July 2009

Want to throw out the first pitch at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday?

The Astros are raffling off the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday’s game with the Giants, and to enter the contest, all you need is your cell phone and about 30 seconds out of your day.

Text the word “pitch” to 65295 for a chance to win. One fan will be selected from all of the entires between now and Monday night and the winner will be notified Tuesday morning.

The winner will also receive four free field level seats for Wednesday’s game, which starts at 1:05 p.m. CT.

(If you get an “access denied” message when you send your text, try again…the system might simply be overloaded. The contest runs through Monday night, so there is still plenty of time to enter.)

Farewell to Russ Ortiz.

While Russ Ortiz quietly and eloquently addressed reporters about being released by the Astros, I turned to Doug Brocail and said, “I absolutely hate this part.”

Days like Thursday, simply put, stink. We know baseball is a business. We hear it ad nauseum from owners, GMs, managers and players. We get it. But baseball also happens to be a business where the product is people, and that makes times like this tough if you know the person affected.

The process by which a team releases one player and calls up another happens swiftly and efficiently, especially on a “getaway day,” which is code for the last game a team will play in one city before flying to the next.

Once the Astros made the final out Thursday at Wrigley Field, they filed into the clubhouse, and a few key figures immediately convened in Cecil Cooper’s office, with the door closed.

Following a brief phone call involving GM Ed Wade, who was not with the team in Chicago, Cooper summoned Ortiz into his office, and judging from Ortiz’s expression, he didn’t seem terribly surprised that the manager wanted to talk to him.

A somewhat lengthy closed-door conversation took place, with Ortiz receiving the news that he was released. Soon, the door opened, and Ortiz, expressionless, exited the office. “Thanks for everything, Russ,” Cooper said, likely his final formal words to the veteran pitcher.

The clubhouse was quiet — expected, given the loss to the Cubs and the realization that a teammate was just given his walking papers. Slowly, players filtered over to Ortiz’s locker, offering hugs and handshakes and well-wishes for their now former teammate.

Here’s the tough part — talking to the media. Ortiz spoke in hushed tones, but he handled himself with grace and professionalism. He was matter-of-fact when asked for his reaction: “I told them I understood. This is an important time of year…they didn’t obviously feel like they can keep sending me out. I don’t want to pitch like this and not have them confident in me. Even though I never wanted this to happen, it’s part of the game.

“I just wasn’t able to get it done, especially the last 2 times out. I came out for the game (Thursday) feeling I was ready.”

Cooper was direct and entirely correct when he said, “We can’t keep going like this. It’s killing our bullpen. Particularly today was really tough on us.”

Between Ortiz and Mike Hampton, starting pitchers absorbed exactly 6 1/3 innings over the last two games in Chicago, which left the bullpen to account for the other 9 2/3 frames. This couldn’t continue, especially considering Wesley Wright is recovering from a severe case of dehydration, Brocail is just now returning from the DL and Chris Sampson, less than a week off the DL, is again being overworked.

So yes, they can’t keep going like this. And I am sure Hampton realizes he’s on notice as well.

Bud Norris moves into the rotation, but what happens in St. Louis this weekend will depend on a few circumstances. The club first needs to determine if Roy Oswalt will be healthy enough to start Sunday (I have my doubts). Here’s what Wade told reporters via conference call following Thursday’s game:

“At this point, a couple of alternatives that we have. One, if Roy is ready to go Sunday in his start, then that would allow us to slide Norris into Russ’s slot in the rotation. If we have to think of the possibility of giving Roy a couple extra days, we can put him in the Ortiz spot in the rotation and give Norris the start on Sunday.

“If we have to skip Roy, then we’re going to have to reconvene and try to figure out how we cover both his start and Russ’s spot.

“So, there are sort of the moving parts, and they’ll be dictated by how Roy feels once he gets to St. Louis (Friday) and he and (head athletic trainer) Nate (Lucero) have a chance to talk. We’re going to talk on the flight over about the possibility of maybe shifting Roy a couple of days to cover both spots.”

Read McTaggart’s story here.

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Moving on…

The Astros obviously didn’t fare so well in Chicago, but they did score some runs here and there, which may turn out to be good news for your wallet. The Astros recently rolled out a “We Score, You Score” promotion, which gives you one dollar off field box tickets for each run the Astros scored during their four-game series with the Cubs. The offer extends to the first three games of the homestand next week.

