Reid Ryan tackles Houston Astros’ woes, including snow-cone vendor

Posted Sunday, May. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Top five Cardinals: Quality depth keeping injury-plagued club atop NL. Rangers: Quality depth keeping injury-plagued club atop AL. Reds: Trying to keep pace in top-heavy NL Central. Tigers: With Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, they better be good. Yankees: Actually fun to see this makeshift team continue to thrive. Bottom five Marlins: Might as well trade Giancarlo Stanton for Jurickson Profar. Astros: Finding new ways to snatch defeat from jaws of victory. Mets: Ike Davis (.143) is poster boy for team with many flaws. Dodgers: NL West buzzword in 2013 is grit. LA doesn’t have any. Mariners: Losers of seven straight passed in AL West by Angels.

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One of the first fires Reid Ryan had to put out upon taking the presidential reins of the Houston Astros was on the home front.

His son, Jackson, is a devoted fan of the Texas Rangers, the team his granddad oversees and has a small ownership piece of in his portfolio.

Switching teams, even to support his dad’s in his new endeavor, isn’t going to be an overnight process for Jackson.

“Jackson is seriously conflicted,” Ryan said. “If the Rangers make the playoffs this year, I told him, ‘As soon the Rangers get in, you can go full-force Rangers for the American League.’ He said, ‘Awesome.’”

On the job just more than a week, Ryan stepped into an Astros front office that on the business side was doing as well as the team on the field. In other words, not real well, and maybe worse.

Outgoing prez George Postolos and his team of owner Jim Crane’s trusted loyalists had burned bridges with longtime club executives and alumni who know how a big-league club needs to operate. Postolos and crew had no clue.

Canceled, rather coldly, was the very popular and long-running Astros Wives’ Gala charity fund-raiser. And then there was the whole snow-cone-in-the-men’s-room thing.

“My first night on the job,” Ryan said of the vendor video. “I’ve had all kinds of fun stuff to deal with the last week.”

The good news, while also being the worst news of all, is that there isn’t much of a TV package for Astros fans to follow all the rotten storylines.

Ryan has a pile of issues to conquer, but he willingly signed up for the challenge in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“There are only 30 of these jobs. You’ve got to do it,” Ryan said Friday morning after leaving his family in Georgetown for the weekend in Houston. “The things that went through my head were not, ‘Can I do this job?’ I know I can do the job because I’ve been in baseball my whole life.”

Ryan has been busy trying to rebuild the bridges to fans and former players. He has contacted 15 to 20 of them, and talked in-depth about where the organization is headed. First on the list was Larry Dierker, who has been lured back as a special assistant.

Ryan called Dierker the Tom Grieve of the Rangers, someone who has done a bit of everything for the Astros and is popular with the fan base. He’ll also shoot Ryan straight, and that’s what he wants from all of his employees.

“You’ve got to have that guy you bounce ideas off of,” Ryan said. “The way that I’ve always worked is I don’t want a bunch of yes-men around me. I want people who are going to challenge me and make us better and have a different perspective from what I have.”

But the biggest hurdle facing the Astros, no matter how bad their image has become lately, is sorting out the TV package.

The club continues to seek carriers of Comcast SportsNet Houston, the network owned by the Astros, the NBA’s Rockets and NBC Universal that also airs games of the Dynamo soccer club of the MLS. The situation is so shaky that the Houston mayor became involved last week.

Ryan said that Crane isn’t trying to fleece anyone. He simply wants a deal similar to those that other clubs in large markets are getting. Houston, after all, is the fourth biggest city in the country.

Without a competitive TV deal, the on-field product is bound to suffer. The Rangers and Angels have new deals that will provide more money to lure free agents or keep their own players, such as Mike Trout, from fleeing.

The current proposal doesn’t cover the expense of airing the games. Crane, a successful businessman, isn’t giving any ground in negotiations. But something will have to give or Houston and the region could be overtaken by the Rangers on Fox Sports Southwest.

“You’ve got to get the games on TV,” Ryan said. “Everyone wants to watch the Astros, but you don’t want to trade that for an unsustainable model that doesn’t allow you to compete in what is becoming one of the toughest divisions in baseball.

“You’re talking about an area, really from New Orleans down to Brownsville and along the Gulf Coast that has traditionally always been an Astros market. Each day you don’t get the deal done, that’s more people watching the Rangers on TV. It’s been a really good situation for the Rangers.”

The on-field situation has been good for the Rangers, too, as they’ve gone 5-1 so far against the low-financed, learning-on-the-job Astros. There’s talent coming, said Ryan, which should make the Astros competitive.

But he has a mound of business issues to conquer, and needs to get fans in the seats and games on TV to help pull up the baseball side from the cellar.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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