03/27/08 1:24 PM ET
Astros itching to begin regular season
After patchy spring, team is anxious to return home and play
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
"We're giddy," Mark Loretta said. "G-I-D-D-Y. Giddy."
Most of the team, along with the broadcasters and a handful of front office members, boarded the buses at 9 a.m. to head for Dunedin for the final Grapefruit League game of the spring season, where the Astros and Blue Jays were scheduled to play at 1 p.m. ET. A handful of players were scheduled to stay behind at Osceola County Stadium and work out, taking a later bus to Tampa, where the team would catch a charter flight to Houston.
After six weeks of Spring Training -- five for the position players -- this day couldn't have arrived soon enough. The Astros have two more exhibition games to play before the real fun begins, and even though the players are tired of playing those proverbial "meaningless" games, they're happy to at least be playing in their home ballpark.
"It's fun to be home, you get to unpack your locker, you get settled in," Loretta said.
The Astros will host the Tigers this weekend at Minute Maid Park, first on Friday at 7:05 p.m. CT and again Saturday at 1:05 p.m. CT. Rest assured, the team can't wait to get home.
"It's always nice to get back home to Minute Maid Park," Hunter Pence said. "It's where it all happens for us. It's a different feel when you're playing in a stadium like Minute Maid. Even though it's an exhibition, it's going to feel different."
As Astros manager Cecil Cooper scurried around his office gathering papers and packing up last-minute items, he echoed his players' sentiments regarding going home.
"I'm excited about some of the things that have happened this spring," Cooper said. "I'm looking forward to playing at Minute Maid for a couple games, then getting on the road and doing our thing. I think it's going to be a great season, an exciting season."
The Astros have not had a great spring. Record-wise, they were sub-.500, and few pitchers posted ERAs below 5. The defense had several rough patches as well, leaving the offense as the lone bright spot.
Still, optimism rings loudly for every team this time of year, and the Astros are no exception.
"I think we accomplished a lot," Pence said. "I think we've still got some things to work on. Hopefully, we'll get it right and ready to go by the start of the season."
"We've got all the blisters out of the way, we've gone through hot streaks and slumps, and everything in between," Loretta said. "We're ready."
Geoff Blum, who played for the Astros in 2002 and 2003, is looking forward to returning to Houston. He identified the "people and restaurants" as his favorite things about the city, as well as the reasonable field dimensions at Minute Maid Park.
After playing mostly for the Padres in the last few years, this hitter said he won't miss the far fences at PETCO Park in San Diego.
"Minute Maid is a normal size [park]," Blum said. "It's incredible in comparison to PETCO where it's just out of the question. It's too big."
The Astros' stay in Houston will be a short one. On Sunday, they'll head to San Diego for a four-game set with the Padres, and then it's off to Chicago for three games with the Cubs.
Still, players are excited for the regular season, even if it means being out of town for an extra week.
"I'm looking forward to getting the season started," Opening Day starter Roy Oswalt said. "I'm tired of the games not counting in the standings."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.