The Astros scored 15 runs, so a $39 Field Box ticket is now $24. Check it out here.

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Astros through the years (and the lens of my camera).

During Spring Training, I posted a three-part pictorial series on my blog, where I shared some of my favorite snapshots of the last 12-plus years. Thanks to Facebook, I have a handy place to store those photos, and now fans can peruse at their leisure. They’re posted in the “photos” section near the top of the Astros Facebook page. Check it out and feel free to comment, I hope you get as much enjoyment from them as I have.

You’ll also find every other picture I’ve posted on my blog over the last several months in the photo section. Enjoy!

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Norris, Brocail have arrived to Chicago. Wright was dehydrated.

Bud Norris landed in Chicago early Wednesday morning and arrived to the visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field several hours before gametime, as did right-hander Doug Brocail, who was actived from the disabled list a day earlier.

Brocail takes LaTroy Hawkins spot on the roster, and to make room for Norris, the Astros optioned infielder Edwin Maysonet to Triple-A Round Rock.

According to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, Norris is a candidate to start on Sunday in St. Louis, in place of Roy Oswalt, who is en route to Houston to have his lower back checked out by team doctors.

For now, Norris is available out of the bullpen.  

Meanwhile, reliever Wesley Wright was diagnosed with dehydration, not appendicitis, and was released from the hospital last night. He is not expected to be at the game Wednesday and will instead rest at the team hotel. Wright would not be available for the game anyway, seeing he threw more than 50 pitches Tuesday night.

The view from the press box at Wrigley Field, and other leftover odds and ends.

 

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If you took a survey of 100 Major League players and asked them to name their favorite road city, it’s highly likely no fewer than 95 would answer, “Chicago.”

The people. The restaurants. The nightlife. And the ballpark.

Yes, the ballpark. For the most part, ballplayers love Wrigley Field. They love the tradition, the heckling fans, the packed houses every night, the rickety old infrastructure and the elaborate singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” that has continued as a tradition since Harry Caray’s passing 11 years ago.

The clubhouse is cramped, the tunnels smell funny and the dugouts are tiny, but for some reason, none of that matters. Because it’s Chicago, it’s Wrigley Field, and it’s fun. And the showdowns between the Astros and Cubs over the years have been, for the most part, fantastic.

Above is a shot of my view of Wrigley Field from way up in the press box. Day games at Wrigley are preferred, but there’s nothing like the view on a clear, rain-free night.

Cleaning out the photo file…

It was Family Day at Minute Maid Park on Sunday, the one day players are invited to bring their kids on the field for a free-for-all run around the bases (and the outfield and the dugouts and the mound…must be a fun day for the grounds crew).

I’ve been to a dozen family days but for some reason this one seemed more well-attended than those in the past. Check out this photo…and that’s only part of the group.

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Darin Erstad and family…

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Sean Berry and family…

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On Saturday, I attended the annual Texas Italian American Sports Foundation Scholarship Awards luncheon, a yearly ritual that involves Astros players, great food and a terrific cause.

The event is held at Damian’s Cucina Italiana every year and provides scholarships for student-athletes headed for college in the fall.

Representing the Astros were Jeff Fulchino, Mike Hampton, Jose Cruz, Hunter Pence and emcee Milo Hamilton. And the bread pudding was to die for.

Milo, with a young fan…

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Pence, Fulchino.

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Jose Cruuuuuuuuuuuz

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Hampton.

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You, too, can take pictures just like this one.

 

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One of the new promotions the Astros are offering this year is the “Pre-game Field Pass,” which in layman’s terms means gaining access to the area right behind the Astros cage while the team goes through its daily stretching and batting practice.

For $75, you’ll watch one hour of batting practice up close, from a VIP viewing area behind home plate. It’s prime positioning for pictures as the Astros players get ready for the game.

It’s pretty much the same vantage point as I have on a daily basis, which has produced pictures like these:

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Pre-game field passes are offered for every home night game — the team normally does not take BP before day games — and must be purchased online. Check it out here.

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New feature: “homemade” videos!

Eventually, videos from the day-to-day happenings of your Astros will be featured regularly on my Footnotes landing page. Right now, the process is taking a while. Once we figure out exactly how to edit, upload and post the videos (and by we, I mean, well, me), the video section will be a constant flow of activity.

