I suppose watching the Houston Astros play day in and day out is as frustrating to anyone as it is to me, but last night when freshly called up Max Stassi assumed he'd been thrown out at second despite being called safe, stepped off the bag without checking with the ump first and was tagged out, I couldn't help but think, "Well, there's another teaching moment for Bo Porter."
It's the end of August in Texas so children statewide (and nationwide for that matter) are preparing for back to school. My daughter will be moving up a level, starting middle school in under a week. Her rise from elementary to school middle school will afford her many learning opportunities, and not just those in the classroom. There will be decisions of when to be herself and when to go with the crowd, when to tell a teacher about a fight and when to ignore it and carry on, when to put in extra effort for an assignment or when she can skate by. Not all of that learning happens inside of a textbook.
The 2013 Houston Astros often look like a brand new middle schooler, stepping into the big halls of 6th grade for the very first time. When I think back to the hiring of Bo Porter, I can't help but think that this was a major factor in his selection. Porter sees the "learning moment" in the error or misstep that we groan and yell at as fans. He's part coach, part teacher every single day.
The classroom of baseball - Spring Training, in season workouts, batting practice - has expanded for this team. It's become the entire season. A prime example was Monday night. When Jonathan Villar hesitated on a tag the runner versus throw home decision, Porter turned it into a learning opportunity for the team, reminding them that decision (even if it's the wrong one) is better than hesitation - which in that case cost the team a run and extended an inning.
Porter's had plenty of opportunity to teach this season and has a lot of wisdom to impart. Bo Porter is a cerebral guy who thinks first and acts second and is good at assessing everything that is going on around him. I chalk this up to his childhood on the not-so-friendly streets of inner-city Newark, NJ. And no matter what the Astros record looks like right now, the classroom that Bo Porter is running is doing exactly what the organization had hoped for and anticipated.
I know, I know, you can point to Jeff Luhnow's comments preseason that the Astros could and would play .500 ball this year and say this was not what they expected. Do you blame him for being optimistic on tv? I certainly can't. Had the veteran signings worked out a bit differently, perhaps the Astros would have been much closer to .500 than the .328 they currently have tied to their necks.
But the veterans didn't pan out and the call ups to the majors have happened sooner rather than later for this team. I again liken this to a classroom. It's almost as if the AAA and AA players are each getting a taste, while still in middle school, of what high school is like. They're getting exposed to major league hitters and pitchers. The club is getting to test players' current skill sets against a new set of standards, a tryout of sorts.
Every part of the organization is being schooled, and not in a bad way. The players are certainly learning, Porter is growing in a new role while the front office, made up of guys who are all relatively new to the majors and/or their current positions have completed their second year of on-the-job training.
The exciting part of this is knowing that recent drafts appear to be successful and the minor leagues are full of players who are almost ready to graduate to the next level. As fans, the frustrating part is that word "almost." We're impatient and want success now. But I'd remind you that had you taken that U.S. History test before you read the chapter or before you studied, you probably wouldn't have gotten an A. So let's all take deep breaths and let those guys study for the test, and increase their odds of success.
Back to school? Yes, I think that's exactly what the 2013 Houston Astros season has been about. It all started in Spring Training - remember the shirts? The front said "PROCESS" and the back, highlighting the acronym "WIN" said, "What's Important Now." Yes, it's definitely a process, and what's important now is that this team continue to learn from their mistakes and from the brief glimpses of rookie players. If they take full advantage of 2013 as a back-to-school year, the days of being Big Man on Campus will come much quicker than we all think.