The 2013 season will mark one of change for the Astros, who are wearing new uniforms and are under the direction of new manager Bo Porter as they brace for a move to the American League West. Porter has implemented other changes as well, doing his best to overhaul the culture and environment of the team this spring.
Porter, who at 40 years old is the youngest manager in baseball, took some time to visit with MLB.com recently about the upcoming season, his first spring at the helm of the Astros and getting a chance to manage his hometown club.
MLB.com: You're taking over the Astros at a time when change is all around you. What specific challenges has that presented?
Porter: I think the biggest thing is just changing the whole thought process of what it means to be a Houston Astro and the commitment that comes with being a Houston Astro, and then the opportunity that has presented itself to all of us throughout the whole organization.
MLB.com: You're not only moving to the American League, but into one of the toughest divisions in baseball. What can you expect from this young team?
Porter: When you look at divisions in baseball and someone deemed this division was tougher than this other division, but at the end of the day, it's Major League Baseball and every division is tough. When you start to look at our ballclub, I throw age out of the window, I throw experience out of the window. At the end of the day, they're going to put nine players out there, we're going to put nine players out there and the games are going to be won in between the lines.
MLB.com: You've gone to great lengths to change the atmosphere around the club. Why was that so important?
Porter: I think when you are laying the foundation to be a champion, you have to be "it" even before you are "it." And you have to lay a foundation that is built to last the test of time. When you start to talk about the commitment to doing things the right way, attention to detail, playing the game with intensity and passion, those things show up every day. When you talk about commitment and accountability to your teammates and paying attention to what's important now and keep pushing the wheel, all of those things are motivational factors that we talked to our players about at some point or another, whether or not it's a one-on-one meeting with me and another player or me and a group of players, or it's in-game conversation when you're taking advantage of teachable moments. But at the same time, you want to set that foundation so that as the course of the season goes along, you're a team, your organization is built for the long haul and it's built to last the test of time.
MLB.com: Management has said it's not going to spend significant money on free agency until some of the young players start producing at the Major League level. As a manager, is it hard to be patient?
Porter: You've never heard me use that word [rebuilding], and I'm not going to start to use that word today. I believe that this is Major League baseball and the 25 players we have in the big leagues, they're in the big leagues because as an organization we feel like they are Major League players. That standard is not going to be compromised by a dollar value, it's not going to be compromised by an age. This is a performance-based business, and you perform here or they find somebody else to perform, and I've said this to our players millions of times. I tell them all the time, "Ignore the noise." At the end of the day, it's not how much money you make, how much they're going to pay you every two weeks. It's you against the other team. If they just basically said we're going to set this schedule and the team with the highest payroll, "We're going to deem you the winner and the team with the lowest payroll, we're going to deem you the loser," why show up? It doesn't work that way. The games are won on the baseball field.
MLB.com: This team clearly has shown more power and better starting pitching depth this spring. How big of a difference do you expect that to make in the regular season?
Porter: Jeff [Luhnow, general manger] and I, the entire front office, the coaching staff, we all collaborated on it with each other and looked at areas which we could improve the ballclub, and we set out to improve the club in those areas. We went out and got some more experience as far as pitchers go. We've added depth in the organization, so that we not only have five starters, we have nine or 10. It gives you some margin for error or if you get a guy hurt, you have somebody else that you can call up that you have complete confidence in. We set out to improve the offense by infusing some power into the offense. You have a healthy Jason Castro, who will arguably be much a better offensive player so far than he's been in his Major League career. We expect him to have a breakout season. You add Carlos Pena, Rick Ankiel, Chris Carter -- you're talking about guys that we infused into the lineup that can change the game with one swing. What that does with the ballclub is it lets you know that you're never out of the game. You could be down, 4-1, in the second inning and just keep playing, because a 4-1 game all of a sudden in the second can change and it can be 8-1 by the seventh, because we have guys in our lineup that with one swing can change the game.
MLB.com: What's it like being the manager of your hometown team (having lived in Houston for 16 years)?
Porter: One, it's an honor. It's something that I really cherish. Because of the fact my wife was born and raised here and I know a lot of people here and the 16 years I've lived in Houston, I consider myself a Houstonian. I have great friendships, I'm embedded into the community and we do great things in our community through our foundation [Bo Porter Self Foundation]. Like I said when we had the uniform launch [in November], I will live, sleep and die with the day we can have a ticker-tape parade in Houston, Texas, as a World Series champion, and just for the city of Houston itself and for the fans. It's a huge baseball city. Our fans deserve a winner. They are absolutely starved and they want it just as much as we want it. It's an honor, and sometimes I can't even find the words to explain the joy I feel inside being the manager of the Houston Astros, but more importantly, the passion and desire that I feel to deliver a winner to the city of Houston.