Baseball Season Preview: Houston Astros

You might remember, from back at the beginning of the NFL season, when we previewed each team by having a writer we liked write about their favorite team.

Well, we're less than a month away from the start of baseball — spring training is here! — so it's time to do the same thing in the baseball world. Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.

Today: The Houston Astros. Your author is Whitney Pastorek.

Whitney Pastorek is a staff writer at Entertainment Weekly and still thinks having a literary magazine is a good idea Her words are after the jump.

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On behalf of the Houston Astros and in the name of all who wear the rainbow stripes, I offer greetings to you, baseball season — you celebrated summer, you minx! You have come to us once again, a temptress in stretchy pants and funny socks, padding up in your shirtsleeves as we freeze to death and thirst for that first sip of spring; you ensnare us with your siren song of wood and dirt, horsehide and rubber, tar and chalk and foamy warm beer, and we flock to you, genuflect, sit at your hallowed feet. We wait in quiet supplication for you to reveal your mysteries to us. We wait. And then we drive ourselves mad, all in the name of that elusive World Series ring.

But alas, baseball, you cruel mistress, you tease — could there be any pain greater than the aftermath of that World Series win? To read the Deadspin previews to date, I should say not... and I give thanks to the powers above that my hometown does not harbor such an accursed ex-championship team. Why, take the Pirates (please!): 15 straight losing seasons, each one a glaring sign blinking, Dammit, we took this whole thing in 1979! This is so embarrassing! Or how about the Orioles? Sure, they won back in 1966, but all that reminds them of in these lowly days is Hank Bauer is dead. What a horrid cross to bear! And to think, this whole time I was envying the ChiSox for their Series win against my Astros in 2005 — if only I'd known the angst that victory would breed, I certainly wouldn't have wished that upon them, for Chicago White Sox fans are some of my very best friends! Those poor dears, faced with the gut-wrenching knowledge that they are now expected to win yet another World Series title, preferably sometime in this century! Such pressure must border upon the unbearable. How Will Leitch must fear for his recently anointed Cardinals! It is a wonder he can function at all!

Okay, I'm being a little silly. But to be fair, and in the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit to understanding some of the World Series poison myself. After all, as a NYC resident since 1993, I've given plenty of local support to the New York Yankees, whose dark, desperate quest to win took what from 1996 through 2000 was a noble, healthy, farm-fresh team and turned it into a bloated Frankenstein. It is a mercenary transformation most foul, and it breaks my heart.

Oh, by the way, you can stop with the sneering: If you think I was going to even consider giving my patronage to the childhood-ruining Mets, you know less about baseball than you think I do. And anyway, you're missing my point.

What I'm trying to say is that lately, I've been looking at life as an Astros fan in a much, much different way. Houstonians! Don't you see how lucky we truly are? Every extra-inning playoff loss, every late-season win streak that isn't quite enough, every time we make it to the World Series only to get swept and called racists — those aren't pathetic events, they're dodged bullets! Stays of execution! Tiny angel kisses upon our dry, cracked lips! Not only that, but every time we don't win it all we actually gain more of the divine confidence that comes from consistency: We have never won a World Series, and there is little to no chance we will do that this year, so huzzah! Have another inning-ending double play, Adam Everett! Yes, so long as this blessed streak continues, we can go on about our business, secure in the knowledge that God is in his heavens and all is right with the world. Why, I have no idea why I've been so miserable all these years!

Oh wait. Except I do. And no amount of absurdist melodramatic pseudo-rationalization is going to change the simple reality of my trainwreck of a life spent under the spell of the Houston Astros — a life I may bitch about incessantly, but which I would never, ever trade.

Part of the point of these previews seems to be not only to say something about the squad my team plans to field in 2007 but also to prove why I am like this massive superfan and my pain/loyalty/knowledge is worse/stronger/smarter than everyone else's. Um, yeah, I'm not gonna do that. This is for a couple reasons, the first of which being that any conversation in which I "prove" my devotion to the Astros usually ends with the other party wandering away, glassy-eyed, never to bring up sports in front of me again — and secondly, I'm not sure that the way I watch this holiest of all pastimes will read as anything but one long, sappy digression to you people.

