HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Halfway home at the rodeo

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Halfway home at the rodeo
The Marlie McDonald interview was an early highlight. abc13.com

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!

We’re at the midway point for Rodeo Houston: 10 days down, 10 to go.

And, yes, there are times when it feels like all the days run together. The events that get the crowds going are the same events you see every performance. But even though those of us who do all 20 shows chuckle and say we feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, there are moments every night that get you going.

For me, it’s just before they come to me for the intro for first event of the night: tie-down roping. As Boyd Polhamus, Bob Tallman and Andy Seiler welcome the crowd, I wait on the incredible new star stage, which is pushed back toward the ropers.  

The Grand Entry wagons and riders circle the arena. The Star Spangled Banner echoes through NRG and the virtual flyover fighter jets race across the big screens. Then the lights go down and they crank up the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s theme song – Party With Your Boots On.

That’s when routine goes out the window. I get chills and goosebumps and I’m ready to go. It’s the adrenaline shot. It’s like chugging a Red Bull before the rodeo starts.

That’s always the moment for me. Every night.

What follows next is my introduction of one of the tie-down ropers. Each night I pick one and try to give the crowd a little insight into not only his accomplishments, but into his story. Maybe it’s something about his strategy, or his hometown – Fred Whitfield from Hockley, TX, or Richie Champion from The Woodlands. Or Tyson Durfey who wears pink because he’s trying to raise breast cancer awareness. It’s about telling the story, and helping the crowd trying to identify with these cowboys.

With that, the night is off and running.

Groundhog moments notwithstanding, there have been a lot of great moments in the first half of Rodeo so here are a few of my favorite moments thus far:

* Most people love the Mutton Bustin’ and always ask or comment about interviewing those five and six year old winners.  Well, I love it. One of my favorite moments so far was interviewing the opening night winner – six-year-old Marlie McDonald, who stole the show with her curly red hair and dreams of saving the world as a spy.

* A few nights later, a little boy with little red glasses and little red tennis shoes was pretty precious, too. He said he practiced on his mom and used a blanket, but that kept slipping off. They tired a towel and that worked. When I asked him where he got his glasses, he looked at me and said, “at the prescription store of course!”

* The night Astros president Reid Ryan and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio rode into the arena and Reid had the World Series Trophy cradled in his right arm.  Some folks were concerned about Reid carrying the trophy on horseback, but as the saying goes, “This wasn’t his first rodeo...” and he knew EXACTLY what he was doing!  When Bob and Boyd announced that the World Series Trophy was in the house, the entire crowd erupted and went crazy.

* Later that same night, Craig came over and helped present the Mutton Bustin’ award. The little boy who won wants to be an Aggie baseball player when he grew up. I asked if he knew who that was kneeling next to him. He said no. The one kid who actually wanted to be a baseball player had no idea who Craig Biggio was. So I told him he was getting his buckle from perhaps one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  His mom and dad appreciated the moment a lot more than he did!

* Now I’m not a huge country music fan, but opening night with Garth Brooks had more energy than any night I’d ever seen. One, it was opening night. Two, Garth Brooks hadn’t played at the Rodeo in years  so the place was packed. They closed down gates and even people with (go everywhere) gold badges couldn’t get in. The usually late arriving crowd was in early, they were amped up, it was crazy and it was a great way to kick things off.

* The new stage has just been phenomenal and one of the highlights was on Black Heritage night with Leon Bridges. All five points on the star actually rise up, so it goes pretty high. The points have a tip on them and a guardrail. He was the first entertainer to take it up and actually utilize it. As cool as the stage has been and just watching it for the first time – the whole on countdown, the intro, the lights – everything is impressive. But to see Leon Bridges up there was really cool.

* On First Responders’ Night, Rascal Flatts did an incredibly  emotional tribute recognizing hurricane Harvey and the efforts of the first responders. The first responders surrounded the stage and arena on the dirt and Rascal Flatts sang, showed videos, expressed their gratitude, and had tears in everyone’s eyes.

* And there’s one other favorite that really epitomizes what it’s like to work the Rodeo.  It’s the Mares and Foals. It’s the second year for the generational presentation and it falls between the bull riding and calf scramble. They dim the lights and spotlight a 24 year-old mare, then introduce her daughter and the daughter’s daughter and, finally, a leggy foal who is the youngest in the line. They all run the arena floor together, and the crowd just eats it up. It’s all about family, just like the Rodeo itself. And it never gets old.

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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