NOW it’s official: Pudge Rodriguez is an Astro. And I am very happy. I made no secret around here of my desire that the Astros sign Pudge; I think it makes all kinds of sense from the team’s standpoint, once the price was finally right. I already covered my thoughts on that, so I won’t bother repeating myself. What I haven’t talked as much about is my personal standpoint as a fan.
Growing up in Houston, the Astros were always far and away my favorite team, but I also kinda liked Texas’ other team, the Rangers. Nolan Ryan was my favorite player back then, and I liked Texas more after he joined them in 1989. Two years later, in 1991, the Rangers brought up a young catching prospect that started turning heads, much like Craig Biggio had done for Houston in ’88. That young catcher was Ivan Rodriguez. I’ve always been partial to catchers, because that’s where my granddad played, so this Ivan Rodriguez quickly became a favorite of mine. I was 11 years old.
The Rangers finally made the postseason in 1996, and I cheered them on a year before I finally got to cheer my Astros in October ’97. I cheered for Ivan (eventually “Pudge”) and the Rangers again in ’98 and ’99, when both Texas teams played in October. Pudge departed Texas as a free agent following the 2002 season, but I got to cheer him again in the postseason with the 2003 champion Florida Marlins. I cheered for Detroit in the ’06 Series because of Pudge’s presence, too.
I know he’s old now, at least in baseball years. I know he’s not the MVP he used to be. I know he’s a prime suspect for past steroids use, and I don’t like that; it’s tarnished his legacy for me and everyone else. But I’m 29 now, and he’s one of the few guys still playing that I cheered as a kid. The Astros’ old guard is officially gone this year, with Brad Ausmus out in L.A. to finish his career close to home. Biggio and Jeff Bagwell are both retired. So are Ryan, Mike Scott and all the Houston stars from the era before that, and three of those childhood heroes – Darryl Kile, Ken Caminiti & Dave Smith – have already passed on. I love Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, but there’s something special about the guys you grew up watching that can never be replaced. Pudge brings some of that back with him. So really, no matter what kind of year he has… no matter what kind of year Houston has… and even if this is the only season he ever plays in an Astros uniform… it’s a Good Year from the very start. It’s all the things that make us love baseball, more than winning and losing, and that’s what matters the most anyway.
I’m also excited about Russ Ortiz pitching again today; I still want to see him succeed. I’m also excited that Jake Peavy is tapped to lead Team USA against Dice-K and Japan on Sunday, because I love Jake Peavy, but I selfishly want our boy Roy on the hill for the championship game.
It’s the first official day of spring, and it’s Friday. All the losses and frustrations don’t matter. It’s a Good Day.
EDIT: So it’ll be Oswalt for Team USA on Sunday, not Jake Peavy as originally reported. Oh well – Oswalt versus Matsuzaka will be one heck of a pitching matchup. And also, ASTROS WIN! Ortiz looked brilliant, Berkman homered, every Astros regular reached base at least one, and the winless streak is gone. It’s still a Good Day.
photo credit: https://www.beckett.com/images/pgitems/1072320101.jpg
So Junior Griffey is back with the Mariners. That is truly awesome, and probably the best story for fans I’ve heard come out of the free agent market for a long while. Certainly it’s the best this winter. He’s the signature player for their franchise; he belongs in Seattle.
Around the same time yesterday that I was monologing about why the Astros should (or should not) add Pudge Rodriguez to the roster, Ed Wade was telling Alyson Footer, “We are not signing Pudge.” Darn. Oh well. I was more excited (and later disappointed) about the Adam-Dunn-to-Houston rumors; I love hometown heroes. (Okay, I love home runs too.) But Wade’s comments sprang from a conversation about Toby Hall’s shoulder issue, which doesn’t sound terribly promising at the moment. And ESPN reports the Mets are not interested in Pudge either. Which leaves… the Marlins. Honestly, I expected Pudge to return to Florida before he mentioned New York and Houston on his list. But unless they snap him up quickly, what I forsee: Pudge plays for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, while spring training rolls along. The WBC serves as his audition, and if he does well, some team unhappy with their catchers in camp swoops in to offer him a job. Maybe Houston, likely not, but that’s okay. I’m kinda with Wade on this one, in that I’d really like to see what the existing catching candidates can do before dropping the $$$ on Pudge. You gamble that someone else won’t snatch him up first, but that’s the risk you take. And hey, who knows, maybe Jason Castro will progress more quickly than expected and come to the Astros’ rescue sometime during the season if it looks like the other guys aren’t working out. Anything can happen in the spring.
Lance Berkman sounded mildly irritated yesterday at Drayton McLane’s failure to sign any star names this offseason – speaking in that “I don’t like what the boss is doing but I don’t want to tick him off” sort of way. That somewhat justifies the same frustration for myself and every other Astros fan. Whenever I’m tempted to rant about Astros management, though, I always try to remind myself: John McMullen. (Or worse: Bud Adams.) I wish more Houston fans would remember this too. At least McLane has always made an effort to keep the Astros competitive, even if we don’t always agree with his moves (e.g. passing on Wolf & Wigginton), or if he makes big moves that don’t work out (see: Doug Drabek & Greg Swindell). We don’t yet have that championship he keeps talking about, but at least we’ve made it to the Series now. Only the Braves have been more consistently competitive since Drayton took over. And while he may not make every move we wish he would, he is willing to do it under the right circumstances, even if he loses money on the deal. When was the last time Pittsburgh or Kansas City had a Roger Clemens or a Carlos Lee or a Moises Alou to get excited about? It’s always easy to spend someone else’s money, but without becoming a Yankees fan, I’m glad for what we’ve got.
And at least the Astros aren’t the Rockets.
Richard Justice has a nice piece on Russ Ortiz for the Houston Chronicle today. I was rooting for Russ to win the fifth slot already, but even moreso now. As a newly married and a man of faith myself, I identify with the “get things in order” perspective. I love the kind of clubhouse the Astros seem to try to maintain; Russ sounds like he fits in ideally with that. I sincerely hope his injury issues stay behind him.
I’m off to Dallas in the morning with my wife for the weekend. We don’t have Whataburgers in Arkansas, so I’m hoping an early start will mean taquitos with cheese for breakfast.