By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Where did the urge to write a musical come from?
"Growing up, my mother was a big fan of musicals — we listened to all the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, the Lerner and Loewe shows," he says. "We'd go to shows in L.A. at the Hollywood Bowl, and those albums were the music she'd play at home."
As an Astro, Dierker would catch the occasional musical on a New York road trip, although his personal tastes tended more toward country and blues. Once he decided to tackle the Broadway genre himself, he's been renting videos of as many productions as he can.
"I'm finding myself very much at sea," he admits. "I know a lot about baseball but I don't know that much about theater. Of all the things in my life that seemed challenging, this has been by far the most difficult...When I started out I had a bunch of songs about baseball, and it ends up about half those songs get tossed out and new songs get added about the different characters and relationships."
Currently Dierker is in the tweaking stages — discussing, among other things, whether a full production should be done on the somewhat small space at Stages, or whether he should try for a bigger venue that could handle the large-cast production he envisions.
"The story, too, keeps changing and evolving," he says. "You see what gets a laugh, what falls on deaf ears. You reshape it as you go."
Okay, okay — enough about musicals. (Even if they are about baseball.) How are the Astros going to do this year?
"Nobody knows," he says. "The one thing we do know is they have a whole bunch of new players, which I think for me, at least, increases the curiosity factor because I kinda felt like I pretty well knew who the players were and how good they might be in the last few years. This year I don't know what to expect."
Beyond a lot of runs for everybody?
"Well, that's the obvious thing — people think they'll score a lot more runs and they worry about the pitching, and it may turn out that way. But a lot of times seasons turn out a lot different than the way you anticipated."
True dat. Since it's safe to say we weren't expecting this season to include a Larry Dierker musical.
The Best Skippers
We don't want to end on a downer. Maybe the Astros will put up enough runs to outscore most opponents, at least until the postseason when the pitching toughens up. (Did we just use the words "postseason" and "Astros" in the same sentence? We must be giddy.)
Maybe Hunter Pence, who teased with flashes of greatness when he finally was called up from the minors last year, will fulfill his promise. (Providing he doesn't have any more hot-tub-related accidents.) Maybe Ty Wigginton will prosper at third, new catcher J.R. Towles will be able to handle a shaky pitching staff while replacing the offensive black hole that was Brad Ausmus, maybe Lance Berkman takes the team on his back and makes it his.
Remember, in the NL Central, anything can happen.
"There is no plausible case to be made that this is a playoff team," Charlie Pallilo says, "but sometimes stuff just happens. Granted, this would require a whole lot of stuff. But who had Colorado winning the pennant last year at this time?"
Watching over all this will be new manager Cecil Cooper, who seems straight from the Drayton McLane mold of upbeat, sloganeering positive thinking that the owner encourages in his employees.
The Astros' history of managers has been mixed, at best. Who were the best? Here's Pallilo's top three:
1. Phil Garner — "Only-ever playoff success in franchise history happened on his watch, so he has to get credit for that. A little too much by-feel as a tactician, but I felt he set a solid tone for the ballclub."
2. Larry Dierker — "Four division titles in five years. Melted down in the final postseason, but not his fault nobody ever hit in the playoffs for him."
3. "Hal Lanier — I wasn't down here yet, but he was very well regarded as a tactician. Learned under Whitey Herzog. Also regarded as an a-hole by many, which helps explain why he never got a second shot as a big-league manager."
So Pallilo's top three picks are: the guy who got fired last year, a guy who collapsed of a brain tumor in the dugout and an a-hole. Sounds very Astro-ish.
Then again, you might disagree with his picks. Go ahead and argue them. You'll have plenty of time to do it during the pitching changes at Minute Maid this year.