Lance Berkman Goes (Back) to College

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Guess who's gone back to college?
It's a beautiful October Tuesday afternoon in Houston, Texas. There's a high, blue sky. The humidity is nonexistent and the temperature's in the mid-70s. It's a great day for outdoor activities, and the Rice Owls baseball team is going to take full advantage of it for a day of afternoon practice.

Players slowly emerge from the clubhouse into the dugout and then onto the field. They come out first singly, then in pairs, then groups of players come out. Some put on gloves and grabs balls and start playing catch, while others go up to the batting cage and start taking swings. An older gentleman emerges from the clubhouse into the dugout, looking to be in his late thirties. He's wearing gray shorts, a white Rice T-shirt. There's a blue Rice cap on his head, sunglasses on top of the cap, and there's a touch of gray in his beard, but there's no mistaking Lance Berkman.

Rice coach Wayne Graham has long said that star pupil Lance Berkman was welcome to return as a coach whenever he desired. And Berkman, finishing up his first year of retirement from Major League Baseball, has taken Graham up on his offer, kind of. Berkman's not really a coach. His actual title is student assistant because Berkman's not officially on the coaching staff. Berkman's a student at Rice, 40 hours short of his degree, and he's decided to finish what he started back in the 1990s before he was drafted by the Houston Astros, so now he's working on his kinesiology degree while spending his free time with the baseball team.

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Like Monty Python's Black Knight, CSN Houston's Not Dead Yet

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CSN Houston's not dead yet
Walking out from a concert at the House of Blues on Monday night, I couldn't help but notice that the lights were still burning brightly inside the offices and studios of CSN Houston. Earlier that day, a bankruptcy judge had heard evidence regarding the financial worth of the troubled network so he can decide whether to approve the plan that will ultimately kill it. But the network lived through the night. As of now, after the judge heard evidence throughout the week, the network lives on until at least October 21.

The CSN Houston saga is a long, drawn-out affair that most Houston sports fans wish would've ended long, long ago. Most of us living in the Houston area haven't been able to watch two seasons of the Astros on TV. We've also missed two seasons of the Rockets, and guess what, the NBA regular season is fast approaching. There's a plan in place to replace the network with Root Sports Houston that would make the Astros and Rockets available on DirecTV and U-Verse as well as on Comcast. But until that plan's approved by the bankruptcy judge, the broadcast rights to both teams remain with CSN Houston.

Houston sports fans care not about legal battles. They don't care about how much of its $100 million secured loan made to the network that Comcast should receive in bankruptcy, or the value of Comcast's contract to air the network. They don't care about whether the Rockets or Astros are ever actually paid the rights fees they've not received since the middle of 2013. They don't care about whether AT&T or DirecTV are paying any money to purchase the network, or whether anybody will be on the hook for damages. The fans care about one thing: seeing the damn games on television sometime in the foreseeable future.

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The 2014 Houston Astros: The Good and The Bad

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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The Astros haven't made the World Series yet, but the team's definitely better
And so another Astros season is in the books. Another season of good, and bad, of head-shaking stupidity and inexplicable thinking. Of outstanding individual performances and huge steps back. The team made the cover of Sports Illustrated, which projected the Astros would win the World Series in 2017. But it's still 2014, so let's take a quick look at some highlights and lowlights of the season.

THE HIGHLIGHTS:

1. The Astros won 70 games, a 19-game improvement over last season. The team didn't lose 100-plus games for the first time in four seasons, and the team finished in front of the Texas Rangers in the AL West standings. The Astros were only the fourth worst team in the majors this season, beating out not only the Texas Rangers, but also the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

2. Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve entered the Astros record book. He owns the team record for most hits ever in a season. He's also the first Astro to ever win a batting title, playing (despite the express wishes and orders of the Astros front office) yesterday to hold off Detroit's Victor Martinez. Altuve played nearly every game this season, and he was an All-Star.

