Houston Astros and Keanu Reeves Have a Lot in Common

It occurred to me the other day that watching this year’s version of the Houston Astros is a lot like watching the Keanu Reeves cinematic classic The Replacements.

Granted aside from the Matrix Trilogy the words “Keanu Reeves cinematic classic” are rarely used but stay with me here.

In The Replacements, which came out in 2000, Reeves plays a “replacement” player who crosses the picket lines and leads a rag tag group of washed up players on the Washington Sentinels to victory during a NFL strike.

Jose Altuve, the current face of the franchise, is likely the only current Astros player with a chance to see the rebuilding effort all the way through. Photo R. Anderson
Jose Altuve, the current face of the franchise, is likely the only current Astros player with a chance to see the rebuilding effort all the way through.
Photo R. Anderson

The movie is based on what occurred during the 1987 NFL season when the regular players walked out and replacement players were used for around a quarter of the regular season.

During the strike games the Washington Redskins, portrayed as the Washington Sentinels in the movie due to the NFL rarely giving permission to use real team names in movies, had a 3-1 record.

The Redskins would ultimately win the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos. As a show of thanks and support for allowing them to get there each of the replacement players was given a Super Bowl ring by the Redskins along with the regular players.

So what does a movie based on actual events that occurred on a football field over 25 years ago have to do with the Astros today? I am glad you asked.

While there is not a strike in Major League Baseball this year the parallels to the movie ring especially true for the men in orange and blue. Much like the “replacement” players of old, the current Astros for the most part of serving as placeholders keeping roster spots warm until the real players return.

It is no secret that when the magic rebuilding project that the Astros have started is completed in 5-10 years very few, if any, of the current players will still be with the team. This is not to say that there are not some good ballplayers on the team but is more of a reflection on the focus on building prospects through the draft and building for the long term.

After tasting the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays Carlos Pena is among the handful of "replacement" players being used by the Astros while their future players season in the minors. Photo R. Anderson
After tasting the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays Carlos Pena is among the handful of “replacement” players being used by the Astros while their future players season in the minors.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, no team can just take 5-10 years off while it rebuilds so a roster of players was constructed to be just competitive enough to not embarrass the team while coming at a fraction of the cost of most other Major League rosters.

This is not to say that the team is incapable of winning.

Much like the 1987 Redskins and their replacement players, the chips will fall in the right spots and the ball will tend to bounce favorably now and then for the Astros.

In fact the team has already won more games this year than many thought they would despite racking up serious frequent flyer miles between Houston and the Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City with nearly daily roster moves.

Sections of empty seats are likly to be a sign at Minute Maid Park for many years to come as the Astros work on a total tear-down and rebuild philosophy. Photo R. Anderson
Sections of empty seats are likly to be a sign at Minute Maid Park for many years to come as the Astros work on a total tear-down and rebuild philosophy.
Photo R. Anderson

And contrasting the preseaon predictions that the Astros would be the worst team in baseball this year the Miami Marlins actually have a worse record than the Astros despite having more so called Major Leaguers on the roster. At the time of this posting the Astros have two more victories than the Marlins. Time will tell who really gets crowned worst team in baseball at the end of the season.

Of course if the goal really is to stock the farm teams with the most draft picks the Astros best not get too good too soon and risk missing out on that number one draft pick.

That is not to say that the Astros, or any other team, would ever throw a game but only the team with the fewest wins gets to pick first. This year that battle will definitely be between the Marlins and the Astros with no other teams in the same zip code of futility.

It just goes to show that one can never truly be sure what will happen despite what all of the so called experts predict. There is still time for a flurry of roster moves between now and the end of the season and Bo Porter doing his best Gene Hackman impersonation could manage to field a competitive team but remember that these are not the players that the franchise is building the future on; they are just the replacements.

