A former catcher, this will be Ashby's second stint in the broadcast booth for the Astros, previously working the radio side. He spent the past six years doing TV and radio for the Toronto Blue Jays. Ashby replaces Jim Deshaies, who in the offseason left for Chicago to be the TV analyst for the Cubs.
Ashby will primarily do color for the Astros, but he's expected to do play-by-play for about 60 games on TV this season. Brown, 65, who has been calling games in Houston since 1987, is reducing his play-by-play duties to about 100 games.
"It was a great thrill to be with JD [Deshaies] for 16 years, but people do move on in this business," said Brown. "And we couldn't have done any better than Alan Ashby, as far as coming up with a replacement. He knows the American League, he knows, as a catcher, how the catcher and pitcher think their way through a situation, and he can portray all that to the viewers."
Ashby enjoyed his time in Toronto but welcomed an opportunity to return to Houston, where he has maintained a home in the area.
"I opted to go the TV side because Bill Brown is toning down the number of games he's doing, and this gives me a chance to kind of slide to his seat and hopefully be the guy that moves to that direction when Brownie does shut things down," said Ashby, who played for the Astros from 1979-89.
Popular with Astros fans, Brown's reduced schedule also allows Blum to get on the air.
"I'm extremely excited, and my body is even more excited to get out of the game," said Blum, who will be the color analyst when Ashby does play-by-play. "My mind and heart still love the game, and the Astros are providing a good opportunity for me to stay around the game and hopefully impart some knowledge on the fans."
Ford, 33, has worked his way up to the Majors having done play-by-play for three Minor League teams -- Binghamton N.Y., Kalamazoo, Mich., and Yakima, Wash. He did pregame and postgame shows on the Kansas City Royals flagship station.
"I'm excited about the opportunity and looking forward to get going," said Ford, who got a contract offer from the Astros this week.
Coming off 106 and 107-loss seasons, the Astros are in transition and have many players who have been on the team only a year or two. Ford has been doing his homework on the club the last few weeks.
"Once I knew [the Astros] were interested, I didn't want to go in blind," said Ford. "I'd already been doing research and seeing who is going to be on the team, and also looking at the other teams the Astros will see during Spring Training. You want to be a step ahead."
For his broadcasts, Ford wants to convey the nuts and bolts, but also add a personal touch about the players.
"People tune in, they want to know the score, they want to know what inning, they want to know what happened and what's about to happen. You start with that," said Ford. "And baseball's so much about history, so I like to tell stories about how we got to this point today.
"I like to talk about guys' backgrounds and how they got there. Not just baseball-wise, so that people can get familiar with the team and get an idea of who they're watching or listening to every day."
Sparks, who on occasion has appeared on pregame and postgame shows of Astros telecasts, hadn't met Ford until Wednesday.
"The No. 1 priority for me is to develop a rapport with Robert and a bit of rhythm during Spring Training," said Sparks, who pitched eight of his nine big league seasons in the AL.