At the opening panel of the Astros’ FanFest on Saturday, I had a pretty jarring realization. New Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow looks almost exactly like ESPN.com and Grantland.com sportswriter Bill Simmons.
Really, it’s uncanny. I couldn’t stop thinking about it as he gave reasoned answers about how Houston is attempting to make itself relevant again. So, I thought I’d steal a page from Simmon’s book and sum up the FanFest event with a running diary. Enjoy…
9:30 a.m. – Because Port Arthur is not Houston, I had to get on the road pretty early. Luckily, the rain that has poured on the area for the past week decided to take a day off. Saturday’s weather was the first time I’ve worn sunglasses in a month.
10:45 a.m. – First time I haven’t had to pay for parking at Minute Maid Park. It’s a nice feeling.
10:48 a.m. – It’s cold both inside and outside MMP on this day. And guess who didn’t bring a jacket? The lesson, as always, is I’m an idiot.
10:50 a.m. – I get inside with my freshly minted press credentials for just that day and meet the other writers who are covering the event. The Astros, through social media director Alyson Footer, invited a number of bloggers and writers to attend in an official capacity with an opportunity to interview Brad Mills, Bud Norris and J.D. Martinez. Which is why I spent my Saturday in Houston hanging out with a big chunk of the Houston Astros blogosphere.
11:00 a.m. – I get to hear the tail end of a season ticket holder panel with Luhnow, Mills, new Astros CEO George Postolos and the voice of the Astros, Milo Hamilton. Two different workers tried to kick me out, but my credentials protected me. Huzzah!
11:07 a.m. – If it involves history and the Astros, I’m sold, which is why the new team memorabilia museum displays in Union Station. There were two displays, including jerseys from a bunch of players throughout history. I’ll get to the player jerseys in a minute (and possibly have thoughts on who they left off), but the coolest thing in either display? Two seats from the ‘Dome painted with the distance a Jimmy Wynn and Doug Rader home run traveled.
Okay, so here’s a list of the players with jerseys in the display: Bob Watson, Billy Hatcher, Bob Aspromonte, Phil Garner, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Moises Alou, Luis Gonzalez, Shane Reynolds, Art Howe, Jim DeShaies, Billy Doran, Daryl Kile, Randy Johnson, Billy Wagner, Glenn Davis, Cesar Cedeno, J.R. Richard, Jose Altuve, Larry Dierker, Lance Berkman, Brad Ausmus, Billy Spiers, Jose Cruz, Doug Drabek, Mike Hampton, Jimmy Wynn, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Joe Niekro, Steve Finley, Dave Smith, Terry Puhl and Enos Cabell.
That’s a TON of players and I was only surprised by a couple. Pleasant surprise? Billy Spiers. My favorite under-the-radar Astro from those late-90’s teams. Played everywhere and was a huge glue guy for those teams. Regular surprise? Billy Hatcher. Huh? I mean, he played more games for Houston than any other team in his career. I guess that home run in Game 6 trumped Jeff Kent’s homer in 2004.
11:15 a.m. – The fun begins with the first panel of the day. Postolos went into a detailed accounting of his background. Some tidbits: He started out in ticket sales for an unnamed team in San Antonio….He consulted with new owner Jim Crane on five different teams they looked at buying. … He helped put together the TV agreement that joined together the Rockets and Astros broadcast rights. Kinda cool that he has been team president/CEO for both teams now. …
11:25 a.m. – Postolos says the team looked at its food policy and started to allow people to bring in a sealed water bottle and a sandwich in a sandwich bag because it was more family-friendly. He blamed it on the contract with the concessions provider and said the team amended the contract this winter to make this happen.
11:27 a.m. – Another priority, but less family friendly? Five dollar beer at every concession stand. Because the team is going to lose 100 games again, and fans may need alcohol to get through this season. Postolos didn’t say that last part, but I’m pretty sure he was thinking it…
11:30 a.m. – Postolos said that even though the name change was a bit of a media exaggeration from an off-the-cuff remark from Jim Crane, but that they did look into it. Less than 5 percent of fans wanted to change the name in the end, according to Postolos. Sounds about right.
11:31 a.m. – He then introduces Jeff Luhnow, who is a very engaging interview. He quickly won over the room.
11:32 a.m. – Luhnow: "I’m sure last year’s team struggled would have made anyone pull their hair out, especially our manager." He then looked over at Mills, who is both very bald and sitting right next to him. Bazinga!
11:34 a.m. – Luhnow also doesn’t think Houston has fair-weather fans. That’s a nice sentiment.
11:37 a.m. – One of the biggest things Luhnow emphasized was effort. Said fans don’t want to come watch a team with players who give less than 100 percent effort. Uh-oh, Carlos.
11:38 a.m. – Luhnow just said they’ll have a "zero tolerance policy" on lack of effort. Double uh-oh, Carlos…
11:39 a.m. – The most exciting thing about dealing with young players? That one or two will break out, it’s just finding which ones will do that. Who’s betting on Altuve and J.D. Martinez??
11:40 a.m. – Luhnow throws it to Mills at this point, who promptly comes back at Luhnow by calling him the GQ GM. Zing!
11:41 a.m. – Not a lot here we didn’t already know from Mills. He likes young players, excited for competition in spring training, etc. All the things you’d expect him to say in front of his boss.
11:43 a.m. – We throw it to Q&A. Some good stuff here at first, including a question on winning in the minor leagues and one on spending in the new CBA. Upshot? Luhnow acknowledged the debate between winning and developing players, but thinks you can do both. Also said that Houston should be able to spend more money than anyone else in the draft this year.
Oh, It’s time for another Simmons trope…the split column! Wait for Part II, coming either later today or tomorrow…