After months of work, Crane enjoying opener

After months of work, Crane enjoying opener

HOUSTON -- Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane came through the right-field tunnel when he arrived at Minute Maid Park on Friday afternoon and walked around the perimeter of the field before stepping up to his office high above the playing surface.

It was a different route than he has normally taken, but it could be part of his new routine.

"It's a little more scenic than going through the alleyway [under the stands]," Crane said.

It's been nearly five months since Crane's group took ownership of the Astros, but Opening Day afforded Crane the opportunity to enjoy the view after months of work restructuring the front office and accommodating the fans.

The Astros -- finally his team -- took the field for the first game of their 50th anniversary season, with Crane and about a dozen of his ownership partners throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game against the Rockies.

"Well, it brings back a lot of memories," said Crane, who was a pitcher at the University of Central Missouri. "Sometimes you warm up and you didn't have good stuff and you get in a game and it's pretty good. And sometimes you thought you really had good stuff and it starts flying out of the ballpark. Hopefully there won't be any crossfire. I don't think any of them can throw real hard, so the damage will be limited."

Crane participated in the Astros' pregame street party, briefly addressing a block of fans before entering the ballpark for a series of interviews and plenty of hand shaking. He later addressed the team prior to the Astros' final Opening Day in the National League.

"I expect them to help in the community and have them get out in front of some of the fans," he said. "I know they've worked hard in Spring Training, and I want to thank the coaching staff and [manager] Brad [Mills] and [general manager] Jeff [Luhnow] for working hard and putting together a great effort in Spring Training, and let's take it out to the field today."

Crane said he was thrilled the Astros were able to sell out the Opening Day game, and quicker than last season. Astros attendance was down last year, but the team is rebuilding and Crane hopes brighter days are ahead.

"We appreciate the support," he said. "We've got our season-ticket base back and that's very important to keep the team viable. We couldn't ask for anything more compared to what we had last year, and we did it before we did it last year. Our team worked hard and the players helped and we put a lot of fan focus on some of the things we did when we got started and that helped, too. We care about the fans."

When he purchased the team, Crane said he wouldn't be too visible, but he admitted Friday he'll be around a lot more often than he originally thought. And who could blame him? There's something infectious about baseball, especially on Opening Day.

"We'll see how it goes, but it looks like more and more," he said. "I thought it would be less, but I'll travel a little bit in the summer on the road. I want to see how things work in other parks and kind of learn from those experiences. We'll go to a lot of games."

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.