Some people “get it” when we talk about the importance of tradition to the ongoing support of a community institution like local professional baseball teams that play for the heart of local fans. Until a couple of years ago, Houston annually kept the torch of an annual winter baseball banquet going on like a drumbeat into the spring downtown – and they did it from a fire of enthusiasm lighted years ago by early local baseball icons Allen and Jo Russell and with strong support from the Houston Astros.
Then the Astros were sold by Drayton McLane to Jim Crane and Mr. George Postolos took over as President of the club. All of a sudden, the Astros simply withdrew their support for the banquet by treating the matter as though it didn’t exist. The banquet that sometimes drew over 1500 fans to a convening warm up at the big Hilton near MMP downtown simply stopped.
It could have been the death of a fine and healthy local moment of community love and admiration from the baseball community for those that play the game at the high school, collegiate, and professional level, but it wasn’t – thanks to the Sugar Land Skeeters, Special Advisor Tal Smith, and club community activist by whatever formal job title he holds, Deacon Jones.
The Skeeters and their corporate sponsors rescued the banquet concept for the first time in 2013 and they did it again last night with what they are calling their “Skeeters 2nd Annual Hot Stove League Banquet.
Banquet Number Two was held on Thursday, January 30, 2014, from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, in the Insperity Club at Constellation Field in Sugar Land. Hosted by former Astros broadcaster Brett Dolan, the banquet featured a baseball panel that was worth the $75.00 price of admission on its own – and it also represented a joint contribution of support from both the Sugar Land Skeeters and the Houston Astros. Skeeters Manager Gary Gaetti, Skeeters infielder Dominic Ramos, Astros icon slugger Jimmy Wynn, and Astros pitching prospect Ross Seaton comprised the panel.
Dolan did a great job drawing the panel into discussions that were informative, entertaining, and sometimes very funny. Previous banquets in Houston could have benefited from the panel feature.
The banquet also honored the All-Greater Houston Preseason High School Baseball Team and presented Cypress Branch High School Baseball Coach John Pope with the Distinguished Coaching Award.
Skeeters General Manager Chris Ford also addressed the crowd with some timely upbeat remarks and a silent auction was also held to benefit the work of the “Deacon’s Dugout Foundation.”
My guess is that there were about 275-300 people on hand to break bread in gratitude for our common soul in baseball, including several members of our local SABR group. Complications with my camera limited my photography this year, but I can report that the SABR members on hand included: Marsha Franty, Marie “Red” Mahoney, Tal Smith, Jimmy Wynn, Mike McCroskey, Sam Quintero, Ira Liebman, Mark Hudec, and Bill McCurdy. Houston Babies star Jimmy Disch also dined at the SABR table.
Looks like we found a big rock of support under the banquet that we thought was sinking. Get behind it next year, now that you know about it. It does good for local baseball and it deserves the kind of traditional backing that we Houston baseball folk like to give to people and programs that support our game.
Go Skeeters! – Go Astros! – Go Houston!