Astros report to Kissimmee, ring in new era
First season of AL baseball gets under way as pitchers and catchers arrive
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The smell of fresh paint, new carpeting in the clubhouse and sharp new uniforms hanging neatly in lockers were all reminders these are not your grandfather's Astros. In fact, they're pretty far removed from the 2012 Astros.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Osceola County Stadium on Monday morning to shake hands, take physicals and get in a light workout, the Astros cranked up their first Spring Training as an American League club. New manager Bo Porter will have to wait until Tuesday to see the pitchers and catchers hit the field for the first official workout, but the start is near.
"I'm extremely anxious," Porter said Monday morning. "You spend your whole offseason waiting for this day to come, and now that it's here, obviously there's a lot of anticipating of getting with the guys, and you can see the excitement in their eyes. We're just ready to get on the field and get started."
The clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium will be full of new faces. Of the 61 players on the team's Spring Training roster, only 22 were in Major League camp with Houston a year ago. Right-hander Philip Humber is one of 39 new faces to camp this year after spending last year with the White Sox.
"It's that time of year when you've done everything you need to do to prepare for Spring Training and a new season, and you start getting that itch that it's time to start putting everything you've done in the offseason to work," Humber said. "I'm excited to be here, excited to meet all these new faces and just get started playing baseball."
General manager Jeff Luhnow met with the front office and field staff for several hours on Monday and pored over every player on the roster. Luhnow said Astros camp will be unique in that each player who's in camp will have a legitimate opportunity to make the club, which is pretty rare.
That has only added to the excitement of the start of camp.
"There's definitely a vibe between the new look, the new colors, the new environment," Luhnow said. "There's definitely an energy I can sense. It's palpable. It's different than what it was like last year. There was a lot of trepidation last year. People were concerned where we were going, and people understand now what the plan is and how they fit in. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm and energy around it."
Many position players have already reported, well ahead of Friday's official report date. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve arrived in Florida on Saturday. Also spotted Monday morning were Brett Wallace, Matt Dominguez, J.D. Martinez, Marwin Gonzalez, Brandon Barnes, Justin Maxwell, Jake Elmore and Marc Krauss.
The only player scheduled to report who didn't was catcher Carlos Perez, who was held up in Venezuela on a visa issue.
"I feel really good, and I wanted to get here a little early to get ready and prepare the right way to start the season," Altuve said.
Porter has adorned the clubhouse with various motivational signs in an effort to remind his players the importance of staying focused and taking care of business. He'll post a motivational quote on the team's workout schedule each day as well.
When the players walk into the clubhouse, a sign reads: "Take care of family, self, team."
There's another reminding them of "The Five P's: Proper Preparation Produces Peak Performers."
"I think it helps their mindset," Porter said. "This here sets the tone, and it's evident to those guys because they can see things have changed. When you realize things have changed, you realize they're never going to be the same. We made these changes because we want guys to understand we have to play with a different energy, we have to play with a different focus because we want a different outcome."
Erasing the reminders of last year's club-record 107-loss season is something the returning players can appreciate. But pitcher Lucas Harrell says changing the culture is about more than window dressing. Becoming a winner begins with a mindset.
"That's what we're trying to change," Harrell said. "You bring in veteran guys like Carlos Pena, who's been on teams that have won, he's going to help right away. You bring in a guy like Erik Bedard and guys that have been part of winners, and you're going to build a winning team with guys like that."
Astros pitcher Bud Norris joined the club when it still had a veteran core led by Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez, and he has seen it transform to the youngest club in baseball. It's a change Norris believes was necessary.
"The changes we made this offseason were needed, and I really believe we made strides in the right direction," Norris said. "They have a plan and they're executing it, and I think that's set in place and I think they made the right move."
The pitchers and catchers will work out for the first time Tuesday, and Porter said one of the first things he's going to stress is preparation. Those messages are easier to deliver early in camp than they are in late March when everyone is tired of Florida.
"When you start talking about Spring Training, one of the things that happens is Spring Training can get long," Porter said. "You want to make sure guys are having fun and at the same time you are addressing the things that need to be addressed from an attention-to-detail standpoint, to a preparation standpoint and getting quality work in each and every day."