Tag Archives: Houston Astros

Opening Night Pomp, Circumstance, and Hot Dogs

Last night, the 2013 Major League Baseball season kicked off with all of the ceremonial pomp, circumstance, and hot dogs that one would expect from the National Pastime’s opener.

The Astros and Rangers observe the Opening Day tradition of being introduced on the field. Photo R. Anderson
The Astros and Rangers observe the Opening Day tradition of being introduced on the field.
Photo R. Anderson

As part of Opening Day, all of the eyes of baseball were focused firmly on Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas thanks in part to a scheduling matter with ESPN that made the game between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros the only one in town.

Even pre game rain, that forced the roof to stay closed, couldn’t dampen the spirits of the over 41,000 fans in attendance.

As is normally the case when the Rangers come to town, the stands were full of supporters for both squads. Unlike in previous years though, where the lack of vocal Astros fans made it seem like a Rangers’ home game, the chants of Let’s go Rangers were enthusiastically drowned out by chants for the Astros.

Astros 8, Rangers 2
Astros 8, Rangers 2
Photo R. Anderson

When the Rangers and Astros took to the field at Minute Maid Park, it was more than a ball game between two in state and in division rivals. It was the continuation of a tradition as old as the game itself.

It marked the beginning of the season where anything is possible and everyone is tied for first place until that final out is tallied.

Before last night I had never watched Opening Day in person. I had attended the first home game of the Astros several times but it was never considered the Opening Night game for the entire league.

Former Astro Lance Berkman, now with the Rangers, received a mix of cheers and jeers when he came to the plate. Photo R. Anderson
Former Astro Lance Berkman, now with the Rangers, received a mix of cheers and jeers when he came to the plate.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course aside from being the first game of the year, it was a statistician’s dream as the Astros took the field as an American League team for the first time in their 51-year history.

This fact leads to the inevitable list of firsts that will forever be in the record books.

Let us consider just a few of them.

First pitch by an Astro pitcher in the American League? Thrown by Bud Norris.

First member of the Astros to get an American League hit? Jose Altuve.

Bud Norris threw the first pitch of both the 2013 regular season as well as the first pitch for a member of the Astros in the American League. Photo R. Anderson
Bud Norris threw the first pitch of both the 2013 regular season as well as the first pitch for a member of the Astros in the American League.
Photo R. Anderson

First Home run hit by an Astro since the move to the American League? Rick Ankiel. Ankiel also gets bonus points as being the first player to hit a home run in the 2013 season.

First National Anthem Singer? Lyle Lovett.

First ceremonial first pitch? Thrown by J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans.

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans threw out the first pitch of the Astros' tenure as an American League franchise. Photo R. Anderson
J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans threw out the first pitch of the Astros’ tenure as an American League franchise.
Photo R. Anderson

You get the idea.

If there is a statistic to be tracked, odds are someone, somewhere in the ballpark became the first person to do it since the big move to the American League.

It has been said repeatedly by many experts that this will most likely be another long season for the Astros with the team recording more than 100 losses for the third straight season.

But for at least one night the Astros were the best team in baseball as the only team with a win.

For those keeping score at home, the Astros stunned many in the baseball world with an 8-2 win over the heavily favored neighbors to the north.

Time will tell if the trend continues and the Astros are able to in fact exceed expectations with a winning record this year.

A big game deserves big flags. Photo R. Anderson
A big game deserves big flags.
Photo R. Anderson

Hollywood is full of stories chronicling the exploits of loveable losers who excel against tough odds and blow past low expectations to reach the highest pinnacle of personal and professional success.

Use sports as your measuring stick for the Hollywood treatment, and you can choose from the Mighty Ducks, the Bad News Bears, and the Cleveland Indians in Major League to name a few.

Time will tell whether the Astros will become the Mighty Bad News ‘Stros and turn doubters into believers by exceeding the low expectations set out for them this season, or if they will be the really bad ‘Stros that are far from mighty that everyone who claims to know baseball thinks they will be.

