New Astros owner makes the big leagues

February 21, 2012 10:18:46 AM PST
New Astros owner Jim Crane made it clear on the first day of spring training that there is more to his investment than money.

Baseball has been a part of him since he was a pitcher "from (age) 7 to 22, nonstop," Crane said Monday while Astros pitchers and catchers participated in their first organized workout of the year.

"It's fun to get back here," he said. "If you've ever played, you hear that ball popping into that glove, as we do now, and it brings back a lot of fond memories."

Crane bought the team from Drayton McLane last fall for $615 million in a transaction that requires the franchise to move from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013. The team finished with the worst record in baseball last season at 56-106.

Manager Brad Mills referred to Monday as "the dawning of a new era" and Crane's visit was viewed as a starting point.

"We started talking about the sale of the team two years ago and that's kind of the way it's been," said pitcher Brandon Lyon. "I think we finally have a resolution where we can move in some direction. There was no direction before."

Crane was a pitcher at Central Missouri, but never made the big leagues. The Houston businessman says it's been a long time since he was in a locker room and it was his first visit to a spring training camp in several years. He couldn't be happier.

He arrived just before 9 a.m., met with Mills and general manager Jeff Luhnow, and then spoke to the team.

"To see all the young faces sitting in that room, probably anxious about making the team, you kind of understand that when you played baseball. ... It brought back a lot of memories."

Crane bought a team that has bottomed out and traded away several of its best players. The Astros could start the regular season with a different player at every position than they had at the start of the 2011 season.

According to Luhnow, who was hired in December after eight years in the St. Louis organization, every season is a new era with new players.

"In this particular case we have a new ownership group and some new executives, but it's up to the players and their mentality," he said. "This is a fresh start for us this year . . . I think the attitude, from everything that I'm feeling and hearing and expressing, is very positive."

The team will not be burdened by high expectations. Luhnow said the Astros will look toward long-term solutions and Crane reminded the players that although "everybody expects us to come in last," they should not get caught up in those predictions.

There was a time when Crane would have loved to trade places with them. When he was pitching at Central Missouri State, as the school was known in the early 1970s, he wound up with a sore arm and the rest is history.

"I was 22 and lost velocity, and that was the end of that," he explained. "The freight business was better and a lot more economically sound from a longevity standpoint. Not to say that these guys don't make a lot of money, but it's tough to get to where they've gotten."