By Will Martin
Having spent 11 Opening Days with the Texas Rangers it was quite the treat the do same on the road with a new team in the family. The Houston Astros. The very young and very low payroll Houston Astros.
Through numerous interviews conducted with ESPN’s Buster Olney, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, TV announcer Bill Brown, Rangers president Jon Daniels, and even rookie skipper Bo Porter (youngest in baseball at age 40) it is a consensus that the Astros are at minimum 3-5 years away from hitting it big while creating a dearth of young potential talent.
In this mix add a couple of veterans like a Rick Ankiel, Erik Bedard, and Carlos Pena. Rick Ankiel’s story is a great one with a twinge of irony. Here’s why:
In 2001 I was six weeks old to Texas and took a road trip to Houston on April 21st. The Shell Open was going on (as it was finishing out Sunday after a 150 minute storm delay). Enron Field was a site to behold with the retractable roof and the moving locomotive train every time an Astro homered.
There was also a HUGE gas pump out left center field that counted all Astros homers in a given season. There was Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell, and even Moises Alou.
You may recall that six months prior a rookie Cardinal pitcher named Rick Ankiel had some wildness issues with the New York Mets. Rick Ankiel was the starting pitcher on this night and poor Rick got lit up in a huge way. Five runs in three innings of work as Scott Elarton coasted to a 10-1 win and the Astros were on their way to a 93 win season and the playoffs. Like Enron, the Astros collapsed in the fall of 2001. Not long after this game Ankiel was sent to Johnson City, Tennessee.
I remember Curtis Strange threw out the first pitch and 39,000 Astros fans had fun on a warm April night. I also discovered how humid Houston was and still is…
Last night the first ever Astros game in the American League with something immediately historic. Win and the franchise collected 4,000 wins in their 52 year career. Some 41,000 fans in Blue and Burned Orange filled Minute Maid Park for a night they won’t soon forget.
Milo Hamilton spoke of his 61st year at an Opening Day event ‘and still having butterflies’. This writer could certainly relate. Milo spoke to me back in 1982 as a Chicago Cub alongside Harry Caray. There was also a moment of silence for the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary.
Lyle Lovett sang the national anthem. Having been at the opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge 3-2-12 I smiled thinking about my luck with Grand Openings and Lyle sightings. JJ Watt threw out the first pitch. Then the game itself.
Bud Young and Matt Harrison each went 5 and 2 thirds innings. Young the lucky winner of some timely run support. Two triples and three ribbies by rookie Justin Maxwell (Maxwell also had two outstanding defensive games in center field.
The play of the game was when new Astro Rick Ankiel grabbed a bat and proceeded to smash a pinch hit three run home run off reliever Derek Lowe deep into the right field seats sending 41,000 fans dancing into the Houston night on an Easter Sunday.
Erik Bedard (your #5 starter) filled in nicely with only 1 hit in 3 and a third innings of solid pitching.
Astros entered 2013 with a win, a momentary spot in 1st place and 4,000 career wins. The road will be a long one and a painful one for the newest American League arrival. Just know that the nucleus of rookies about to embark upon the scene will electrify and amaze in time. Can you also say the lowest payroll in all of baseball? Less than A-Rods yearly contract? Yeah, I said that!
Yes there was also a rookie for the Cardinals named Albert Pujols. Now both are in the American League in the West. It’s going to be a fun ride!