Home Opening Day 2011

Opening Day, Minute Maid Park, Houston, 2010.

As Dolly Parton used to energetically sing, “Here We Go Again!” Baseball season is back, full blast.

It’s Friday, April 8, 2011, finally time for the home opening game of the Houston Astros in their fiftieth (YES, 50th) season of major league baseball. Astros broadcaster and SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member Bill Brown has now written what we are all sure will be a wonderful book on Houston’s time as a major league baseball city. That work will not be released until next year, 2012, the actual 50th anniversary date of the club’s first 1962 season in the National League.

Opening Day at home after actually starting the season on the road against the arguably two best clubs in the National League kind of stains the snow of pure unadulterated hope and the Astros have the 1-5 record to back up that assault on dreams from reality, but so what? It’s early. Baseball is the sport of the long season. The important thing now for us baseball fans is simply the fact that its back, as are we who will be going to the game later today. Nobody could have guaranteed the next coming of this season’s new joy when the 2010 run ended, but here we are, those of us who survived the off-season wait. We are ready to give it a go one more time.

Speaking only for me, I’m not going to allow a lot of high expectations for the outcome of this 2011 Astros club spoil the joy of the season itself. We obviously have some problems that include pitching, hitting, fielding, and roster health, but I really believe we have a good everyday force going for us in the form of Manager Brad Mills and a great long-range plan for rebuilding the farm system and roster strength in the presence of General Manager Ed Wade. Back both those spots with the everyday presence of Astros Baseball President Tal Smith, the almost a half century icon of our entire major experience in Houston, and I would say that things are in the best hands available.

Here are some interest points in 2011 for me: (1) I will be watching to see if our two corner infielders (Johnson and Wallace) can show some strength as big league hitters. Both have to either hit for high average or long ball pop to justify their futures in the lineup; (2) We need to stop thinking of Michael Bourn as the future of the club. I like the guy, love him as a fielder, but he’s 29 years old, too up in years to be the future in a double-binded kind of way: (a) if he doesn’t hit far above .250 this year, the Astros cannot justify keeping him in center, but (b) if Bourn hits close to .300, they have to negotiate his 2012 contract with new agent Scott Boras. Where’s the upside on Bourn? (3) Starter J.A. Happ has good stuff, but awful control. That needs to improve;  (4) waiting and watching to see what happens with Jordan Lyles at Oklahoma City; and (5) to just chill out and watch for surprises.

Baseball games can run on for hours. just as the season itself spills all the way into next fall. To that, I say, “Thank God for both conditions. I just love getting trapped in the ballpark and by the season itself.

Play Ball, Astros! Give us your best shot!

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