On the weekend before the Houston Astros were to report for the opening of spring training for the 2013 major league baseball season, new owner Jim Crane may have had the most excitement that will ever come his way this year. The Astros owner slipped away from the spring training site at Kissimmee, Florida to participate in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament that pits invited amateur golfers with one of the players on the PGA Tour.

It appears Crane has better command of a pitching wedge than he does a pitching staff as he and his PGA Tour partner Kevin Streelman tied for third place during the four-day event at famous Pebble Beach on the California shore.

If someone removed all the golf clubs from his bag except a sand wedge, brassie and putter and told Crane to go play Pebble Beach now, that would be equivalent to what the owner did to the roster of the Houston Astros when he dumped all of the major league talent and then expected the loyal fans to pay premium prices to watch his team play in the American League this season.

If Jim Crane expects to derive pleasure from his sports endeavors, he’d better be at the golf course more than at Minute Maid Stadium, because it looks to this Korner like another long and frustrating 100-plus loss season for the Houston Astros—the third in a row.

The pitchers and catchers reported to Kissimmee Monday and had their first workout on Tuesday. The position players are scheduled to report Friday and have their first workout Saturday.

The team will work out next week and play its first Grapefruit League exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies Feb. 23.

Crane, along with General Manager Jeff Luhnow and first-year manager Bo Porter has positive expectations for the upcoming season. The owner believes the Astros will be better than the 2012 club that lost a franchise-record 107 games.

Crane added that he would be willing to spend money midway through 2013 if the Astros defy all odds and are competitive in the strong American League West Division. He believes the strength of the team this season could be its starting pitching.

Luhnow, Crane and Porter all believe they can pattern the Astros to the Atlanta Braves, who lost an average of 97 games a season between 1985 and 1990, including 106 losses in 1988.

By 1991 the Braves went from “worst to first” and won a division title, which they did for 14 consecutive seasons. The Braves won with pitching, rebuilding their staff into one of the best in baseball history through the draft, trades for prospects and one-game-changing free agent—36-year old Greg Maddux who signed in 1993.

So the Astros are counting on the youthful arms of Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles plus free-agent veterans Erik Bedard and Philip Humber to be the starting rotation for the 2013 Astros.

The 33-year-old Bedard had been with three teams since 2008 and was released by Pittsburgh in August.

Humber, 30, was the third overall draft pick out of Rice in 2004, but dealt with a multitude of injuries early in his career and didn’t regain his fastball until six years later. Despite pitching a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox last April, he went downhill the rest of the season and he was waived.

Prior to the pitchers and catchers arriving Monday, Porter sounded optimistic when he told a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, “We will create a winning environment.”

However baseball analysts predict daily thrashings for the 2013 Astros. The New York Times suggested Saturday that the team could become only the second club to lose 106 games in three straight seasons.

Of course the Big Apple publication recalls its hometown team–the New York Mets—which did it four years in a row (1962-65). But Porter continues to believe in what others are convinced will fail.

Porter spent part of the winter evaluating all 162 of the Astros’ 2012 games. He discovered that 35 of the franchise-record 107 losses featured a break point—a game the Astros could have won but lacked the focus and will to claim the victory.

The new manager spent last Friday with an old friend Bill Parcells, who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The former NFL coach provided Porter with all of the positive reinforcement he’ll ever need while guiding the Astros through their rebuilding process.

Parcells, who is full of quotes reeking with wisdom, told Porter, “Never make exceptions for your players doing the preparation, because you’ll look up one day and you’ll have a team full of exceptions.”

Let’s hope Porter makes Jim Crane happy enough to put his golf clubs in the attic for the summer.

KWICKIES…Congrats to the Lamar Lady Cardinals softball team for posting its first win in since 1987–when the school dropped the sport–Saturday 3-2 over UT-San Antonio on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning by first baseman Ashley McDowell. The visitors tied the game in the top of the seventh on a throwing error by McDowell, so it was only fitting that she gave that run back to her teammates with a blast over the centerfield fence. However, the celebration didn’t last too long as the Lady Roadrunners avenged the loss Sunday with a 7-3 win over Lamar at Ford Field. The Lady Cards swing back into action Friday at the South Alabama tournament.

Everybody seems to be pointing the finger at Entergy for the 34-minute power failure during Super Bowl XLVII in the Louisiana Superdome. The company that supplied power to the stadium installed a “new and improved” device designed to prevent a blackout and it failed miserably. It has been removed from the Superdome.

The Lamar men’s basketball team finally found a team worst than they are and sneaked past Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 67-63 Thursday for the Cardinals first Southland Conference victory of the season in 11 tries. However the Redbirds’ returned to normal Saturday and were handed one of their worst losses by Sam Houston State 78-40 as their dismal overall record dipped to 3-21. The Cards return to SLC action Saturday at the Montagne Center against my alma mater McNeese State.

Rob Ryan didn’t stay unemployed very long after the Dallas Cowboys handed him his walking papers. Ryan’s defense was ranked 19th in the NFL last season. The New Orleans Saints named the rotund Ryan defensive coordinator, the same position he held with the Cowboys.

The family of late Penn State football legend Joe Paterno strongly rebuked accusations that the Nittany Lions long-time head coach covered up sexual-abuse allegations against PSU assistant Jerry Sandusky made by former FBI Director Louis Freeh. The Paterno family denounced the accusing report by Freeh as inaccurate, incomplete and misleading. It was a major effort by the Paterno family to clear the damaged reputation of the former coach who died in January 2012. The university leadership accepted the report which became the basis for extraordinary sanctions against the Penn State football program.

Brandt Snedeker, who finished second to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson the past two weeks, set a tournament record last weekend in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am by firing a seven-under par 65 Sunday for a two shot victory to finish with a 19-under par 267. This broke by one shot the tournament record held by Mickelson (2007) and Mark O’Meara (1997) who each shot 20-under 268 when Poppy Hills was in the rotation. The 32-year-old Snedeker fired rounds of 66-68-68-65—267 to pocket the $1.17 million first-place money. In five starts this year he has a win, two second-place finishes and a third and has moved up to No. 4 in the world.

JUST BETWEEN US…All the records set last season by the West Orange-Stark Mustangs’ Chain-Gang Defense were no accident as a school-record six Mustangs—who all were instrumental in the defense that recorded a school-record nine shutouts–signed college letters of intent last week to play football at the next level. The Mustangs that signed included defensive back/wide receiver J’Marcus Rhodes (SMU), safety Travon Blanchard (Baylor), defensive back/return man Quinton Tezeno (UTEP), defensive end Colin Janice (Arkansas State) and linebackers Joe Lynch and Daniel Woodson (Kilgore Junior College).  Lynch also is a finalist for the prestigious Willie Ray Smith Award. Only the Port Arthur Memorial Titans had more signees (11) from Southeast Texas.