Play Ball, Baby

A new season for the Astros, and hopefully a new team.

To try and figure out where you're going, it always helps to look at where you've been. Sage advice for important, life-changing events like deciding whether to get married (again), pondering a career change, scrawling lyrics to "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake, or writing a preview of your local baseball team's 2011 season.

So as I sit down to try to accurately predict what will transpire this baseball season for the Houston hometown nine, I think back to 2010. There's a small handful of precious gifts from last year that are decent kindling for trying to talk myself into the Astros' relevance in 2011 — Chris Johnson's second half of the season (11 homeruns, 52 RBI), Brett Myers's whole season (at least six innings pitched in all but one start) and Brett Wallace's pants (includes a label that says "No family-size tents were harmed in the making of these pants") are three such examples.

And underneath the 76-86 record in 2011 and the gloom-and-doom predictions by computers (Baseball Prospectus forecasts the Astros to have literally a zero percent chance of making the World Series) and actual humans (odds makers have the Astros as a 25/1 shot just to win the Central), the seeds of something good have been planted.

Chris Johnson was big for the Astros in 2010 — they'll need that again in 2011.
Aaron M. Sprecher
Chris Johnson was big for the Astros in 2010 — they'll need that again in 2011.
Drayton McLane seems to have stepped aside and let his baseball people start to build a conventional baseball organization — for whatever reason.
Aaron M. Sprecher
Drayton McLane seems to have stepped aside and let his baseball people start to build a conventional baseball organization — for whatever reason.

Whether it's because of soon-to-be seller apathy or because it's the right thing to do, Drayton McLane seemingly has stepped aside and let his baseball people start to actually build a conventional baseball organization by signing draft picks, trading overpaid veterans and playing the youngsters. The result is a core nucleus of guys who like each other and love to play baseball. (And before you roll your eyes, you'd be surprised and appalled by how many players see their vocation as a chore.)

Chris Johnson is one of the faces of this new group of Astros. He was given the starting third-base job midway through last season when the Astros realized that Pedro Feliz, their starting third-baseman up to that point, had indeed been clinically dead since February. (Feliz has since been mummified and is on display at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.)

I asked Johnson on my radio show, which airs on 1560 The Game, about this core group of young guys who have been given the keys to the team: "We're really close," said Johnson. "Last year we decided we were all going to move to Houston and work out together in the off-season. We hang out together after all of the games in spring training. This is a close-knit group."

A group that will get a chance to grow up together this season, for better or worse.

Ultimately, faith in the Astros comes back to overcoming the thoughts of acres of empty seats at Minute Maid Park, the overall ineptitude of the offense, and Carlos Lee cashing seven-figure checks each month to waddle around left field like one of those drunk fans in the fake sumo outfits who fight each other during NBA halftime. (Note: This will not be the last Carlos Lee joke that gets made in this piece. If you're related to Carlos Lee, you've been warned.)

By most subjective measurements, interest in the Astros has not been this low in some time. My subjective measurements include the aforementioned empty seats from pretty much June on, as well as the complete lack of phone calls, e-mails and tweets regarding the Astros during spring training — literally, a complete lack — to my sports talk show. As in, I received zero calls, tweets or e-mails about the Astros during spring training, unless I specifically had a guest on who was discussing the team. So if you're keeping track, in my world, which revolves a thousand percent around sports, no one wants to voluntarily talk about the Astros. Cruel summer, indeed.

But as you read this preview, perhaps along the way, who knows? Maybe you'll actually become interested in the Astros. Maybe the newness the players are feeling rubs off on you. Maybe.

Before we get to determining how to assess the 2011 Astros on the field, we must address the 800-pound gorilla in the room, because by this summer it may be the only reason to talk regularly about them...

Sell, Mortimer...Sell!

Of course, I'm referring to Drayton McLane's attempt to sell the franchise. In the off-season, McLane hired an investment banking firm to explore possibilities, and within about a month of that story, he was in full on "Uncle Drayton" mode telling the media about "20 to 25 conversations he had conducted" with potential buyers. Without having any text of those conversations, considering the roughly $800 million asking price that McLane reportedly is asking, I am going to assume the average length of all 20 to 25 conversations was around 32 seconds. That includes opening pleasantries and Drayton firing his fake six-shooters at the end of the conversation.

One way to make the Astros relevant would be to turn the sale of the ball club into a reality television show. Whether it's channeling Celebrity Apprentice and making the various ownership candidates perform tasks like coming up with the newest Sheriff Blaylock's nacho plate, or the Bachelor format with Drayton keeping candidates around by giving them Biggio bobbleheads instead of roses, this needs to happen. In short, I would watch Survivor: Drayton.

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6 comments
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Rhonda Omberg
Rhonda Omberg

You're a very funny guy, Sean. I enjoyed the read immensely. I actually haven't been looking forward to the Astros this year as much as I would like to, but then they've surprised me before. I am a little miffed that they haven't done much in the area of improvement (a 100 million dollar TV doesn't do much to mollify the void on the trophy case) in several areas - minor leagues among them. However, the team shows some promise and as long as Drayton doesn't get a wild hair and sell everyone off 'Major League"-style, I think 81-81 is possible.

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The OSD
The OSD

Great work Sean! Gambling, Seinfeld, Carlos Lee, Star Wars, White Snake, etc. all wrapped up in an Astro's nugget! My only question is how could you leave Milo out?

ahem!
ahem!

You work in a Whitesnake reference, but not Tawny Kitaen pics? I'm pretty sure you've achieved dork status.How about The Ultimate Fighter: Drayton? I admit I just want to see Drayton wearing an Affliction tee.

Chance McClain
Chance McClain

The 800 Pound Gorilla...I totally thought you were going to the Carlos Lee card early...

I continue reading...

 
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