See, I'm not a stats hound or a fantasy fiend. While sabermetrics are probably very effective, I'm not interested in taking one of life's simple pleasures and mucking it all up with math. And I'm the farthest thing from a trivia completist, the type of person who remembers the name of Nolan Ryan's 3,000th strikeout victim or the backup second baseman in 1982 or the pitch count when Larry Dierker had a stroke in the dugout. Baseball for me is instead a collection of emotion-drenched memories, an overstuffed warehouse of symbolism and a field of dreams for the future that stretches out long and green and full of possibility. It is a haven of predictability but a lion's den of the improbable; it is rhythmic chaos; it exists outside of time yet revels in the inevitable. It is the complete opposite of virtually everything else in my life, and I speak of it with a reverence that can get really exhausting, really fast.

So I'll spare you all my nattering about how my early years were defined by the sight of Jose Cruz brandishing his bat, the stain of the infield on Bill Doran's shirt, the rush of air when Kevin Bass struck out. I'll not trouble you by reminiscing about the nights I'd listen to Milo Hamilton yell "Holy Toledo!" over the radio I kept under my pillow past lights out. No one wants to hear stories of me sitting, coiled, starving, on my coffee table for the last 10 innings of a certain 18-inning game, or how I fell off it, screaming, when Chris Burke's drive went into the Crawfish Boxes. You'll certainly find it tedious if I rhapsodize about that chilly Texas night spent sitting with my mother in Market Square and watching the end of a long, painful World Series sweep, or how I returned home and held my useless Game 5 tickets one long, last time before the glow of that incredible fall faded and everything went back to normal. Yes. No. We'll not go through all of that.

Because, jeez, this isn't supposed to be about the past! Hello! Quit with the dewy-eyed nostalgia, woman, and jump to the now! What should we be keeping an eye on for 2007?

I'm ever so glad you asked! Reports from spring training indicate our pitching staff is a bit of a fallow field under which some teensy little seedlings are trying to take root, which is good news for sure, since with Andy Pettitte heading back to his abusive ex-boyfriends up north, we're left with Oswalt and about three-quarters of Backe, plus winter acquisitions Woody Williams and Jason Jennings, who I'll take over anyone named Wandy. I have hope that one of our prospects — Albers, Gutierrez, Moehler or Sampson, perhaps — may grow to stand tall as a tree.

Because he seems determined not to be ignored, to Roger Clemens I dedicate the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' biggest hit, and remind him that I know where he lives.

Brad Lidge remains a bit of a broken man, but we try not to talk about that.

On the offensive tip, well, things being as they have been in H-Town the past couple seasons, the pitching staff could throw demon strikeout beans and it still won't matter unless someone remembers to teach the rest of the team how to hit. I remain unconvinced that our post-season moves have helped us all that much in this category, or that Carlos Lee isn't going to implode by June. Meanwhile, Ausmus is spotty at best, Ensberg a bit schizophrenic and Everett generally cute but hapless. Palmeiro only gets up to contribute pinch-hit strikeouts, Burke, Bruntlett, and Scott are unproven in the long term, Hunter "Spring Training Is Fun" Pence is unproven in reality and if Jason Lane and Richard Hidalgo are fighting over anything it's the chance to be the first person to generate a major disappointment in the clutch. So that leaves ... Mark Loretta? Oh dear.

Thank god, then, for Berkman — let's hope he follows in the grand tradition of his fellow Killer B's and turns out to be a lifer. And god bless Craig Biggio, who will play without his wonder twin for the first time at the end of his storied, much-beaned career. I put my faith in the leadership (and leading-off) of craggy Craig, as I have for so many years; I also put faith in the power of Phil Garner's mustache to make magic happen ... even though I fear we will probably come in fourth, behind the freakin' Brewers. Hey, how about we just try and win some games before the All-Star game this year, huh? I don't think that's an unreasonable goal: Win games before All-Star Break. Then we can check in, see how everyone's feeling, and go from there. Awesome. Thanks.

And that, short of a long rant about rabbits, trains and Hummer races, is about all I've got. Now if you'll excuse me, I must go leave another $14.95 upon the altar of MLB.com's seductive but hostile Gameday Audio. It's a beautiful day for a software incompatibility — let's find two!