Slowly but surely, however, the All-Star videos are being rolled out. We’ve posted two, and most of the content was generated by Hunter Pence, who took my camera pretty much everywhere he went during his two-day jaunt to St. Louis.

In the first video, titled “Pence Media Day,” Hunter conducts interviews with some of his favorite opponents, including Ted Lilly (“Do you know what it’s like to face you?”), Orlando Hudson (“Now that you’ve moved from Arizona to L.A., do you do any surfing?”) and his own teammate, fellow All-Star Miguel Tejada. You’ll notice Tejada promises he’ll get a RallyHawk if the Astros make it to the postseason this year.

We still laugh about the second video, titled “All-Star Workout.” In addition to some batting practice shots, there’s also footage of Pence’s bizarre encounter with Bobby Knight, and, inadvertently, Tony La Russa. Earlier that day, Knight struck up a conversation with Pence but was cut off when La Russa sort of interrupted and ushered Knight into his office. What you see in this video is both semi-apologizing to Pence, who just shrugged, laughed and said, “This is something I won’t forget — Bobby Knight and Tony La Russa arguing over where to talk to me.”

I’m working on three more All-Star videos that will hopefully be posted soon. In the meantime, enjoy the first two.

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As part of their on-going celebration of 10 seasons at Minute Maid Park, the Astros are posting memories from some of the decade’s most notable figures on their blog. Today, we have former manager Phil Garner’s favorite memory, which involves Roger Clemens and the epic 18-inning game that clinched the Division Series in 2005.

And that leads us to the latest installment of “Who’s in Dennis’s Chair?” Why it’s none other than Scrap Iron, who stopped by the clubhouse a few days ago to say hi to the old gang.

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Condolences to Puma.

Lance Berkman entered the clubhouse on Friday and was met with the usual gaggle of reporters waiting at his locker to talk to him about his recent trip to the disabled list.

Puma did not let on that four hours earlier, he received word that his grandfather, William Leroy Berkman, had passed away at the age of 96.

Puma, whose full name is William Lance Berkman, appeared to be handling the news well and spoke matter-of-factly about his grandfather, who, as his aunt told him, passed away peacefully, of natural causes. “He just got tired,” Puma said.

The funeral will be Monday or Tuesday, so it’s unlikely Berkman will attend any of the Astros games in Chicago. Now that he’s on the DL, he might skip the road trip entirely, although that remains to be determined.

Condolences to Lance and his entire family.

A couple of snipets from Berkman’s Q&A with the media…

On the trip to the DL:
“I wish I wouldn’t have played the last couple of days. That way I’d be a lot closer to getting back.”

“I’m disappointed. I don’t think it’s going to take the whole two weeks (to recover from the calf strain) but there aren’t many options when it comes to the DL. Heck, if it was late August and we were right there (in a division race), I don’t think I would have missed a game.”

“While this is an inopportune time, I guess sometimes you have to do something unpleasant for the overall good.”

Puma added he’ll probably hit off a tee regularly during his time on the shelf, “just to keep from rusting up.”

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Other news and notes from Astros pregame Friday:

Chris Sampson, who has been on the DL since July 10 with shoulder spasms, threw approximately 25 pitches during a simulated inning. He is eligible to come off the DL Sunday and he’s confident he’ll be ready when that time comes.

Aaron Booooone is in town and working out with the Astros after working with a trainer for the last five or six weeks in Arizona. He took batting practice with the team Friday and eventually will begin a Minor League rehab assignment. GM Ed Wade told Boone that a realistic target for a big league return would be September.

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Programming note: Saturday will mark the premiere of “Spotlight: Miguel Tejada” on FS Houston. Narrated by Patti Smith, the show will give an in-depth look into Tejada’s humble upbringing in the Dominican Republic and his rise to stardom in the Major Leagues. The show, which includes interviews with Tejada, his father, his wife, Alejandra, his first manager, Art Howe and Astros GM Ed Wade (among others), will air at 5 p.m. CT and again at 10 p.m. CT.

Sounds like a good one. I’ll be at the game, but I’ll be TiVOing it for sure.

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Apparently, the first wives gala involved dancing.

 

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In 1990, two young wives of two budding superstar Astros players put together a modest fundraiser titled “An Evening of Stars” and hand-picked the organization to where the funds would be donated.

The gala was the first of its kind in the Astros organization, and it’s unlikely Patty Biggio and Nancy Caminiti could have imagined that a night of dinner and dancing for approximately 400 guests would snowball into the most lucrative single fundraising event the Astros host in every calendar year.