That in itself is part of the magic of the sport. Each season there are things that happen that no one saw coming when they were writing their preseason previews and looking into their crystal balls.

There will be pitchers that everyone thinks will throw no hitters that won’t and pitchers that seem to come out of nowhere and do.

Ian Kinsler prepares for the first pitch of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. Photo R. Anderson
Ian Kinsler prepares for the first pitch of the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
Photo R. Anderson

Batters will rise and fall with no real rhyme or reason.

Teams will deal with injuries that can be the great equalizer.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and there will be those who claim that they saw a particular trend long before anyone else.

As for this season, there are 161 more games before the playoffs start. One game is far too small of a sample size to discern the difference between contender and pretender. But, what no one can take away is that for one night the Houston Astros were the best team in baseball and that is certainly worth tipping a cap to.

The fact that the first game for the Astros as an American League team ended with a fairly convincing win over their bitter in state rival just makes it that much more meaningful.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the Astros victory has inspired me to look into other things with the potential to exceed expectations this year.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

Stable Stability is a Tricky Thing to Balance

Early last year I decided to add an additional team to my stable of baseball teams that I follow.

The addition of a new team into the stable is not something that is taken lightly and a variety of factors are involved in the process in order for a team to be determined worthy.

At the time of the decision to expand, my stable included the Baltimore Orioles (added in 1980), the Tampa Bay Rays (added in 1998), the Houston Astros (added in 2000), and the Washington Nationals (added in 2005). Each of the teams represented areas where I had either previously lived or had a history with following.

While the logo has changed, thirty three years later the Bird is still the word and the Baltimore Orioles still are the longest tenured team in the Stable of teams I follow. Photo R. Anderson
While the logo has changed, thirty three years later the Bird is still the word and the Baltimore Orioles still are the longest tenured team in the Stable of teams I follow.
Photo R. Anderson

I still follow the Atlanta Braves and Florida (Miami) Marlins for sentimental reasons but they were considered on the outside of the core four teams.

Despite their two World Series titles, and the history of me following them since their first year in 1993, the Marlins fell from prime stable positioning a few years ago after years of inept decisions by ownership that led to repeatedly fielding a non-competitive team.

That is not to say that winning is everything, I just want to know that ownership is making an effort to field a competitive ball club year after year. Astros you have been put on notice as well.

As I mentioned, one of the criteria for selecting a team to admit into the stable is historical attachment to the team through living or traveling frequently to their home base.

While once Devilish, The Tampa Bay Rays are the second longest tenured team in my stable of baseball teams. Photo R. Anderson
While once Devilish, The Tampa Bay Rays are the second longest tenured team in my stable of baseball teams.
Photo R. Anderson

Over the past few years I have traveled extensively in and around the Dallas area; including Arlington and Frisco. For those who may not be familiar with those areas they are home to the Texas Rangers and the Frisco Rough Riders, the Rangers’ AA affiliate.

During many of my trips north I would find myself at one of the two ballparks, or watching games in the hotel during downtime.

As the trips grew more frequent, so did the exposure to the Rangers to the point that I started watching Rangers games back home in Houston when the Astros were not on.

So, after careful consideration I decided that, while I consider certain Rangers’ fans to be some of the rudest people I have ever encountered in a ballpark, the Rangers had many pros that made them worthy of stable inclusion.

A new century, and a new team. The Houston Astros joined the stable in 2000. Photo R. Anderon
A new century, and a new team. The Houston Astros joined the stable in 2000.
Photo R. Anderon

The pros included proximity, Nolan Ryan, and Josh Hamilton. It was also decided that with the Astros in the National League and the Rangers in the American League I could easily follow both teams in the same way that I followed the Nationals and the Orioles since they were in the National and American Leagues respectively.

So, in 2012 the Rangers were officially added to my stable. While there was not an official ceremony or military flyover the day was marked with the purchase of a Rangers hat and t-shirt during one of my trips up to Frisco.

Shortly after the stable inclusion, one by one the carefully met criteria that allowed the Rangers in began to crumble.

