John McClain: If the fun lasts into November again, the Astros will be making history
PALM CITY, Fla. – Near the end of the Sunday night dinner at the Mr. October Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic, Reggie Jackson quieted the crowd and made an announcement. Jackson, Mr. October, picked up a huge trophy in one hand while holding a microphone in the other.
“I’m presenting the first ever Mr. October Award,” he said while moving close to a table full of current Astros players. “This award is for excellence in October.”
As Jackson moved closer to the Astros’ table, he reeled off the October accomplishments of one particular Astro who was voted MVP of the American League Championship Series and the World Series.
“I’d like to present the first Mr. October Award to Jeremy Peña,” he said about the Astros’ shortstop who dominated the postseason awards and helped the Astros win a second World Series.
Later, Peña was asked what it meant to receive Jackson’s Mr. October Award and the trophy he’ll carry back to Houston.
“It was special because of what Reggie Jackson stands for,” Peña said. “He was great for the game, and he’s great in the community as well. To be the first to receive the Mr. October Award is special coming from him because he’s been a mentor to me from the first time we met.”
Jackson knows all the Astros because he’s starting his third season working as a special advisor to owner Jim Crane. His golf tournament is being played at Crane’s Floridian National Golf Club for the second consecutive year. The tournament is packed with members of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I met Reggie about 15 years ago working out in a gym at Pebble Beach,” Crane said before the celebrity dinner. “I told him I wanted to buy a baseball team and would like to talk to him about it. We hit it off and played a lot of golf together. I think he was ready to make a move away from the Yankees.”
Crane hired Jackson in May of 2021.
“He’s been a great advisor, and he believes in giving back to the community,” Crane said. “It’s great to see what he’s done and is doing with his foundation at events like this.”
Jackson earned five World Series rings as a Hall of Fame player and another with the Astros.
“I’m proud that we’ve been to four (World Series) in six years,” Crane said, “and I’d like to win one more. We’d like to win three championships and be the best team in town.”
That would give the Astros one more title than the Rockets. The Texans are still looking for their first.
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 15 at the
Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach and have their first workout a day later. The first full-squad workout is on Feb. 21.
“The guys haven’t had a lot of time off because we played through the middle of November,” Crane said. “It’s not easy to repeat, but we’re ready.”
No team has repeated as champion since the Yankees won three in a row in 1998, 1999, and 2000.
“This team’s good,” Crane said. “Last year, everything fell into place. The pitching was good. The pitching was deep. We didn’t tax the bullpen. We didn’t get a lot of guys hurt – great pitching and timely hitting. You can have a master plan and all the pieces, but then something can happen.
“I’d really like to get there (World Series) again. If you keep knocking on the door, you can knock it down. That’s what we did last season. I’d like to do it again.”
Now that he’s got a new general manager, Dana Brown, Crane can focus on the start of spring training. Last week, he announced the hiring of Brown, who was Atlanta’s well-respected vice president of scouting, as the replacement for James Click.
“We did a thorough search,” Crane said. “I don’t think people knew who all we were talking to. We were able to keep it under wraps, and Dana checked all the boxes. I asked him how much he traveled (scouting) last year, and he said 252 days. That shows he’s got a lot of hands-on experience.
“I try to set the tone about how we operate and the high expectations we have, and he fits right into our plans. We’ll give him all he needs to be successful, and I think he’ll do a great job.”
One of the many Astros participating in the Mr. October Foundation benefit is Michael Brantley, who missed a big part of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery. He signed a one-year contract to return for a 15th season, including his fifth with the Astros. Fans want to know how Brantley feels physically as spring training approaches.
“I’m doing great,” Brantley said. “I’m really happy with where I’m at (physically). As long as it keeps up, it’s going to be phenomenal. A lot of really good things have happened during the offseason. I’m putting in a lot of hard work. I’ve enjoyed spending time with my family, but it’s time to get back to spring training.”
Brantley suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder in late June and underwent surgery in mid-August. Now he’s eager to return.
“We have a great locker room – not just great players but great people, too,” he said. “They’re like my family. When we get to spring training, it’s like I’m going back to see my family and the guys I love being around.”
At this time last year, Peña was getting ready to report to spring training and preparing to be the new shortstop replacing Carlos Correa. Now Peña returns to West Palm Beach as one of the best shortstops in the game.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Peña said. “My body feels good. My mind’s in the right spot. We have a great team, and the guys are ready.
“I feel good because I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m not going to get comfortable because there’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m still hungry going into spring training, and I’m still trying to get better.”
Peña is hungry to win a second consecutive World Series and become the first team to repeat since the Yankees’ three-peat.
“It’s tough to repeat because of how long the season is,” he said. “So many things go into it, and a lot of things may not go a team’s way. There are things you can’t control. But we have a great team. We’re going to compete and have fun like we did last year.”
If the fun lasts into November again, the Astros will be making history.
That’s one reason fans who celebrated 2022 are so excited about the 2023 season that’s on the horizon.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).