WTH: First things first. I know that "Rajan" gets butchered routinely (and I've been guilty of it myself). What is the correct pronunciation?
GR: The proper pronunciation is Rah-jin. I won't bore you with the ways my name has been mispronounced over the years, but if I had a dime for each time it happened, let's just say I'd have a nice little nest egg.
WTH: Which came first for you ... Ice hockey or baseball? Which do you prefer to cover? How did you get in to sports reporting?
GR: I covered minor-league hockey for a few years before baseball. I like covering each sport, for different reasons. Each sport has its pluses and minuses (don't get me started on the shootout in hockey). I'd say the one thing about hockey is you know the game likely will be over in about two and a half hours (playoff overtime games are another story, but that's OK). But for as much as we tend to gripe about an interminable baseball game, a cool thing about the sport is the game can last two hours or six hours. With hockey, there's little time to sit there and chat like you can do during a baseball game because it's non-stop action on the ice and you don't want to miss anything.
Here's the Cliffs Notes version about how I got into sports reporting. I was in grad school (I have bachelor's degrees in political science and history) but always had an interest in journalism, so I helped out taking box scores over the phone at the Austin American-Statesman. That led to a part-time job on the sports desk, which in turn led to a reporting job at a small paper in Temple (Drayton McLane's hometown). I've been doing this ever since.
WTH: After the Hooks hit bottom in 2011, losing 90 games for a .357 win percentage, you were a bit skeptical about their chances coming in to the 2012 season. After a nine-game losing streak ending May 7th, they were 12-20 for the season. Were you thinking, "Here we go again?" When did you realize that the team was going to be good, after all?
GR: I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't thinking "Here they go again." The previous four seasons had given me no reason to think things were changing with the Astros' system and seeing the likes of T.J. Steele and J.C. Thompson - who'd proved time and again that they couldn't hit Double-A pitching - get trotted out there had me shaking my head.
If I had to pick a game where the Hooks showed me they were for real, it would be July 12 against Frisco. They were down 4-0 and down to their last strike before Jay Fernandez (aka The People's Champion) brought in a run with an infield single and head-first slide into first. Austin Wates then hit a three-run double to tie the score. Corpus then fell behind in the 10th and tied it again. Frisco then scored twice in the 11th, but Wates hit a three-run, walk-off homer with two outs to win it. That was definitely the "By George, they've got it moment," at least as far as I'm concerned.
WTH: Can you tell me one or two players that you've seen come through Corpus Christi who really stood out to you as being something special?
GR: For me, there are two guys, and they were both here in 2006: Hunter Pence and Ben Zobrist. Pence was a fun guy to watch, even in batting practice, which is usually pretty boring. The guy just swung with a purpose and he even knocked out a window in the left-field cotton press at Whataburger Field with one BP blast. Plus, he played with such an intensity. He could be overaggressive at times, but he never cheated you with his effort. Keep in mind, this was way before he became the Ray Lewis-like orator he was in this year's playoffs with the Giants. But you knew from watching him early on here that he'd be in the majors for a long time.
As for Zobrist, you really had to watch him to appreciate him. That 2006 Hooks lineup was pretty stout, but manager Dave Clark was quick to call Zobrist his best hitter. The guy did so many things well, from hitting for average to moving guys over to driving them in, that he kind of went unappreciated around these parts, especially since he was traded in early July and missed the championship run. Plus, Zobrist and his family are some of the nicest people you'd ever meet. A couple years ago, I did a story on the five-year anniversary of his trade to Tampa and he called me back while on the bus back to the hotel from Yankee Stadium following a rainout. There aren't too many guys in the majors who'll do that for the beat writer who covered him years ago in Double-A.
WTH: You really seem to appreciate a good walk-up song, citing "Cult of Personality" as one of your favorites. Can you tell me a couple of the best and a couple of the worst walk-up songs you've heard (and whose they were if you can remember)?
GR: I'm glad someone noticed my tweets about walk-up songs! When someone attends so many baseball games as I do, some of the peripheral details stick out. The "Cult of Personality" thing is funny. It's been one of my favorite songs for years (where else is a history major going to find a tune that references Mussolini, JFK, Stalin and Gandhi while using snippets of speeches from Malcom X and FDR?) but it's never been selected as a walk-up song here. Steve Richards, the former Hooks director of ballpark entertainment, would just assign it to new guys who hadn't picked something. Of course, those guys always seemed to hit well walking up to "Cult of Personality" before switching to something far less interesting.
Here are some of my favorite walk-up songs: Waylon Jennings' "Dukes of Hazzard" theme that Josh Anderson used during the Hooks' first two seasons. It's not that I like the song that much, but it summed up Josh so well. He was a country boy from Eastern Kentucky and one of the nicest, most down-to-earth guys I've met covering baseball. Plus, he was a huge "Dukes of Hazzard" fan. Another favorite was David Cook's in 2010: "Paper Planes" by M.I.A. It has a catchy opening and it's also from one of my favorite movies, "Slumdog Millionaire." Once in San Antonio, the Missions' Seth Johnston used Jon Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory" from the "Young Guns II" soundtrack and that was pretty cool.
Least favorite walk-up songs? Alabama's "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)" was what J.R. Towles used in 2007 and it drove some of the press box regulars nuts, especially during a doubleheader when we had to hear it like 12 times and Towles took forever to step into the batter's box. And while Andy Simunic was one of my favorite Hooks to talk to in 2012, his walk-up choice of "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" by Kip Moore gets two thumbs down.
WTH: My writing partner-in-crime (Buca Morris) has a couple of questions for you as well. Favorite players growing up? What do you like to read? Who is your favorite twitter follow?
GR: When I was a kid, I'd say my favorite players were Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. My family lived in the Midwest for most of the 1980's and my first real experience following baseball was the 1982 Brewers team that lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games. As I grew older, I became more partial to pitchers, particularly closers because their job is intriguing to me given there's really no margin for error. I'd say my favorite was Robb Nen. The guy was intriguing, particularly that strange toe-tap he did on the mound. Plus, he's a palindrome!
What do I like to read? Really all kinds of stuff. I read a lot of sports books, but also devour a lot about history and politics. And I like to read about stuff that has nothing to do with my work, like "Cruising Attitude," which is a memoir by veteran flight attendant Heather Poole and something I found very interesting because their jobs aren't as glamorous as people think.
On Twitter, I like to follow a cross-section of people from the worlds of sports, journalism, entertainment, etc., so my timeline has some variety. My must-follow for Astros news is my old friend Brian McTaggart from MLB.com, who owns the beat. But my favorite Twitter feed is NotBillWalton, which is a parody account that always makes me laugh, whether the topic is sports, politics or whatever. I recommend that feed to anyone with a Twitter account.
Thanks for your time, Greg. I look forward to following your always entertaining take on the 2013 Hooks.
If you aren't already, you really should be following @GregRajan on twitter. You won't be sorry.