At some point in the early to mid-1990s, “An Evening of Stars” turned into “Black Ties and Baseball Caps.” Although the title changed, the recipient of the proceeds has remained the same. The Houston Area Women’s Center — a safe haven for women and children affected by domestic and sexual violence — started as a modest eight-bed facility in 1977 and has grown to a 125-bed shelter, the largest in the country for woman and child survivors of domestic and sexual assault. The Astros Wives have played a part in that; two decades worth of galas have raised over $3 million for the HAWC.

This year’s soiree will be held on Aug. 6 on the field at Minute Maid Park and will be co-chaired by Pamela Michaels and Michelle Quintero. Tickets to the gala begin at $400, and as an added benefit, All-Star, Diamond, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger tables have the opportunity to select a player and his wife or guest to be seated at their table. Player requests are granted first by level of sponsorship and in the order received.

For more information or to purchase tickets call 713-781-0053.

As I was looking through pictures from past events in preparation to blog about this year’s milestone gala — the big 2-0 — I couldn’t help but notice the ones in the early years involved not only dinner and schmoozing with baseball players, but also dancing, and, during the Casey Candaele years, break dancing. These days, the gala is a bit more subdued, but still a lot of fun. And the silent and live auction items have undoubtedly improved.

Judging from the picture at the top of this blog, it’s clear Craig and Patty Biggio felt comfortable on the dance floor. They’re not the only ones…

This is the most normal pose I found of Candaele, circa 1990.

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Those who know Casey, however, would probably say this one is the more normal of the two.

 

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Many people danced that night, but from what I can tell from the pictures, Casey was the only one who took it to the floor, literally.

Hey, look, it’s Jim Deshaies…with hair!

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Fast foward 10 years…the team in 2000 wasn’t very good, but there were a lot of fan favorites on the club. Left to right: Jose Lima Time, Scott Elarton, Jeff Bagwell, Billy Wagner, Jay Powell and Lance Berkman (pre-Puma.)

 

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2003: Bagwell, Milo Hamilton, Berkman.

 

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While perusing the 1990 scrap book I found this letter written by Ellen Cohen, who had just taken over as President and CEO of the HAWC. I was struck by Cohen’s description of exactly how the funds from the gala were spent, and how much Cohen was hoping the wives would again pick the HAWC as their charity of choice (obviously, they did).

(Point of interest: Cohen left the HAWC in 2006 when she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives from Houston District 134.)

 

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Friendly reminder that the Kids Free All Summer will continue through Aug. 23. A friend of mine tried it out couple of weeks ago — he and his wife each bought a $20 ticket and their four kids got in for free. That six people for 40 bucks. Check it out…

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Rock beats scissors, and Ausmus beats Kent. Seriously?

The final results of the season-long Top Moment Bracket Challenge were revealed Monday, and it’s not at all surprising that Craig Biggio’s 3,000th career hit was named the very best moment in Minute Maid Park history. But I have to take issue with how the rest of the top 10 shook out, especially Jeff Kent’s game-winning home run that won Game 5 of the 2004 NLCS. Seventh? Seventh? That’s it?

I have no problem with Chris Burke’s 18th inning home run in ’05 ranking second, but I can’t understand how Biggio’s final game in ’07 ranked higher than Kent’s homer. And I am completely flabbergasted that Brad Ausmus’ home run during his final game as an Astro last year even made the cut. Mike Hampton throws him a cookie in a game between two non-playoff teams and that’s one of the top moments in the history of this ballpark? Really?

Here’s the top 10…agree? Disagree? (My top three, in order: Biggio’s 3,000th hit; Burke’s HR, Kent’s HR. And one more that’s not listed — the 4-6-3 DP turned by Eric Bruntlett and Adam Everett to end Game 4 of the NLCS in ’05.).

1. Craig Biggio’s 3000th career hit.
2. Chris Burke’s 18th-inning HR in the NLDS.
3. Craig Biggio’s final game.
4. Jeff Bagwell’s game-winning single in memory of Darryl Kile.
5. Brad Ausmus’ final game home run.
6. Brad Ausmus’ HR in the NLDS.
7. Jeff Kent’s HR in the NLCS.
8. Lance Berkman’s Grand Slam in the NLDS.
9. 2004 All-Star Home Run Derby.
10. Craig Biggio’s Jersey Retirement.

