Sunday, September 14, 2008
Astros' Cooper unhappy to play Cubs in Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE -- The Houston Astros were officially the home team Sunday night against the Chicago Cubs, the first of two games relocated to Miller Park in the wake of Hurricane Ike.
But with his club chasing the NL wild-card spot, Astros manager Cecil Cooper sure wasn't thrilled with the idea of playing in front of a predominantly pro-Cubs crowd at a supposedly neutral site. And he planned to make his feelings known to commissioner Bud Selig, a close friend.
"It's like a Cub home game," Cooper said. "Only they're not the 'home' team, we are. I'm not happy about that. I need to tell the commissioner that. I will tell him that."
Cooper was expecting the NL Central-leading Cubs to get plenty of support. Their fans often make the relatively short drive up I-94 for Cubs-Brewers games, and sometimes outshout the home team's rooters -- to the point that they've taken to calling the stadium "Wrigley North."
The first two decks of the Miller Park stands were filled with fans wearing mostly Cubs blue Sunday night, and the crowd cheered wildly when Chicago's Alfonso Soriano hit a leadoff home run.
The Astros' own stadium, Minute Maid Park, sustained only minor damage from the storm, which moved through the Houston area Saturday morning.
Given the flooding, power outages and general destruction in Houston, baseball officials rescheduled games in Milwaukee on Sunday night and Monday afternoon. The third game of the series will be played in Houston at the end of the season if it has a potential impact on the playoffs.
Miller Park, which has a retractable roof, also hosted a snowed-out Cleveland Indians-Los Angeles Angels series in April 2007.
Astros general manager Ed Wade acknowledged that the situation wasn't ideal, but tried to keep the Astros' problems in perspective.
"It's not the best of circumstances, but when you put it against the backdrop of what a lot of people in Houston are going through right now, it's sort of minimized in that regard," Wade said. "In a perfect world, the storm doesn't hit Houston and have the degree of significance that it had and we play these games at home."
Wade said several neutral sites were discussed once it became clear that the games couldn't be played in Houston. With no risk of more weather delays, moving games to a dome made the most sense. Miller Park turned out to be the best available alternative, with the Brewers at Philadelphia on Sunday and off Monday.
From all accounts, Astros players and their families got through the storm without major hardship. Family members normally aren't allowed to travel with the Astros in September, but an exception was made for this trip and team officials said about 10 family members made the trip.
Wade said Astros reliever Fernando Nieve and his family actually weathered the storm in the luxury suites at Minute Maid Park, as did several other team employees.
Outfielder Hunter Pence stayed in the townhouse he rents near downtown Houston, and woke up in the middle of the night to find water gushing from a leak in the roof in his bedroom.
"We were very fortunate," Pence said. "Everyone's healthy, we made it through and nothing important was lost."
Wade said the Astros' charter plane was the only flight out of George Bush Intercontinental airport Sunday. In fact, Wade said it was the only plane even present at the airport, as other planes had been flown elsewhere to avoid damage.
Cooper, who waited out the storm at his in-laws' house and grilled hot dogs for the family, said his own home didn't have power as of Sunday morning.
Now he's planning to buy a generator.
"They won't catch me again without one of those," Cooper said. "I'm going to invest in one of those babies."
Despite his frustration, Cooper said he was moving on. The Astros are locked in a close race for the wild card and can't afford to be distracted.
"I'm letting it go now," Cooper said. "It's time to play baseball."
Pence wasn't complaining.
"It's as tough as you make it," Pence said. "It'd be nice to play at home, Houston, but we're not able to do that. It's all relative to how you make it, and we're going to make the best out of it."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella played down the Cubs' supposed home-field advantage.
"The important thing is that the [Houston] area recovers, and recovers quickly, and not too many people have to suffer for any long periods of time," Piniella said.
The Astros will regain their home-field advantage if the third game of the series ends up being necessary and is tagged on to the end of the regular season. And Cooper insists that game is going to matter.
"Oh, we'll play," Cooper said. "Because it's going to mean something, yeah. You'd better believe it. Yeah, I'll be excited about playing that game."