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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The power struggle continues. Photo by Getty Images.

Boy, with the recent blizzard of negative publicity – searing magazine cover stories with headlines blasting "Houston Has a Problem" and "The Chaplain Who Won a Power Struggle and Plunged a Franchise into Chaos" – I'll bet the Houston Texans wished they had a seasoned, respected and award-winning media director to handle damage control.

Oh yeah, that's exactly what they had in Amy Palcic, but she was fired last year. Reason: she "wasn't the right culture fit."

What exactly is the Houston Texans culture these days? Apparently the culture is players disliking and distrusting the team executive specifically charged with managing the team's culture. It's that same executive whose resume has more fudging than the Keebler Cookie Company. It's that executive who's accused of authorizing illegal practices and hiring private eyes to follow players in their private activities. It's that executive who's accused of intimidating employees who trash him to the media and threatening to sue media outlets. It's that executive who imposes his religious fervor on lower-ranked employees. It's that executive who has created a culture where gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson is said to want a trade out of Houston.

That executive is Jack Easterby - the backstabbing, butt-smooching BS'er who seems to have a Svengali hold on Texans chairman Cal McNair.

If it comes down to one stays and one has to go between Watson and Easterby … hmmm, let's see. Deshaun Watson threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Jack Easterby, zero and zero.

Last week, Texans legend Andre Johnson, who usually speaks up less than the magician Teller, tweeted: "Since Jack Easterby walk into the building nothing good has happened. For some reason someone can't seem to see what's going on. Pathetic!!!"

That "someone" would be Texans chairman Cal McNair, who continues to support Easterby despite all the accusations and revelations hurled Easterby's way.

By the way, Easterby has not sued any media outlet that is publishing stories about his bullying and sneakiness. And he won't sue because that last thing he wants is to be put in a witness chair and swear to tell the truth.

In the past 12 months, with Easterby sticking his nose in McNair's ear, the Texans have managed to alienate and infuriate superstar Watson: trade All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and create a losing, uninspired clubhouse that has favorite son J.J. Watt wanting a trade to leave his beloved Houston.

It's not like Easterby is some mad genius who somehow produces spectacular results despite his unorthodox tactics. The Texans finished 2020 with a disastrous 4-12 record, with little to show for it, not even a top draft pick to honor their futility. The Texans are clearly in need of divine intervention, and not from huckster Easterby, whose degree is in sports management from Newberry College. Easterby is only dimples and wavy hair short of being a TV preacher.

You can't deny that Easterby is inspiration. He recently inspired a public protest on the sidewalk outside NRG Stadium and signs swaying over Southwest Freeway with the same message: #FireJackEasterby. Watson asked his supporters not to attend the rally due to COVID precaution.

Then there's the case of Deshaun Watson v. Cal McNair.

Watson was born into an economically disadvantaged family and has worked for, and deserves, every penny he is paid. He is a champion.

Cal McNair found the Houston Texans under his Christmas tree in 2018 after his father Texans original owner Bob McNair died.

Watson is an extremely bright and sensitive man who is deeply involved in social issues off the field. Last year, during the summer of racial upheaval in America, he led the charge to have the name of a former slave owner removed from a building on his alma mater Clemson's campus.

McNair hardly ever speaks in public and his stumbling, confused performance at a press conference to announce the hire of general manager Nick Caserio showed why. It's rare when a team owner has to apologize after making what should have been a happy statement promising fans a better future. However, if a stage production of the Beverly Hillbillies ever goes to Broadway, we've got our Jethro.

Many times when a player gets into a public spat with a team owner, it's a dumb jock player vs. the super-smart businessman who owns a billion-dollar company. It's usually over money. And the public typically thinks, "just get rid of the ungrateful, overpaid and greedy player."

Not this time. Watson already got his – four years at $156 million. This is a war of morality. Watson is the hero here, McNair the fool being played by Easterby, who like Cassius is Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, "has a lean and hungry look."

If it came to a public vote between Watson and McNair (Easterby), Watson's landslide win would rival Kim Jong-Un in North Korea … or LeAnn Rimes on The Masked Singer.

It's unfair to call McNair and Easterby polarizing figures because polarizing implies that there are two sides to the issue.

There is only one side. Houston loves Deshaun Watson and wants McNair to sell the team, right after he fires Easterby.

Seemingly the only defender rushing to Easterby's side is a Twitter account allegedly owned by Easterby under a fake name. If it is a burner account, Easterby has a whole lot of faith in himself.

Although football insiders say that Watson is all but out the door at NRG Stadium, there is still a chance that McNair could save the day, and do what is needed to keep Watson in Texans' gear. And that would be to fire Easterby. Now.

Sadly, given McNair's repeated pledges of loyalty to Easterby and insistence that criticism of Easterby is unwarranted, Watson's leaving Houston gets more likely each day. Andre Johnson had it right … "pathetic!!!"

Three exclamation points.

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