04/02/2004 5:23 PM ET
Astros buzz: hype, expectation
Blockbuster offseason additions inspire optimism
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
|Andy Pettitte (left) and Roger Clemens bring extensive postseason experience to Houston. (AP)
When you pack up and essentially leave your normal life for six weeks, it's easy to lose touch with what's going on back home.
Such would be the case for most of the members of the Houston Astros, who have just arrived home after living in Kissimmee, Fla., since late February. Roger Clemens is in that group, too, but he made a couple of quick trips back to his hometown to fulfill prior commitments he made when he briefly retired last year.
During those visits, Clemens received a healthy dose of the hype that awaits the Astros when they begin the regular season on Monday.
"I've been back and forth a couple of times," Clemens said. "And I can tell you, it is exciting. The fans are ready for us."
Ticket sales alone are a good method of measurement. Opening Day sold out in a record 15 minutes back in early February. As soon as manager Jimy Williams announced the order of the starting rotation, tickets for Clemens' debut on April 7 went with the blink of an eye. The club put 2,000 standing room only tickets for that game on sale last week, and they were gobbled up immediately.
A small number of tickets remain for Andy Pettitte's first start on April 6, but even if the Astros don't sell out that game, they will draw double the amount of fans they have for any previous Game 2, which is notoriously a low-attended day across the league.
The buzz words of Spring Training 2004 are hype and expectation. Astros fans are bustling with excitement over the best team the club has ever compiled during an offseason in its 42-year history, and the players know this is the best chance they have ever had to get to a World Series.
The hype followed the club to Spring Training, where Osceola County Stadium sold out a record seven of its 11 games. And the sellouts weren't only on days Pettitte or Clemens pitched. It appeared Kissimmee was the place to be in March, regardless of who was on the mound.
Even Jeff Bagwell, beloved by fans throughout his 13-year Astros career, was taken off guard by the reception. In the past, fans would give him polite applause after he exited a game in the fifth or sixth inning and headed down the left-field line toward the clubhouse.
This year, he and his teammates received full-blown standing ovations.
Bagwell assumes the packed houses he saw in Kissimmee will translate into comparable crowds beginning next week.
"It's going to be great," he said. "We're all excited about the fact that there's excitement, anticipation, expectations that are going to be on us. With the team we have, we should fulfill them. If that's the case, we're going to have more people that are generally excited about baseball."
|Opening Day Facts: Astros vs. San Francisco Giants
|April 5, 6:05 p.m. CT, Minute Maid Park
LH Kirk Rueter
RH Roy Oswalt
1. Ray Durham, 2B
2. J.T. Snow, 1B
3. Marquis Grissom, CF
4. Barry Bonds, LF
5. Edgardo Alfonzo, 3B
6. A.J. Pierzynski, C
7. Michael Tucker, RF
8. Neifi Perez, SS
9. Kirk Rueter, P
1. Craig Biggio, CF
2. Adam Everett, SS
3. Jeff Bagwell, 1B
4. Jeff Kent, 2B
5. Lance Berkman, LF
6. Richard Hidalgo, RF
7. Morgan Ensberg, 3B
8. Brad Ausmus, C
9. Roy Oswalt, P
Giants: KNBR 680; KTVU, ESPN
Astros: KTRH 740, KLAT 1010 (Spanish); KNWS, ESPN
Added Craig Biggio: "It's kind of strange that they sold out Opening Day in six minutes or something close to that. It's pretty scary. With the excitement level comes the expectations. It's a special time for Houston, especially signing those two guys."
By those two guys, of course, Biggio means Pettitte and Clemens, who took their 459 regular-season wins, six World Series rings and the infamous Yankee swagger out of the Bronx and into the home clubhouse at Minute Maid Park.
Because they are both natives of Houston, neither pitcher is oblivious to the electricity that arrived over the winter when the city celebrated a Super Bowl and the arrival of two of the best pitchers in the game all within a six-week span.
"You saw during football season that everyone was waiting for baseball season," Pettitte said. "Expectations are extremely high. We just hope we can live up to them."
Expectations are there, yes, but it's a different kind of pressure than he felt in New York.
"Expectations were always so high there to win a championship," said Pettitte, who took the loss in the decisive Game 6 against the Florida Marlins last year. "It's almost unfair that when you lose the World Series, it's like a failure to the season. I still try to take it in a sense that if you get to the World Series, the season is not a failure."
Pettitte is fully prepared for what awaits him in Houston. After all, where he came from, every day of the season has an Opening Day feel.
"I think I kind of know what to expect," he said. "I think it's going to be very similar to what I went through every year with New York. I think it's going to be that kind of excitement, at least early. It sounds like we're selling out the games, or close to it. When you've got a sold-out ballpark, that makes it good, too."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.