Brian McTaggart talked to Biggio about his moment being picked No. 1: “Playing 20 years with one organization in a great city, I have had a lot of good things happen to me, but the 3,000th hit was the best night of my professional life,” Biggio said. “To have the fans vote it as the top moment, I am honored. It was a night that I will never forget, because I got to enjoy it with my family and the fans and teammates. And to be able to enjoy the moment with Jeff like it happened on the field was truly special. I liked that the fans acknowledged this moment.”

The Astros will celebrate that top moment before the Aug. 3 game with the Giants. The first 10,000 fans will receive a DVD with the televised broadcast of the Biggio 3000th hit game from June 28, 2007, compliments of the Astros and FS Houston. The night will also include a pregame celebration that will include a special presentation to Biggio.

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It’s Twitter-ific!
I remember just about a year ago sitting in the press box chatting with Astros broadcaster Dave Raymond, who was attempting to explain this new craze called “Twitter.” He must have spent 15 minutes trying to make me understand what it was and why all the kids these days are using it. I checked out the site and, quite frankly, I lost interest pretty quickly.

What a difference 12 months makes. Now I can’t stop Twittering, and I’m not the only one. McTaggart is Twittering. Richard Justice is Twittering. Greg Lucas is Twittering.

You should see us in the clubhouse before batting practice, furiously typing on our iPhones as soon as information oozes from Cecil Cooper/Puma/Ed Wade. Often, it’s the same information, only different. Like today:

4 p.m. CT:
@brianmctaggart: Pudge has changed his jersey number to 77. He wore No. 7 for most career but it is retired here. He had worn 12 before deciding he misses 7.

4:10 p.m. CT:
@alysonfooter: Pudge changes number from 12 to 77. He wore 7 his whole career but obviously can’t have that. So 77 it is.

30 minutes later:
@richardjustice: I’ve learned exclusively that Pudge has changed his jersey to 77.

Pictures from Monday’s action:

Pudge dons his new No. 77. “I have to go back to my seven again,” he said. “I can’t use one seven, so I’ll use two. You’ll see one from the camera on the third base line and you’ll see the other on the first base side.”

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Puma tests his hammy during batting practice and has a quick meeting with Cooper, Wade and head athletic trainer Nate Lucero. The group decides Puma will play that night, but later, it’s revealed he’ll have an MRI.

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The Astros celebrated the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Lunar landing…seven members from the NASA team that were a critical part of the success of the Apollo program simultaneously threw out the first pitch prior to the game. Astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger sang the national anthem. Read about it here.

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Astros pass first test of second half. Next up, Cardinals.

The Astros should have won the game Sunday and exited Los Angeles with three wins over the Dodgers, but despite the disappointment following their 4-3 loss in the finale, they were able to draw some positives.

True, they had to “settle” for a split, but considering that split came against agruably the best team in the National League, the trip cannot be deemed a failure.

I’ll be honest, after the Astros did what they were supposed to do against the Pirates and Nationals just before the All-Star break, I thought the good times might be coming to an end, or if not an end, a slow crawl. But the Astros passed their first test, one that begins a challenging stretch against some of the league’s best — the Dodgers, Cardinals and Cubs, to name a few.

“Everyone in here knows we should have won this game,” Russ Ortiz said following Sunday’s loss. “But we’re a mature enough clubhouse to not let this affect us. We hit well this series and we pitched well against the best lineup in the league.”

Speaking of Ortiz, I think we witnessed a bit of a breakthrough — maybe a better word is truce — between the veteran right-hander and manager Cecil Cooper. When Coop went to talk to Ortiz after Ortiz gave up a base hit to Andre Ethier with two outs in the sixth, Coop seemed to be wavering between pulling the plug and letting Ortiz finish what he started.

With his arm around Ortiz’s waist, Coop said, “Hey, this is your guy to get. So go get him.’

“And,” Coop said later in his office, after Ortiz coaxed a 4-3 groundout from James Loney, “He went and got him.”

The vote of confidence meant a lot to Ortiz, who as you probably remember lashed out at the manager, through the media, for yanking him prematurely during his last start before the All-Star break.

Sunday’s communication between pitcher and manager is a positive sign that the ugliness from the last altercation has been dropped.

