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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Let him cook! Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of a rebuild. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr are studs. KPJ just signed a four-year extension with the team. Other guys like Jabari Smith Jr, Kenyon Martin Jr, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, and Jae'Sean Tate are really good pieces to surround Green and KPJ with. The only issue with this group: they're REALLY young! Tate is the elder statesman at 27 of the young nucleus. Most are barely old enough to buy a drink. Some still aren't old enough! They're a bunch of green bananas waiting to turn yellow to slightly brown and be ripe enough for consumption.

We need to give it time. Just like bananas, they take time to ripen. Coach Stephen Silas is known for developing young players. His most prized student is the star player for that team in South Oklahoma up 45. Number 77 for that team credited Silas with helping him realize his All-Pro potential while Silas was a part of the coaching staff there. To a man, all his former players credit him with being a positive influence on their careers. So why are fans in a rush to get rid of him?

When you look at the Rockets' record over the last few years, it's gross. Sure, they've been a lottery team the last couple of seasons, but that was by design. As part of the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades, they gave away pick swap rights. Had they not been that bad, they wouldn't have been able to draft Green or Smith Jr. Those two guys are building blocks for the future, along with KPJ. Giving those picks away would've put this team further down the totem pole of developing themselves into a contender. Losing pays off when you can hit on high lottery picks.

If you give a chef dirt, bread, ham, molded cheese, and spoiled mayo, can you expect anything else but a nasty ham sandwich? How about if the chef was given a steak that is almost rotten, potatoes with root growth, and spoiled butter? Could you expect a better meal than the sandwich? Yes! However, that meal may still cause a stomachache. Now, give said chef a full complement of gourmet groceries and guess what you'll get?

This is why I say let Silas cook. He's the perfect coach for this group of kids. He can teach them all the fundamentals of the game at this level and help them grow into their full potential. If there's a change to be made on the sidelines, move Silas into a front office role, but DO NOT get rid of him! Guys like him are too valuable. Why do you think Mark Cuban hated losing him, but knew he couldn't retain him because he had a head coach already? Cuban knew what he had in Silas and what Silas did for Luka Doncic. He can do something similar for the Rockets if given the time to work his magic.

Should Tilman Fertita find the need to move on, I'd look for a more experienced coach who can guide them from bottom of the playoff ladder into top four in the West and real contenders. For now, Silas is the head chef. Continue giving him the groceries he needs, and he'll continue giving these kids the lessons they need to develop. Changing the coach now could stunt their growth. Let him cook!

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