The Washington Nationals joined the stable once they were exported from Montreal in 2005. Photo R. Anderson
The Washington Nationals joined the stable once they were exported from Montreal in 2005.
Photo R. Anderson

It was announced that not only would the Astros be moving to the American League, they would be moving into the same division as the Rangers. This meant they would face each other repeatedly in head to head battles beyond the yearly Lone Star interleague series.

I already had the Orioles and the Rays in the same division and the heartburn that gives me each year on who to pull for more when it comes to playoff time often has me reaching for the Pepcid.

I quickly came to terms with the fact that most analysts believe it will be years, if not decades, before the Astros are competing for the playoffs in the American League so I will have time to build up a plan for which team to root for more when the pennant races roll around.

The next obstacle to overcome for the Rangers to remain in my stable was the loss of Josh Hamilton to the Angels during free agency.

While I know that players come and go with great frequency, it really seemed like Josh Hamilton was one of the faces of the franchise for years to come and was one of the good guys that one wanted to see succeed based on the personal demons that he had overcome.

Ok, so no Josh Hamilton, no problem. At least they still had Nolan Ryan who by many accounts is the epitome of Texas baseball and has a museum just down the road from Houston.

While the Frisco Rough Riders were already in the Minor League stable their big brother joined the stable in 2012. Photo R. Anderson
While the Frisco Rough Riders were already in the Minor League stable their big brother joined the stable in 2012.
Photo R. Anderson

Then a few weeks back it was announced that Nolan Ryan may be leaving the team that he helped purchase a few years back.

While I would hate to see him go I know that Nolan Ryan will land on his feet if his tenure with the Rangers does end. Nolan’s loss alone, like that of Josh Hamilton, would not be reason enough to rescind the Rangers’ membership in my exclusive stable of teams to follow.

So, the Rangers become the fifth team in my stable with their place firmly entrenched. Of course whenever they play the Orioles, Rays or Astros they will not be the team that I root for the most. I mean tenure in the stable has to count for something.

Of course if they end up playing the Nationals in interleague play that creates another interesting dilemma since the Rangers were once the Washington Senators before leaving for the suburbs of Dallas in 1972. I guess who to pull for in that pairing of D.C. past and D.C. present will be another decision for another day.

This brings us to this Sunday and the start of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. The Rangers and the Astros will face off in a nationally televised game to kick the season off.

I am sure there will be a sellout crowd at the game. If past games between the two are to be any indication, the mix at Minute Maid Park will be about 60 percent Rangers fans, 30 percent Astros fans and 10 percent Texans fans (Seriously, the number of people who wear football jerseys to baseball games amazes me).

I haven’t decided for sure which jersey I will sport at the game. I am leaning towards the Astros even though I am fairly confident that the Rangers will prevail.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to review another stable application that just came across the Triple B news desk. After all, if realignment has taught me anything it is that even numbered divisions are much easier to manage than odd ones.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

Souvenir Cup, I Scoop You Up; Proceed to Display

Once upon a time there was a cup. This cup allowed people to put their beverage of choice in it and travel from the beverage source to any other place that they wanted without fear of losing the contents within. Gone were the days of cupping one’s hands together to get a drink from the well or filling a gourd, cow stomach or other container with liquid.

And while the cup was good, and practical, it was not living up to its full potential. That is until the cup became known as the souvenir cup.

Travel to most any sporting event or other event of note and odds are one will be exposed to a souvenir cup of some sort. This cup is usually larger than its other cup brethren and includes features like reuseability and serves as a reminder to all who see it that the holder of said cup was at the sporting event it depicts.

I am not sure when I first caught the souvenir cup bug but over the past few years I have accumulated quite the collection of plastic cups from various venues. There are three things I try to collect from every ballpark that I visit. The first is a ticket stub. The second is a game program. And the third is, you guessed it, a souvenir cup.

I was given several Souvenir cups from the Washington Redskins during the early 80’s and while I still have them, I do not really count them as part of my collecting history since they were not actually collected by me. As near as I can recall my first souvenir cups that were collected by me were ICEE cups from Tinker Field in Orlando, FL. While not being specifically made for the team I was watching, these cups featured each of the Major League teams and also had the added bonus of containing ICEE inside.

