Once again the Astros front office has embraced the Astros blogging community as they invited us to enjoy "the suite life" at Friday night's game. Representatives from Tales from the Juice Box, The Crawfish Boxes, Houston Sports Counterplot, Astros County, The Chronicle Fan Blog, Climbing Tal's Hill, Farmstros and, of course, What the Heck, Bobby? attended. We were feted with burgers, dogs and soft drinks in posh Suite 44 (did Roy approve?).
After a nosh, Alyson Footer joined the festivities with Jeff Luhnow arriving shortly thereafter. First they showed us the new uniform design before revealing the 1.1 draft pick. This was followed by a 3-D presentation of the ballpark changes for the 2013 season, including the installation of an actual space shuttle (no mock up for us) to replace the outfield train, and the utilization of Oswalt's repossessed bulldozer to tear down Tal's Hill. This was followed by a personal visit from J.R. Richard in which he gave each of us an autographed game-worn jersey. And then I woke up.
Seriously, there was not much news broken at the event despite having Jeff Luhnow in our midst for about a half-hour. What did we find out? The PTBNL in the Kansas City trade is most assuredly a 2011 draft pick (although this information was imparted to us in a very nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more fashion). The first pick of the draft will not be a consensus pick, but they have narrowed the choices to five and all involved are making their cases while Luhnow sits back and listens so as not to sway the others as they make their arguments.
What else did we learn? We learned a little more about each other. Before we asked Luhnow a single question, he started quizzing us about our blogs, our jobs, what we thought about the Astros blogging community, etc. That's his trick with the likes of Keith Law, he revealed, as the inquisitor gets off the phone with him only to realize that Luhnow learned much more than he imparted during any given conversation.
We also learned that he is very supportive of Brad Mills and loves the way that Mills has embraced some of the new analytical tools he's been given with the new regime. He also stressed something that some blog readers tend to forget. Player moves are very complicated -- player options, minor injuries and other considerations have to be factored in. Are you willing to lose a player completely by sending him to AAA to work on something? He is cognizant of the issues facing the team, but decisions on player moves at the major league level have to be made in a way that doesn't ultimately create a negative impact.
Of course I had to ask Luhnow about the minor leagues. I didn't want to make it too easy on him so I asked about any players at the lower levels who weren't top draft picks that might be on his radar. After some thought, he did indicate RHP Ruben "R.J." Alaniz at Lancaster was one such player, but he admitted that he hasn't spent much time really looking at the minor league teams given the amount of time he has spent getting ready for the draft. He indicated that he would soon be heading to see some of the teams in person after next week's draft. Since I'm headed to Corpus next Friday, I offered him a ride. He laughed and thanked me for the offer, but since he didn't refuse it, I still have hopes that he will decide that riding shotgun with me is the way to go.
The best part of the event, though, was simply talking, networking, sharing thoughts and ideas with passionate fellow Astros writers. And having a few laughs with new friends. The event itself was a four-course dinner. What happened as it ended was dessert.
As I was making my way back to my car, I saw J.R. Richard not far ahead walking very slowly with a slight limp. He looked awfully tired after his long eventful day. I quickly caught up to him just as we exited the ballpark. I placed a hand on his arm and said, "You brought a lot of joy to a lot of people." He reached over and hugged me. "And a lot of pain to a few other people." He chuckled, "That's right!"
Perhaps it goes without saying, but I have never had that much fun at an Astros loss before. Thank you Jeff, Alyson and intern Brittany for a terrific evening. Let's do it again sometime.