Oswalt clears way for hometown eatery

Oswalt clears way for hometown eatery

HOUSTON -- It's purely a coincidence that Roy Oswalt's hometown is pronounced "where," but in its own charming way, it's entirely apropos. When talking about the tiny town where Oswalt grew up, it's not unusual for someone to say to him, "Where?"

Exactly. Weir, Miss. Population 525 or so, and not remotely easy to find if you happen to take a casual drive through the middle of the state. It's also the hometown of one of the best pitchers in baseball, one who still makes his year-round home there, and where he will likely spend his retirement years when he decides to hang up the spikes.

Oswalt's ties to his hometown run deep, and recently, he decided to place his own special mark on Weir and its outlying areas. He is building a restaurant just outside of the Weir city limits, a cafe-type steakhouse that he hopes will give the community a convenient place to spend an evening out on the town.

This is no easy task. While most of us are used to a Starbucks on every street corner and a slew of dining options ranging from Asian food to Mexican to good old American burgers and fries, in Weir, the restaurant experience is less available. Taking the family to dinner often involves a lengthy car ride that runs an hour each way.

"You have to drive 30 miles to go to a restaurant," Oswalt said. "I thought it would be good for the community more than anything."

The desire to help out his neighbors has resulted in a roadhouse-style cafe called -- tentatively -- "Home Plate Fish and Steakhouse."

It'll be a weekend deal.

"Where I live, people don't really eat out during the week," Oswalt said. "So it'll just be open Friday and Saturday night."

The Astros -- more specifically, club owner Drayton McLane -- inadvertently played a role in the creation of this project. Oswalt bought 76 acres of land on which to build the restaurant, and he cleared it with the very bulldozer that McLane gave him for winning Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in 2005.

For those who missed it the first time around: With Oswalt sitting in an empty clubhouse an hour before his start in St. Louis (about 48 hours after the infamous Albert Pujols-Brad Lidge confrontation), McLane, either disregarding or oblivious to the standard rule that you don't talk to starting pitchers on the day they pitch, approached Oswalt and reminded him, "This is a key game tonight."

Oswalt grunted and kept his eyes fixated on the television. Undeterred, McLane, recalling several conversations he'd had with Oswalt over the year about bulldozers -- yes, bulldozers -- decided to throw a little incentive into Oswalt's game plan.

"Win the game and I'll buy you a Caterpillar D6," McLane said.

Springing to life, Oswalt exclaimed, "You've got yourself a deal!"

The rest is history -- Oswalt dominated the Cardinals, the Astros won the pennant and Oswalt received his shiny, yellow, $230,000 toy.

Oswalt estimated he's put about 700 hours on that 'dozer. His favorite project was a lake house he built near his house, but the Home Plate Fish and Steakhouse is a close second. Oswalt cleared the land with the Caterpillar D6, and by October, the eatery should be up and running. He hired an outside company to build the frame of the building, and his cousin, a trained carpenter, will do most of the inside.

Oswalt is leaving most of the planning to the professionals, but he has plenty of ideas as to how to put his personal touch on the project. He'll name various dishes after some of his favorite baseball friends, in accordance with their favorite foods.

"I'm going to name a lot of things on the menu after people I've played with," he said. "I might have a double cheeseburger named after Baggy [Jeff Bagwell] or something. I'm going to ask guys what they like to eat and kind of go from there."

Oswalt has clearly done well for himself through his pitching profession, so he's not looking for the restaurant to be a moneymaker as much as he wants it to be something that the community can call its own. If he breaks even, he'll be happy.

"I'll just say this -- this is not going to make a lot of money," he said. "I hope it's going to be a plus, not a minus. As long as it makes a plus ... we've had a few cafes around there, and people try to make a living doing just that. You're not going to make enough money to live off a cafe around there. I'm just trying to make enough money to make the cafe run. If it creates some jobs along the way, that's even better."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.