The cup that started it all. Photo R. Anderson
The cup that started it all.
Photo R. Anderson

My cup collecting was not limited to ICEE cups however. Once I got to college I soon added many University of Central Florida cups to the collection. One could argue that plastic cups would serve the struggling college student well but I had plenty of actual glasses in my cabinets so the cups were manly turned into display pieces and were in no means used for the purpose they were intended.

Fast forward past college, and the cup collecting was accelerated by trips to various minor and major league baseball parks. Every time I visited a new ballpark I made sure to get a souvenir cup. But I did not always stop at a single cup to stadium ratio. Often each time I visited the same stadium I would end up getting a cup until my pantry turned into a sea of plastic. In my defense some teams would put out several different versions of cups over the course of the season.

Some of the more unique cups are on display in various areas of my office and home while the rest are in static display in the pantry. Now and again I will take the cups down and look at each of them as an archeologist would study some relic of a long lost society. The cups serve as a time capsule, both for the state of sports marketing and cup technology of the time, as well as showing glances at who was considered the star player at the time the cup was issued.

A selection of Houston Astros Souvenir cups accumulated over the past five seasons. Photo R. Anderson
A selection of Houston Astros Souvenir cups accumulated over the past five seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

The star player portion is more limited to the Major League cups as opposed to the Minor Leagues due to the frequency in which players move through the minor leagues. The past few seasons the Astros have also moved away from featuring players on their cups. One could argue that they are also avoiding highlighting players who will not be on the team long.

One particular pet peeve of mine involves the Houston Astros and their lack of souvenir cups at their Spring Training facility. This will be the first year under new ownership and there is a new logo for the team so perhaps this will be the year that the souvenir cups appear but having gone to the ballpark for the past few years and not getting a cup I am not holding out much hope for a change this year. Every other Spring Training game I have attended, away from the Astros home field, has had a souvenir cup of some kind. So it is not like Spring Training cups are a foreign concept.

some minor league cups
A selection of Minor League Baseball souvenir cups.
Photo R. Anderson

While most of my cups were purchased there is another approach that can be employed by the savvy cup collector. While I am in no way encouraging ballpark dumpster diving, often times people will leave their precious cups in the cup holder or other areas around their seats when they leave. So, if you don’t feel like buying one, and the idea of carrying out a cup with someone else’s back wash in it doesn’t creep you out, then by all means grab a few cups on the way out. You are helping ensure that the ballpark cleaning crew has fewer cups to clean up. You are also helping the environment as well by keeping the cups out of the landfill. I have only employed this technique once when I was at Tropicana Field in 2009. I knew that it would be a few years before I would make it back there and while I had already purchased one cup I happened to see a different cup on the way out and decided it was worth adding to the collection.

The back of the cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance. Photo R. Anderson
The cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance.
Photo R. Anderson
Rays front
The front of the cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance.
Photo R. Anderson

This brings up another aspect of the souvenir cup hierarchy, different cups for different types of drinks. Many ballparks will have a different cup for the alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages to help ensure that underage patrons are not walking around drinking things that they shouldn’t be. So in the event that there are multiple cup types I suppose a cup scavenging approach could be warranted to ensure that you left with a full set.

I actually tried to discover when souvenir cups first appeared on the scene but sadly I was unable to locate a source that said, “behold the birth of the souvenir cup.” Short of that I guess one can assume that as long as there have been cups there have been souvenir versions of them. Perhaps archeologists can discover the Rosetta Cup deep in some pyramid or other area to shed further light on the subject.

So there you have it, the pros and cons of souvenir cup collecting. It can be a relatively inexpensive way to bring home a little bit of that ballpark experience while providing much needed hydration during the game. Plus, the cups are stackable which certainly helps when it comes time to store them.

Now if you will excuse me, all of this talk about cups as made me thirsty and in need of some water.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson