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Feb 29, 2024, 10:19 am
Growing up, I was never a fan of aluminum baseball bats. I refused to use one throughout my Little League days, since “Big Leaguers” didn’t use them. It wasn’t like the extra power of an aluminum bat was going to turn me into a slugger anyway. Plus, the “ping” of bat meeting baseball always sounded fake to me, certainly relative to the great sound of the crack of a wood bat making sharp contact with the ball (great sound for hitters anyway). In less than a month now the Astros’ highly potent batting order will produce many a loud crack of the bat. This weekend however “ping” is the thing as the Astros play host to their annual College Classic at Minute Maid Park. As always the six team field is excellent. It’s not a tournament. Each team gets in three games. The best atmosphere of the weekend no doubt occurs at the Friday night 7:05 matchup between Texas and LSU. The Longhorns are 14th ranked (via Baseball America) while the reigning National Champion Tigers are number three. On Sunday UT plays Vanderbilt which checks in at number nine. Houston, Texas State, and Louisiana are also in the field.
An Astros number game
New Astros’ closer Josh Hader wears number 71. That’s a number one would more typically associate with some minor league prospect getting a look in spring training than with one of the premier closers in the game. When coming up with the Milwaukee Brewers Hader wanted number 17 but was told no can do. The Brewers haven’t retired number 17 but no one has worn it for them since a second baseman named Jim Gantner in 1992. Gantner played in 17 big league seasons all with the Brewers, and was a below average offensive player in 16 of them. Former Astros’ manager Cecil Cooper played 11 years with the Brewers that fully overlapped with Gantner’s tenure. “Coop” had a six-year stretch over which he was an absolute stud, three times finishing fifth in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting. 15 different players have worn number 15 for Milwaukee since Cooper did. Gantner is a Wisconsin native (Cooper grew up in Brenham and went to Prairie View A&M) but still seems an odd choice to have his number de facto retired. Anyway, since Hader couldn’t get number 17 with the Brewers he inverted it to the available 71, and has stuck with it. Incidentally, the Astros didn’t give out number 17 for a decade after Lance Berkman was traded. Jake Odorizzi then David Hensley have worn it over the last three seasons.
Hader will become the fourth Astro to wear number 71 in a regular season game. In a perfect Astroworld that appearance comes when locking down a victory over the Yankees on Opening Day. You are scary good on Astros trivia if you can name two of the three prior wearers of number 71. One would be impressive. If you can name all three, you almost certainly looked them up.
TIME’S UP! In reverse chronological order…Peter Solomon pitched in six games in 2021. Carlos Sanabria pitched in two games in 2020, J.C. Gutierrez pitched in seven games in 2007, the last four of them for then interim manager Cecil Cooper who had taken over from Phil Garner.
Hader supplants Ryan Pressly as the Astros’ primary closer. He has a tough act to follow in entry music. Pressly’s use of the Johnny Cash classic “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” has been pretty epic. With the Padres last season Hader entered to D.J. Khaled’s “Every Chance I Get.” An upgrade seems in order. When a Brewer Hader used “Renegade” by Styx.
Catch me if you can
In falling down a rabbit hole while researching a couple of things one can learn some pretty arcane stuff. Any Astros fan of even middling caliber should know Craig Biggio is the franchise leader in regular season games played (and several other categories) with 2850 which ranks 18th all-time in Major League Baseball. That’s fully 700 more than runner-up Jeff Bagwell. Jose Cruz is third with 1870. Jose Altuve is fourth with his 1668 regular season games. Under contract for six more seasons, Altuve would have to average 197 games played per season to catch Biggio by the end of 2028. Given a regular season is 162 games, Biggio seems rather safe atop the games played mountain.
More Astros, please!
A mention that our second season of the Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast is off and running. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics weekly. On our regular schedule the first post goes up Monday afternoon. You can get the video version (first part released Monday, second part Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available at initial release Monday via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.