added 8/12/2010 by Pat Hajovsky
I began writing this column about a month ago. It was suggested I write about how I hoped to see more young players in the near future. Whether I wished for it or not, they have come!
I mentioned in the last column that the call up of Jason Castro represented a tipping point for this organization. I didn't realize how correct that would be. Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman are now gone, Pedro Feliz is benched (and, surprisingly, still an Astro, but we'll see how long that lasts), J.A. Happ is in the starting rotation, and Brett Wallace (who?) is starting at first base.
Remember Opening Day? The starting infield was Geoff Blum at first base (in place of the injured Berkman), Kaz Matsui at second base, Pedro Feliz at third base, Tommy Manzella at shortstop, J.R. Towles doing the catching and Roy Oswalt starting on the mound. Matsui, Berkman and Oswalt are gone, Towles got demoted to Double A Corpus Christi and Feliz and Blum are perhaps out the door next. Only Manzella, who is rehabbing, remains a viable part of the Astros future.
That's the (distant) past. The future is: Brett Myers, who was signed to an extension as the team's projected ace for the next few years, Happ, Wallace, Chris Johnson (who is tearing up National League pitching) and, perhaps most importantly, franchise icon Jeff Bagwell is back in the dugout. Thank goodness for that, because I do'’t think the casual Astros fan would recognize any of the other folks.
And that's the point of this column - who do we root for when we watch Major League Baseball? On Opening Day, I remarked to the guy sitting next to me that the cheers for the home team players as they were being introduced seemed quite muted. He said, "Well, I don't know who any of these guys are!" If he said that then, imagine what he'd say now.
Bagwell was quoted in the Houston Chronicle that it was not fair to compare Wallace to him or Berkman, pointing out, "It's his turn now." That point is just as true for Castro, Angel Sanchez, Happ, Johnson, Manzella, etc. These are your Houston Astros for now and the foreseeable future, and I, for one, am damn glad to go out there and see them develop.
The Houston Astros are my team. I grew up watching Cesar Cedeno, Bob Watson, Jose Cruz, Tom Griffin, Ken Forsch, etc. But they inevitably moved on, and in came Billy Doran, Phil Garner, Glenn Davis, Joe Niekro and Nolan Ryan. Next up were Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Derek Bell, Carl Everett and Moises Alou. Following them was Berkman, Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brad Lidge, et al.
On and on it goes. Now we move on to a new era. All fans ask of the team is that they honor the way the players of the past played this game. Fans expect to see the joy of Berkman, the intensity of Biggio, the professionalism of Bagwell, the fun of Cruz and the dedication of Ryan. They expect that flashes of greatness, such as those from J.R. Richard, Rusty Staub and Randy Johnson, will eventually come back.
People from other cities ask me how I can support the Astros with so much dedication? They ask it with almost a sense of pity, like a person would wonders why a beaten wife would stay with her husband. How can you put yourself back in that position over and over and over again? What did the Astros ever win, they seem to ask? How can you watch this?
It’s not hard. I watch to see the joy of Michael Bourn, the intensity of Hunter Pence, the professionalism of Jason Castro, the fun of Brett Myers and the dedication of Brett Wallace. I'm going to expect to see flashes of greatness from Jordan Lyles, Jiovanni Mier, Delino DeShields Jr. and others.
What I'm going to continue to do is watch the Houston Astros. Anyone who would disparage the team over the years without acknowledging the great players who have come through here, and the enjoyment they provided, is the one living in denial. The Astros have started a course for the future. An overdue start, perhaps, but it's a journey that I expect to eventually succeed, if not with this new generation of players then perhaps the one after them. Eventually, we'll get this right and I'll want to say I watched it every step of the way.
True fandom is being there for your team, even when they have to tear the club down and start over. And the eventual joy will be sweeter knowing I sat through the rebuilding years and never lost hope.
Now, if only these guys could just hurry this up a little. I'm starting to run out of time.