TBtB: Houston Astros

Exhibit A in the Trouble with Naming Rights. Minute Maid Park was formerly known as Enron Field, until that energy trading company became the poster child for corporate malfeasance. Contrast that with Houston’s former home. The greatest potential embarrassment for the Astrodome was if George Jetson’s dog started humping Mr. Spacely’s leg.

While Enron was a crappy company, it was a pretty solid corporate name for a ballpark. It rolled off the tongue quite nicely, particularly given how you could squint your ears and think it was Home Run Field. Its replacement makes you think of Florida, even if the corporate office for Minute Maid is right there in the 281.

As with the Fish Tank, Houston went a little overboard on the quirk, but in a location where it doesn’t necessarily fit as well as it does in South Beach. You have the railroad to nowhere above left field, and, Tal’s Hill, now leveled, in center. I guess you have to try a little harder when you’re replacing the Eighth Wonder, even if the old place had gotten quite long in the tooth.

Unlike the recent batch of five parks where the old name was a strong contender, I doubt MM is even nominated here. It’s just that useless.

Ballpark History

Built: 2000

Capacity: 41,168

Name: Minute Maid Park, 2002-present. Before that, Enron Field 2000-02; Astros Field, a few months in 2002.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city:  Astrodome, 1965-1999; Colt Stadium, 1962-64.

Distinctive Features: The train honoring the site’s history as Houston’s Union Station; the left field wall scoreboard below the Crawford Boxes; Home Run Pump in center, tallying Astros homers hit in the park since its opening; Tal’s Hill and flagpole, (2000-1916), the 30-degree incline and in-play pole, both cursed by a generation of NL centerfielders.

Ballpark Highlights:
A disputed ninth-inning home run by Brad Ausmus just cleared the pointless yellow line in left center, rallying the Astros from a five-run deficit in a 2005 NLDS game with Atlanta. Nine innings later, a Chris Burke homer gave the ’Stros a 7-6 win to claim the series in the longest playoff game in ML history.

Looking to close out the series, Brad Lidge gave up the Holy Shit Homer to Albert Pujols to keep the Cardinals alive in the rematch of the 2004 NLCS. Two nights later, the ’Stros would win Game 6 in St. Louee to earn their first Fall Classic appearance.

In the first World Series game played in Texas, Geoff Blum hit a 14th-inning home run off Ezequiel Astacio to propel the White Sox to a 7-5 victory. The following evening, the visitors finished off the sweep for their first title in 88 years.

On Opening Day 2013, the tank-mode hosts accidentally beat visiting Texas 8-2, marking their first game in the American League after 51 seasons in the Senior Circuit.

Alex Bregman’s 10th-inning single to center scored pinch-runner Derek Fisher to give Houston a 13-12 victory in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. Three nights later, in Los Angeles, the Astros would claim their first world title.

 

Look, there it is.

It finally happened. Well, I’m sure it’s happened before, but it’s the first tangible proof I have of one of the absolutely most ridiculous practices in baseball costing a team a ballgame.

In the 10th inning of last night’s Astros game against San Diego, Alex Bregman was at the plate with two outs and Derek Fisher at second base. Bregman skied a pop-up in the infield, a play that should have sent the game into the 11th inning still scoreless.

As soon as the ball was hit, Padres pitcher Phil Maton did what he’s been instructed to do since at least entering professional ball, and perhaps even earlier. He pointed up. Look, there’s the ball, he helpfully pointed out to infielders nowhere it.

First baseman Eric Hosmer, playing back given the game situation, charged in at full steam to try to make the play. But, not terribly surprising, he overran the ball and it dropped untouched a few feet behind him. As the ball was finding purchase on the Houston turf, Fisher was skittering across the plate with the winning run.

It’s all so damn ridiculous. There was one player perfectly positioned to make this play, who located the ball from the moment it left the bat, but MLB protocol prohibited him from doing so. Why, because Phil Maton’s a pitcher, and pitchers can’t catch pop-ups.

It’s an asinine tradition, and it finally cost a team a ballgame.

Look, I’m all for establishing an infield hierarchy that places the pitcher well down the list of pop-up handlers. If the first baseman or third baseman or even the middle infielders can make a routine play, they should call the pitcher off every time. It’s no different than the outfielders having the freedom to call off the infielders on pop-ups hit between them.

But on a play like this, where the ball is hit just a few feet in front of the plate, then the pitcher ought to be the one catching it. The corner infielders aren’t necessarily close enough, and the catcher should be the last resort, given his starting spot often makes the ball difficult to pick up off the bat, his uniform is bulkier which limits his mobility, and his mitt isn’t optimally designed for catching fly balls.

We expect the pitcher to field grounders; to cover first on grounders to the first sacker; to take their place in the run-down conga line; to make pickoff throws (Jon Lester excluded). Why we can’t expect them to also catch a simple pop-up when they’re the only one in position to do so is truly mindboggling.

Yes, this is the protocol. But there’s another, more apt protocol that covers virtually every other play on the diamond. If it’s hit to you, catch it.