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Spring Training: Meet the New ‘Stros…

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I’m back with another edition of spring training notes. But first, remember that you have until 5:00 p.m. today to make your suggestions for the Houston Astros 2008 marketing slogan. So get them in now.

Speaking of suggested slogans, Gene Wojciechowski at ESPN.com had an article on the whole Rocket circus the other day. And he suggested that with Rocket, Tejada and Pettitte associated with the team, the Astros should have a Plea Bargain Night. And a friend of mine suggested the team could give out the cards of bails bondsmen to the first 10,000 fans. Which gave me an idea for a slogan: Astros Baseball: Plea Bargain 2008.

But on with the fun.

The Astros started with the spring training games yesterday, and they played yesterday much like they played in 2007. They lost to the Cleveland Indians by a score of 12-2. New acquisition Michael Bourn singled, stole a base and scored one of the runs, and Wandy Rodriguez was actually able to go two innings without surrendering a run.

Milo Hamilton got his season off to a slow start, taking until the top of the third inning to make a Bourne Identity reference regarding Michael Bourn. But he was soon in form as he started talking about Sonny and Cher. And he didn’t like how the Indians were using a pitcher an inning, and he definitely hated the radio booth in the Winter Haven stadium. He also wasn’t happy that the PR people weren’t fulfilling his every need – yep, nothing but nonsense; it could’ve been any game in July.

Speaking of games in July, Jayson Stark’s got an interesting post at ESPN.com about a bunch of players who would love to be playing games in July. It’s about those guys known as spring training invitees. They’re invited to fill up roster space in spring. They’re not guaranteed a spot on the major league roster. The two players he highlights are Brian Anderson, a pitcher who hasn’t pitched since 2005 and has had two Tommy John surgeries, and Kent Mercker, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006 and also had Tommy John surgery. Anderson is trying to make the Rays and Mercker's going for the Reds.

C.J. Nitkowski is another guy who hasn’t pitched in the majors in several years, but he’s found a spot over in Japan. Nitkowski is in the news, however, because of the whole Rocket/McNamee circus. Nitkowski backs Brian McNamee all of the way, and in his deposition, he was really complimentary of McNamee. Nitkowski’s back in the news because, apparently, after the Congressional hearings, Nitkowski let the investigators know that Rocket went around telling stories about Jose Canseco’s wife. Stories like her tanning by the pool without a top, and Rocket having to tell her to put a top before everyone showed up for a party.

The best thing about the Nitkowski deposition was his claim that the best thing about Andy Pettitte being involved in this thing was that it would serve as proof that Christians weren’t all they’re cracked up to be. This in turns leads us to more Christians behaving badly, specifically, the Colorado Rockies.

The Denver police broke up a high class escort ring recently. One of the young ladies decided to speak to the media, and though she didn’t give names, she did point out pictures of various Colorado Rockies she had serviced. Which is kind of shocking seeing how the Rockies make themselves out to be more Christian than Jesus.

And being more Christian than Jesus is probably one of the reasons the Astros didn’t sign Kris Benson to a contract, primarily because his wife is an ex-stripper. So while the couple probably wouldn’t fit in with the so-called good guys of the Astros, they seem to fit right in with the Phillies. And when compared to the wives of Cole Hamels and Travis Blackley, Ms. Benson is a clear third. So, just click on the link and enjoy the photos.

And let’s hear it for Rocket. Not only has probably seen more of the former Mrs. Canseco than just about anyone but Jose Canseco, and not only is he officially under investigation from the Feds, but apparently (and depending on what source you believe) Drayton McLane is considering voiding Rocket’s personal services contract with the team. The Associated Press has an interview with Drayton in which Drayton says that. Jose de Jesus Ortiz, however, had a talk with McLane in which Drayton seems to backtrack a little. Both pieces agree, however, that Rocket is proving to be a bit of a distraction in Astros camp. (It’s also clear that the reason Rocket is now in big trouble is because Team Rocket focused on the Canseco party. So, once again, great work, Rusty.)

Drayton is considering several options: asking Rocket to go home, or closing off the minor league camp to the media. I suggest he send Rocket home. Rocket’s not under contract with the Astros – the personal services contract doesn’t kick until he officially retires. If he wants to jack everybody around and hold out until June to play baseball, then he can jack everyone around in Houston. And isn’t it kind of strange watching a media whore like Rocket whine about media coverage?

And it’s also being reported that, thanks to Rocket, the Feds are moving in on Houston, where they’re starting an investigation of Houston gyms and checking into illegal drug distribution. So, Rocket, I’m sure the city loves you.

That brings us to the St. Louis Cardinals who released Scott Spiezio the other day. Spiezio, who spent over a month last season in rehab, had a relapse during the offseason. Police in California had a warrant out for his arrest, and the Cardinals claimed not to know about the incident. This means that Jose de Jesus Ortiz is probably going to be writing a column about how he can save Spiezio, just like he could have saved Josh Hancock last year if only the Cardinals would have listened.

Finally, before we leave spring training, just a note. If you’re in college, and you’re facing Billy Wagner in a little spring game, it’s probably best to not lay down a bunt. Because if you do, dude, don’t be surprised if he goes for your head the next time he sees you. – John Royal

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