KISSIMMEE, Fla. — One afternoon this spring, long after the fans had cleared out of Osceola County Stadium, Houston Astros manager Bo Porter made his way into his office. Sitting in the desk chair was his 4-year-old son, Bryce. He was troubled.
“Daddy,” he said to his father, puzzled by the fact that their team had just lost two spring training games in a row. “Am I going to have to come in and talk to the guys? We lost again.”
Porter chuckled. He told his son he thought they’d be all right. It’s a long spring, followed by a long season.
“No, but, Daddy, we lost again,” Bryce said.
“Yeah,” Porter said. “But it’s part of the progression.’”
The truth is, the 2013 Astros may lose a lot. Some are predicting for them to be historically bad. At the very least, most pundits can see them losing 100 games for the third year in a row.
Their roster isn’t filled with stars. Their payroll has drawn criticism at $25 million for the entire team. They have talent, but it’s young. There are few places on the field where they’ll put established major leaguers Opening Day.
Porter refuses to call it rebuilding, but whatever it is, they’re at the ground floor.
They are building toward something, though. And as the sun splashed over the field in Kissimmee on Monday afternoon, Porter looked out from an empty dugout at a group of young men he’s gotten to believe in him.
“It’s one of those things where you have to start the way you want to finish,” he said. “That’s why when people use the words like ‘rebuild’ and ‘patience’ and all that, there’s no higher level of baseball than the big leagues. Only place you go from here is to the Hall of Fame — and they don’t play games there, it’s just an honor.
“This is the highest level you can play. If you put any expectation that’s lower than, ‘This is the big leagues,’ I think you’re setting your players up for failure. That’s why you have to set the standard to where we’re setting it. Make them get to that standard or get out of the way and allow somebody else to get to that standard. It’s really that simple.”
At age 40, Porter, the Washington Nationals’ third base coach the past two season, is the youngest manager in the major leagues. Rick Ankiel, the Nationals’ onetime center fielder, is only seven years younger than Porter. He’s one of a handful of Astros older than 30, and one of the most veteran players in the clubhouse.
He’s marveled at what Porter has done this spring.
“Bo’s been great,” Ankiel said Monday. “I’m really proud of him.”
A few days after the Nationals’ season ended in October, Porter got to work on remaking the Astros. He’d waited a while for his first shot at being a big league manager, and he started with the basics.