If it's spring training, then it must be time for the annual "Astros are going to be better than you think" stories from some members of the local media. We've already had the "Big Puma came into camp in the best shape of his life story" -- just forget about that pesky knee problem that causes him problems when he runs.
We've already had the "walking injury/head case has his act together story" -- thankfully Brett Myers allows them to write that story only once. We've had the annual "new manager, new attitude story."
But how do we know that baseball season is really upon us? Simple. Carlos Lee has already skipped out on camp to deal with more pressing matters than getting in shape for baseball.
Yes, that's right. Carlos Lee is once again showing everybody just how much he really gives a damn about baseball, his team, and his teammates by leaving Florida so he can come to Houston and go to the rodeo.
New manager Brad Mills says that he's okay with it. Not that he's got a choice in the matter because the approval comes from a higher authority -- it's in Lee's contract. And Drayton McLane seems to be all right with it; he put that in Lee's contract after all, so even if Mills isn't okay with it, there's not really much he can do about it.
Now there's nothing wrong with Lee doing the gentlemen-rancher thing, but shouldn't he be in camp with the rest of his teammates? After all, he's being paid a huge amount of money to play baseball, not be a rancher.
If he wants to ranch so damn much, then he can quit baseball and be a full-time rancher. Then he can take all of the time that he wants to attend the rodeo, or any rodeo that he wants.
It seems to me that this has been part of the problem with the Astros for years. Players who seem to treat baseball as a part-time job. Roger Clemens didn't want to travel with the team. Miguel Tejada was too busy trying to remember which of his many lies he was supposed to be telling at the time. Cecil Cooper was too busy sparring with the media to remember what his lineup was supposed to be. The Craig Biggio Quest For 3,000 was the most important thing in the world.
There's just been this attitude that playing baseball is a secondary endeavor. I want Brad Mills to succeed. I like the steps that Bobby Heck has been taking with a farm system that Drayton allowed to rot. I want the Astros to become something more than a laughingstock known for giving ridiculous contracts to designated hitters, second basemen who can't stay healthy, and unwanted relievers with arm problems.
It would be nice to have someone in the front office who actually knew the meaning of statistics and how to properly use them.
I want people to go to the ballpark because they want to see baseball, not because of that stupid choo-choo train.
I want more guys like Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. Guys that hustle in the field, throw to the right base, and just seem to love playing baseball.
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I want Roy Oswalt to once again be the dominating force that he was before Cecil Cooper got a hold of him. But most of all, I want the team, the players, the management, to do something about Carlos Lee.
I want Mills to do something more than spout the McLane-approved talking point about it being okay for Lee to skip out on camp so he can go to the rodeo. Nolan Ryan wouldn't have approved of this crap. Jeff Bagwell would have probably taken the guy aside and said something. Bill Virdon would have torn Lee a new asshole.
It's bad enough that Lee just kind of stands around in left field and doesn't really make much of an effort to field his position. It sucks that the guy seemingly doesn't know how to run down the first-base line. But if the Astros ever want to be serious about winning, then they're going to have to Carlos Lee to screw his contract and stay in camp.
Otherwise, if Lee doesn't have to make an effort, then why should anybody else?