Spring Training: Clemens, Niekro and Cruz...Reliving Bygone (Sucky) Eras

Before I go further, I just want to remind everyone of the contest for the Astros marketing slogan for the 2008 season. Remember, we’re taking entries until 5:00 p.m. Friday, so you still have time to submit if you haven’t already.

One of the things I like about spring training, besides it meaning that baseball is close at hand, is reading all of the notes from across the majors and finding what the clubs are planning to do for the season. So I’ve decided to do a little spring training notes column of my own, putting my own little spin on things that I see.

So, let’s get to it….

The Astros seem to be taking a little different path this season. Instead of looking to the future, they’re looking to the past. Not only is the Rocket son in minor league camp, but the sons of Joe Niekro and Jose Cruz are also in camp, hoping to make the Astros coming out of spring. It’s nice to see Drayton trying to connect to the team’s past, but I’d rather see him retire the number of J.R. Richard than see the Astros wasting roster spots on Lance Niekro and Jose Cruz, Jr. Both have been bouncing around for awhile, and neither appears to offer much that will be able to help out this year’s club, though if Lance Niekro can actually throw the knuckler, maybe the team should move him from first base to pitcher.

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I’ve been reading about the Tampa Bay Rays and Cincinnati Reds trying to figure out what to do with hot prospects Evan Longoria (Rays), Jay Bruce (Reds), and Joey Votto (Reds). The Rays seem to be acting like the Astros did last year with Hunter Pence in that they’re not sure they want to rush Evan Longoria to the majors and seem willing to play retreads at third until they think he is ready. The primary Rays concern with Longoria is that he’s never had a slump, so they don’t know how he’ll react if he’s faced with one in the majors. It’s my opinion that if the guy’s ready for the majors, he’s ready for the majors. Keeping him in the minors won’t help.

The problem with the Reds is kind of different. The Reds have positions ready for Bruce and Votto, but new Reds manager Dusty Baker isn’t exactly known for playing rookies. But this team of Baker’s isn’t like the Giant and Cub teams he inherited. Those teams were veteran teams just on the edge of competing. The Reds are a young team and aren’t in a position to win the pennant, so relying on mediocre veterans when you can get youngsters prime playing time just doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, don’t you wish the Astros had this problem this season? They’ve got no studs sitting in the farm system just waiting to knock Ty Wigginton or Kaz Matsui or Woody Williams or Dave Borkowski out of a roster spot. This is a perfectly mediocre team full of mediocre talent. So while the Rays and Reds have reason to be optimistic about the future – though not this season – the Astros have absolutely no reason for this.

But speaking of the Rays, I couldn’t help but notice that the team has been talking about bringing home run champ (and champion steroid user) Barry Bonds on board. Houston native Carl Crawford is all for the idea. While having Bonds might conceivably help Tampa Bay’s attendance, I really don’t think Bonds would actually help the team. Not with outfielders like Crawford, B.J. Upton, Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli and Jonny Gomes already on that team. Crawford and Upton are good on-base guys and, if healthy, Floyd, Baldelli and Gomes provide plenty of power while playing a better defensive outfield.

However, if the Rays are going to go the Bonds route, perhaps they should give a call to the Rocket. He could help out that rotation, and I’m sure the Rays would have no problem with Rocket only coming around the club every fifth day to toss five innings. That is, if the Rocket can get a good work release program that will let him out of jail every five days or so. The latest word on the Rocket is that Congress may be asking the Justice Department to give Rocket the Miguel Tejada treatment, i.e. a full-scale investigation.

And speaking of former Astro pitchers, I see that the Atlanta Braves are once again hoping Mike Hampton will be available to pitch. The thing is, Hampton hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since August 2005 and has undergone multiple elbow surgeries. Hoping for Mike Hampton to be healthy and contribute to a starting rotation kind of reminds me of certain previous Astros spring training camps where they were hoping that Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane, Adam Everett, and Brad Ausmus would suddenly learn how to hit major league hitting.

In short, it’s just not a good plan.

Finally, all of the talk about Mrs. Rocket and the former Mrs. Jose Canseco comparing boob jobs at the infamous Canseco party took me back to the former Mrs. Jeff Bagwell, who also had a boob job and who, about this time several years ago, was using eBay to auction off ad-space on her enhanced boobs. But then again, unlike Mrs. Rocket, the former Mrs. Bagwell has worked as a model, so selling her body for advertising isn’t anything new. But I wonder if she’s ever had to get an HGH-injection to prepare for a swimsuit shoot like Mrs. Rocket did?

And that’s probably the best thing about spring training in Florida. It coincides with spring break which means lots of topless girls hanging around the beaches, the pools, the clubs, and the Girls Gone Wild bus.

So, Houston Press, any chance of you guys giving me an all expenses paid trip out to Florida for spring break, oops, spring training? I promise I’ll write a little something about the Astros every day.

Maybe. – John Royal

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