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The Chron's Evan Drellich Does a Great Job With a Tough Beat

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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In which I say nice things about the Houston Chronicle
I remember a Astros game from way back in the early 1990s, back when the team was really bad, but rebuilding. I don't remember the exact year, or the exact day beyond it being a midweek day game against the Montreal Expos (I think it's this game). The Dome was empty and lifeless, and the game wasn't on television. I remember the game because of a Ken Caminiti play, Caminiti drifting under a pop foul, falling into the stands to make the catch and the out.

It was a spectacular play. One of those plays that's makes even jaded video guys and sportswriters stand up and loudly applaud. The next day I checked the Houston Chronicle, and the game story by Neil Hohlfeld captured the play, and the game, in vivid color. I saw the play in person, but the description of the play was such that even if I hadn't been there, I'd be able to recreate the thing in my head.

Hohlfeld, who died several years ago, was always my favorite Chronicle beat writer. He was on the beat before everything went internet, but he had the ability to capture the game, to keep readers on top of the news about the team, better than just about anybody who posts day-to-day on the web. He didn't try to curry favor with management, or ownership, or with the players -- not that I could tell, at least. I even remember the team fan club getting mad at him when he mocked some of their banners that hung in the Dome.

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Root! Root! for Root Sports Houston!

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Say hello to the new name of CSN Houston.
If Judge Marvin Isgur approves the bankruptcy plan proposed for CSN Houston, Houston sports fans will be able to watch the Rockets this season. They'll no longer be able to watch the Dynamo, or any of the Houston-centric sportscasts aired by CSN Houston, but the return of the World Poker Tour should make up for that, right?

Word came down Tuesday that if the plan is approved, 75 of the network's 105 employees will lose their jobs. That includes most of the on-air talent and the behind-the-scenes personnel such as camera and graphics operators, producers, statisticians and other support personnel. These people aren't required for DirecTV/AT&T operations because with these entities, local product is strongly discouraged.

Most of Houston never had the chance to see CSN Houston because of disputes between network owners and the other various cable/satellite providers over the cost of distributing the network. AT&T/DirecTV will tell you the cost was too high. Astros owner/network partner Jim Crane says that that price point was established by Drayton McLane and Les Alexander so they're the ones at fault, and Crane has filed a lawsuit against McLane alleging fraud because of this. And if you talk to McLane, he'll strongly dispute this contention. But no matter who was at fault -- something that may be known only after many years of lawsuits -- the fact remains that over 60 percent of the Houston market was unable to view the network.

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When It Comes to the Astros, Reporting the News Doesn't Mean Forcing a Negative Narrative

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Yeah, so Sports Illustrated kind of glossed over some of the internal issues.
It appears the Astros will win 70-plus games this season. It appears the Astros won't finish with the worst record in Major League Baseball for the fourth season in a row. It's possible that Jose Altuve will be the MLB batting champ and that Chris Carter will the MLB home run champ. The starting pitching is better. George Springer is the real deal. Hell, it's possible the Astros might even get that whole stupid TV thing finally worked out.

Those are the positives upon which Astros fans should focus. But just focusing on the positive doesn't provide the complete story. For the complete story, one also needs to know that the manager was just fired. And that No. 1 draft pick Brady Aiken was not signed over a supposed, undocumented injury, or that the Players Association has filed a grievance over the failure of the Astros to sign Jacob Nix, another draft pick.

It's important to know of the rift between the front office and former manager Bo Porter and it's important to know that not all of the coaches or players buy into the front office's perceived lack of commitment to fielding a competitive Major League club. A fan needs to know that players and front offices across the majors believe the Astros care not about the players but only about numbers. And yes, it's a big deal that a group of supposed geniuses couldn't keep their state-of-the-art database from being hacked.

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CSN Houston Still Dying, But Drayton McLane Got Paid

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Believe it or not, somebody did make some money off this debacle.
So it came to pass yesterday that the multitude assembled before the judge. The multitude being a mass of 23 attorneys representing Comcast and CSN Houston and the Astros and the Rockets and DirecTV and AT&T (many more listening by telephone) appearing before Judge Marvin Isgur, each hoping for yet another say in the never-ending round of hearings arising from the bankruptcy of CSN Houston.

