Houston sports fans are seeing opposite points of view
Although the professional baseball and football complexes are located only a few miles from each other, the thought process behind each Houston franchise appears to be galaxies apart. The folks pulling the strings for the Houston Astros and the Houston Texans couldn’t have more contrasting ideas about their respective franchises.
The front office of the Astros have virtually disseminated every winning aspect of their team by trading off any player who has helped them win baseball games during the past five years. Each day seems like the lowest point of the Astros’ tumble into oblivion only to have the next day worse. Fans are leaving Minute Maid Park in droves as if there was a bomb scare or the place was suddenly quarantined. Not only are most of the loyal fans tired of watching their team find new ways to lose games, but they also need a program just to know the names of those 25 players wearing the uniforms with the Astros logo.
And not too far away, at the Methodist Training Center, Houston Texans’ fans began gathering Friday night to buy tickets to watch the first full-team practice Saturday morning from 8-10 a.m. that was open to the public. The reason these football fans are so delirious about their team is because the Texans are coming off their best season in franchise’s history and appear (on paper anyway) to be much better when the 2012 season begins in September. Some 60,000 season football tickets went on sale recently and were scarfed up in a matter of hours.
Houston defensive end J. J. Watt saw the way the fans cheered at the practice session and commented that they are already so “crazy” that the roof at Reliant Stadium will have to be locked down this season “because it might be blown off.” Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle pointed out that Stephanie Stradley, once voted the Texans” No. 1 fan, acknowledges that the defense might be “in regression” because it played at such a high level last year under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
And while the Astros were dumping any player with a seven-figure salary, the Texans spent a fifth-round draft choice on a kicker, Randy Bullock from Texas A&M, to compete for the job against veteran free agent Shayne Graham. The Texans’ front office realized the importance of the kicking game and spent a draft choice to cover that important aspect of the game.
The fans who watched Saturday’s first official workout of training camp at the Methodist Training Center honestly believe the Houston Texans are a Super Bowl contender. And that feeling is rabid even among the players. To a man, all of Matt Schaub’s teammates are convinced he is the quarterback to lead the Texans to the Super Bowl.
“He has the confidence of all his teammates,” said Andre Johnson, who is Schaub’s favorite receiver. “We believe he’s the guy. He has all the qualities a good quarterback needs.” Every player asked about Schaub after the first practice mentioned his leadership. “He’s a laid-back guy that cracks a lot of jokes and likes to have fun,” Johnson pointed out. “When it’s time to get serious, he gets serious.”
Head Coach Gary Kubiak added, “Matt’s a natural leader, and people follow him. He’s been through the grind at this place. When he came in here, we weren’t a very good team, and Matt’s been a part of the building process.” Schaub was hurt after helping the Texans to a 7-3 start last season during which they averaged 27.2 points a game, including six starts without Johnson, who also was injured during some of the last two seasons with a knee injury in 2010 and hamstring injuries which caused him to miss nine games last year.
Johnson gave everybody a scare at Sunday’s workout when he pulled up lame after running a simple pass route. However an MRI revealed the injury was a “minor groin strain.” But the Texans’ medical staff and trainers will keep a close watch on the 31-year old super-star receiver.
The Astros, on the other hand, don’t even have a player they can call the “star.” Every player that fits the category is either playing with another team or has been long retired. Sunday’s 9-5 victory over Pittsburgh was only the Astros’ second win since the All-Star break July and only their third win in the past 28 games and their first victory since July 16.
Prior to Sunday’s game, during batting practice, third baseman Chris Johnson was called out of the batting cage and informed he had just been traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. “It seems like everybody is getting traded over here, but I was really surprised,” Johnson admitted after getting the news. Johnson raised his value the past nine games with the Astros, hitting .429 with a .800 slugging percentage. In return for Johnson the Astros got slugging third baseman Bobby Borchering and outfielder Marc Krauss.
“As they kept offering more and more and we got a chance to get two legitimate prospects that we liked for him, we went ahead and pulled the trigger,” General Manager Jeff Luhnow told the Houston Chronicle about making the Johnson trade. Borchering profiles as a true all-or-nothing power hitter, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2009 draft. He has 20 home runs in 102 games between Class A Visalia and Class AA Mobile. But one the other side of the coin, he has 123 strikeouts to go with those round-trippers.
Krauss, a left-handed hitter, is a former second-round pick who is having an excellent year at Class AA. He’s batting .283 with a .416 on-base percentage and a .509 slugging percentage at age 24. So for those not keeping track, the Astros have traded Carlos Lee, J. A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brett Myers and Johnson for 15 prospects, including two players to be named plus major leaguers Ben Francisco and Francisco Cordero. Perhaps one of these days in the not-too-distant future, Houston fans will be as crazy about the Astros as they now appear to be about the 2012 Houston Texans.
KWICKIES…Former Port Neches-Groves baseball star Lew Ford is making somewhat of a comeback in his long professional baseball career at age 36 with the Baltimore Orioles. His last stint ended in the majors on Sept. 30, 2007 with the Minnesota Twins, a period of 1,764 days. Ford had been playing with the independent Long Island Ducks, which he helped win the league championship in 2011. In May the Orioles snatched the hot-hitting Ford off the Long Island roster and assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk where he continued his torrid hitting. The Orioles needed a right-handed hitter and brought him up to the major league team last weekend. Ford’s stay at Baltimore may not be an extended one, but he’s one of the few to make it back at age 36.
While on our vacation to Florida last week, we were saddened to hear about the death of Arlen “Bubba” Moye, 77, who was an assistant coach at both Stark and West Orange high schools back in the late 1960’s and ‘70’s. He was a good guy who probably loved to bass fish as much as coach and moved to Silsbee to be closer to the lakes. He was retired from the Silsbee school system.
The red-hot Washington Nationals recently posted a 60-40 record to lead the National League East Division. The last time a team from the nation’s capitol won 60 of their first 100 games was back in 1933 as the Washington Senators.
JUST BETWEEN US…The Houston Astros FINALLY brought Brett Wallace up to the major league club for the three-game series at Milwaukee that began Monday. The move had been anticipated for the past three weeks whenever Carlos Lee was traded, but instead, the front office opted to platoon Scott Moore and Matt Downs at first base as they awaited Tuesday’s trade deadline. But with third baseman Chris Johnson traded to Arizona, the team needed Wallace, who can play first base, third base and even shortstop. His first visit to Houston when Lee went on the 15-day disabled list, Wallace hit .333 with a .429 on-base percentage and a .583 slugging percentage.