TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME

For all of the Astros uncertainties, you are their biggest of all

The Astros will make the ballpark as safe as possible. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.

In two weeks the Houston Astros will start their 2021 journey filled with more questions and answers than Champions Week on Jeopardy. And not just on the field, where manager Dusty Baker is still deciding who'll bat leadoff and where and how often Yordan Alvarez fits into the lineup.

The biggest open-ended uncertainty is a returning problem from 2020 – how will COVID-19 affect the baseball season and fan experience?

The Astros will start the season with about 25-percent occupancy in Minute Maid Park, subject to hopefully increase as vaccinations rise and hospitalizations drop during their 14 home games in April.

But will fans want to return to the ol' ballpark? Baseball hasn't exactly been a growth industry in recent years, with league attendance and TV ratings in slow, steady, measurable decline. MLB attendance in 2007 was 79 million. Attendance in 2019 (the last full schedule) was 68 million.

More fans attended baseball games in person two decades ago than in 2019. World Series TV ratings peaked in 1978 when the games averaged 44 million viewers. Last year's World Series, including major market Los Angeles Dodgers, had the lowest audience ever, averaging only 9.7 million viewers.

Four of the five least-viewed World Series have been in the past decade. The five most-watched Series were pre-1985.

The troubling COVID infection rate in Houston may have an impact on Astros attendance, especially in April and May as Pfizer and Moderna are bigger draws than Altuve and Correa.

The Astros will make the ballpark as safe and inviting as possible, with social distance seating upon request and hand sanitizing stations everywhere. MLB protocol mandates that fans must wear a mask except when "actively eating and drinking." Do not be an anti-mask Karen. You won't get away with nursing a Snickers candy bar in your hand for nine innings to avoid wearing a face covering. Minute Maid Park is not a public building. The Astros are the boss of you there.

"We will have masks available to fans as they enter the building if they do not have one. We are counting on our fans to be respectful of the rule and of each other," said Anita Sehgal, senior vice-president of marketing and communications for the Astros.

"We will have signage, announcements and staff monitoring with reminders. As per MLB protocols, we reserve the right to request a fan to leave if they are not adhering to the policy."

Remember the woman who refused to wear a mask in that bank in Galveston last week and challenged police, "What are you going to do, arrest me?" Done. There's a warrant out for her arrest. You don't want to embarrass yourself and your buddies by doing the walk of shame out of Minute Maid Park. You'll end up on YouTube. Simple rule: be a good fan. Wear a mask.

My prediction/solution: special seating sections for fans who are fully vaccinated. Do I have to come up with every good idea around here?

Apples to apples … or baseballs to basketballs: the Houston Rockets are operating with limited capacity at Toyota Center and still have trouble drawing fans. Much like the Rockets themselves, ticket prices on StubHub and other secondary market sites have hit rock bottom.

While you can chalk up the deep discounts to the Rockets' frustrating losing streak, the team was offering sale prices even when they had superstar James Harden and a winning record earlier this season.

It will be interesting to watch fan reaction when the Astros hit the road this season. The Astros were spared, let's say polite, commentary from fans in Yankee Stadium last year because of the shortened schedule. The Astros will visit The Bronx on May 4-5-6. Suggestions to Astros outfielders, wear profanity-canceling headphones. Full body armor might be a good idea, too. Boisterous Yankees fans don't adhere to the playground "no mothers" rule when hurling insults at opposing players.

The Astros might not receive tender bon mots from fans in Dodger Stadium on Aug. 3-4, either.

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The Rockets selected Jalen Green with the No. 2 pick. Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images.

The city of Houston can finally rejoice as Jalen Green was selected as the number two pick by the Rockets at the 2021 NBA Draft. It was already suspected that the Rockets would draft Green from past reports. Shams Charania of The Athletic already reported that the Rockets narrowed their decision down to Green.