The topic of the day was a plan that's been filed to bring the network out of bankruptcy with new owners, AT&T and DirecTV. Of more specific discussion was a Disclosure Statement, a document that is sent to all creditors disclosing details of the plan so that the creditors can vote to adopt or deny the plan. One current owner, Comcast, isn't happy with the plan or the disclosure statement. Another creditor complained that the disclosure statement really didn't disclose anything. So it came to pass that nothing is yet resolved. The network is no closer to exiting bankruptcy, or to appearing on televisions where it's not before been available.

But as the documents continue to pile up, as the billables continue to grow, as jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance, one thing has become crystal clear amid the chaos. CSN Houston may die, but Drayton McLane is the greatest salesman ever to have graced this planet.

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Will Astros Games Soon Be Viewable On Your IPad? Maybe

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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MLB's Advanced Media is a great option for watching games, unless it's your home team
The Associated Press reported last week that Major League Baseball may be close to ending parts of its idiotic blackout policy that prevents people living in a team's home market from seeing that team's games. Calling it an incremental step, the head of MLB's online business, Bob Bowman, stated that people would be able to stream the home team's games on mobile devices or through online services such as MLB.TV.

There's just one slight catch, however. For fans to watch the games of hometown teams on their iPads or through MLB.TV, they will have to prove that they have a subscription for a cable or satellite operator that carries that particular team's regional sports network. And if you're thinking, hey this does me no good because I have DirecTV and DirecTV doesn't carry CSN Houston, well, you're right, it doesn't do you any good. And if you live in Las Vegas and wonder why you have to subscribe to the costliest DirecTV bundle option just so you can watch the Padres, well, you're still equally screwed.

"Everyone's trying to solve it," Bowman told the AP. "If our hands were 4 feet apart three or four years ago, they are now 6 inches apart. We're moving in the right way. We continue to talk. The dialogue is professional."

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Here's a Few Suggestions to Fix MLB, Not that the New Commissioner Asked

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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There's about to be a new guy running Major League Baseball.
Rob Manfred was appointed the new MLB commissioner last week. And even as the news was announced, the speculation began as to what Manfred could do to improve the sport, seeing as how he's not old and ancient like Bud Selig, the man he's replacing. Not that he's asked me, but I have a few suggestions, so...

INCREASE THE SPEED OF PLAY

Baseball's always been a leisurely game, but crap, no 1-0 nine-inning game should ever take over three hours to play. There's been talk about cutting down on coaching visits to the mound, on the number of pitchers who can pitch in an inning, and other such stupid nonsense. But here's a simple suggestion: Enforce the damn rule book.

Rule 8:04 is simple and to the point: If the bases are empty, a pitcher has 20 seconds to throw the pitch. If he doesn't, the umpire is instructed to call a ball.  And rule 6.02 instructs the batter to remain in the batter's box, and that if he refuses to step back into the box upon an umpire's request, then a strike should be called.

If we really want to improve game speed, let's enforce the rules before implementing others.

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Miss Texas and Mo'ne Davis Establish the Two Ends of the "Throws Like a Girl" Scale

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Screen shot from MLB's YouTube video
Throw like a girl?
For decades now, right or wrong, the phrase "throws like a girl" has been part of the American lexicon.

I am not here to say that it's okay to use that phrase (lest I somehow alienate all of my female readers and listeners out there -- I love you all), but I'm not here to say that the phrase should be completely forbidden (lest I somehow come across as less of a manly man's man to all of my male readers and listeners -- I actually don't love all of you, some of you are real jackasses).

Have I said someone who's not actually a girl "throws like a girl" before? Yes, yes I have. Do I feel badly about it? Well, as the father of a quite athletic 16 year old daughter, I kind of do.

(I also kind of don't. See me catering to every demographic? God, I'm good.)

Here's the thing, though -- I don't need that phrase. There are a number of other ways to poke fun at the lack of athleticism in most of the male species, ways that don't impugn the entire female race for throwing a ball like a broken windmill. If the phrase "throws like a girl" went away altogether, I'd be fine with that.

And for the last couple weeks, Mo'ne Davis has been performing great works to eradicate the American male parlance of that term.

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