As I wandered around MMP early Saturday morning, one thought kept sticking out at me "Why does the scoreboard show the AstBros losing 9-7?"
I know that we are a long ways from Opening Day (April 6th) but this can't be a good omen for the upcoming season. Is this just an unfortunate reminder of the final home game of last season? Was anyone even there to see the end of our boys last game?
After some quick checking, they did lose that last game 13-6 to the Cards. So whats the deal? Well...
The Astros finish up their Winter Caravan by pulling into Union Station and trying to obliviate all memories of 2011. There are new faces on the side of the building and new faces on the dais.
I sat down in the first talking baseball session of the morning, fans were greeted by 63 year vet, Milo Hamilton. Milo is a strange cat. He seems to be reinvigorated by the long offseason and is talking three more years. I'm actually surprised my man can still find the stadium, but more power to him. Brett and Dave will be herding cats trying to keep him on topic.
Next to Milo was George Postolos, Jim Cranes right hand man. This is when the Astros started pouring my Kool-Aid. GP came out blasting with his accomplishments, and I think that was the right move. He has a resume most of us dream of, and connections that a man his age should not be able to have. I like knowing the Houston 9 are being led by a guy at his professional peak, not a guy sailing off into the sunset. He still has more to prove and the experience to pull the trigger without peeps questioning him.
GP went on to make some fine points about why Mr. Crane chose to pursue the AstBros instead of other options. The immaculate condition of MMP was a big selling point. It may be weird and have some non-traditional playing conditions but I'll be damned if it doesn't even need touch-up paint. The TV deal that's in place with the HouRox, is only going to get better next year and Houston's economy is in pretty good shape compared to most places.
The main point GP wanted to leave fans with is he wants to invest in becoming the best organization with the best talent. And the first step was identifying a new GM. He looked under every rock, in every cave, went to palm readings and got recommendations from his barber. All roads led to the same guy, Jeff Luhnow, formerly of the Redbirds. Mr. Luhnow was the architect of the Championship team last year, drafting and scouting almost the entire roster and building a pipeline of MiLB talent that gives Baseball Americas pants a rise.
The next step in packing the Juicebox with rabid fans is to find ways to have fun at the ballpark. Everything from free family friendly initiatives to $5 beers and a wine bar, there will be affordable ways to get your Shooting Star swerve on. Side note: I brought my first bottle of water in and used it to wash down a protein bar from home. This made my day. No hot dog and soda in this temple.
When the topic of the dreaded name change came up, GP made it clear that every option in making the fan experience is on the table, and the openness of Mr. Crane to all possibilities and the press needing a good headline combined to make a throw away comment a national news story. In effect, they accomplished a huge objective by gaining attention for all the real iniatives being put in place. How you like them apples?
Next up was the club's 1st choice for leading our organiztion's player evaluation and acquisitions, Mr. Luhnow. Who will be forever pegged the GQGM by Brad Mills after Jeff took a friendly jab at Brad's lack of follicular prowess. My Kool-aid glass is nearly half full at this point. GQGM's resume was already exalted by GP so he dove right into his plans. He'll be in Dominican tomorrow to help out our Latin team and then head onto Kissimmee after that for Spring Training. Did you know he speaks Spanish? Maybe he can tell Carlos to put down the fork in a way he'll understand (At least Dierker agrees with me on that. If you witnessed his diatribe about Carlos, you will not forget it.) GQGM went on to let fans know that 9 players have already reported and doors were opened on Feb. 1st for players to fire it up if so inclined. the caravan was a huge success this year from the standpoint of getting to meet fans and take in all their ideas (Hey guy that want's to abolish the closer role, shut up). Fan interaction is a big objective for the new front office and GQGM is at the front of that wave, using twitter and good old fashioned handshaking. When Mr. Crane returns from Pebble Beach, you can expect the same from him as well. It is a new day.
