The Adventures of Jim Crane, and Other Astros Spring Training Things to Know

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It's all over tomorrow. The Astros' off-season is finally ending. It might only be a spring training game, but after a winter of trades and new coaches and just a general reshuffling of the team, the Astros are finally going to get to play a game against another team. And they'll finally get to wear their shiny new uniforms.

So of course you want to tune into the game tomorrow -- note, all Astros radio games will now be on 790 since Clear Channel doesn't consider the team worthy of being on 740. And as you listen to the game, here are a few things you might want to think about as you try to come to grips with just how bad the team is going to be this season.

5. The Jet-Setting Adventures of Jim Crane

Two weekends ago, it was the story of Jim Crane, the pro-am and the Astros losing money for the past five seasons. Last weekend it was the story of Jim Crane, his helicopter, a golf foursome including President Barack Obama and Tiger Woods, and the Astros losing money for the past five seasons. What will happen in the high-flying life of rich playboy baseball team owner Jim Crane this weekend? Will he play golf with another famous person? Will he have his helicopter once again land on one of the practice fields? Will he continue to whine about the Astros having lost money for the last five seasons?

If you follow the breathless twittering tweets of the Houston Chronicle's new Astros beat writer, Brian T. Smith, then you'll more than likely be made intimately aware of every breath that Crane takes this weekend. Smith's reporting regarding Crane makes those sycophantic Entertainment Tonight reporters breathlessly swallowing every statement by Tom Cruise about how his latest soon-to-be box-office bomb is the greatest movie ever made seem like Pulitzer finalists.

4. Who Is On First?

Seriously, who is playing for first base for the Astros this season? Is it free-agent signing Carlos Pena? Is it the centerpiece of the Roy Oswalt/Phillies trade, Brett Wallace? Is it Chris Carter, who just arrived from the Oakland A's as part of the Jed Lowrie trade? What about Nate Freiman, selected in the Rule V draft from the San Diego Padres? And what happens when Jonathan Singleton, one of the team's top prospects, has finished serving his drug suspension?

There's been some talk of Carter moving to left field, but he hasn't seemed to be too enthused by that prospect. There's been some talk of the Astros continuing with the Brett Wallace-as-a-third-baseman experiment. And with the Astros now in the American League, the odds are that Carlos Pena, who has a lot of DH experience with Tampa Bay, will split time between there and DH. 3. Radio, Radio

When the Astros fired Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond at the end of last season, the most prominent names mentioned as replacements were Jerry Trupiano, who had done play-by-play for the Astros back in the 1980s before moving onto the Boston Red Sox, and Larry Dierker, who had been the color analyst before and after his time as a player and manager with the Astros. Instead, the Astros chose Robert Ford to handle play-by-play. Ford's never done play-by-play on the major league level. He hasn't done play-by-play on the minor league level in several years. His most recent baseball experience has been handling the pre- and post-game shows for the Kansas City Royals. And the color analyst is Steve Sparks, whose primary experience has been the pre- and post-game shows for Fox Sports Houston and occasionally filling in for Jim Deshaies.

The duo will get their first experience as the Astros' radio guys this weekend. They get to learn the team on the fly. They get to learn each other on the fly. And one hopes they'll be able to pronounce the names correctly. The importance of the duo is only increased by the failure of the Astros and CSN Houston to reach deals that would allow the team's games to be televised to a majority of the people who live in the Houston metro area. But their importance is also lessened by the fact that the team's games have been bumped from 740 to 790 on the radio dial, which means fewer people will be able to actually hear them call the games because of 790's weaker signal.

2. The Starting Rotation Is? It appears that Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell are the only guaranteed starters as the spring training games start. As for the rest, who really knows? Philip Humber, the former Rice pitcher who pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox last season, is attempting to pitch his way into one of the rotation spots, as is Erik Bedard, the oft-injured former starter for the Orioles, Mariners, Red Sox and Pirates. Maybe Jordan Lyles will get another shot.

Truthfully, none of the guys on the Astros would currently be a 1-2 guy on a legitimate major league starting rotation. And with the way Jeff Luhnow has been shipping guys out left and right, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Norris wearing another team's uniform before spring training is over.

1. Pay Attention and Listen The most important thing to do is just pay attention to the games and listen to the new radio guys. There are a lot of new players on the team. There are a lot of guys trying to come up from the minors you've probably never heard of. Just sit back and try and learn the names and figure out their positions. And don't stress out if you can't figure out who they are because come this time next year, it's probable that you'll be having to learn a whole new group of new names anyway.

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