Astros Fan Fest Disappoints Once More

This past Saturday the Houston Astros hosted their annual Fan Fest.

Fan Fest is a time when fans can go to Minute Maid Park and take in the sights and sounds of the Ballpark before the team heads off to Florida for the start of Spring Training.

There are games for the kids and opportunities to take batting practice or run around the bases like a Major League Baseball player.

Additionally there are various state of the franchise forums where team management outlines their expectations for the upcoming season.

Fan Fest is also a place where fans can purchase player autographs, past promotional items and other things with the proceeds all going to the team’s charity.

Batting Practice is just one of the activites for fans during the Houston Astros Fan Fest. Photo R. Anderson
Batting Practice is just one of the activities for fans during the Houston Astros Fan Fest.
Photo R. Anderson

On the surface Fan Fest is a win for everyone and is a great way to spend a sunny Saturday in January.

Unfortunately much like the Astros players have a tendency to strike out at the plate, the past couple of Fan Fests have been mostly a swing and a miss from my perspective.

I have attended around six or seven Fan Fests through the years and this was the second one that I had attended since the new ownership took over the team.

While I am sure there are still growing pains to address I was really not too impressed with what I saw.

For the second year in a row, instead of letting fans move throughout the whole ballpark with activities spaced out, activities were limited to a U shape on the concourse which created log jams of humanity having to turn around and move back upstream like spawning salmon when they reached the two black curtain dams.

This meant that there was less elbow room than in past years and made for a bit of a claustrophobic situation.

I am sure that there were many nice activities, but with so many people in such a small space it was hard to tell.

In the future I would recommend spreading the activities out a bit more to avoid the packed sardine feel.

Another disappointment came in the annual garage sale of past promotional items.

In previous years I have been able to get many team hats, shirts, and bobbleheads at the garage sale while doing my part to help charity.

This year when I arrived the garage sale was already sold out of items. I find it very hard to believe that there were more people buying items this year to the point that they would be sold out an hour after the doors opened and think that the team made less items available for the fans to purchase.

Speaking of things for fans to purchase, both team stores were open to allow people to stock up on hats, shirts and other gear ahead of the season.

The only problem with this was the proximity of the children’s bounce house zone to the store.

Once again anyone wanting to get to the main team store had to fight their way through lines of people waiting to get their bounce on.

There has got to be a better location for the bounce houses that allows the children to play and the adults to get to the store without having that salmon feeling again.

It is very likely that there were people who did not even go to the team store since they did not want to fight their way through bounce house land to get there. So in this way the placement of the bounce house zone likely cost the team money.

I did not venture to the Club level to hear any of the forums with team personnel since that would have been another upstream battle to get to the stairway that led to the forums.

In previous years the fan forums were located in the Union Station lobby next to the team store and were easily accessible without battling the compressed humanity.

I am sure that the forums were good and I certainly wish I could have seen for myself but it just wasn’t to be.

After two straight disappointing Fan Fest experiences I will certainly think long and hard before returning next year.

I am sure I can find other ways to mark the arrival of the baseball season without swimming like a salmon with thousands of other fans crammed into a tight space.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about salmon has me hungry for some seafood.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

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Baseball Movie Mondays is in Love with the Game

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day. Today we fall in love with the game and visit the first side of the Kevin Costner baseball triangle.

Kevin Costner has made three baseball movies in his career playing a Minor League catcher who creates rain delays and catch phrases, a farmer who hears voices in the corn and build a ballpark, and a Major League pitcher who dates John Travolta’s wife.

Today we are focusing on the movie where he played a pitcher, For Love of the Game, which also happened to be the newest of the three Costner baseball movies.

By the time the third leg of the Costner baseball triangle rolled around though it was clear that he did not have much left in the tank.

The third side of the Kevin Costner baseball triangle is For Love of the Game. Photo R. Anderson
The third side of the Kevin Costner baseball triangle is For Love of the Game.
Photo R. Anderson

While Bull Durham and Field of Dreams provided entertainment from start to finish, along with a few tears, For Love of the Game has moments where it turns into that extra inning game that you just want to end so you can fight the traffic and go home.

Still, it is hard to not count the complete Costner trilogy in a listing of baseball movies since each one contributes pieces to the entire picture.