Mr. Luhnow then went on to promise that the one thing the organization can control from the players is effort. We're going to see guys busting their proverbial tails night in and night out. This is how you win Houston fans hearts, and he really saw that first hand at the Texans playoff game this year. We adore our blue collar guys, and that's what he expects from his players and coaches. We're going to out work and out hustle everyone else.
With 21 rookies last year there were a lot of chances to learn about themselves according to Brad Mills. Losing took its toll on the group and he wants all the guys to remember how it felt to get bent over a barrel repeatedly, learn from history and all that.
This group of guys has a couple all-stars waiting to break out and with the addition of select free agents and the #1 overall draft pick , there will be an influx of talent and open competition at almost every spot. While having the top spot in the draft is a blessing this year GQGM does not want it to ever happen again. they'll be spending more than every other team on the draft and trying to keep up in international signings. All these pieces will give us the ability to trade for established talent when the time comes. My glass is getting full.
Coach Brad Mills was the last guy on the stage to get a turn at the mic, and he used it to talk about the competitions going into this season. There are 61 Bros headed to camp and a few extra MiLB catchers to spell the 4 ML invites. (I spied Chris Snyder signing today, that's a big dude. Looks like a masher.) Coach Mills is excited to add some proven ML players like Jack Cust, Zach Duke and Livan Hernandez but the name that came up all day from everyone was Jed Lowrie. They are expecting huge things from him and Mills also believes we have a unscratched lotto ticket with Fernando Martinez. I love the optimism this time of year.
Some final notes from the day:
-We will be teaching winning at every level. the expectation is to develop talent while winning. Will effect player choices in free agency and the draft.
-Brad Mills reads Jerry Maxwell books on leadership.
-CBA changes this offseason are positive for Astros
-GQGM is off the market ladies. He recently got hitched. Congrats
-The first Astroline guest (of February) will be Jim Crane. I'll be listening for sure.
-Altuve got 900 AB's between all the leagues last year. Had to get him to take a short break before spring.
-Coaches have been given player capsules that contain Bio's, Headshots, Video and career stats for their meetings Feb. 18-19.
-Expect CJ, Bogusevic and Wallace to get every chance to win jobs outright.
-Bud Norris has matured into a staff leader, and has my vote to be the Opening Day starter. Used this offseason to mentor young gun Jarred Cosart. That's time well spent Bud.
-Bud wants to be a lifelong Astro, loves Houston
-Bud is inspired by Roy O and how he evolved as a pitcher throughout his career, and hopes to emulate his success.
-Bud also had a great line of pitching coaches coming up and credits each one for maximizing his current skill set.
-JD Martinez feels lucky to be at ML already. Once he got his confidence it was only a matter of time before he hit his way to Houston.
-JD's mom is the President of his fan club and keeps him humble while getting him interactions with fans.
-JD's unique batting stance is a product of evolution over many years. It is not an imitation of anyone as most believe.
-Larry Dierker's fondest baseball memory was the ceremony for the all-Astrodome team before the final game in 1999. 30 minutes of baseball heaven.
-LD is excited about a uniform change and mentioned all former designs are being considered, even the navy and gold.
-John McMullen's wife hates the color orange. That was the reason we abandoned the Rainbow look. Crazy.
-Flashback Friday's guarantee throwbacks including batting helmets and hats all season. There will be 2 jersy giveaways and the rest will be available for purchase.
-The Walk of Fame will be opened this year honoring all players with their numbers retired and Milo and Gene Elston as well. Plaques will be placed outside MMP.
Play ball kids! $15 for 5 swings on the field was a great way to raise money for the Urban Youth Academy. But not having kids bats was a huge mistake. I saw a 40 pound girl try and swing a 34 inch piece of maple out of necessity.
So about that losing scoreboard. It was probably an omen after its all said and done, but I'll be happy to see us go down swinging. It feels like 1962 or 1991 in Houston right now and thats not a bad thing.
Before I walked back to truck, I slammed that glass of Kool-aid down, and it was good. Baseball season is here and I'm ready to live-blog. Who's coming with me?