Sinking, or swimming?
added 4/7/2002 by Susan and Darrell Pittman
The 2002 ballclub I've seen thus far at "Astros Field" is very different than the one Susan and I saw in Florida during Spring Training. Starting pitching has been weak at best, situational hitting is on life-support, and middle relief pitching went bye-bye. Granted, Daryle Ward won one today in the 12th inning with a walkoff homer, but that sort of clutch hit has been far more the exception than the rule.
Based on Dotel's performance today, we're convinced he's hurt. Something is wrong. Wagner has not been Wagner. Too many late-inning meltdowns. Except for today, the ballclub hasn't been doing what it needs to do to win.
Even more scary has been the attendance at the ballpark. Granted, the home opener was an official "sellout", but 25-30% of the seats were empty even then. Attendance at other games since then has hovered around 21,000-25,000, including a Friday night and a Sunday afternoon.
If you're Drayton McLane, you've gotta be worried. The public's honeymoon with the new ballpark has worn off, attendance has dropped down to a level worthy of the team's performance, the fans are tired of the exorbitant ticket, concession, and parking prices. Even Hazel, the team's tireless cheerleader on the 300's level, gets more scoffs than cheers when she tries to organize a "Go Berkman!" cheer. The local fans, I sense, are growing apathetic.
Keep in mind... put a loser on the field, and Houston will post attendance figures not unlike Montreal, nice ballpark or no. Just look back to the early 80's.
Darrell asked me for my thoughts on the outlook for the 2002 season. To be perfectly honest, today, I was sitting in the ballpark and I said something to Darrell along the lines that I was having a flashback to 2000. At that point, Bagwell was at bat with 0 for 4 in the game, after having such a terrific Spring. As I recall, Spring 2000 was excellent, then they got to the brand new ballpark and cratered. I have hope, as I always do, but the start to this season is scary.
Today it just seemed they could not get a break, from inconsistent calls behind the plate to hard-hit balls landing right in the glove of the opponent. It is a pretty sad thing when you have a man on third with one out and can’t score a run.
I think they can make it to the playoffs, but it is going to be a nail-biting season for us fans. Today’s game was a prime example. That ninth inning comeback was great and of course, Ward’s homer to win it was terrific. The youngsters look good, but I fear their youth will cause too many errors.
I’m worried about our bullpen. I’m just not sure they are 100% healthy. Stone was awesome today, but Dotel was lacking. I hope he is not hurt and just not telling anyone. Same with Cruz. He seems to really be struggling. The jury is still out on Matthews, although he has looked good so far in regular season play. When we were in Kissimmee, he was having a hard time with his pitching.
It is a long way until October. The fan support isn’t there, thanks to downtown traffic troubles and outrageous admission and concession prices. If a Sunday afternoon game against our arch-rivals the Cardinals can’t break 30,000 fans, there is a serious lack of support. Of course, if the team starts winning, the fans will come back as they always do.
There are many good things to say about the team. Ward has certainly capitalized on his opportunity to be in the regular line-up. As I said earlier, Everett and Ensberg are looking good. The outfield may be slow by baseball standards, but they are getting the job done. Zaun was looking good today at the bat. Even Miller tried to help himself today by getting two hits. There are going to be errors, misplays and miscues. It will happen. In the words of Biggio, “That’s just baseball.”
I think something that may be a big problem for us this year is “reputation” calls by the umpires. Because our pitching staff is so young, they tend to not get the calls that other pitchers with established reputations get. I think that will cause us a problem in that the Astros won’t get the breaks that other teams will.
In the end, my opinion is that they will have a winning season, but it will be a tough one. Go Astros!
The Astros ship is foundering, but will probably right itself, in spite of its management. We hope so, at least.
We have the good fortune of going to San Francisco next week, and will see at least one Giants' game, Tuesday night against the Dodgers at Pac Bell Park. We will be sitting in the centerfield bleachers, and will be in good position for a close-up view of Barry Bonds. Hey, one of his homers might just drop into Darrell's lap :-)