Of course that doesn’t mean that the Astros and the Marlins for that matter are playing any less hard than the players on the other 28 teams. It just means that the deck is stacked against them and they are swimming against a strong current.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it might be time to stage a mini Keanu Reeves film festival. Or as Bill and Ted would say, “most excellent” (cue air guitar moves).

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

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A Time for Remembrance and Sunscreen

Today is Memorial Day which is a United States Federal Holiday that occurs every year on the final Monday of May.

It is a day of remembrance and a time to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

The Battle of Galveston is reenacted yearly. The Civil War led to what would become Memorial Day. Photo R. Anderson
The Battle of Galveston is reenacted yearly. The Civil War led to what would become Memorial Day.
Photo R. Anderson

Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the United States Civil War to honor soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line who lost their lives in battle.

Memorial Day was expanded in the last century to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

While dating back to the war between the states, in recent years Memorial Day has also marked the start of the summer vacation season with Labor Day acting as the second bookend in September to signal the end of the summer season.

Over the course of the past weekend families traveled all over to enjoy time in the sun and surf as they officially left winter behind and embraced the feeling of summer.

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who fought and died for our freedom. Photo R. Anderson
Memorial Day is a time to honor those who fought and died for our freedom.
Photo R. Anderson

As part of the holiday weekend, numerous television networks used the time to air marathons of their most popular shows to capture the attention of those viewers who were not out in the sun catching waves or barbecuing as their way of celebrating the weekend.

As with most other holiday weekends, Memorial Day also becomes a time when advertisers discount everything from dishwashers to pickup trucks in an attempt to rake in the dollars and lure shoppers into their establishments.

Large flags and camoflauge hats will mark Memorial Day across Major League Baseball today. Photo R. Anderson
Large flags and camouflage hats will mark Memorial Day across Major League Baseball today.
Photo R. Anderson

Major League Baseball will honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice by wearing camouflage on their hats and uniforms during their games today.

And of course in keeping with true American capitalist values that tend to come to light during holiday weekends, versions of those hats and jerseys are available for purchase by the general public.

Of course, not every tribute includes direct commercial time-ins. There is one Memorial Day tradition that still tends to get me choked up and seems to honor the fallen in the way the holiday was intended if not with a bit of a 21st Century feel.

I am referring to the Memorial Day Weekend NASCAR race. Each year the pre-race show includes a strong military presence, bagpipers, and Taps being played.

NASCAR has a long history of supporting the troops and offers a stirring tribute before its annual Memorial Day Race. Photo R. Anderson
NASCAR has a long history of supporting the troops and offers a stirring tribute before its annual Memorial Day Race.
Photo R. Anderson

NASCAR is arguably the most commercialized of the major American sports with advertisements seeming to cover every spare square inch of both driver and car. But, when it comes to pausing to honor the troops they tend to get it right year after year.

It is hard not to feel the sacrifice that was being made when watching the pre-race ceremony and hearing those bag pipes and lone bugle mournfully wail.

Of course the part where they roll out the extremely large American flag, a staple of most sporting events these days, is another nice touch.

Americans owe their freedom to the sacrifice made by countless soldiers and I am glad that we have holidays, and pre-race ceremonies where we can be reminded of that.

Unfortunately, I fear that in the coming years the commercial aspects of holidays like Memorial Day will overtake the true meanings behind them. Instead of being a time where Americans all pause to remember the sacrifices made by those that came before them, I fear that the holiday will complete its transformation into a holiday where travelers merely focus on the cars before them as they rush to their weekend getaways, or catch up on those projects that the extra day off from work allows them to finally tackle.

Ceremonial pitches honoring the troops and first responders. Photo R. Anderson
Ceremonial pitches honoring the troops and first responders.
Photo R. Anderson

So while you are enjoying that extra day off of work, or grilling some meat on the grill, or even grilling your flesh on the sand today, take some time to think of the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers.

It is often said that freedom isn’t free and that it comes at a great cost. Days like Memorial Day allow us to remember that cost and appreciate the freedom a little more.

