Astros Fan Fest

Astros Hall of Fame announcement headlines annual Fan Fest

Photo by Paul St. Martin

Astros fans were treated to an oasis of hardball in an otherwise cold winter devoid of any baseball. Minute Maid Park opened its doors to the public for the Astros annual Fan Fest event.

The gates opened at 11 am to the free event filled with autograph sessions, photo ops, and Q&A; forums with some of the Astros' most famous players. For those willing to spend the cash, fans were given the opportunity to throw bullpen sessions, play catch in the outfield, or take a swing in the batting cages.

Shortly after opening to the public a press conference was broadcast throughout the park announcing the establishment of the Astros Hall of Fame. The hall will replace the outfield concourse currently referred to as "Home Run Alley," and inductees will receive a bright orange Hall of Fame blazers and plaques.

As the afternoon lingered on, the lines stretched further and further with fans looking to get a piece of Astros history. Out in right field, fans lined up for the annual "garage sale," where excess inventory from the previous season's promotions are laid out on fold out tables with bargain price tags slapped on them. In the team store located at first base, fans were scrambled to lock down their own piece of authentic Astros memorabilia. From game used jerseys to ballpark furniture, and even down to five-gallon buckets of MLB authenticated dirt from Tal's Hill, it was easy to see that there was something for everyone.

While most lines provided Astros fans with an opportunity to own a part of Astros history, one particular line on the third base line concourse provided fans with an opportunity to glimpse into the future. Those in attendance were able to sample the one of the newest beer recipes from Karbach Brewing Company, the Crawford Bock. The new beer represents a unique collaboration between the Astros and Houston's largest brewery. Fans unable to sample the new recipe will have little trouble finding it, as the installation of a field-level Karbach bar behind home plate has already begun.

The bevy of new announcements and additions to the ballpark came as a welcome surprise to all. From the young fans running the basepaths in the infield to the old fans lounging in the Crawford Boxes happily ruminating in the simple fact that they were back at the ballpark, it was apparent the the Astros latest iteration of Fan Fest was one of the most successful implementations in the past several years.

Justin Verlander will get the Opening Day nod. Bob Levey/Getty Images

If you're not into basketball, or maybe just not into college basketball until March Madness gets here or the NBA until playoff time, man is this a sucky time of the sports year.

It will soon get better, with the Astros like all Major League teams having thrown open the doors to spring training. Less than six weeks away now to Opening Day, for the Astros that will be in St. Petersburg against the Rays. Barring a spring misfortune either way the Opening Day matchup will have American League Cy Young Award runner-up Justin Verlander pitching opposite AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. In game two Gerrit Cole will certainly go for the Astros, you'd think the Rays counter with their 30 million dollar free agent addition, ex-Astro Charlie Morton.

The biggest roster issues for the Astros to decide in Florida, aren't very big. Who wins the job as fifth man in the starting rotation? Going in that's seemingly advantage Josh James with Framber Valdez and Brad Peacock as the alternatives. For now. Someone who is part of the Astros' rotation once the season gets here is a placeholder. Unless something goes wrong, super stud prospect Forrest Whitley arrives in the majors this year, though not until at least June. Barring a dire need, the Astros will keep Whitley in the minors long enough to push back his salary arbitration eligibility a year. The Astros also have a last spot or two in their bullpen to determine.

Among the non-pitchers, the single biggest story line should be Carlos Correa's back. Correa was simply a bad player while ailing the second half of last season. It would be a horrible thing if at 24 years old Correa has recurring back problems. If he does not one would presume he gets back on track toward superstardom. Jose Altuve should be fine coming off knee surgery, the same expected for Alex Bregman working back from elbow surgery.

As in life few things in baseball are guaranteed. But given good health and their seemingly weak AL West competition, as the Astros start spring training, they're close to a guarantee to end up in the postseason for the third year in a row.

Cougars keep rolling

It's 24-1 for the Houston Cougars after they ground down UConn in the second half Thursday night. Sunday they play at the joke that is Tulane (4-19, 0-11 in conference). When the new polls come out Monday UH will move up to at least number seven in the nation.The Coogs are clearly the biggest college hoops story in Texas this season, but props to Sam Houston State. The Bearkats enter the weekend as one of only four teams in Division One undefeated in conference play. The other three: Tennessee, Gonzaga, and…Wofford.

Texans miss out?

So when it comes to your sports teams, how flexible is your morality? The Texans could use an upgrade at running back. Lamar Miller had a decent 2018 season, though he faded down the stretch with four straight ineffective performances. Yes the Texans offensive line was terrible, but a better back than Miller would presumably have been more productive. If the Texans keep Lamar Miller for 2019 his salary is five and a half million dollars.

Until Monday, Kareem Hunt was available, for roughly 20 to 25 percent of Miller's salary. Then the Cleveland Browns signed him. As a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017 Hunt led the NFL in rushing. He was having another fantastic season in 2018, when a video surfaced of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel last February. Turned out Hunt had lied to the Chiefs about the incident and they decided to release him. Hunt is currently on NFL suspension. He will come off though and the Browns will then add a sensational talent on the cheap. Hunt signed a one year deal reportedly for about one million dollars which actually will be a raise for him over what his original Kansas City contract would have paid.

So the Texans could have had Hunt for, say, a million and a half. They'd have added a running back more explosive than the Texans have ever had. And saved about four million dollars in the process by cutting Miller. Would you have signed Hunt? Or would no player guilty of such loser punk behavior ever have a place on your team?

There is no indication that the Texans showed interest. But don't go crazy proclaiming them paragons of integrity. In 2017 the Texans celebrated Brian Cushing's return from his second NFL suspension for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. They recently hired Cushing as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. Morality judgments come on a sliding scale.

Buzzer Beaters

1. James Harden's ongoing streak of 30+ point games is astounding. The extreme ball domination also often makes the Rockets a tedious watch. 2. The Rockets hit the All Star Break one game closer to the draft lottery than to third place in the West. That is stunning, though there is virtually no way they miss the playoffs. Right? 3. NBA Valentine's Day shout-outs: Bronze-Kevin and Bob Love Silver-Roses: Jalen, Derrick, and Malik Gold-Valentines: Denzell and Darnell.

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