Spring fever grips McLane at Astros camp
Unsure of when sale will progress, owner living in the moment
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Drayton McLane has been as visible as any owner in baseball since he purchased the Astros prior to the 1993 season. He's a fixture at most home games, is accessible to the media and loves to wander the fields at Spring Training and tell anyone within earshot this is going to be the Astros' year.
Not much has changed since McLane announced in November he was putting the team up for sale. He says he approached the offseason and the upcoming schedule as if no changes were on the horizon, despite the "for sale" sign. McLane isn't even willing to admit this is going to be his final Spring Training as the owner of the Astros.
"I've continued to manage the team as if we're going to own it the next 20 years," McLane said. "That's how I do it. If a sale comes about, it comes about, and we have been good stewards and we've handed it off very successful. We want to hand it off where it has not only good players at the Major League level, but good players in the Minor Leagues coming through."
McLane spoke with the media on a warm Wednesday morning while the pop of balls hitting mitts filled the background. The first day of pitchers and catchers working out was a perfect time to talk about the past and the future. And, of course, McLane displayed his usual excitement and enthusiasm.
"I always get excited," McLane said. "Once the Super Bowl is over, you focus really quickly on baseball and Spring Training, and pitchers and catchers. That's a great sound in the back to hear, the ball hitting the glove."
On Wednesday, McLane sat in on a team meeting with manager Brad Mills and general manager Ed Wade before the players hit the field, but he won't address the club himself until the full squad is in uniform on Sunday. As far as the sale of the team is concerned, McLane said that nothing is imminent.
McLane reminded reporters that it took about six to eight months for him to complete his purchase from John McMullen in 1992, and he said this transaction figures to be much more complicated because of the money involved.
McLane bought the Astros for $117 million, and last year, the club was valued at $452 million, though its actual sale price is expected to be higher. McLane has hired Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company, a New York-based investment bank, to work with prospective buyers on the sale of the team.
"It's a big process, and we're evaluating a number of different individuals and groups," McLane said. "Nothing is ready to come about. Something could come about in four to six months or a year or two."
McLane did say, however, that it's likely the club will be sold to an ownership group, not an individual.
"Very few teams in Major League Baseball or the NFL, one individual owns it," McLane said. "It's most likely [going to be purchased by] a group of people, but anything can happen."
The Astros trimmed payroll this year and didn't make any big splashes in free agency, but McLane did spend about $15 million to upgrade Minute Maid Park during the offseason, including a new scoreboard and press box, and the club recently signed pitcher Wandy Rodriguez to a three-year, $34 million contract extension.
"I'm worried about where we are today and we're moving forward," McLane said. "My responsibility is to help Ed and Brad and all of the coaches prepare for this season."
It's clear that McLane has grown to love the game in the past 19 years, more so than perhaps even he thought was possible. McMullen warned McLane that owning a Major League team would be life-changing and all-consuming, a fact McLane didn't want to believe at first.
"I said it would never happen to me, and it did," McLane said. "You plan everything -- family obligations, business trips, other things you do -- to be here. I came in here last night to be here today, and I had to rearrange a number of other business responsibilities to be back in six days. You rearrange your life because of baseball."
And for now, the Astros remain the focus of McLane's life.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.