If you happen to come across a member of the Armed Forces today in your travels to and from the beach or that store with the huge sale on mattresses take a moment to tell them thanks for doing their part to keep us free to enjoy those sandy shores and have the means to purchase that mattress with 90 days same as cash financing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the urge to cook something on an open flame and see if I can find a solider to thank for my right to make that burger extra crispy.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Bathroom Incident Flushes Away Team’s Successful Week

The Houston Astros won two out of their last three games this week and truth be told, aside from an epic collapse by the bullpen, they should have won all three games against the Kansas City Royals.

That is not however what is making the national news as a so called “citizen journalist” broke open a scandal that led to the firing of one man and a collective community wondering whether the event was one that was isolated, or one that had been more wide spread and put them at risk.

I am of course talking about Operation Snow Cone at Minute Maid Park where a food vendor was literally caught with his pants down with a partial tray of snow cones in harm’s way while he took care of the call of nature in one of the facilities at the Ballpark.

A bathroom at Minute Maid Park. Note the lack of snow cones as it should be. Photo R. Anderson
A bathroom at Minute Maid Park. Note the lack of snow cones as it should be.
Photo R. Anderson

Go ahead and get all of the juvenile clichés about not eating the yellow snow and the team not having a snowball’s chance this year out of the way, I will wait.

Okay, now that we have all gotten that out of our systems let us focus on the real issues here.

There is no excuse for a food service vendor taking product into the bathroom and placing it on the floor while they go to the bathroom a few feet away. The amount of germs and the risk of exposure to those germs by the innocent purchasers of the product is certainly not something anyone wants to be exposed to.

But let us say for the sake of argument that the three remaining snow cones in the tray were on their way back to the vending area to be destroyed at the end of the shift and were not going to be offered up for sale. We just don’t know what the plans for the snow cones were after the flush heard round the internet was completed.

Another factor that cannot be ignored here is what in the world was the person doing taking video and providing running commentary inside the restroom in the first place?

A vendor sells cotton candy and kettle corn at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson
A vendor sells cotton candy and kettle corn at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

People who take video of people under bathroom stalls in most cases are called predators and/or creeps. These people usually end up getting arrested on peeping tom charges or at the very least they get visited by that To Catch a Predator guy.

Granted, the intentions of this phone camera wielding justice seeking individual seem noble but I really don’t want to encourage a whole slew of restroom rangers to enter with cameras blazing looking for something amiss. What next hidden cameras in the urinal cakes?

With all of the camera phones and security cameras out in the world today it is safe to assume that at any given moment whatever you are doing is being filmed by someone. In fact, someone very well could be taking video of me writing this column.

That is just the new reality that we are faced with as a society and I see little chance of that genie ever getting put back in the bottle. I just don’t want to think that it now includes the possibility of being filmed in restrooms as well.

There have to be some areas where a person can still have a little privacy. That is a line that simply must not be crossed. Or as Patrick Stewart would say, “The line must be drawn here. This far, no further.”

Instead of filming under the stall door, which just sounds creepy no matter how you slice it, the concerned fan could have just located a team employee to alert them about what was going on. According to the video of the incident a stadium employee does appear to get involved and the tainted snow cones do not make it back out on the floor.

As part of the damage control afterwards it was announced that the vendor in question, who worked for a third party contractor, was fired. I am sure the remaining employees will be reminded of the importance of not taking food into the restrooms as well.

Various vendors in bright yellow shirts work the crowd before a game. Photo R. Anderson
Various vendors in bright yellow shirts work the crowd before a game.
Photo R. Anderson

I have said time and time again that I never wanted to work in the food industry since I enjoy eating out too much and wanted to remain blissfully ignorant regarding what was happening to my food behind the curtain.

But I am fairly sure that they cover don’t take the food with you into the bathroom stall with you during orientation.