“(Cooper) said, ‘This is your guy,’” Ortiz said. “I knew if I made my pitches, I could get him out. (Cooper) had (asked me how I was feeling) a couple of times already. To be able to finish off the inning was big, not only confidence-wise for me but confidence-wise for (Cooper). It was a good thing for him to come out and tell me this is my guy, and then to be able to get him out.”

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Bits and pieces, odds and ends and ramblings from the road trip:

* If Puma wasn’t a baseball player he’d be a country singer (assuming he can actually carry a tune; jury’s still out on that one). His reasons:
You never really have a bad day at work
You get to sing for a living
If you forget the words, you can just stick the microphone out to the crowd and let them sing it for you.

* I asked Puma if he’d ever consider giving up switch-hitting and just hit left-handed full-time. He said switch-hitting is something he’s done his entire life, and facing lefties from the left side of the plate is simply awkward at this stage of the game. Had he done it before, he might consider it, but he doubts he’d be very good at it now.

I don’t blame him. So much of playing baseball is based on muscle memory, on repetition, on reacting rather than thinking. To try to learn something new at this stage of the game — Puma just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his Major League debut — is probably asking a little too much.

* Kind of a slow weekend in terms of celebrity sightings at Dodger Stadium. Of course, nothing can top spotting Rob Lowe in the Diamond Club area after an Astros-Dodgers game a couple of years ago, but the scoreboard will always capture a dozen or so A-listers on any given weekend. This time, I counted three — Larry King, Calista Flockhart and the kid from Two-and-a-half Men.

* Sat in front of Russ Ortiz and his soon-to-be eight-year-old daughter on the flight home. Let’s just say baseball took a backseat to High School Musical and Miley Cyrus. Awesome.

* A tip of the cap to head athletic trainer Nate Lucero, who celebrated the 19th anniversary of his 21st birthday on Sunday.

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Baby alert, broken noses and a visit from Booooone.

Interesting notes from Astros camp…

Chris Sampson’s wife, Heather, is thiiiiiis close to delivering the couple’s second son, but apparently, she’s even closer than originally thought. The Sampsons were anticipating a delivery sometime during the July 31-Aug. 2 range, while the team is in St. Louis, but it looks like the little guy doesn’t want to wait that long.

Sampson flew home to Houston today to be with Heather, who was experiencing early contractions yesterday and appears to be ready to deliver. We’ll keep you posted.

****Update: Sampson was placed on the 15-day DL with muscle spasms in his right shoulder. The transaction is retroactive to July 10, which means he’ll be eligible for activation on July 26. To replace Sampson on the roster, the Astros purchased the contract of right-hander Chad Paronto. He’ll be in uniform for Saturday’s game in Los Angeles. (No news on the baby). 

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Speaking of babies, congratulations to the Booooooooones — Aaron, and his wife, Laura — who welcomed daughter Bella James on Wednesday. Aaron will join the Astros in Houston on Thursday to begin his comeback from his March 27 heart surgery. The last time we spoke with Boooooone — in mid-June, during the Astros trip to Arizona — he said he’d love to play again this year and mentioned a September return as a very real possibility.

That would require him to spend at least a month rehabbing in the Minor Leagues, and it appears that the timetable is working in his favor. I love the idea of Booooone playing with the Astros in September, especially if they’re in a playoff race. Rosters will expand to 40, so no one would have to be sent out in order to make room for Boone, and he would be a tremendous presence in the clubhouse during the stretch run.

He’s been through everything — division races, October baseball (who can forget his Game 7 homer that won the pennant for the Yankees in ’03?) — and there’s no doubt the Astros could only benefit from that kind of veteran presence during such an intense time.

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Brandon Backe sought a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews after Astros team doctors diagnosed a tear in his rotator cuff, and Andrews recommended Backe rest for another few weeks before making any definitive decisions regarding surgery.

If Backe, who was released last month, does decide to eventually have the surgery, the Astros will still be on the hook to pay for it. As of Friday, however, he’s going to rest and rehab route.

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Medical marvel Doug Brocail (left, with Jason Michaels) will begin a rehab assignment Monday in Round Rock and will make a second appearance with the Express Wednesday. He’ll then move on to Double-A Corpus Christi, where he will pitch on July 25, 26, 28 and 30.

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Strange news from Round Rock…Triple-A catcher J.R. Towles broke his nose in a tractor mishap during the All-Star break, but he is still able to play.

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News from Astros.com…

Puma sits out with calf strain

Sampson DL story

And finally, for the ladies…

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