A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Watt joins elite company

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Watt joins elite company
More recognition for J.J. Watt. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

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

The Time 100.

It’s the iconic magazine’s annual list of the most influential people in the world. And when the list was released Thursday morning, congratulations started rolling in for J.J. Watt.

The only surprise? That it was Roger Federer who graces this week’s cover. Not Watt.

No disrespect to the greatest tennis player in the game and a man whose philanthropy off the court goes relatively unnoticed, but this was Watt’s year.

The Texans’ defensive end touched the heart and soul, not just of the city of Houston, but the world when he turned to Twitter after Hurricane Harvey devastated the area with more than 50 inches of rain with a video and the following message:

Recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey will be massive.
We must come together to help rebuild our communities.http://YouCaring.com/JJWatt 

 His goal? To raise $200,000. He raised over $37 million in just a few weeks.

 We all knew what the three-time NFL Defensive Player could do on the field, but what he did for Houston – and continues to do – is just as legendary. He has been giving back since he was playing at Wisconsin, but what he did last year caught the eye of everyone, earning him the inaugural Houston Sports Awards Sportsmanship Award, as well the NFL’s highest honor - Walter Payton Man of the Year.

 Now, just months away from training camp, he’s on the way back from a freak injury and we’re already wondering what the 2018 season has in store. He is a team leader and, when he’s at this best, a devastating defensive force.

 But you know that. Just like everyone else, you’re thinking about what might be for the Texans this year with a healthy Watt and the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson.

So this Time 100 got us thinking.

Who are the most influential sports figures in Houston right now?

My list? Definitely not a slam dunk, but here’s what I came up with.

It starts with Watt, who could probably run for mayor when Sylvester Turner leaves office and win.

There’s nothing a healthy Watt can’t do on the field and now we know what he can do off of it. He’s a Houston’s rock star – a man who shared the passion for literacy with the late Barbara Bush, a guy who steals the show in commercials and makes the day for fans when he flashes that signature smile. That his girlfriend Kealia Ohai, who is also coming off surgery, is the team captain for the Houston Dash? Just one more reason people love him.

My other top four? Well, here they are in no certain order:

* Tilman Fertitta. The new owner of the Houston Rockets brought a lightning bolt of energy and swagger to a loaded roster that now seems destined for the NBA finals. His real estate dealings, restaurant empire – Landry’s is one of the country’s largest restaurant corporations – and his television show Billion Dollar Buyer made him a national celebrity before the Rockets. And, as chairman of the University of Houston System’s Board of Regents, his passion for his alma mater  has turned UH into a into a Tier One institution and put UH athletics back in the national spotlight. His Post Oak Motors and new Post Oak Hotel property just add to his influence in the city.

* Jose Altuve. Who doesn’t love the Astros’ second baseman? At 5-foot-6, the native of Venezuela may be the shortest player in Major League Baseball, but he also packs the biggest punch. Last year’s American League MVP  and Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year was also the league’s batting champ and helped lead the Astros to the World Series title. Every time he stepped to the plate, you waited for the magic last season as he hit.346 on the year with 204 hits and 81 RBI with 24 homeruns.  Hit .472 at Minute Maid in the playoffs and .310 with 7 homeruns in the playoffs. Can he top that? We’ll find out.

* Justin Verlander. No one has come into an MLB clubhouse and immediately commanded as much respect from his new team as the Astros’ ace did last fall. And no one has captured the hearts of fans as quickly, either. Following an August 31 trade from Detroit, Verlander stepped into the Astros starting rotation, went 4-1 and helped lead the team to a World Series title. A few days later, he was on a plane to Italy where he married super model girlfriend Kate Upton. Talk about a rock star. The guy is made for the red carpet and has a 4-handicap on the golf course. And when the Astros reported for spring training this year? No one was more excited.

* Deshaun Watson. Two words – scary good. Or unlimited potential. Or, make one up yourself. We had what felt like the briefest of glimpses into what Watson could do as a starter last season before he went down with a torn ACL. He was leading the league with 21 touchdowns and seemed headed toward Offensive Player of the Year as a rookie. He is still rehabbing his knee, but fans already have visions of Watson-to- all-pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins dancing in their heads. He only started weeks 2-8 last year and threw for 19 touchdowns and completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards.

There. You have my top 5. There are plenty of others to consider for sure, buy hey, I said only 5. 

Feel free to chime in and send us yours on Twitter - @HOUsportsAwards.

We’ll compile the top submissions and put it to a vote!


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Cristian Javier is in better shape this season. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.

Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).

Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.

But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.

In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.

Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.

The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.

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