In the spirit of full disclosure I should reveal that over the years I have had many snow cones at many ballparks, including quite a few at Minute Maid Park. And despite this lapse in judgment by a former employee I am no less likely to continue enjoying them at the ballpark.

Of course, I will continue my habit of only ordering the snow cones from full trays that have just left the backroom where they have been made. Once the tray has taken a few trips around the ballpark it is no longer considered appetizing in my eyes and is considered unclean.

The image of a tray of snow cones on the filthy bathroom floor of a Major League ballpark is certainly disgusting but I have to believe it was an isolated incident.

When in doubt cupcakes make a lovely food choice. Photo R. Anderson
When in doubt cupcakes make a lovely food choice.
Photo R. Anderson

And while we are on the topic of phones in bathrooms can we finally put an end to people taking calls while they are relieving themselves in public restrooms?

No one is that busy, or that important that they have to take calls in the stall. Checking your e-mail, surfing the web and texting while in the bathroom is perfectly acceptable and really is no different than reading a newspaper or a book to pass the time.

But for the love of Pete do not answer the phone to discuss business while doing your business in public. If I am on the other end of that call and I hear the telltale signs of where they are while making the call I am going to be even less likely to employ their services.

Keep the phones outside the stalls people. To paraphrase the anti-texting while driving campaign, it can wait.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about snow cones has me craving something cold and refreshing.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Even After Tragedy the Show Must Go On

Events like the recent tornado in the suburbs of Oklahoma City show the insignificance of sports in the grand scheme of things.

Events like the recent tornado in the suburbs of Oklahoma City also show the significance of sports in the grand scheme of things when it come to returning to normal following a tragedy.

FEMA command centers like this one will soon be a sight all over Oklahoma. Photo R. Anderson
FEMA command centers like this one will soon be a sight all over Oklahoma.
Photo R. Anderson

While nothing can instantly make everything better for those who have lost loved ones, a lifetime of possessions, and are trying to rebuild their lives while wondering why the same area would get hit by devastating twisters roughly a decade apart, the presence of sports can have a soothing effect while also serving to bring resources to the recovery that may not have been there otherwise.

Today across the country college baseball teams will start their conference tournaments to determine who makes it to the College World Series.

In the Houston area that means the Southland Conference and Conference USA will be holding tournaments at Star Tex Field in Sugar Land and Reckling Park at Rice University respectively.

UCF and Rice University are set for a showdown with the Conference USA crown at stake. Photo R. Anderson
UCF and Rice University are set for a showdown with the Conference USA crown at stake.
Photo R. Anderson

Another tournament for the Big 12 was also slated to start today in Oklahoma City. The stadium hosting the tournament, which is also home to the Houston Astros Triple-A affiliate, is about 10 miles from the devastation area.

With such close proximity to the devastation tourney directors were faced with deciding whether to go on with the tournament, or to cancel it altogether. In the end they decided to delay the start of the tournament by a day to add time to recover.

In situations like this there will always be those who say the tournament should have been cancelled in light of the tragic events and to hold the tournament is being insensitive to the victims.

I do not share that opinion.

During an active event where resources were stretched to the point where holding the tournament would become a strain to the cities hosting them then of course I would say to cancel the tournament; but this is not the case.

Public officials from the governor down to the mayor have expressed a desire for the Big 12 Tournament to continue as planned so it is not like the Conference officials are proceeding without the blessing of the proper authorities.

Stories are already reaching the media of teams chipping in to help the victims of the storms. Were the tournament cancelled those teams would not still be there to help.

One such example is the University of West Virginia baseball team going to Walmart and buying items to distribute to the victims. There are likely many other gestures that are being done by teams that are not being publicized.

In addition to the efforts of the universities taking part in the tournament, it is likely that donations will be taken at the ballpark as well to help the victims. There is also a very strong likelihood that portions of the ticket sales will go towards the victims. While many people may want to donate, a collection box at the ballpark gives them an easy way to do that. It is the same way that the annual Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign does so well.

