From 2012 to 2014, Cory Hepola was the host for Houston Astros Pre & PostGame LIVE, as well as their Emmy Award-winning magazine show called Astros Bases Loaded. The talented anchor from Perham, Minnesota, earned two Emmy nominations for Comcast Sports in Houston where he also anchored daily sportscasts. He got to know some of the Astros biggest stars as they were just entering the big leagues. Today, he shares some of his thoughts and stories from his time covering the team.
In 2015, Cory Hepola returned to his home state of Minnesota to be an anchor on the KARE-11’s Sunrise show. He won an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award as Best Talent-Anchor. This year, he made the move to weekend anchor where he teams as co-host with his wife Camille Williams. The couple has three kids, all under the age of three.
During his years in Houston, Hepola had a front-row seat to some pretty bad baseball teams, and yet they were a team that had new leadership and a clear plan toward winning baseball.Perham (MN) native Cory Hepola has worked in several markets around the country. One of his first jobs was as a sports anchor at WROC-TV in Rochester, New York. It was back in the days when Trevor Plouffe and Danny Valencia played for the Red Wings.
Recently, Cory was kind enough to spend some time answering our questions about the development of the Astros, who he covered from 2012-2014.
Twins Daily (TD): In your three years working in sports in Houston, what was the general feeling in and around the team, the organization and the fans?
Cory Hepola (CH): I was around the Astros from 2012-2014, so essentially, the worst years in franchise history. People weren't talking about them; they were completely off the radar. But, at CSN Houston, we all felt very strongly that Jeff Luhnow had a unique, forward-thinking vision. He's brilliant and we knew they'd be much better starting in 2015. He's done an excellent job of adding free agents around their core nucleus of young talent.
TD: But things were kind of coming into place as some young players were getting their first opportunities. For instance, Jose Altuve was a rookie and getting playing time. What were your thoughts on him at the time, and are you surprised by what he's become?
CH: Jose Altuve is one of the best stories in baseball. Tried out at an open camp in Venezuela and was cut because he was too short. Came back the next year and was signed, for cheap. I think that experience has given him perspective; he knows what it's like to be cut or to be told you're not good enough, and it drives him. In 2014 - I watched him every day in awe. He hit over .340 and stole 56 bags. Honestly, I remember Mike Stanton (my CSN analyst) saying he could get even better and I secretly rolled my eyes. No way. But, since then he's added power, raising his OPS by over 100 points. He hits everything hard and is terrific at 2B.
TD: Also, Dallas Keuchel has won a Cy Young since then, but what were your thoughts on him when he first came up?
CH: I interviewed Dallas Keuchel at spring training in 2014. He was coming off a couple of years where he really struggled as a starter and in the bullpen. At that point, Keuchel was just hoping to make the team. He told me he wanted that fifth starter spot, but would be fine as a long reliever. But, Brent Strom came in as the Astros new pitching coach that year and he REALLY helped Keuchel develop and control his slider, which turned him into a superstar. It just shows you don't have to throw 100 MPH, just control it.
TD: I believe you noted that George Springer had just been called up too. He was the Astros player on the now-popular Sports Illustrated cover that said the Astros would be the 2017 World Series champion. What were your thoughts on Springer, who has now become an All Star too?
CH: We couldn't wait for Springer to get called up in 2014. We knew he would be an instant impact player with his speed in center field & his power, but there were concerns about his strikeouts. He brought an instant energy to the clubhouse and is one of the leaders there.
TD: In 2012, the Astros had the number one overall pick. At the time, they surprised teams by taking shortstop Carlos Correa out of Puerto Rico. You had the opportunity to interview him after the draft. What were your thoughts on him at the time and now that he's become a star?
CH: In 2013, we would look up Correa and Buxton's stats - and compare them - every night while watching the Astros game! I met Correa at spring training in 2014 and knew he was going to be a superstar. He was 19 and already had that "IT" factor. Wasn't intimidated, wasn't cocky, but was mature and confident in who he was and where he as going. He told me: in the offseason, he went back to Puerto Rico to work with his Dad on his house. He didn't spend much of his signing bonus because - as he told me - he hadn't proven anything yet. He was the first one at the facility every day and the last one to leave. He reminded me of a young Alex Rodriguez, to be honest, because of his size and maturity at such a young age.
TD: Any other memories or personnel from your time in Houston, covering the Astros?
CH: It's so fun to see the Astros in the World Series because of where they were at a few years ago, although I do miss our great team at CSN Houston. I wish we could've been a part of this, watching these guys earn this incredible ride. Also, Art Howe - who was one of our analysts - is an absolute saint. Don't believe the "Moneyball" narrative. I learned so much from watching baseball with Art and he is one of the most genuine, caring people I know.
TD: Do you see any comparison between those 2012-2014 Astros teams you covered and the Twins rosters since you've moved back to Minnesota?
CH: Yes, I do see some similarities with how the Astros constructed their plan and the Twins. I expect to see the Twins now start to add a few helpful free agents here and there as this new front office has been able to evaluate the players in their system, who they like, who they want to keep and where. I met Derek Falvey in May and was blown away - not only by his baseball knowledge - but his leadership skills. Not many 34-year-olds understand what drives people to succeed, but I believe he does.
TD: Astros-Dodgers... what's your prediction for the World Series?
CH: Man, it's hard not to like the Dodgers, but I'll go with the Astros because I'd love to see the city of Houston win it all!
A big Thank you to Cory Hepola for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer some of our questions about the Houston Astros as they play Game 1 of World Series tonight.
Be sure to follow Cory on Twitter at @CoryHepola, and tune in to KARE-11 news at 5, 6 and 10 on Saturdays and Sundays.
As an aside, I’ve known Cory and his family for probably 30 years. I happened to coach him in Little League and Babe Ruth as he was growing up in Perham. I like to tell him that he was ahead of the curve on analytics, understanding the value of getting on base. He knew the strike zone like few others at those ages. He also played a really good first base, able to scoop up almost anything. Basketball was his big sport in high school, but it’s fun for me to see him succeeding in a career that he’s been dreaming about for so long.
I’ll close this article with Cory's story of meeting his kindergarten teacher that pulled at a lot of heart strings across the country.
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