Thursday, February 28, 2013

Business vs. Baseball

Jim Crane has been the owner of the the Houston Astros for over a year now. He has now had one full season and offseason to remake the Astros in his vision. And remake them he did. Nearly everything about the Houston Astros has changed, from the GM to the uniform, as well as the majority of the players. But there seems to me to be an ever growing disconnect between the changes made in the Astros' baseball side and the Astros' business side. One is giving us great hope for the future, and the other often leaves us scratching our heads.

On the baseball side, Crane hired Jeff Luhnow and gave him free rein to rebuild the franchise. Luhnow came over from the Cardinals, where he was integral to the success that franchise experienced, both in the majors and on the farm. Luhnow's hand-picked team has focused on the Astros' minor league system, which was universally ranked among the worst when he took over. The results have been astounding. Through a fantastic draft and many savvy trades, the farm system has improved by leaps and bounds in just a short time. Nearly every national expert now rates the system in the top 10. You might disagree with his vision, but I don't think there is any question that he has been enacting his vision efficiently and effectively.

On the business side, can anyone really tell what is going on? The flubs and head scratchers have been fairly constant from the beginning. They started with the 70 million dollar discount for the move to the AL. There have been ugly billboards blocking the view of the downtown, twitter gaffes, the loss of a beloved broadcaster and questionable claims of poverty. The ongoing negotiations with CSN Houston are threatening to leave a large portion of Houston and the surrounding area unable to watch the Astros.  Recently, people looking for tickets on opening day noticed the ticket prices doubled. The unifying vision of the business side, if there is one, seems to be money. And that is not sitting well.

A lot of these can be viewed as perception problems. There are valid defenses for each one of these moves, and those defenses have been offered. But that misses point. The direction of the baseball side will require patience and faith. In the meantime, we want to know that the Astros care about us, as a fan. We want to know that our loyalty is not being taken for granted. If the Astros have a perception problem with the fans now, whatever the reasons, it could be devastating. A fan lost now might not be regained when the baseball side finally sees results.

For now, the baseball side is still winning over my loyalty. I am still seeing this new ownership as a positive for the Houston Astros, because it is fixing what was broken on the field. But I want to see a unified front. I want to see the baseball side saying be patient, we are working on the future, and the business side saying, we will do everything we can to help you along the way. Right now, those messages seem crossed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's almost Springer Time!

Interesting series of tweets from Brian Smith (who is a must-follow) this morning regarding George Springer and the look he's getting this Spring.

(Pasted into one coherent paragraph):

#Astros prospect George Springer said he's making his first legit spring training start today against #BlueJays. #Astros are very high on George Springer right now and his start isn't a random occurrence. Club wants to give him a full look during ST. There are several options for Springer in 2013. Could start at AA CC and move to AAA OKC. But if he's ready for AAA, he might begin there. #Astros are going to let Springer dictate his immediate future and aren't going to hold him back. When he's ready, they're ready.

Wait. How do I follow the Astros this season?

A new season with a new league and a new manager and new everything. About the only thing that remains the same are the sportswriters who think it's funny to be ignorant about the Astros. The TV deal still isn't resolved, the radio station has changed, and the Chronicle is making you pay $10/month for online content. How are you supposed to follow the Astros this season (aside from your neighborhood Astros blog & grill)?

Video version:

I live in Houston, but I'm one of those poor bastards who can't get CSN Houston. Can I watch the Astros on 

Ha ha ha. Nope! follows blackout restrictions, so you better hope that G-Post and Crane make a deal with every available provider so you can watch it.

Wait. I don't live in Houston, but in (some other city in Texas, Louisiana, or eastern New Mexico). Am I going to be able to watch Astros games on 

Ha ha ha. Nope! Because thanks to MLB's blackout map, they seem to think that you should be able to make it down to Minute Maid Park for a 7:05pm start. Even if you live in Amarillo. Now, if you live outside of Texas, Louisiana, or eastern New Mexico, you can totally get and watch the Astros.

That's stupid. Is MLB actively preventing me from being able to watch the Astros, even if I want to pay them $130? 

You're right, yep, and yes.

What is my only hope?

That your television provider pick up CSN Houston.

Can I do something where I hack the location of my computer so that thinks I'm somewhere else? 

Probably. But that's also likely illegal, so there's no way I'm giving you tips on how to do that.

What if I give my dear auntie Rachel who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan $130 to buy, and I use her login information? 

You know, that might actually work. UPDATE: From some of the comments below, MLBAM checks your IP address from the device you're logging in under - so that won't work if you're in Texas. Just another way MLBAM is trying to keep you from watching Astros games.

Can't I just go to a bar? 

This is America. You can do whatever you set your heart to. But you also have to deal with everyone at Buffalo Wild Wings who yells, "Why are we watching the Astros? I want to play trivia with Dan Patrick!" 

Radio version:

What is this 790 AM thing?

740 KTRH is no longer the flagship home of the Houston Astros, and this is weird. I haven't regularly visited Houston since 2006, and 740 AM is still the #1 pre-set on my car's radio. (The Astros Radio Network station in Temple is the second pre-set, because in driving between Abilene and Houston, I could pick up Astros games in Temple.) But never mind that. How are you supposed to listen to Astros games now? You can see the 790 AM coverage map here.

