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Friday's Three Astros Things

Talking about security measures at MMP, CSN Houston's tax break and participation in prep baseball...

Some things to talk about while Brian Kenny gets furious over pitcher wins...

1) Security heightened at MMP

If you're heading to any Astros games this weekend, be aware that the team has heightened security after the incident at the Boston Marathon this week. According to the team's press release:

The Houston Astros will increase security measures at Minute Maid Park beginning with Friday night’s 7:10 p.m. game. Security at Minute Maid Park has been and will continue to be a top priority for the Houston Astros. As always, we will continue to work with the Houston Police Department as well as state and federal authorities to ensure the safety of our fans.

We ask that our fans arrive early to the ballpark to allow extra time for these increased security measures. Minute Maid Park has been and will continue to be a safe venue for our fans.

It's been a pretty sad week that puts sports in its proper perspective. There are bigger things than sports, like what happened in West on Wednesday or in Boston on Monday. Still, how moving was this National Anthem rendition in Boston?

2) CSN's tax break?

On to Astros topics. Well, sort of Astros topics.

Loren Steffy, the Houston Chronicle's main business columnist (who is actually leaving soon to join the private industry), penned a piece about the business impact of CSN Houston's lack of a distribution plan for 60 percent of Houston.

Steffy checks in with business owners who have lost crowds normally watching the Rockets and possibly the Astros. But, he also brings up a great point about Houston's tax breaks for the network in the first place (h/t to John Royal for the link):

Professional sports are, of course, businesses, but ones that have parlayed a place in fans' hearts into a hand in the public's wallets. As Mayor Annise Parker noted recently, local taxpayers helped finance the venues where its teams play.

What's more, Comcast SportsNet Houston itself, as I wrote last year, got $1 million in tax handouts from the city for setting up here.

Taxpayers, then, have already subsidized both the teams and the network, in exchange for a blackout.

While I don't pay taxes in Houston, I can get outraged at the thought of people paying taxes for something they are unable to even get. We think of sports as a business, but there's a more complicated model inherent in sports teams that may not be there with something like Landry's restaurants or Anadarko or something.

Then I just get tired. I'm tired of these arguments. I'm tired of this holdout that robbed me of the Rockets and is now taking away the Astros. I'm ready to stop talking about this and to have CSN on most, if not all, cable providers in Houston and the surrounding areas.

That's not happening, though. So we continue to talk about the unfairness of it all until something happens.

3) Prep baseball and money

In search of answers for the decline of African American participation in baseball, Tim Keown makes some excellent points about the cost of prep sports these days.

It's a point I've been making to people for a few years now, just never got around to writing about. It gets driven home to me every time I cover a high school athlete and hear the stories about how they play sports.

The days of a player being able to star in football, baseball and basketball are gone. Last season, one of the guys I cover made the first team all-district in all three sports and it was the first time it had been done at the school since the '50's. That's partly due to sample size of just one school, but also speaks to the specialization that has taken over in prep sports.

If you're going to be a football star and get a scholarship, you need to play 7-on-7 in the summer. If you want to get drafted or go to college for baseball, you need to be on a travel team. Ditto basketball and the AAU/travel circuit.

The problem is all that costs money. Football doesn't, because players just need a ball. Basketball has more travel but less equipment costs. Baseball has a premium in both.

How do parents afford it? I'd be interested to hear from any of you readers who have kids in sports. Do you encourage them to play multiple sports? Can you talk about ballpark figures on costs associated with them? My sense is that it's not cheap.

Because of that, you send players to other markets. If a player is trying to get a scholarship but doesn't have money to join a select baseball team, they'd be better off playing football, playing 7-on-7 in the summer and working out with the team in the offseason, right?

It's sort of a vicious cycle. Baseball recruiting for college happens not at the high school level any more, but contacts are initially made on the workout circuit. I had a high school baseball coach this season tell me that he hardly ever talks to college coaches before they sign one of his players. Not when they start recruiting a player, but when they actually sign them.

I'm not arguing against where baseball is going. There are plenty of examples in Latin American countries of players making do with sticks for bats and boxes for gloves. The Youth Baseball Academies also help with this, reducing costs and allowing players a spot to play. But, unless changes get made down to the Little League level, the trend of participation will not improve any time soon.

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