ROUGH N' TUMBLE

Ken Hoffman catches up with the new voice of Houston's XFL team

Ken Hoffman catches up with the new voice of Houston's XFL team
Photo courtesy of Houston Roughnecks

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

The Houston Roughnecks begin their debut season in the XFL (2.0) on Sunday, February 9, at TDECU Stadium on the University of Houston campus. Their first opponent is the dreaded L.A. Wildcats with kickoff at 4 pm. Tickets, starting at $24 for the lower bowl, are available online.

The game will be televised nationally on FOX (that's Channel 26 in these here parts). But even better, this game and the entire 10-game season will be broadcast on ESPN 97.5 FM. The station's morning host John Granato will handle play-by-play duties. Here are 10 questions for the radio voice of the Houston Roughnecks.

CultureMap: What will be your main challenges in calling XFL play-by-play?

John Granato: I don't foresee much in the way of challenges. Meeting with XFL people, they're doing everything to make it a first-class presentation. We'll have everything we need. I haven't done play-by-play in a while but I'm very confident in my ability. It's always been a dream of mine to be the voice of a team so it's more exciting than anything.

CM: How did you get the job? Did you audition?

JG: Actually, I got a call out of the blue from team president Brian Michael Cooper. He said they wanted me to do it and I said yes. I'm thrilled they had this kind of confidence in me.

CM: The press box is pretty far up and away at TDECU Stadium. Will you have a spotter in your ear?

JG: Not in my ear. There'll be someone sitting with us up there working stats and making notes but no one in my ear. It's on me to know the players and the situations.

CM: When was the last time you did play-by-play?

JG: I did a lot of stuff when I was at Channel 51. We produced UH and Rice football, basketball, and baseball games. It was a while ago, but I haven't forgotten.

CM: Have you memorized the rules that are different from the NFL, for example extra points and the kicking game? What do you think of the different rules?

JG: We've gone over them, but it'll definitely be different. I like a lot of the stuff. The games will go faster. There'll be more offense. Kicks and punts are way different and that will take some getting used to, but just because it's not traditional doesn't mean it's bad. I hope everyone keeps an open mind. Who knows? Some stuff might be better and adopted by other leagues.

CM: Are you going to practices to get to know the players?

JG: Yes. I'll be there a lot.

CM: Is June Jones good for quotes and easy to work with, or is he a [New England Patriots head coach] Bill Belichick mumbler?

JG: He's not Belichick, thank goodness. He's been very receptive to helping and promoting the game and the team. We all have to do our part to get the word out. That's why I'm essentially writing this column for your lazy ass. (Ken's note: that's 1, Granato.)

Continue on CultureMap to learn how an XFL broadcast differ from a typical NFL broadcast, and more.

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Houston is home for Jose Altuve. Composite Getty Image.

Ten months from free agency, José Altuve knew what he wanted.

“Houston is my home,” he said.

He achieved his goal to remain with the Astros, agreeing to a contract that will pay $125 million from 2025-29, when he will be 39.

“I have obviously two homes," he said Wednesday at a news conference, a day after the deal was announced. "I grew up in Venezuela, my country. Every time I go there, I tell my wife ‘Let’s go home.’ And then when it’s time to come back, I tell her ‘Let’s come back home.’”

An eight-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion and the 2017 AL MVP, Altuve had started to discuss free agency last year with wife Nina.

“I come back every day, after a night game, and I see my daughters sleeping," Altuve said. "I can wake up the next day and take them to school, so that was where the conversation where everything started, and we decided to stay here in Houston. We will never move from here.”

Houston Mayor John Whitmire declared Wednesday Jose Altuve Day, with the date, 2/7, matching Altuve’s jersey number. More than a dozen of Altuve’s teammates and coaches attended the news conference along with Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio.

“Jose Altuve is the heartbeat of this organization,” Astros general manager Dana Brown said. “He’s a franchise player. He’s on pace to be in the Hall of Fame. He’s a fan favorite, and without a doubt, he’s the spark to our Clubhouse, to our dugout, and he’s an Astro for life.”

Altuve's deal raises his career earnings above $300 million, the most among second basemen. It was negotiated by Scott Boras, who also represents Astros third baseman Alex Bregman. Boras said he spoke with Brown on Wednesday about Bregman, who can become a free agent after the World Series.

“Alex has made it clear that he’s open to listening to whatever the Astros have to say,” Boras said.

Just 5-foot-6. Altuve is among the shortest big leaguers. He went to an Astros tryout and was sent home without a contract but returned the next day at the urging of his father. He signed for $15,000 as a 16-year old in 2007.

Altuve debut in 2011 in the first of three straight 100-plus-loss seasons and helped set a winning culture for a team that went on to World Series titles in 2017 and '22. The Astros have reached the AL Championship Series in seven straight seasons.

“ José does a lot of things that not a lot of people get to see,” Astros manager Joe Espada said, “I get to witness his ability to connect with his teammates, to lead a clubhouse, to when we need somebody to step up and speak up and he speaks, and how he commands the room.”

Altuve joked that he didn't remember the lean years on Wednesday but said they made him a better player.

“Obviously, nobody likes to lose, so I think as an organization we learned a lot from those games, and we did the transition," he said. "Now we are a winning team.”

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