How the Astros continue to run circles around MLB (on and off camera)

How the Astros continue to run circles around MLB (on and off camera)
The Astros spare no expense with their broadcast team. Composite image by Brandon Strange.
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The Astros leave today for Minnesota to start their first road trip of the 2023 season. The entire Astros broadcast crew, television and radio, will be aboard the plane, as they will for every Astros away series this season.

That’s not how it is for every team. The Angels recently announced that their radio team won’t be traveling with the club. The same for the Blue Jays. The Angels’ excuse: they’ll be saving $185,000 by not sending its radio team on road trips.

It should be noted that the Angels pay Anthony Rendon $35 million per year on a seven-year contract. The last two injury-plagued seasons, Rendon has batted .229 and .240. He is hitting .000 so far this season and he’s currently suspended for a physical confrontation with a fan.

But the Angels are saving the cost of Breakfast Baconators for its announcers.

Caught up with Astros TV play-by-play announcer Todd Kalas and asked, is it really important for announcers to travel with the team and call the games live in ballparks? It’s not like Kalas and the Astros crew haven’t called games from a TV studio. They did it for three spring training games this year, and the entire 2020 and 2021 Covid seasons.

SportsMap: Does it make a difference for fans at home whether you’re at the ballpark during road trips or announcing the games off a TV screen back in Houston:

Todd Kalas: It’s imperative to be on the road with the team for a number of reasons. The first and most important is, when you’re watching a game live and calling it, you can see the whole field. You see everything you want to see when you want to see it. You’re not relying on camera coverages. The second part is, you get a chance to be with the team when you travel to road games. You’re all pulling from the same rope, and you’re really one as an organization. We didn’t travel during the pandemic years. We were relying on Zoom calls for interviews with the players. We were finding out the same information as everybody else on the Zoom calls. We weren’t able to get insider information because we weren’t with the team. When you travel with the team you develop relationships with the players, coaches and the manager. They know that we’re all part of the same organization and they trust us.

SportsMap: What can you see live that you can’t see on a TV monitor?

TK: You see where the fielders are positioned and other nuances that aren’t picked up by cameras. You see the game, you feel the game, you experience the game. It’s so much different than when we were calling it from a studio. During the spring training games this year, we saw a monitor that carried the same thing you saw at home.

During the pandemic, we saw the main feed. We also saw different feeds like a wide angle of the entire field, we saw the bullpens, and other angles. The toughest challenges during the pandemic were checked swings. We didn’t know if it was strike or not because the camera didn’t always cut to the umpire fast enough. Also, we couldn’t see who was in the on deck circle, so we didn’t know if a pinch hitter was coming up. Fair and foul balls were difficult to call, too.

SportsMap: How many people are part of the Astros TV broadcast travel team?

TK: This year there are four of us, Blummer, Julia, me and a production person. The producer and director aren’t traveling with us yet, but that’s changing. The producer will start traveling with us soon and the director will join us for some trips. Our full team will be six people, three announcers and three production people.

SportsMap: What exactly are your travel nuts and bolts when the Astros hit the road?

TK: We get a per diem for expenses and we stay in the same hotel as the team. How we get to the stadium is up to us. There are three busses every game that leave the hotel for the stadium. One goes super early, another goes four or five hours before the game, and the other one goes about three hours before the game. We can go on any of those busses, or we can take an Uber or public transportation. I’ll never get tired of traveling at the major league level. We go on charters, the same plane as the players, so we’re not going through airports or TSA. We leave our luggage at the hotel and it shows up at our next hotel. It’s very easy travel. There are some challenges like when we do a west coast game and we get home at 4 a.m. and we have to broadcast a game later that day. But for the most part, the travel is very accommodating for the players and announcers so we can be at our best.

SportsMap: When the schedule comes out, do you circle certain favorite dates and cities?

TK: We do. I enjoy going back to Philly (where he spent most of his childhood) and I lived in Tampa for more than 20 years. But mostly we look for off days in cities that have good golf. When the schedule allows us, we try our best to tee it up.

Editor's note: Catch Todd Kalas talking Astros every week on ESPN Houston 97.5's The Wheelhouse!

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The Braves blew the game open against Hader on Monday night. Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images.

When the Astros signed Josh Hader to anchor the back of the bullpen with Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu, we thought the club might have the best 'pen in MLB.

But at this early stage in the season, nobody is confusing these guys with Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge, and Billy Wager.

Heading into the ninth inning on Monday night, the Astros handed the ball to Hader trailing the Braves 2-1. Instead of keeping the game close and giving the Astros' offense one more chance, the Braves teed off on the closer putting the game out of reach and ultimately winning 6-1.

Hader has one save on the season with an ERA over nine. Which has us wondering, do the Astros have a Hader problem?

Don't miss the video above as ESPN Houston's John Granato and Lance Zierlein weigh in!

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