Buzz, ticket sales reach new heights
HOUSTON -- How quickly the perception of the Houston Astros has changed from playoff bumbler to World Series contender, all because of one future Hall of Famer.
Six-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Houston Astros on Monday that ended a brief retirement and turned the spotlight on his hometown, still looking for a pro baseball playoff victory.
Ticket sales and fan frenzy have taken off like, well, a rocket.
"This is undoubtedly the largest day of season ticket sales I've ever experienced," Astros vice president of ticket sales and services John Sorrentino said Tuesday.
Sales of the Rocket's No. 22 uniform were on sale on the team's Web site hours after Clemens agreed to pitch "at least" one more season after declaring himself 99 percent retired following last season's World Series performance with the New York Yankees.
Not only are the fans excited, Clemens' new teammates are elated.
"How can you not be excited?" Jeff Bagwell said. "You go to the grocery store and everyone's asking about Roger. This is something I thought really might happen. It's the culmination of what you've striven for.
"As a player, things change throughout your career but for everything that's happened the past eight or nine years this would be everything I've worked for."
The Astros have teased their fans over the years with six visits to the playoffs, all ending in defeat. The Astros, with a 6-18 playoff record, have been particularly inept in their last four postseason appearances.
That could change with the famous additions of Clemens and Andy Pettitte, a former New York Yankees teammate, who signed a three-year $31.5 million contract with the Astros last month.
"It would be amazing (reaching World Series)," Pettitte said. "That's our goal. I want to be a part of the first team to win a playoff series and then you go from there. It's the same story. You keep everybody healthy and we should have a strong chance."
Bagwell and Craig Biggio, the team's marquee players in those years, have performed miserably in the playoffs. Bagwell, a career .300 hitter, has hit .174 in the playoffs. Biggio has been a steady .287 hitter with the Astros but he's only hit .130 in the playoffs.
Sorrentino was adding up more encouraging numbers since Monday's announcement of Clemens' return. He didn't have specific figures on tickets sold since Clemens became an Astro.
"I'm ecstatic, we've been looking for a day like this around here for a long time," Sorrentino said. "Days like this are what people in marketing dream about."
Sorrentino saw a big boost in the Astros' sales when owner Drayton McLane signed Pettitte.
"I think that was a boost of confidence in Drayton," Sorrentino said. "They saw the commitment. Things died down but now we've gone through a renewal. It's hard to describe the excitement."
Sorrentino has been with the Astros 18 years and recalls the opening of Minute Maid Park (then Enron Field) as the only other event that had fans clamoring for tickets.
"Our call volume was tremendous then but the difference is that now everyone calling is for season tickets," Sorrentino said. "We haven't started individual game ticket sales yet."
It's the second time McLane has tried to boost the Astros by bringing home a pair of Houstonians to pitch. McLane committed four-year contracts to Doug Drabek ($19.3 million) and Greg Swindell ($16.4 million) in 1993 with disappointing results.
The signing of Clemens, however, ranked high on general manager Gerry Hunsicker's list of historic Astros moments joining the city's receiving an NL franchise in 1962, the opening of the Astrodome and the signing of Nolan Ryan.
"Other than that, there has been no other event that has had the impact or magnitude to this franchise than the signing of Roger Clemens," Hunsicker said.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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