It's easy to be skeptical of a team that's been as bad as the Astros have been the last couple of years hiring a manager with little to no experience building up programs. Newly hired manager Bo Porter gets rave reviews not just all around town, but through the baseball world of the folks that know him.
In all of the research on this guy, and Google can be a wonder as we know, there hasn't been a single negative comment about this 40-year-old out of Newark. And from observing the way he interacts with the Nationals' players, he's an easy coach to rally around because he takes his job so damn seriously.
Something that goes overlooked, particularly in professional sports: players want to be coached. They don't want to be embarrassed, or made to feel inferior, but they want direction and order. That's because by the time you make as a professional athlete, you realize the level of focus it took just to get there. So it has to be taken to the next level in order to be successful.
Players don't want a baby-sitter or an apologist for a coach (and I promise that's not a shot at Brad Mills. Promise!).
Bo Porter, at whatever age and with whatever experience, is going to coach and he's probably going to coach his ass off. I'm willing to bet that's what made him so appealing to Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow when deciding who would be the Astros' next manager.
It's not just Porter's "intensity" which is often the first word associated with him. But where he channels that energy and the philosophy behind the method is what's really important here.
This was Porter on a conference call last week when he was asked what would constitute success for him in Houston:
"I think the biggest thing is when you start talking about the number of games you're going to win and you're going to lose, I tend to focus more on the process, and if you take care of the process, the desired results, you'll get it much more often. When I speak to the team and we're talking about... Everybody wants to win a game, so at the end of the day if you take care of the process you will [get there]. From the standpoint from the offseason program, leading into spring Training, all of our conversations from the team, from the players, is let's worry about the things we can control. And we can control the process."
Very important point to consider in bold from that quote. It's only natural to wonder how the Astros matchup against their American League opponents. But truth is, the Astros can't do much about how they matchup against these opponents because, well, that's opposite of what they can control and what they should be worried about.
The American League landscape isn't going to dictate whether J.D. Martinez turns the corner as a consistent guy who can drive in 80 to 90 runs, or if Bud Norris becomes the ace that Astros fans would like for him to be. I mean, did the National League have some sort of effect on that this season, or would you say the Astros just were who they were?
A new attitude and focus brought in with Porter could be just what Houston needs. Just consider the last time this team was given a fresh perspective, when Mills was let go and Tony DeFrancesco came in all up beat and friendly-like. The Astros went 1-10 in Tony D's first couple of games, but that's more so because they weren't about to go from being the league's worst team to winning games overnight.
Slowly, though, you could see the change in the Astros. They went out and had fun while maintaining a bit of an edge about them. There was something about the Astros at the end of the season that kept saying, "our season is over but we'll still get a game out of this series."
It's too early to talk results with Porter. The Astros still need time getting used to being the AL, just as the league will need time getting used to the Astros, for what it's worth. Next season, you can expect Bo Porter to begin his managerial career with an overwhelming losing record, but the process is what we need to be paying attention to.
Is the team addressing it's holes with vigor, like starting pitching, an outfielder who can be a reliable bat in the middle of the lineup and yes, I know, a designated hitter?
These are valid inquiries, and while next season won't necessarily be indicative of what the future holds for Houston in the AL, it will show what direction the team is going in, and the process it is taking. Porter isn't being dealt any better a hand than Brad Mills was in 2010, but with all the dumping and piecing together, the argument could be made that it's a situation that calls for much more optimism.
Houston is going to need more than Porter's charisma and intuition to be successful down the road. Still, it's a helluva place to start. Here's Porter speaking to the Star-Ledger last Friday:
"I'm passionate about the game, and the people who play it. And I can use my energy and leadership skill to teach these kids, so the plan is to grow in phases, through the draft and through player development."