10 QUESTIONS FOR JULIA MORALES

Ken Hoffman pitches 10 hard-hitting questions to Astros reporter Julia Morales

Photo via: Julia Morales

The 2020 baseball season will be different for Houston Astros color announcer Julia Morales, too. Join the club. The veteran Astros announcer, host of Astros Bases Loaded and former Pom at the University of Texas won't be able to interact with fans - there won't be any. She won't be able to hang out near the Astros dugout - MLB health and safety rules. She won't be able to do, well, many of the things that have made her a popular figure on ATT SportsNet Southwest telecasts of Astros games.

Entering her eighth season with the Astros broadcast team, Morales isn't complaining, not at all. She's just happy to be back in Minute Maid Park talkin' baseball with fellow announcers Todd Kalas (when he kicks COVID-19), Geoff Blum and the viewers at home. I caught up with Morales for 10 hard-hitting questions after the Astros whupped up on the Seattle Mariners during the season's opening series.

1. SportsMap: I've seen you walk by the stands before a game and talk with tons of fans, especially little girls. How much are you going to miss that this season?

Julia Morales: It's what I'm missing the most. There are so many regulars at Houston Astros games that they have become a second family for me. The ballpark is the happiest place on Earth (shh, don't tell Disney World). When you're here there is a different energy and vibe, and I feed off that every day. I walked out to the Crawford Boxes minutes before first pitch on Opening Day and it really hit me hard that the concourse wasn't packed and buzzing so loud you can barely hear yourself think. I'm really hoping we can all be back together sooner rather than later.

2. SM: How will your role on game broadcasts be different this year?

JM: How I gather information for the broadcast is completely different as we are relying on Zoom calls with players and coaches, and my walkoff interviews are now done from the visiting booth. We are missing the 1-on-1 time we usually get with different people in the organization to ask questions, confirm things and get ideas. The broadcast will be very similar to what fans have seen before. TK, Blummer and I will continue to call the games and bring you stories of your favorite players.

3. SM: Will you be wearing a mask during games? Will you guys be social-distancing in the broadcast booth?

JM: I have my own booth, haha! Gary Pettis called me a diva the second he saw me in my booth from the field. It is extremely safe at the ballpark. Sanitizing stations are everywhere and a camera is set up before I arrive. All I have to do is spin around and flip on a light to be ready for on-camera appearances. If we are not on the air, we must all wear masks in the booths and everywhere else inside of the ballpark. I'm learning disposable masks are going to work best after covering the inside of mine with TV makeup every day. Lipstick on the nose isn't a great look for television.

4. SM: Have you struck up a professional relationship with Dusty Baker like you had with A.J. Hinch?

JM: I was able to get to know Dusty a little bit in spring training before we were all sent home. He's been great and extremely entertaining. So many one-liners. We are going to have exclusive time with him each Friday when we hope to hear some of his many stories.

5. SM: The Astros announcers won't be traveling with the team on road trips. Which cities will you miss the most?

JM: I hope that Seattle and San Francisco know how much I miss them. We are spoiled to be able to cover a team in the AL West with some of the best cities to visit during the hottest days Houston has to offer. A 10-day trip to Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim in the middle of July is sorely missed. My morning runs are in crisp cool air, no humidity. See what I mean?

6. SM: Will fans watching at home be able to tell a difference between normal games and this year's games?

JM: I was watching exhibition games before we started and could definitely tell a big difference with the crowd noise MLB is mandating across the league. I think Kevin Eschenfelder (filling in for Kalas) and Geoff Blum have done a great job without the roar of the crowd we're used to feeding off at the ballpark. It will get interesting when we're calling road games from the studio. Calling a game across the country off monitors in a studio while being socially distant will be new for all of us.

7. SM: Will you be able to do personal interviews and features like years past?

JM: We will continue to have opportunities to talk to players and coaches whether it's on the headset or a separate Zoom call along with the Zoom interviews that are held daily for the media.

8. SM: You recently announced that you're having a baby - will that affect anything this season?

JM: Are due dates accurate? Baby girl is due September 28, the day after the regular season ends. As we are rounding third in this pregnancy, it will all be up to her and the health of us. Until then I will be calling Astros games!

9. SM: Since you'll be at Minute Maid Park for games, will you be tested for coronavirus every day?

JM: I am considered a member of the media, Tier 3, which means we have restricted access. I will not be tested like those who are in close contact with the team.

10. SM: Can you believe this is happening?

JM: I can't believe I got sent home from spring training. I can't believe we didn't have a baseball game in April. I can't believe they figured out how to get a season started. But we are here and I am so glad to be back doing what I love.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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