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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These ticket prices are shocking! Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images.

Just when baseball fans thought they’ve seen everything … the 2023 Houston Astros happened.

What a wild ride it’s been, so far, and it’s far from over.

I’ll have what Justin Verlander is having. After winning the Cy Young Award and getting his first World Series victory in 2022, he started this season by signing with the clown show New York Mets and becoming the highest-paid pitcher (tied with Max Scherzer) in history. Four months later, with the Mets under .500, he was traded back to the dynasty Astros where he’s likely slated to pitch the first game of the ALDS. Verlander keeps all his money with the Mets paying most of his Astros salary.

After spending most of 2023 in the unaccustomed and downright infuriating position of chasing the Texas Rangers, the Astros were crowned American League West champions on the last day of the season by running the table on the Arizona Diamondbacks while the Rangers pulled an historic El Foldo against the Mariners in Seattle. This was like you betting on red at roulette and it comes up red 10 times in a row, the stunning cocktail waitress has written her phone number on your napkin, and when you leave the table, you spot a $100 bill on the floor. The only person luckier would be Justin Verlander.

It was a rough ride and a long haul for the 2023 Astros for sure. First Jose Altuve broke his thumb in the World Baseball Classic, missed the Astros first 43 games, and was forced to film HEB commercials with his hand inside a potato chips bag. Then he suffered a couple more boo-boos, and barely played half of the Astros games. But since his return: three homers in one game, four in a row actually, hit for the cycle, 1,000th career run scored, 200th home run, 2,000th hit, 400th double, 35th four-hit game, two-times Player of the Week, and back in the playoffs for his eighth time.

Yordan Alvarez missed a third of the season and still scared opposing pitchers half to death. Michael Brantley, sidelined for more than a year with a shoulder injury, returned and his stroke was as sweet as ever. Kyle Tucker took his place as a bona fide superstar. Rookie Yanier Diaz blasted 23 homers as a backup catcher. Jose Abreu salvaged a disappointing season by going on an RBI tear in September and coming up huge in the final series against Arizona. Mauricio Dubon became super sub at second base and center field. J.P. France and Jose Urquidy rescued the Astros injury-ridden rotation.

The Astros may have finished with a losing record at home and 16 fewer wins overall from last year. But they don’t include won-loss records when they hang banners at Minute Maid Park. To sort of borrow from Raiders owner Al Davis, the Astros just won, baby.

Sure there was some frustration and in-house backbiting. What family doesn’t endure those? But when the dust cleared, the Astros are still standing, ready to defend their 2022 championship and the American League betting favorite to make another World Series.

That’s the Astros – a family, from the players, the coaches, and front office to the guy who pops the popcorn and the fans. This was the fifth season the Astros drew 3 million fans to Minute Maid Park. To put Houston’s passion for the Astros in perspective:

The Minnesota Twins are hosting the Toronto Blue Jays in a wild card series. The Twins cruised to the post-season by winning the American League Central by nine games over the second-place Detroit Tigers. Playoff fever should be sweeping Minneapolis, and the Twins must be the hottest ticket in town, right?

Photo by Ken Hoffman

Not exactly. You can buy tickets, guaranteed to be seated together, to the Twins-Blue Jays series on the secondary market for $6 each. That’s well below face value. Tickets for the Rangers-Rays series in Tampa are going as low as $22.

The cheapest secondary market tickets for Astros Division Series games at Minute Maid Park are $60, and that’s for standing room only.

Astros home attendance this year also was tops for any American League team in the post-season – more than twice the number of fans that attended Rays home games at Tropicana Field. The other two American League division champs, Baltimore and Minnesota, both failed to draw 2 million fans.

Consider the poor Texas Rangers, at least pretend you care. Instead of getting a bye, they had to fly from Seattle to Tampa for their wild card showdown against the Rays. That’s a leg-cramping, 5-hour, 2,520-mile flight. (Note: despite announcers and radio hosts insisting that’s the longest flight in MLB, actually it’s the second-longest. Seattle to Miami is 204 miles farther.)

If you do want to care for the truly mistreated, consider the Astros TV team of Todd Kalas, Geoff Blum and Julia Morales. They toil for the entire season with the Astros, but when dessert (the playoffs) arrives, they’re told to go sit in the living room. Fox and FS1 will broadcast the American League Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series. You know what that means. TV on, sound off, Robert Ford and Steve Sparks radio on.

At least Kalas and company will do post-game shows for the first time on the Astros new TV outlet, Space City Home Network. Journalism question: like X (formerly known as Twitter), how long do we have to write Space City Home Network (formerly known as AT&T SportsNet Southwest)?

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