The movie focuses on Costner as a 40 year-old pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Throughout the course of pitching what could be the final game of his career Costner flashes back to various points of his career both on and off the field and thinks about the events that made him the person that he became.

The movie is helped by the presence of Vin Scully calling the on-field action as only Vin Scully can.

When the day comes where Vin Scully is no longer able to call baseball games it is nice to know that his voice will live on not only through his massive archive of actual games called but through a few silver screen games as well.

There truly is no one left in the world of baseball who calls a game like Vin Scully.

Of course For Love of the Game is not just a baseball movie.

Like the previous movie on our countdown, Fever Pitch, For Love of the Game probably could also fall into the romantic category but as Fred Savage’s character in The Princess Bride comes to learn, you likely won’t mind the “mushy stuff” as the movie draws to its conclusion.

The baseball action is strong for the most part and the flashbacks do not seem to water down the present day action.

Not to give anything away for those who have not seen the movie but viewers are rewarded in the end of the film in much the same way that a fan is rewarded with a walkoff home run after watching a 21-inning game into the wee hours of the morning.

Again, For Love of the Game is not Kevin Costner’s strongest baseball movie, but it does deserve a place on the shelf next to the other two sides of the Costner baseball triangle. And of course like I said there is Vin Scully to listen to so one really can’t go wrong there.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to listen to some vintage Vin Scully broadcasts.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Gas Prices are Falling, the Sky is Not

It has often been said that there are at least two sides to every story, and somewhere in the middle is the truth.

I have been thinking about that saying lately as I read the news coverage about the falling price of oil and gas which depending on who you ask is either the best thing ever for consumers, or the beginning of the end of western civilization as we know it.

There are many oil companies in and around Texas and when a gallon of gas sold in the $3 to $4 range they were giddy and beside themselves as they swam Scrooge McDuck style in their big vaults of money.

To be perfectly honest oil companies probably do not have a big money vault, but if they did there is no doubt that they were swimming in it.

With the average price of a gallon of gas below $2, and falling, many oil and gas companies are   shedding employees as they try to stay competitive in a changing market. Photo R. Anderson
With the average price of a gallon of gas below $2, and falling, many oil and gas companies are shedding employees as they try to stay competitive in a changing market.
Photo R. Anderson

Now, that the average price of a gallon of gas is below $2, and falling, those same companies are screaming that the only way they can remain in business at such low prices is by shedding employees as they try to stay competitive in a changing market.

Former oil executives are also telling anyone who will listen that the price of oil will soon rise again much like the phoenix rising from the ashes and that $5 a gallon gas is coming.

All the while the bulk of the country finds more money in their pockets since the price to fill up at the pump is dropping.

More money not going to gas means more money available to spend on other things which in theory should help the economy.

Restaurants and other retailers should benefit from consumers spending less money in gas to arrive at their establishments.

Plus, companies spending less on gas to ship items means they are less likely to need to pass the costs on to those same consumers.

While I do not have an advanced business degree it seems a very simple equation that lower fuel costs are good and higher fuel costs are bad.

When I first started driving many years ago, gas was still under $1 a gallon.

I remember the uproar when the stations had to add the third line of their signs when the price of a gallon of gas had the audacity to cost more than a buck.

The rumblings continued each time gas surpassed another dollar milestone as people dug deeper into their wallets each time they went to the pump as $3 and even $4 gas became a part of life.

The only people who would benefit from $5 a gallon gas also happen to be the only ones saying that it is coming. I guess they are hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course gas is not the only factor affected by the laws of supply and demand.

Prices are higher when demand is great and supplies are low.

Conversely prices tend to drop when supplies raise and demand drops.

The factors of supply and demand are not limited to just oil commodities and play a role in the world of baseball as well.

When a team is red hot and demand to see them in person is high, the prices go up. When a team is struggling in the standings and the turnstile prices usually do not go up.

Under dynamic pricing fans are charged more to see the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees compared with other teams where demand is not as great. Photo R. Anderson
Under dynamic pricing fans are charged more to see the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees compared with other teams where demand is not as great.
Photo R. Anderson

Teams call this the dynamic pricing model. In Houston the Astros use this practice to raise the price of admission whenever the Yankees and Red Sox come to town since they know that more people want to see those games and are willing to pay the higher prices.

