Pitchers, Catchers To Open Camp
Astrodome Renovations Approved

It all starts with unity...
(c) Houston Chronicle
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The sound of baseball mitts popping in the Florida breeze begins today at West Palm Beach, FL, as the defending champion Astros make their first appearance in spring camp as pitchers and catchers report for duty. Manager A.J. Hinch's club will be focused on repeating last year's success with the added boost of an entire season with Justin Verlander's mastery on the mound and a bounceback season from oft-dominant Gerrit Cole who was obtained in trade this winter.

Don't buy all that pennant talk from Gotham, they argue. Good pitching still beats good hitting as anyone who saw the ALCS Game 7 or World Series Game 7 can attest. A six-deep arsenal of Verlander, Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh is tough to dent.

In fact, the rotation is so stacked there are questions whether one might get traded. Brad Peacock was 13-2 last season and he's already been exiled to the bullpen in order to replace Joe Musgrove who had been dealt to Pittsburgh for Cole. New bullpen faces will also include free agent acquisitions Joe Smith and Hector Rondon.

Although some arrive early, the deadline for position players is next week with the first Grapefruit League action taking place against the Washington Nationals on February 23rd.

In other news, Harris County Commissioners approved a plan to spend $105 million in renovations to the Astrodome, next to NRG Stadium, in hopes of turning it into stadium parking and an event center. This ends a long stalemate about the future of the facility which has rarely been open since becoming a home for Hurricane Katrina evacuees in 2005.

The money will be spent on raising the ground floor two stories to set up space for 1400 parking spots then making the space above it an expanse for celebrations and festivals. The Dome has often been threatened with the wrecking ball since the Astros left in 1999 yet it is still the most dynamic landmark in the city. Plans are not final, nor is funding, but this is a huge step in the right direction. The Astrodome was the site of so many major events in Houston from baseball, football, basketball, boxing, tennis, concerts, rodeos, religious, technological and political conventions that it would have been sinful to see it reduced to rubble. It deserves to retain a spot in the Houston skyline and, in fact, become a thriving center again in the new century.

Could you imagine a future World's Championship celebrated among thousands of fans on the very grounds where their big league baseball roots began? Now, that could become a reality.

-Bob Hulsey