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Ghosts of Houston Astros' Spring Trainings Past

I'm over 1,300 miles from the Astros' spring training camp, but I can dream about seeing those neatly manicured fields and the sweet whiff of newly cut grass. Some of the pitchers and catchers already showed up in Florida last week, and the real start of spring training began this week. I know some of you baseball junkies already are anxiously awaiting spring training games and daily reports...and "I'm in the best shape of my life" interviews. What can I do to satisfy the craving for more spring training news?

I thought it might be interesting to turn to some of the Astros spring trainings from the past. I'm no H.G. Wells, but I can try to devise a modest time machine. I've gone through articles written during spring training at TCB for the past seasons, and extracted some quotes to give you a feel for the mood and coverage. I'm the longest term TCB member among the current editors and contributors. And I first joined TCB before the 2007 season. So, it's nostalgic for me to include the 2007 spring training articles. Given space considerations, I will limit this article to the 2007 season, but if there is favorable response, I may write a follow up, based on the 2008 and 2009 spring trainings.

2007 Spring Training

Rastronomicals (I'll say Rastro, for short) was the main editor of TCB at this point in time. And the Astros were in a state of flux, losing Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, signing Carlos Lee, and trading for Jason Jennings. The season would end with a thud. Despite some dark clouds visible on the horizon, Astros' fans still hoped to compete for the NL Central title. The complaints about Biggio blocking Chris Burke at 2d base rose to a crescendo in some quarters, as Burke was scheduled for CF and Biggio was handed the 2d base playing time for his 3,000 hit parade. Minor leaguer Hunter Pence played CF at the time, and his strong rookie spring training performance added more pressure to the decision to move Burke to CF. Spring training competition included RF, with Luke Scott, Jason Lane, and Richard Hidalgo in the mix, and a rotation spot open for Brian Moehler, Fernando Nieve, or Chris Sampson.

Feb. 6, 2007. Rastro discusses the fans' preference for Luke Scott in RF, and suggests that Jason Lane or Richard Hildago (brought into camp as a NRI) might provide better defense:

Yet it's a funny thing: everybody likes to talk about defense, but nobody wants to do anything about it. With the spectre of the worst outfield defense in franchise history hanging over the 2007 team as they open camp, not one person thinks that we oughtn't to throw the defensive dogs even one bone?... And while I can understand skepticism of Hidalgo after his wretched years in the wilderness, have you seen some of the reports? They positively glow.

Mar. 7, 2007. Hidalgo's sizzling winter league hitting turns ice cold in spring camp, and Rastro notes the development:

Speaking of Richard, this 0 for spring thing is getting painful to watch...

He had to be named winter league playoffs MVP, practically, to even get the invite, and now he's watching his last chance dissolve into thin air in the space of a mere 14 AB's. We like the underdog until he starts playing like one, and Hidalgo is very quickly being left for dead.

Mar. 13, 2007.StrosBro writes about Pence's spring performance so far with the facetious headline "Hunter Pence Slumping:"

Yes it's true... he's slumping. I'm sure it's hard for him to take too... I mean his batting average is under .700 now and bordering the .600 mark. I'm not really sure how he can live with himself. Only 14 hits out of 22 at bats... pathetic. Word is that Pence is still going to be sent down when the time comes and that Burke is guaranteed the starting spot (heard it from Timmy P on the radio). Tim basically said that he couldn't live with himself if he didn't give Chris the starting job.

Mar. 21, 2007. Pupura announces that Wandy Rodriguez will be the No. 4 starter. Rastro's headline cracks me up:

Wandy Haters Wearing Black This Morning

Mar. 22, 2007 You may recall the spring training uproar when Cardinals' manager Tony LaRussa was arrested for DUI. Under the heading "Looks Like LaGenius was LaDrunk," Rastro writes:

They found him LaSlumped over his LaSteering wheel, and now he's got to LaPost LaBail.

Mar. 11, 2007. The headline was "Burke vs. Bidge," and Rastronomicals made his take very clear. Rastro crunches the numbers between Burke and Biggio. But, as it turned out, the Astros would be so far from a winning season that the impact of Biggio's 3000 hit parade on the Astros' record turned out to be moot.

Every time I go over to The Chronicle to read JJO's blog or Bailey's blog, I'm assaulted with the somewhat repetitious mad ramblings of fans convinced that Biggio is, in his selfish quest for 3,000 hits, dooming the 2007 club to failure….And since I believe one of your common syllogisms in sabermetrics is that ten runs is a win, there you have it: Based on 2006 numbers, using Chris Burke at second base will get you an extra win over the 162-game season…Not to diminish the importance of each and every win,..., but a single, lousy win.

That's all. With the storm that's been made about how Biggio has been so selfish, I thought it might be like five wins, or ten.And if that's the case, if it's only a single game, then big deal.

Given the fact that Biggio has given the Astros 2700 games, I'm inclined to say that it's OK to give him back the one. Given the fact that Bidge is a three-time club MVP, given the fact that he was probably the best player in the National League for a couple years, shit just given the fact that he never opted to go free agent and sign with the Rockies or the Cardinals, I'm inclined to give him that one game. Let Brad Lidge work overtime, and not blow that one game he would have otherwise blown. Let Garner figure out how to win one late with some fancy antic, squeezing with Quintero or some such crazy thing.

Mar, 23 and Mar. 24, 2007. Perhaps these spring training snippets foretell some pitching problems to come:

Jennings comes in at 1 - 1 with a 5.00 ERA over nine innings pitched, and while we won't suggest that a low innings total or indeed a high ERA means all that much, we're also still waiting for Jennings to start unleashing the sinker that's made him millions...Jason has a 1:1 flyball/groundball ratio this spring, which doesn't mean he's turned into Woody Williams or anything, but is still well shy of his career 1.50...

Are we really going back to Houston with our best pitchers? After watching Woody (Williams) and Chris (Sampson) get their bejeezuses rocked the last two nights, I wonder whether the Chronicle lunatic fringe might not be right: Maybe we should pencil our best talent in, NOW. If you're gonna get blown out, you might as well get blown out with Troy Patton and Juan Gutierrez.

Mar. 24, 2007. The Spring training decisions start to bring the final 25 man roster into view. You may recognize some of the names in those decisions:

Richard Hidalgo was released today... Also today, Zeke Astacio showed why the demotion to Round Rock is inevitable when he couldn't throw a first pitch strike to a single A minor league player in a pressure bases-loaded situation. In what was surely the highlight of his professional career so far, former Oneonta Tiger Brennan Boesch hammered a 2 - 0 offering from Astacio to the wall in right center, and cleared the bases of Tigers [Astacio would be claimed off waivers by the Rangers shortly after this was written]...That gets you to Bruntlett vs. Borkowski, Eric B vs. Borks, the roster spot battle that will be fought over the last week, even if only in Garner's crafty little mind.

Mar. 31, 2007.Rastro reacts to the Astros' decision to keep Moehler over Nieve on the roster:

I guess it then comes down to Moehler over Nieve, and what can I say? Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. It's not as bad as if Moehler had been named fifth starter, but simply put, Nieve has a future in this organization, and Moehler does not.

Do many of you remember the 2007 spring training? What's stands out in your mind from recent spring trainings?