Personally I have always thought that the same seat in a Ballpark should cost the same amount of money regardless of who the opponent is but it seems that dynamic pricing is here to stay as teams try to find ways to make as much money as they can.

Ticket prices are just one of many factors that go into the makeup of a competitive baseball franchise just as the price of a gallon of gas is just one of the factors that drives the economy.

Falling gas prices will not doom the economy and baseball fans will still pony up the dough if they want to see a team bad enough.

So with Spring Training around the corner it is time to take advantage of the low gas prices and take a road trip to see the action at the Ballpark.

Just don’t be surprised if you see oil executives in fancy suits on the side of the road holding up their sky is falling signs along the way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Spring Training trip to plan.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Baseball Movie Mondays is Feeling Feverish for the Red Sox

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day. Today we travel to Red Sox Nation on the big screen.

In the movie What About Bob?, the title character, played by Bill Murray, sums up the world as being comprised of two types of people, those who love Neil Diamond, and those who do not.

My aunt falls into the category of someone who loves Neil Diamond. Her love of all things Neil Diamond goes so far as having “Sweet Caroline” as the ringtone on her phone. While this causes some members of the family to burst out into fits of side splitting laughter whenever she gets a call, it is something that she enjoys.

Like Neil Diamond, one tends to either love or hate the Boston Red Sox. It probably is not too surprising then that Neil Diamond and the Red Sox are so intertwined with Red Sox fans belting out that same Neil Diamond song as my aunt’s ringtone during every home game.

While the Red Sox have a long history of winning, they also had a long period of “cursed” play where the diehard fans wondered if their beloved BoSox would ever hoist the World Series trophy again.

The world of a Boston Red Sox fan is explored in the baseball movie, Fever Pitch. Photo R. Anderson
The world of a Boston Red Sox fan is explored in the baseball movie, Fever Pitch.
Photo R. Anderson

After winning World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013, the Red Sox have certainly been on a bit of a winning streak lately.

But before the start of the winning streak, members of Red Sox nation had to look towards the silver screen to see a place where the Sox could be champions. Enter the movie Fever Pitch which explores the fanatical side of Boston Red Sox fandom while also exploring interpersonal human relationships in the form of a baseball Rom Com, or romantic comedy.

At its surface the terms romantic comedy and baseball should not really be uttered in the same breath. But upon deeper inspection, one can accept that baseball fans have long had a romance with the game that often starts when they catch their first game or pick up a ball and glove for the first time.

In Fever Pitch, the romance is between a Red Sox loving man, played by Jimmy Fallon, and the conflict that arises as he tries to choose between his love of his team and the pressure he feels to grow up.

The movie resonates with fans in different ways depending on where they see themselves along the spectrum.

For some people at a crossroads they can think about whether they need to give up their childhood love of the game and get a real job.

For others watching, perhaps they long for a return to when they loved the game as much as the characters in the film.

Others may be somewhere in the middle finding balance between a so called normal life and support of the home team.

Regardless of where one stands in terms of their personal baseball journey, Fever Pitch offers a glimpse into a year of fandom related to one of the teams with the most rabid fan bases in all of baseball.

Of course, the movie also may or may not have helped break some of those dreaded Red Sox curses so it should be a must have for any member of Sox Nation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly have the urge to listen to some Neil Diamond.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Ben Zobrist Traded from Tampa Bay Rays to Oakland A’s

Over the weekend the Tampa Bay Rays continued their A to Z roster rebuild by trading long-time fan favorite Ben Zobrist to the Oakland Athletics.

The Zobrist trade is the latest move in a busy offseason for the Rays.

Since October the Rays have had to find replacements for president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and manager Joe Maddon, who is now manager of the Chicago Cubs.

After nine seasons with Tampa Bay Ben Zobrist became a member of the Oakland A's this weekend. Zobrist is just the latest of many players to be traded by the Rays as they retool their roster. Photo R. Anderson
After nine seasons with Tampa Bay Ben Zobrist became a member of the Oakland A’s this weekend. Zobrist is just the latest of many players to be traded by the Rays as they retool their roster.
Photo R. Anderson

Friedman and Maddon were the two people who were most often credited with the turnaround of the Rays. Under their tenure the Rays experienced their first winning seasons in team history along with some trips to the playoffs including a World Series appearance in 2008.

