It’s not unusual for a team to get a new coach and make a few changes from the way they used to do things. That’s even true when a sports franchise gets a new owner. And it certainly is true for our Houston Astros who have changed both an owner and a field manager in the last year.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed for the Astros is the fact they can’t win baseball games. And that’s a direct result of the plethora of alterations made since Jim Crane assumed ownership of the franchise from longtime owner Drayton McLane, Jr.

Prominent major leaguers wearing the Astros logo were sent packing via trades and replaced by no-name minor league prospects to the point that many of these minor league hot-shots are in the majors and are virtually overmatched by the “real” major leaguers on the opposing teams.

Crane was so obsessed to change everything from what it had been for the past 50 years that he even was able to be bribed with a boatload of cash by Commissioner Bud Selig to switch from the National League to the American League.

But the one change that really has me up in arms is when he sent Houston Astros’ icon Larry Dierker out to pasture before the season began.

Dierker was signed by the Houston Colts in 1964 and made his major league debut on his 18th birthday, Sept. 22, 1964. He struck out Willie Mays in the first inning. He was the Astros first 20-game winner in 1969 with a 20-13 record and pitched a no-hitter against the Montreal Expos in 1976.

He ranks third in wins in franchise history with a career record of 137-117 and holds the team record for starts (320), complete games (106), innings pitched (2,294 1/3) and shutouts (25).

After finishing his final season in the majors in 1977 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Dierker spent a year working in sales with the Astros before becoming a broadcaster, a position he held from 1979-1996.

And to the surprise of almost everyone, in 1997 McLane made the earth-shattering decision to move Dierker out of the broadcasting booth and into the dugout as the Astros manager.

And Dierker was a great manager, leading the Astros to National League Central Division championships in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. He was named NL Manager of the Year in 1998.

As the Astros’ skipper, Dierker’s 435 wins ranks second in franchise history to Bill Virdon’s 544. But he resigned after a fourth-straight NL Division Series loss after the 2001 season and his No. 49 uniform was retired in 2002.

Dierker returned to the broadcast booth on a limited basis in 2004 and 2005 and remained with the team as a community outreach executive.

His final appearances before his contract expired April 15 was a luncheon for team sponsors and a softball game between the Astros and Texas Rangers’ ownership groups.

Dierker assumed he would be part of the new Astros’ broadcast team on Comcast SportsNet Houston after spending nearly the last half-century with the organization, and he was disappointed and frustrated that he was not allowed a chance to return to the broadcast booth this season.

He met earlier last month with team marketing officials but refused to sign a contract that would have called on him to do up to 180 appearances on the team’s behalf each year. The organization offered a contract for in-studio work, but Dierker turned it down.

“The pre-game and post-game shows, for me, is like getting sent to the minor leagues,” Dierker told SportsRadio 610 recently. “I know what Jim Deshaies was making and don’t let that hang you up because money is not an issue. I just want to get back into the booth.”

Dierker said he ended his contractual relationship with the Astros after April 15 because of his disappointment about not being selected for a broadcast job and concerns about the team’s direction.

After he met with Crane last month, he said that while he did not have a contract for the 2013 season, he is willing to make limited appearances on a voluntary basis as his schedule allows and will revisit his association with the team after the season.

In his meeting with Crane, Dierker talked about why he was unhappy with the offer and why he would be better suited for game broadcasts.

“I like to compete,” Dierker told Crane. “I like the competition. I like the live action and I really don’t care for studio work. It’s for the younger, better-looking guy than me to be on camera all of the time.

“What I think I can do is come on the air and analyze the game and have some stories to tell about the Astros currently, during the time when I was managing, back when I was playing plus knowledge of baseball history as a whole,” he concluded.

Dierker is relieved that he cleared the air with Crane and being the good guy that he has always been, he will greet fans and sign autographs with the hopes that one day he can return to the broadcasting booth.

“It was a great relief for me,” Dierker admitted. “I don’t think anybody completely understood how I felt. I won’t be under contract, but I won’t be at war with them. I think it leaves the door open for something later on because they know I’m here and I’m ready, willing and able.”

KWICKIES…Last week Earl Thomas announced that he wants to be known as Earl Thomas III to honor his late grandfather and father with the same name. Starting this fall his jersey will read “Thomas III.” And while on the subject of the Thomas family, Earl’s younger brother Seth, who played his college football career as a cornerback at my alma mater McNeese State, signed a free-agent contract with the Washington Redskins last weekend.

While playing golf with Craig Couvillion last weekend, I watched him make an Eagle-2 on the Par 4 No. 2 hole from 150 yards out with an eight-iron at Sunset Grove along with Jim Rodda, Kenny Ruane and Bob Hoepner. Then on No. 15, Craig, who has always been an animal lover, tried to free a frog that somehow wedged himself in the cup at the bottom of the hole, but couldn’t remove the plastic flag-holder. I found a pair of pliers in my cart and the fortunate frog was free to croak again.

The local high school playoff picture for girls’ softball has the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Lady Bears winning their bi-district series with Dayton and will meet the winner between Georgetown East View and Huntsville played last night, while the Orangefield’s Lady Bobcats downed Liberty in the bi-districts and will face Houston-Furr at 7 p.m. today at Baytown Lee High School in the area round. The Bridge City Lady Cardinals play Sweeny Friday at 6 and 8 p.m. in Baytown Lee and Saturday at 2 p.m. if necessary. The LCM Bears boys nabbed the fourth and final playoff berth with a 10-0 win over Vidor Saturday in District 20-4A and will take on always-tough Barbers Hill in a best-of-three bi-district series beginning Friday at Mont Belvieu  and resuming at LCM Saturday for Game 2 and Game 3 if necessary. The Orangefield Bobcats earned the third-place playoff slot in District 21-3 and will take on the Tarkington Longhorns in the bi-district playoffs this week while the Bridge City Cardinals will face Shepherd in Jasper Friday in the bi-district playoffs this week.

JUST BETWEEN US…Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle graded last weekend’s NFL draft and gave their own Houston Texans a B-plus, the Dallas Cowboys a C and the New Orleans Saints a B. The Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers all rated A’s while the Buffalo Bills received the lowest grade with a D. The newspaper rated the Bengals as having the best draft while the 49ers added a few starters to a team that made the Super Bowl last season.