Encore or Bust?

Stressing about the 'Stros begins anew

Last year was an unforgettable roller-coaster ride for Astros fans. The season started with hopes higher than ever before; it soon plummeted to a dismayingly long slump that left the team for dead; it ended with a record-setting rush of wins and a first ever playoff-series win.

Being the Astros, of course, it also ended with a loss.

But they came within one game of the World Series. How does 2005 shape up? Let's just say 'Stros fans aren't as hopeful as this time last year. Andy Pettitte and Lance Berkman are hurt; Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent are gone; Bidge and Bags are one year older.

Tilman Fertitta's not done yet improving the Crawford 
Boxes.
Scott Gilbert
Tilman Fertitta's not done yet improving the Crawford Boxes.
Click here for our classic Joaquin Andujar baseball card!
Click here for our classic Joaquin Andujar baseball card!

Still, last year's adrenaline-rush finish, with screaming crowds rocking Minute Maid Park, has left fans eager for the new year to start.

Of course, we consulted astrologer Lilly Roddy to see what the future holds. Last year she correctly predicted a knockout season for Roger Clemens, a deep summer slump for the team, a change in management and no World Series.

Once again, we filled her in on some details, like players' birthdays and the fact that the baseball season does not extend until December.

Bottom line: no World Series. Clemens will have another good year, despite a rough start. (His chart -- like, we're guessing, most 44-year-olds' charts -- also shows him susceptible to "a stretched muscle or torn ligament," she says.)

Pettitte is in a cycle of injuries and won't heal soon, but Roddy has a solution. "He might be a person that they could use -- oh, I'm just so non-baseball-oriented, but -- like a pinch hitter," she says. "Don't they have those sorts of things? Or somebody who comes in and, like, helps out or, you know, plays some position." (A $10-million-a-year pitcher as a utility infielder -- why didn't manager Phil Garner think of that?)

The Pettitte deal may turn out to be a bust. "If he were my client, I would be talking to him about totally restructuring his life and going into a different business," she says. Of course, the über-Christian Pettitte would have already totally restructured his life if he became Roddy's client.

Other quick insights: Owner Drayton McLane is facing heart problems; early October "is a tough time" for Garner (yikes); and as far as the Astros' overall team, "If somebody speaks out of school, they don't last there" (as Billy Wagner could tell you).

"I'm just concerned about the end of August/September time," she says. "And if that's, like, the end of the season, then that would, like, make them not do so well."

Sounds great.

Jim Deshaies's New Rules

Jim Deshaies is a former Astros pitcher and current analyst on the team's TV broadcasts. He hereby -- duly noting any credit due Bill Maher -- offers five new rules for attending baseball games:

1. Just because your belly is the size of a billboard doesn't mean you have to paint and expose it. If your belt size approximates the length of the third-base line, please, please remain shirted at all times.

2. Stop doing the Wave. It started 25 years ago and was thought to be a fad. Fads aren't supposed to last 25 years.

3. Don't feel compelled to "dance" to "YMCA." Some of you can't keep up or have forgotten how to spell it. If you fit these criteria, feel free to sit this one out.

4. If you need food or drink, please wait at least until the batter's turn is over. I'm sitting in the stands last year -- bases loaded, Lance Berkman at the plate, the pitcher is ready to make his pitch -- and suddenly four guys directly in front of me decide it's time for a cold beverage.

5. Kool uses a walker, and the Gang can't remember where the bus is parked. I think it's time we put "Celebration" to bed.

Ballpark Tour

This will be the Astros' fifth season at what is now Minute Maid Park, which means that Houstonians have another dozen years before we begin getting told how outdated the facility is.

Stadium tours are available, but we're not sure if they point out our favorite places at the park.

1. Tilman Town, formerly known as the Crawford Boxes. When the park first opened, this section at the end of the left-field line was a determinedly quaint paean to the band-box ballparks of old. Now it's a berserk multicolor display to the Lord of Tacky, Tilman Fertitta.

Casino owners have visited Minute Maid and said, "Man, I wish they would tone things down a bit in left field." Donald Trump has said, "It's a bit much."

Tilman, on the other hand, has said, "Goddammit -- I see a square inch out there that is not plastered with the name of one of my restaurants. Fire my ad guy immediately."

New additions for 2005 include a white-tiger cage (if you're sitting next to it, eat hot dogs at your own risk) and a Ferris wheel. Also, patrons will be charged extra if they choose to watch the game.

2. The Turn of Shame. We've all done it: gotten tickets for the upper deck when funds were low or tickets were hot. Getting to those seats requires taking a pair of escalators, one to the club level and then one to the nosebleed sections. Few things put you in your raggedy-ass place better than the brief interlude between escalators. Turn right and you see the club section, where the rich and idle nibble crudités, sip white wine and lounge on Eames chairs. But you, you worthless slug, are turning left, up another escalator to a cramped seat 17 rows high. Luckily there's an armed SWAT team standing by at the landing to make sure none of the bootless and unhorsed dare to enter the magical realm of the well-to-do.

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