Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 5:34 PM
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.
• • •
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted By: ace On: 2/13/2013
Title: Long year
I hope the fans of Houston rebel against this tight ass owner who seems is trying to turn a profit as fast as possible without the long term residual
Effect of owning a franchise. Dray ton McClain is also responsible for this debacle too. And we wonder why greedy white men are becoming pariahs of our new society! Hell with this baseball team and the fact they offer no hope or inspiration to Houston Astros faithful who could look forward to the boys of spring. Let's save our money and profit like that money grubbing Crain!!! Boycott their ass and keep those seats green in minute maid park. Thxs Jim for the article.
Posted By: Bert On: 2/12/2013
Title: Check some facts
Houston is a mid-market team, probably 11th or so, not fourth largest. Houston is the fourth largest city, which does not dictate market size.
Pena's salary is $2.9 million, not $2.3 million. Just $0.6 million off, you say? Just send me a check for that amount and we'll call it even.