Veterans, students and fans meet Astros former and current.
By Kyle R. Cotton
Fans old and new lined-up to meet the Astros, as they stopped in San Antonio on their annual winter caravan before spring training in late-February.
Al Gonzalez and son A.J. Gonzalez from San Antonio have been fans of the Houston team all their lives.
Al Gonzalez has gone to the Astros’ spring training the last five years in Kissimmee, Florida, home of the Astros’ spring training facility.
“I like collecting their autographs and taking pictures with them. I don’t usually come out to these events, since I usually see all these guys at spring training,” Al Gonzalez said.
But with former starting pitcher J.R. Richard there, who he said was his son’s favorite player, they decided to come out for their chance to finally meet him.
Richard was joined by catcher Hank Conger, relief pitcher Tony Sipp, pitching prospect Asher Wojciechowski, and Astros’ radio broadcaster Steve Sparks.
“I love coming out to these events,” Sparks said. “It’s a great way to show people that you care.”
With the long process of rebuilding the team and most fans unable to see games because the now-defunct Comcast Sportsnet Houston failed to reach an agreement with major television providers, “There has been a lot of distrust over the last few years over the process, and when people here can only make it out to one or two games a year, you got to show them you haven’t forgotten about them,” Sparks said.
The Astros finished with a 70-92 record last year, a 19-win improvement from the previous season, which was the third consecutive with more than over 100 losses.
“When Jim Crane took over as the owner and brought in Jeff Lunhow to be the general manager, they recognized that they needed to build up the farm system, and after 17 trades, it seems like they are finally ready to be a winning team,” Sparks said.
The team has traded several young pitchers who fans thought were part of the future.
“I think they recognized needs and felt that in order to address them, they needed to sell high on some of their prospects from a position where they had depth,” Sparks said.
The Astros spent the day at four locations across San Antonio.
They toured Brooke Army Medical Center’s Warrior and Family Support Center and visited with wounded soldiers and family who are stationed there as part of rehabilitation.
One soldier, after getting his Astros hat signed by Wojciechowski, said that he would put it on his shelf in-between two baseballs that were signed respectively by Hall of fame pitchers Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers and Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles.
Conger, Sipp, Sparks and Wojcechowski were greeted at Lutheran High School with a pep rally, and conducted a question-and-answer session with students, where they told students stories of what it was like growing up and how they got to be where they are today.
All the Astros signed autographs at Academy Sports and Outdoors, 714 W. Loop 1604 N, and H-E-B, 20935 U.S. Highway 281 N, where they also bagged groceries.
For more on the Astros, visit Astros.com, or call 713-259-8000.