Opie Otterstad unveiled his latest painting. Patti Smith/Twitter
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You’ve been watching him for months now.
The man in the fedora and plaid jacket. Always on his scaffold, always hard at work on that giant painting.
You recognize Altuve. Keuchel. Verlander. The scene – Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. And definitely the moment – your Houston Astros winning the 2017 World Series in seven.
Opie Otterstad has been a staple on the concourse at Minute Maid Park all season. His last stop was just behind the Insperity Suite, but he’s moved around the park, letting fans see at least one-fifth of what will be a Texas-sized celebration mural for everyone.
The final product – all 10 feet x 25 feet of it -- will be unveiled at a press conference Friday afternoon at 4:30 on the Suite level. That’s when Otterstad, Houston’s own and one of Texas’ best sports artists, will show off the challenging piece.
It is, for the most part, a larger version of the work he released this spring, but with some tweaks. Because of the size and proportion, some of the players are in a slightly different position and the background has changed a bit
“Doing a mural like this is different than doing a piece in the studio because in the studio, it’s a completely different rhythm,’’ Otterstad said. “You paint sort of on a regular schedule, but when you add the element of fans and people talking to you, it’s a different experience all together.’’
Fans and friends have dropped by to see the progress over the last four months, but, before the All-Star break, Otterstad took the painting back to his studio to stand with it by himself – no people, no distractions – and put the finishing touches on the canvas.
Otterstad has done the official World Series celebration paintings for the past 15 years. He’ll tell you the 2004 World Series when the Boston Red Sox snapped the curse and the 2016 Series that went to the Cubs are among the special moments. But nothing can compare to being at every Astros’ playoff game last season and being on the field for the Game 7 win.
In fact, he did an entire series of paintings of the Astros – including the smaller official painting -- that can be viewed at Off The Wall in The Galleria.
In addition to baseball – Otterstad has a special affinity for the sport going back to his younger days when he grew up with Nolan Ryan and Jose Cruz’s children – he has also painted athletes like Ben Crenshaw, Brett Favre and Tom Brady.
He was also the official artist for the first annual Houston Sports Awards and the Houston Sports Hall of Fame.
Each work has a place in his heart, but this mural? It’s on another level. And, if the Astros would happen to repeat? Would he do another massive project?
"This sets the new precedent,'' he said. "It's the gateway painting for a new culture of winning in this town. I don't know that I'd want to work on a painting this big again. I'm not a muralist. I like painting big, but this is on a completely different level."
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.