UCF won the series during their last visit to Rice University in April. They will hope for similar results this weekend. Photo R. Anderson
UCF won the series during their last visit to Rice University in April. They will hope for similar results this weekend.
Photo R. Anderson

None of these things could happen if the tournament was cancelled so the value of the show going on becomes evident.

I believe that by and large people want to help out in times of trouble but many may not know how. By making it as easy as possible for them, they are able to contribute.

In the spirit of making it easy to contribute to the relief effort, people can make an automatic $10 donation to the Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to 90999 or the Salvation Army by texting STORM to 80888 . While by in no means are these the only organizations collecting they are certainly two places to start.

It will likely take years for the areas hit by the tornado to recover but as they have shown from the time of the Dust Bowl to today the people of the Midwest are a resilient people and ones that can recover from adversity stronger than before.

Stories of heroic actions by teachers shielding their students with their bodies as the storm tore through their school, to pets being reunited with their owners, show some of that never say die attitude and willingness to help others in their darkest moments. Sadly there were lives lost in the storm but early warning systems provided a critical 16 minutes to allow those that could to seek shelter. Few can argue that the 16 minute warning saved lives that would have been lost with less notice of the approaching tornado.

Personally I would rather face hurricanes than tornadoes. At least with hurricanes there are usually days if not weeks to prepare for the impact. Tornadoes do not offer that luxury and are a major reason why as much as I love the suburbs of Dallas, and even picked out a loft overlooking a ballpark that I thought would be fun to live in, I do not think I could ever live there due to it being part of Tornado Alley.

Hurricanes announce their arrival days in advance unlike tornadoes that strike in an instant.  Photo R. Anderson
Hurricanes announce their arrival days in advance unlike tornadoes that strike in an instant.
Photo R. Anderson

I have definitely gone through my share of hurricanes and have seen first hand the devastation that they can cause but it is nothing compared to what a tornado can bring. I hope to never have to face a tornado head on but if I ever do I will know that sports will be there as a calming factor as I rebuild from the devastation.

So let the games go on as the recovery from the tornado takes place and know that the rebuilding will still be going on long after the stadium lights dim but the people of Oklahoma will recover as they have many times before. After all, it takes a certain kind of person to live in a zone where on any given day everything they know can be turned upside down in an instant.

And while they are adversaries in the annual Red River Shootout between the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Oklahoma Sooners, there are definitely times to put football partisanship aside and just be one human being helping another. And this is one of those times.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am off to get ready for the Conference USA Tournament at Rice University but first I have a donation to text.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Astros Hire Ryan, Just Not the Ryan Most Fans Wanted

In one of the worst kept secrets since the invention of the secret, the Houston Astros are set to officially announce today that they have hired Reid Ryan, son of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, to be their next team president/CEO following the sudden resignation of the last team president earlier this week.

Nolan, the Ryan most fans would have loved to welcome back to the Astros fold, currently serves as president of the Texas Rangers and owner of the two Minor League teams that son Reid oversees.

So, the Astros will hope that Reid can weave some of the same success that he has had with the Triple A Round Rock Express (Rangers affiliate) and the Double A team Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros affiliate) with his call up to the Majors.

Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi is one of two Minor League teams run by incoming Astros president Reid Ryan. Photo R. Anderson
Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi is home to the Hooks which is one of two Minor League teams run by incoming Astros president Reid Ryan and his father Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
Photo R. Anderson

I have attended games in both Round Rock and Corpus Christi and did enjoy the overall experience. How much of that was related to the influence of the father and how much of it was based on the son is up for debate but few can argue the quality of product being put on the field. And with years of running a pair of successful franchises behind him it seems some of that knowledge will translate to running a dysfunctional franchise like the Astros that seems to take more steps backward than forward.

