HOUSTON — They finished second or third too many times to count, ceding coveted jobs to other candidates after countless interviews. Some around the sport wondered whether promotions would ever arrive for two people who paid dues and seemed prepared for something bigger.
At 11:02 a.m. on Monday morning, both of them ascended a stage, sat at a dais and detailed the start of their long-awaited advancement. The Astros’ new braintrust is a portrait of perseverance, two men bound by bided time and sustained belief that a chance would soon come.
“This is probably one of my biggest hires of my career,” second-year general manager Dana Brown said, turning to the first-time manager with whom he will be forever linked.
“Sometimes we think that we can choose our destination. But I think God has a destination chosen for us. I think God wanted me to stay here,” said that man, new Astros manager Joe Espada. “I’m happy that I’m here.”
Eight years separate them in age, and they never met before last January, but Espada and Brown’s shared experiences make it easy to understand their immediate connection. Neither made it out of the minor leagues as a player, but they later became invaluable parts of big league teams. Both had lengthy stints as lieutenants, yet they longed for a chance to lead.
Brown interviewed for the New York Mets general manager job in 2010 and, five years later, went through the same process with the Seattle Mariners. Espada interviewed with at least six other teams for managerial openings during his six-year tenure as Houston’s bench coach.
“We just kind of had to believe that we were going to be put in the right situation and everything happened for a reason,” Espada’s wife, Pamela, said. “Multiple times it was him and someone else.”
On Monday, Brown said the Astros “looked at” other candidates, but did not disclose their names or whether any received formal interviews. Throughout the three-week search, Brown only spoke of Espada with any sort of specifics. Why the process took three weeks is a mystery, but the end result felt almost preordained.
“Joe was the leading candidate,” Brown said on Monday. “Joe has special character. He’s a family man, he’s got great leadership skills. He’s a pretty good communicator.”
“We’re looking to really build this thing and continue the success. I had a lot of information that I talked to people in the front office about. These guys have known Joe even longer than I have known him, so I think just being around him for almost a year, he’s a pretty special human. It made it easy for us to decide for Joe.”
No candidate for this job made more logical sense than Espada and none had a better understanding of the Astros’ infrastructure, clubhouse dynamics or long-established culture. A crossroads looms as Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are scheduled to hit free agency after this season and Framber Valdez, Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander to follow after 2025. Maximizing this season and next felt mandatory. Maintaining continuity may be the simplest way.
“Communication with these players is very important and empowering them to have a say in the process,” Espada said. “I’ve seen this team win a lot of games and I know what it takes to win. I know how to push these players, when to push them. I think it matters. I think these players trust me, but trust is earned. It’s a two-way street. I think I’ve done a good job making sure these players know what it takes and I think that helped me to be a good fit for this job.”
Cognizant that Dusty Baker entered the season at least contemplating retirement, Brown started a subtle analysis of Espada’s mettle during the regular season. He’d pepper the bench coach with various questions or situations to gauge how he’d respond. Brown joked on Monday that “I was interviewing him before he knew I was interviewing him.”
“The most important quality of a leader is humility and I think he embodies that,” Brown said. “He’s a humble person. He has a willingness to communicate. He has this teachable spirit. He has a voice, he’s firm. I just liked a lot of things about Joe. Just being around him for this full year, I got excited about him.”
Brown thanked owner Jim Crane for “allowing me to lead the charge” in picking a new manager, signaling a departure from Crane’s heavy-handed influence in baseball operations decisions over the past 13 months.
Crane did not even attend Monday’s news conference, allowing Brown to introduce his handpicked manager without interference while perhaps signaling the sort of autonomy not seen since before James Click’s departure.
“I just can’t wait to work with Dana and put the best players on the field and collaborate with them, with our whole entire front office, just to make sure we put ourselves in a good position to win baseball games,” Espada said.
Alignment between the field and front office seemed to elude the Astros across the past few seasons. Monday offered hope it will return. Baker’s disagreements with Brown and Click over lineup decisions, playing time and roster construction often spilled into public view.
Presuming Brown and Espada will agree on everything is foolish. Dissent is common — and can be healthy — between many front offices and field managers. One celebratory news conference does not mean months of harmony are ahead, but Brown and Espada projected the type of cohesion required to continue the team’s championship pursuit.
Hurdles still remain for Espada. He inherits a loaded roster full of familiar names, but is still a first-time manager who must establish a style and tenor of how he plans to run the club. Hiring a bench coach is his first task, one Espada said he and Brown will discuss during the coming days. Espada was otherwise noncommittal on the remainder of Houston’s coaching staff, though he lauded them for creating the “incredible, cohesive culture” the Astros cherish.
Extending the team’s golden era is Espada’s foremost objective, one he’s hoped forever to fulfill. Before most school days, Espada tells his two daughters, 12-year-old Eliana and 8-year-old Viviana, to do their best and follow their dreams. On Monday, both girls watched their dad actualize his.
A year after reaching his life goal, Brown afforded someone else a chance to live his. The two men shared a high-five and hug before answering questions from reporters. The World Series ring on Espada’s right hand banged against Brown’s bare palm.
“I like that ring,” Brown quipped.
“Let’s win another one,” Espada replied.
(Top photo of Espada and Brown: AP Photo / David J. Phillip)