Gazzolo: Nothing really new about look of these Astros

By By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Maybe hope does spring eternal, but spring training is supposed to give all eternal hope.

Or at least hope until the All-Star break.

Then there are the Houston Astros.

The Astros open up training camp with all the hope and hype of being sentenced to death row.

The new ownership is talking optimistically, but reality is a different story. Truth be told, this summer doesn’t look pretty

and pitchers and catchers didn’t report until yesterday.

When it comes to the Astros and their hopes, it’s the same old, same old. Maybe even worse.

The Astros will begin play in their new league and division — the tough American League West — on March 31 and with an indoor

stadium, spring showers won’t be able to save them.

Their opponent on that night, the Texas Rangers. It doesn’t get much better after that.

In their new division, the American

League West, the Astros will play not only the Rangers 19 times but also

their big-money

rivals the Angels, who are not a large market team but actually

two. They consider both Anaheim and Los Angeles home in their

official name.

While that may sound California crazy, it highlights the difference when it comes to these two teams.

There will also be games against the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox, improving Orioles and Blue Jays. Also making a trip

to Houston will be Detroit, checkbook in hand, and Tampa Bay.

There are far fewer gimmies in the American League.

Gone from the schedule are bumbling former division partners Cubs and Pirates.

Yes, this could be ugly. Historically ugly.

The 120 losses produced by the 1962 expansion New York Mets is in jeopardy. It’s a record nobody wants but suddenly the Astros

are chasing.

Houston was projected to win just 53 games and that was before they traded away Jed Lowrie, one of their only experienced

players with talent.

The Astros scorched earth campaign has left them with plenty of money to spend and a willingness to spend none of it.

Carlos Pena is perhaps the club’s biggest name, with a $2.3 million contract. He will be the designated hitter.

If all goes well for Pena he will get off to a good start and earn his get-out-of-jail-free card before the All-Star Break.

Pena is famous for being one of those Oakland Athletics traded in the movie “MoneyBall.” Of course that was his rookie year

in 2002.

His numbers since then have resembled the stock market — down, down and down.

No longer able to go down any further, Pena is simple on the outs with the Astros, who for some reason will kick off the major

league season with their opener at home against Texas.

One good thing, this club won’t break any Houston banks.

Their payroll is expected to be about $20 million when the first pitch is tossed out at Minute Maid Park. That will roughly

be less than about 20 individual players this season.

Houston may be the fourth largest market in America, but the Astros sure don’t act like it.

As the rebuilding continues, one is left to wonder just when rock bottom will be hit. The bar around the Astros seems to get

set lower and lower each spring.

You have to believe the limbo bar is just about to touch the ground.

After last year’s debacle, in which the Astros appeared to be mathematically eliminated by Memorial Day, you had to believe

the franchise had bottomed out.

You hoped a new owner who was willing to change the logo and just about everything else around the franchise was also willing

to change the attitude of the front office.

Instead, it seems like it is the same old story.

Maybe there is a secret plan and the fans know nothing about it. This could be a sound economic move.

Keep expenses low and enjoy new fans who get to welcome in new opponents.

The Yankees, Red Sox and others in the American League have a good national following, so maybe Astros executives will promote

those stars instead of paying for some of their own.

If it works, if the fans really do show up to watch the other guys, think of the killing this group will make at the ticket

booth.

Sure, they might be sending out their own version of human sacrifices each and every game, but at least they can say they

have a plan.

Odds are the fans won’t come out just to see the other guys, at least not in big numbers. And with a club more than a few

years away from competing itself, fans won’t likely flock to see these Astros.

Good news, plenty of seats will be available if you are willing to make the two-hour trip over the state line to watch a game.

Hey, it’s not every day you can see the Yankees. Wait, with television it seems like you can just about every day.

As for the Astros, the team closest to our location and getting further and further away from our hearts, it will likely be

another long summer with no Cubs to give them a reprieve.

In the end, nothing really is new about the look of these Astros. Nothing new at all.

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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com