HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER
A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: An amazing sports year in Houston with more to come
Feb 2, 2018, 7:25 am
The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!
Has it really been 12 months? Or 12 minutes?
As you watch the mittens-and-caps-and-ice sculptures run-up to Super Bowl LII Sunday in Minneapolis, you could swear that it was really, honestly, just the other day that downtown Houston was transformed into a nine-day Super Bowl LI wonderland known as Super Bowl LIVE presented by Verizon.
There was live music, great food, the NFL experience and even a reality trip to Mars – all tucked into a footprint the size of 13 football fields in and around Discovery Green.
Yes, time flies. People are still talking about Lady Gaga’s spectacular halftime show and Tom Brady’s even more spectacular – and historic - Super Bowl comeback.
Best Super Bowl ever as Brady and his New England Patriots came from 25 points down to beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime? Maybe so.
Biggest comeback, check. First overtime ever, check. A record fourth Super Bowl MVP – and a bunch of records – for Brady and the team.
Best ever? If not, it’s on a very, very short list.
It’s been a blur since then, right?
The city weathered Hurricane Harvey, then rallied around #HoustonStrong and its boys of fall – the Houston Astros – who took the city on a wild ride on the way to a seven-game World Series and their first championship. A few weeks later, the Rockets took off, and thanks to Chris Paul and James Harden, they’re looking like a team that just might make a title run of its own.
Now here we are in early February once again.
Brady is back for another Super Bowl run – this one against the Philadelphia Eagles – and everyone is wondering if he can win a record sixth title. He already shares the record of five with Charles Haley.
And Houston? It’s prepping for yet another big sports event – the inaugural Houston Sports Awards, February 8 at the Hilton Americas.
The city is still in Harvey recovery mode – and will be for years. We’ve survived a lot of ice and a little snow and sports fans are prepping for spring training and another World Series run, marveling at the Rockets and wondering if a healthy duo of J.J. Watt and DeShaun Watson will make a difference for the Texans in 2018.
But come Thursday, everyone’s attention will turn to the square block surrounding the Hilton Americas when Houston will usher in a new tradition – an eye-popping night celebrating Houston’s biggest sports stars.
The area will be transformed into a multiple-carpet, star-studded entrance for the gala and dinner. The event, a dream of Harris County - Houston Sports Authority CEO Janis Burke for more than a decade, will draw more than 1,000 people – including most of the city’s sports royalty – to the downtown area for the sold-out event.
The night honors Houston’s legendary trio of 34s – Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell and Hakeem Olajuwon – and there will be 10 other awards given out, seven of them with Oscar-style envelope reveals.
This is just year one, but, trust us, by the end of the night, it will leave a major impact on Houston and Houston sports.
In just two months, sports will collide when the Major League Baseball season opens and golf turns its attention to a tradition unlike any other - the Masters in Augusta, Ga. And, of course, the NBA playoffs are taking shape.
At that point, people will think back to the night they watched those 34s come together and share an incredibly special bond with each other and the city.
Best inaugural event ever? Maybe so.
No matter what they decide, they’ll ask if it has really been two months? Or two minutes?
And they’ll wonder what’s next.
The biggest news from Astros spring training in West Palm Beach has been the arrival of muscle-packed third baseman Alex Bregman, who’s in the final year of his contract with free agency looming.
Facing a battalion of microphones, Bregman has been saying all the right things – all the right things that Astros fans are happy to hear.
“I feel like I’ve never been in better shape in my life.”
“I expect to have the best season I’ve ever had.”
“I absolutely love every single second here. Being able to put on this jersey is an absolute honor and a dream come true for me as a kid. When it comes to the contract, I just let Scott do that.”
"Scott" is Bregman’s cold-blooded agent Scott Boras who is known for taking his clients to free agency and playing hardball with owners. Bregman, who will be 30 at the end of the season, is expected to draw offers perhaps as rich as $250 million over seven or eight years.
When I watched Bregman talk about his love for Houston and how he’d love to stay an Astro, I was half looking for an earpiece like the Impractical Jokers wear, with Boras whispering to Bregman what to say.
At the same time, but not the same place, Astros general manager Dana Brown was gushing over the Astros third sacker.
“He’s locked in. He is a special talent.”
“I’m expecting he’s going to have a really good season. I’m excited.”
“He has the heartbeat of a champion.”
The way Bregman and Brown are talking … I’ve heard less flirty prom invitations.
Now cue the scary music from horror movies. When Bregman was asked, have the Astros approached you with any offer of an extension, he answered a simple “no.”
When pressed for a timetable on a Bregman extension, Brown admitted, “at some point we’ll put together an offer. But right now we’re not engaged in an offer.”
In other words, both sides are talking. But not to each other.
Spring training is in full swing. Often players say if they don’t have an extension by the start of the season, they’ll shut down contract talks. They don’t want to think about a contract when they’re in the batter’s box and the games count. We don’t know if that is Bregman’s position, but it’s Boras’ modus operandi. It’s looking more and more like hello free agent Alex Bregman.
If Bregman is looking for a long-term deal at $200 million-plus, that’s more than Astros have ever offered a player. It could be too costly for owner Jim Crane’s blood.
Where do you stand on the Astros-Bregman dilemma? If you were Jim Crane, what would you do?
Break the bank and pay the man? After all, Bregman is a key piece of the Astros lineup. He’s been a dependable, hard-nosed player, a bit of a lovable wise ass and a huge part of the Astros’ dynastic run since 2017. Last year Bregman played 161 games, batted .262 with 25 homers, 98 RBI and 103 runs scored. He was a Gold Glove finalist at third base. He’s well liked in the clubhouse and adored by Astros fans. He has his own line of condiments.
Or let Bregman walk and save the money to make a run at keeping Kyle Tucker? As old school sports writers would say, you can look it up. In 2019, his career year so far, he batted .296, belted 41 homers, drove in 112 runs and led the league with 119 walks. He finished second in MVP voting behind Mike Trout. He hasn’t made an All-Star Game since then. His numbers, while not in free fall, have dwindled the past four years. He still is an above average player, though. Some team looking to go deep in the postseason will offer him big bucks at season’s end.
If it were up to you, would that team be the Astros?