FAN FRIENDLY

Astros annual FanFest is a great way to celebrate baseball

Astros FanFest is a lot of fun. Paul Muth/SportsMap

For the past three years since I’ve been back in Houston, the Astros annual winter FanFest has been a tradition amongst myself and my baseball buddies. It’s always served as sort of an oasis during the offseason for us, just having the opportunity to be back in the ballpark for an afternoon. This year was no different in that regard, but wildly different in just about every other.

After putting out a few feelers I was lucky enough to land a voucher for the sold out event this past Saturday. Doors opened at 11 a.m., but based off of the fact that this was the first time I had ever heard of a FanFest being sold out, I decided it would be a good idea to show up early. I arrived around 10:30 and by then there were already lines curling around the corners from each entrance. The doors opened and fans spilled into the park.

On the field, children played catch in the outfield, took turns in the bullpen, and ran the basepaths while player interviews in the Diamond Club were broadcast on the jumbotron. Fans poured into the team stores to cash in on the annual clearances and to stock up on their World Series Championship gear. Lines piled up for parents to sign their kids up for the Astros’ Buddies Kids Club and photo ops with the players. I, on the other hand, had my sights set on one line and one line only.

If you’ve never made it to a FanFest, then you’re missing out on the Garage Sale, which is the greatest part of the entire event. The Astros take all of their leftovers from the past season’s giveaways, stack them up on tables, and slap a price tag on them. The garage sale was my number one priority and my plan was to head straight for that specific line. By the time I made it, the line was stretched over eight seating sections of the ballpark.

As I waited in line, we inched past the player photo op station and watched as fans passing by rubber-necked to find pitching prospect Forrest Whitley posing with fans. Moments later Whitley was replaced by the do-all Astro Marwin Gonzalez who was greeted by a cheering crowd. Gonzalez took pictures and was eventually replaced as well. His replacement? Shortstop Carlos Correa. The entire walkway suddenly seized up with fans exploding into excited cheers as camera phones were simultaneously jettisoned to the air to snap pictures of the young star.

Nearly two hours later I had made it through the line (worth it) with a bag of Astros goodies to claim as my prize. I met with a group of friends after and we spent the remainder of our afternoon sitting in the bleachers soaking in the atmosphere and debating over the best issue a fan could have: where will the team’s championship banner go, and what will it look like.

We finally departed (after an obligatory hot-dog stop), knowing it will be another 79 days before we’re back in the stadium for opening day. Leading up to today there was well-founded skepticism over whether Houston would remain gripped with baseball fever. After the impressive turnout this afternoon I can say with confidence that juicebox will be packed and rowdy.



 

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Should Watson be in the MVP conversation? Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2020 NFL season has a lot going on. Even if we take the coronavirus out of it, there's still a lot to digest. There are so many great performances being put up, one can make an argument for several players to win league MVP. The quarterback position typically gets more credit than others. If I restrict the argument to quarterbacks only, we're looking at Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Derrick Henry are the leading contenders at running back. On defense, there really isn't a standout defender. The defense gets no love, but there are several guys in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Deshaun Watson has been putting up numbers that have matched or rivaled some of the top MVP candidates over his last seven games. That stretch has coincided with the firing of head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien. Coincidence? I think not. Taking the reigns off a wild horse can often lead to said horse running free and flourishing! So question: Should Watson be getting league MVP considerations? I think so.

For starters, he's been one of the best players in the league over the course of the last seven games. 18 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. The only quarterback with a better touchdown to interception ratio over that same span is Mahomes (19 and 2, as opposed to Watson's 18 & 2). Factoring in total season stats, of course Mahomes is doing much better. He's on a better team with a much better coach and general manager. The same could be said for Wilson and Rodgers. Put Watson on any of those teams and their records wouldn't be any worse than what they are now.

The Texans are 4-3 since firing O'Brien. While that isn't a great record, consider the fact they started the season 0-4 and looked like a total disaster. Watson looked like he was caged and couldn't wait to be freed. The team's record could be even better if the defense had a pulse. The proper supporting cast has a lot to do with a player's MVP candidate's chances. Now that one of his favorite weapons, Will Fuller, and the team's best corner, Bradley Roby, are both suspended for the rest of the season by the league for violating the substance abuse/PED policy, things will get much tougher for Watson.

If he continues to put up these cartoon like numbers, I don't see why he wouldn't be in the MVP conversation. He's currently fopurth in passing yards, sixth in completion percentage, tied for fifth in passing touchdowns, eighth in QBR, and third in quarterback rating. Watson is emerging as the star he was projected to be coming into the 2017 draft. I'm not saying Watson deserves to be the league MVP, but he deserves to be in the conversation. His MVP candidacy should be treated like the family gathering hierarchy: once you reach a certain age and/or status, you're no longer resigned to the kiddie table. Now you get to sit with all the adults, engage in their conversations, and gain access to things you couldn't previously. Watson won't win the MVP award, but I strongly believe he could finish top five. Especially if he keeps making lemonade with the lemons he's been given.

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