Green is an explosive shooting guard that can get in-and-out amongst the perimeter and paint. With the G-League Ignite, he averaged 17.9 points, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He is an excellent free throw shooter at 82.9 percent. Like James Harden, he is incredibly good at getting to the free throw line. Green has a good trigger from three by shooting 36.5 percent on 5.7 attempts a game. His mature status since high school has prepared him for the NBA.

"His down-hill playmaking is really hard to guard", as Joey Fucca, his ex-coach told TDS. "If he says he's going to get to the rim, good luck. He is very good at getting to the free throw line, he is also very explosive to finish above the rim. When his three ball is on, you're just going to have a long night. I wouldn't be excited to guard him."

Green has blistering speed with outstanding handles to blow by his defenders and score. Spectators have compared Green to a younger Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Bradley Beal, and Zach Lavine, which are superstar players. He is a particularly good midrange shooter underneath the perimeter, as he shot 35 percent on a small quantity of attempts in a shorter season.

"Jalen is a uniquely blessed guy. He's a transcendent athlete," as Rockets GM Rafael Stone said. "He can handle the ball, and he can shoot. Normally, people that athletic aren't as skilled. We think that combination of tools makes him an extraordinarily exciting prospect."

During his press conference on Thursday night, Green emphasized the achievements he wants to accomplish with the Rockets. Green even discussed his desire of being a better defender, as he wants to continue to get better. He has a great wingspan and lateral movement to stay with opposing players on defense and be disruptive in the passing lanes.

"They're going to say it's a great choice," Green said. "Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-Defense, max contract. We're doing it big."

"Yeah, I think I can be that piece. I think I'm going to bring that dominant mentality, that defensive mindset…They already got a lot of star players"

As the draft continued, the Rockets sent future draft picks from the Wizards to land the 16th pick in the draft, which was 6'10 Alperen Sengun from Turkey. The 16th pick did belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder until Rafael Stone executed an interesting deal with Sam Presti.

"We did not think he would fall to us at 23, so we were really aggressive to try and move up all throughout the first round to acquire him," as Stone said.

Sengun's abilities on the court revolve around his post ups and skillful passing. He even maintains good feet along the baseline. In his press conference, he mentioned his passing skills can become better. There are clips of him looking impressive on shovel passes, passing the ball behind his back, and finding the cutting man towards the basket. Sengun looked good in double teams by showing he can still find the open man with his back turned.

While playing in the Turkish Super League, Sengun was an MVP at 18-years-old, averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assist, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. He could be another huge figure next to Christian Wood on the court, and a safety blanket for the Rockets if they cannot bring back Kelly Olynyk.

Usman Garbua is similar to former Rocket Luc Mbah a Moute. He is 6'8 with a tremendous wingspan at 7'3 and can guard anyone on the court, which is 1-5. Garbua was seen guarding Kevin Durant in the Team USA vs. Spain matchup and had interesting battles. The Rockets will get a ton of energy out of the 19-year-old player. He knows how to run the floor in transition, so he can finish around the rim. As I see it, he could be on a defensive first team in the future as he matures more. Garbua will become a defensive nightmare against opposing players.

"I think he's the best defender in the world outside of the NBA, and he's just 19 years old," Stone said. "I think he potentially could be really, really impactful on that side of the ball."

As the Rockets made their last selection, they selected Green's AAU buddy, Josh Christopher from Arizona State. He impressed a ton of scouts during his draft workouts and scrimmage against other prospects. Christopher had a double-double during his third scrimmage, which was 16 points and 10 rebounds. He is a very shifty guard with a ferocious step back.

While playing with the Sun Devils, he averaged 14.3 points per game and shot 49 percent from the field. Just like Green, he loved the midrange opportunities, as he shot 49.6 percent underneath the perimeter. He is another shifty big body the Rockets will have in their back court at 6'5. Christopher is very good at rebounding and playing defense. Stone loves watching him in defensive one-on-one situations. Christopher has Sixth Man of the Year written all over him because of his stocky body type and upside.

Hopefully, the Rockets have an exciting summer league and training camp along with their season.

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