Of course, in all honesty I much prefer the Ballpark experience that the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and the Frisco Roughriders provide over my experience at Reid Ryan’s Ballparks in Corpus Christi and Round Rock.

But if one truly buys into the Astros public relations campaign of this being a time to strip the team down to the foundation and rebuild, than the move to hire Reid Ryan fits right into that plan.

With the team being 5-10 years away from being competitive by most estimates that gives Reid Ryan time to learn how to be a Major League Baseball team President.

The Dell Diamond is home to the Round Rock Express. Incoming Astros president Reid Ryan ran the Express with his father Nolan. Photo R. Anderson
The Dell Diamond is home to the Round Rock Express. Incoming Astros president Reid Ryan ran the Express with his father Nolan.
Photo R. Anderson

To be fair, I am not alone in assessing the talent on the Astros roster and calling it Triple A level. With mandates to minimize costs coming down from the top the baseball side of the house tried to put out a quality roster on the field but with the amount of money they were given to work with it is not going to be the same level of competition of the other 29 teams when you are spending less for the whole team than many other teams pay single players.

That is not to say that the Astros won’t get lucky here and there and manage to put a win together. In fact a quarter into the season they have managed 10 such victories. After all even a broken clock is right twice a day.

So with a roster that is a moving target full of players that would still be in the minors on any other roster, and expectations for winning being as low as they are, the pressure for Reid Ryan to succeed right away would be rather low in theory allowing him the chance to proceed slower than someone taking a job at a team that was expected to win right away.

It is more likely that he will be given marching orders to try to press the flesh as it were and to mend broken fences and ill will in the community while the baseball product catches up to the Major League level.

And of course with expectations set so low in the event that he can’t right the ship few would hold that against him when he applied for other jobs. So, it really is the perfect opportunity to try some things out without committing career sabotage. Of course the famous last name also provides some protection that others would not have in terms of career protection. And having a famous father in a similar position four hours up the road that can be called for advice doesn’t hurt either.

I do hope that the rebuilding effort works out for Ryan and the Astros. The process to date has been painful to watch on several fronts.

If I ran the Astros the eyesore billboards in the outfield would go away. Here's to hoping new team President Reid Ryan shares that view and restores the skyline view in Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson
If I ran the Astros the eyesore billboards in the outfield would go away. Here’s to hoping new team President Reid Ryan shares that view and restores the skyline view in Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

The Public Relations major in me cringes at every misstep that the team makes. And for goodness sake find somewhere else in the ballpark to put those gaudy community partner billboards that block out the train and the skyline.

You have a stadium that offers great views of the night sky and then you go and block them with signs. Seriously?

And the whole charging fans excessive amounts of money for seats while failing to field a product worth seeing at those prices should be declared a crime.

Then there is that whole television debacle with only 40 percent of the Houston market getting to watch the games on the new Astros channel. The channel is supposed to be a revenue source for the team to allow them to spend money on players but so far that has not come to pass.

There are several other challenges that will face Reid Ryan when he takes the helm but those are certainly some of the more challenging ones that come to mind.

Skeeters
Of course when one gets tired of waiting on the Astros to get competitive again they can always catch the Sugar Land Skeeters in action. The Skeeters currently hold the best winning percentage in all of professional baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Did the ownership of the team under estimate what it takes to own a Major League Baseball team? Perhaps.

Can all of the missteps and public relations faux pas be fixed to allow the disenfranchised fans to return to Minute Maid Park to once again watch competitive baseball being played by the home team on a consistent basis? Time will tell.

Until then, there is a team in Sugar Land called the Skeeters to watch. I am also one of the lucky 40 percent who has the new cable channel so I can watch the Astros from the comfort of my own home without paying Major League prices to watch Minor League talent. I can also watch the Texas Rangers each night so I am thankfully not going through baseball withdrawal during the epic Astros slump.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about Minor League Baseball teams, and teams playing like Minor League teams has given me a sudden urge to go up to Frisco to catch the Roughriders.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson