hank and Hal are showing them for what they are: greedy.

Jim Bouton said "for a hundred years the owners screwed the players. For 25 years the players have screwed the owners - they've got 75 years to go." Drayton doesn't like the salaries the Yankees are paying? Let's not forget that it was Drayton who signed Clemens to a $20 million deal for 25 games.

And as for Drayton's appeal to season-ticket owners with renewal forms sitting on the milk crate that has become the dining room table? That's hypocritical. He's asking Astros fans to invest in the team in an uncertain economic time. Maybe if he took his own advice we would follow suit.

What the heck happened, Michael Bourn?

Prized prospect. Center fielder of the future. Dangerous speed, above-average power. Well, at least he has the speed part in the bag.

What the heck happened? He was the center-piece in the Lidge deal - which, I've said it before and I'll say it again - there's no way Lidge does what he did in '08 in Houston.

Let's take a look at Michael Bourn...

Some surface level stats:
.242 against righties. .190 against lefties. / .249 at home. .210 on the road.
.190 during the day.

April - .195 / May - .214 / June - .274 / July - .261 / August - .137 / September - .274

Three teams he drilled: The Yankees (.455), the Cubs (.333), the Pirates (.354).
Three teams he crapped the bed against: The Giants (0-for-21), the Dodgers (.129), the Nationals (.118).

Hits .346 on the first pitch, .333 at 0-1. When behind in the count (0-1, 0-2, 1-2), Bourn hit .204 (32-for-157). So the key is to not swing at bad pitches, right? That's stupid advice, because everybody has that goal.

Let's take a look at his opposition. We'll consider pitchers he faced in 5+ at-bats.

Chicago Cubs:
Carlos Zambrano, 1x7; Ryan Dempster, 2x6

Cincinnati Reds:
Bronson Arroyo, 1x6; Johnny Cueto, 3x5

Colorado Rockies:
Aaron Cook, 0x7; Ubaldo Jimenez, 0x5

Florida Marlins:
Ricky Nolasco, 0x6

LA Dodgers:
Chad Billingsley, 1x7; Hiroki Kuroda, 0x6

Milwaukee Brewers:
Manny Parra, 2x8; Dave Bush, 2x5

NY Mets:
John Maine, 2x6

Philadelphia Phillies:
Adam Eaton, 2x7; Brett Myers, 2x6; Kyle Kendrick, 4x6

Pittsburgh Pirates:
Ian Snell, 4x10; Ross Ohlendorf, 3x7; Tyler Yates, 1x5

San Francisco Giants:
Tim Lincecum, 0x5

St. Louis Cardinals:
Adam Wainwright, 2x9; Kyle Lohse, 0x8; Brad Thompson, 0x5

Bourn also has an interesting hitting zone, as well. He hits well up and outside, yet chases pitches inside (63%) and low (70%). So it's like Bourn doesn't really know his own strike zone. He pulls the ball, too - 41% of the balls in play go to right field.

Reason for hope (albeit wary hope - the most satisfying kind):

1. He showed a tremendous amount of improvement in the Dominican League this winter.

2. September was perhaps his strongest month of the season, meaning that April-August was a very steep learning curve. September featured Bourn's highest OBP and AVG (tied with June).

3. Really, 2009 can't get much worse, right?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Sunday treat...

Welcome, Citizen Ty

Today we welcome Citizen Ty to Astros County!

Ty, from Austin, TX

How long have you been an Astros fan?
Probably about 23 out of 29 years. Didn’t really follow them when I lived in San Antonio, but figured it out after a trip to the Dome with Dad.

What was the biggest signing in team history?
Roger Clemens seemed to carry them to the World Series. If that’s the biggest game on the biggest stage, then him. Unfortunately.

What is your most memorable Astros moment?
Being in attendance of the 14 inning Game 3 of said World Series. I credit this memory directly to The Constable himself pointing out that there was still time to get in on the lottery for tickets. I won. I shoulda taken The Constable. Sorry, Big C. (Ed Note: No problem. I guess).

If the Astros get rid of (insert player here), I'll burn all my Astros stuff:
Lance “The Franchise” Berkman.

Who is your favorite all-time Astro?
Hard to top Glen Davis. I used to love that guy. Collected maybe 35-40 baseball cards of his. They’re probably still around. Somewhere.

How many games will the '09 Astros win?
83. Of which 36 will come in the last 40 games. Why do they do that?

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