Thing is, 790 AM is a Clear Channel station. So it stands to reason that Clear Channel stations in other markets will have first pass at broadcasting Astros games. 

Who is a part of the new Astros Radio Network?

Well, here is the list of stations that are a part of the Astros Radio Network (of course this is outdated - it was last updated on March 1, 2012). So I contacted all of the radio stations listed to see if they would be broadcasting Astros games in 2013.


Austin - 1300 AM (KVET): They will broadcast Astros games when there isn't a conflict with UT athletics. The station manager said that between 90-100 games were broadcast in 2012.
Bryan/College Station - 1150 AM (KZNE)
Columbus - 98.3 FM (KULM)
Corpus Christi - 1230 AM (KSIX)
Waco - 1010 AM (KBBW)
San Antonio - 760 AM (KTKR)


Minden, LA - 1240 AM (KASO)

Don't Know/They Don't Bother Returning Emails/Phone Calls:

Livingston - 1440 AM (KETX)
Lufkin - 1260 AM (KSML)
McAllen - 1240 AM (KSOX) - From what I understand, they didn't even broadcast games last season, either.
New Orleans - 1560 AM (WSLA)
Shreveport - 1300 AM (KSYB)
Victoria - 1340 AM (KVNN)

What about that IHeartRadio or TuneIn Radio thing?

Nope. MLB Advanced Media has made sure that you cannot access internet streams of live baseball games, in order to get you to buy one of their apps - either Gameday Audio or

So I live in Houston, but I can't get 790 on my radio (or, I don't even own a freaking radio), will Gameday Audio be blacked out for me?

According to Gameday Audio ($19.95/season), there are no blackout restrictions. So you SHOULD be able to listen to all Astros games on Gameday Audio. The MLB At-Bat app is a little cheaper, and doesn't have the blackout restrictions, as well.

Hey, Chief. I have Sirius/XM. Won't that work?

Oh. Yes. 

Philip Humber hates dolphins

The New York Times had a nice write-up on Astros rotation candidate Philip Humber. Included was this fun little anecdote:

One day, his father gave him cash to buy a souvenir. Humber, who was about 6, decided to purchase the most expensive item he could afford.“It ended up being a little trinket ring, like a championship ring with the Astros’ logo,” Humber said the other day by his locker in the Astros’ clubhouse.“The next part of our vacation, we went to Sea World in San Antonio,” he said. “I had the ring on, and we go into this dolphin exhibit where you can actually get the dolphins to come up to you and touch them.“The ring falls off. It’s loud in this place, and I’m yelling to my dad, ‘I can’t reach it!’ And here comes this dolphin and swallows that ring. Oh, it was devastating, man. I hated dolphins for a long time after that.”

They also discuss his up and down career so far with a little perspective thrown in from Jeff Luhnow and pitching coach Dennis Martinez.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Paul Clemens hurts knee

From a variety of tweets, it looks as though pitcher Paul Clemens has hurt his knee. He apparently slipped off the mound trying to cover first base and "went down hard" according to Brian Smith. He did walk off the field without assistance, but we'll keep an eye on it.

Let's just stop and mention how utterly ridiculous it is that, in a Spring Training where there is an extra week of games, they're even playing this game in the rain. It's one thing to get injured in a freak Spring Training accident (see Castro, Jason), where there's really nothing anybody could have done differently. But to be playing a Spring Training game in the rain? Dumb. 

Update: Bo Porter says Clemens is "fine."

Weekend in Review

This weekend saw the first two real baseball games of the spring season, as the Astros downed the Phillies 8-3 on Saturday and tied the Mets 7-7 on Sunday.

There is almost no predictive value in the very first spring training games, but I don't see why that should stop me from making sweeping predictions. These Bo Porter Astros are going to be aggressive on the base paths. They stole four bases in the opener, adding two more on Sunday, and more than that, routinely took the extra base at nearly every opportunity. This might lead to them running into some outs in the future, but I like the approach. I'd rather this young team make mistakes being aggressive than being passive.

On Saturday, Harrell was off his game somewhat, but this early that's nothing to be concerned about. The Astros hitters weren't really able to get anything going against Hamels either. In the later innings, however, nearly everyone got into the action. Robbie Grossman was a real star going  2-3 with a double and 2 rbi. I would be thrilled if Grossman forced himself onto the team with a strong spring. Another highlight was Jarred Cosart with 2 easy innings, including a strikeout of Ryan Howard that was a beauty to watch.

The Sunday afternoon game started off a little rough, with Norris, Veras and Peacock getting roughed up to varying degrees, leading to a 6-1 deficit after the top half of the 4th. Again, this early, I wouldn't really be concerned. After that, the Astros clawed their way back, with help from a Castro home run and some great base running from Delino DeShields. In the 5th, DeShields pinch ran for Wallace, stole second, advanced to third on the errant throw, and then scored on a wild pitch. In the bottom of the 9th, down 7-6, George Springer drove in Jake Elmore to tie it up. Springer had a great day at the plate - going 1-1 with 2 walks. I for one could get used to DeShields making things happen on the base paths and Springer driving in runs, but I think we will have to wait a while to see that happen in the big leagues.

It was great seeing real live baseball on my TV again, and it always feels good to beat the Phillies, even in Spring Training. All in all, a great start to the 2013 season.