With the departures of Maddon and Friedman a sort of free for all trading of players ensued as the new president and manager sought to put their stamp on the franchise.

In addition to Zobrist, the Rays have also parted ways this offseason with their 2014 Opening day right fielder, left fielder, second baseman, catcher, shortstop along with six pitchers. By any calculation that is a very busy two and a half months.

With months to go before the start of the season it is entirely possible that even move roster moves will be made before Opening Day.

The only safe player on the roster appears to be Evan Longoria at third base but something tells me that the Rays would even entertain offers for him if they felt they could get enough prospects in return.

If recent history is any indication Alex Cobb will be the next pitcher to be traded by the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson
If recent history is any indication Alex Cobb will be the next pitcher to be traded by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Photo R. Anderson

While each of the moves have stung to varying degrees, the Zobrist trade is perhaps the most puzzling.

By all account Ben Zobrist was one of the most popular members of the Rays organization having spent his entire nine-year career as a super utility player filling whatever spot in the infield or outfield needed him.

Off the field he was involved in numerous outreach programs within the committee showing that he was more than just a player there for a paycheck.

Speaking of that paycheck though, Zobrist was due to be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season and was certainly due for a raise in salary.

While the baseball economists will say that small market teams like the Rays need to trade players like Zobrist to get value in return instead of watching them depart in free agency.

The business model the Rays seem to embrace is shedding some salary and gaining some prospects in return that they hope will turn into Major Leaguers that they can sign on the cheap and then trade away when they are due for a raise. Lather, rinse, repeat and hope all goes to plan. That is far from an ideal way to run a fan driven business.

The Tampa Bay Rays made their first and only World Series appearance in 2008. That season also marked the first winning season in franchise history. If things do not turn around the club may be headed back towards their losing ways. Photo R. Anderson
The Tampa Bay Rays made their first and only World Series appearance in 2008. That season also marked the first winning season in franchise history. If things do not turn around the club may be headed back towards their losing ways.
Photo R. Anderson

Despite the focus on television contracts and corporate sponsorships as revenue streams the fact remains that teams still need fans to be successful.

Most fans understand that baseball is a business and roster moves need to be made from time to time but when fans continue to see their favorite players traded year after year they can start to resent the organization.

In college athletics, especially basketball and football, turnover is extremely high as players leave college early to start their professional careers.

In the professional ranks however fans do not want to have to learn an entire roster every year.

Of course fall out from trading popular players like David Price last year and Ben Zobrist this year are far from the only issues facing the Rays who seem one the cusp of returning to their devilish losing ways.

Before when the Rays made their famous midseason salary dumping trades there were still enough key pieces left on the roster to absorb the losses. History also showed that the traded players seemed to struggle after leaving the Rays leading to the belief that the trade worked out in favor of the Rays.

But as the trades became more frequent, the remaining roster was left weaker and the returns diminished.

Instead of a team poised to win the American League East Division year after the year, the Rays find themselves once again as sellers among a retooling division that is adding pieces at a breakneck pace.

Joe Maddon instilled a winning tradition with the Tampa Bay Rays before opting out of his contract and joining the Chicago Cubs. Time will tell if the Ray way can continue without its ringleader. Photo R. Anderson
Joe Maddon instilled a winning tradition with the Tampa Bay Rays before opting out of his contract and joining the Chicago Cubs. Time will tell if the Ray way can continue without its ringleader.
Photo R. Anderson

Most teams go through a natural process of up and down years so a couple of bad seasons will not necessarily spell doom for the Rays but any prolonged losing streak risks further alienating a fan base and making it more difficult to get the new Ballpark they so desperately want full of those suites for the big corporate sponsors.

There is no doubt that should Ballpark discussions continue to break down in St. Petersburg, cities like Montreal and Charlotte will be all too happy to make room for the Rays.

Montreal and Charlotte are certainly both good cities and both have a long history of supporting baseball but I do not think either of them should get the Rays.

Personally I hope that the Rays enjoy a long and prosperous run in the Sunshine State and return to their winning ways sooner rather than later. Failure to do that may mark the end of Major League Baseball on the west coast of Florida leaving the Miami Marlins as the only Florida based MLB team.

Of course should the Rays make the trek up to Montreal, I hope they put heaters in the sting ray tank and find a warm winter coat for DJ Kitty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new roster to learn.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson