July 2009

The final installment of Hunterpalooza. What a couple of days.

Sure, the All-Star Game doesn’t affect the regular-season standings, and it’s not the end of the world, obviously, to lose. But that doesn’t mean the players don’t care. They’re competitors by nature, and they care a lot. And the National League team was plenty disappointed when it lost to the American League, again.

The sting of the loss probably wore off quicker than a loss during the regular season. And once players started talking to the media about the pomp and circumstance, the visit from President Obama, the hype and the fun and mingling with fellow Major Leaguers, the mood lightened.

But there was disappointment — from Ryan Howard, for falling short of delivering the big hit in the eighth inning; from Heath Bell, for giving up the winning run; and from Hunter Pence, for watching his NL team lose, and for not playing in the game.

The bigger letdown for Pence was the loss. He wanted to play, but he put that second while itemizing the priorities.

“I still felt like I was part of the team,” he said. “It was great meeting all of the personalities and legendary players and legendary managers.  It’s disappointing, but it gives me a reason to fight even harder next year and get a chance to play.

“It was a great experience. It wasn’t everything I hoped, because I wanted to play and I wanted to win. But it was definitely a great experience.”

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Earlier that day, Pence and Miguel Tejada participated in the All-Star Red Carpet event, which involved all of the ballplayers piling on to trucks with their families and traveling parade-style from the headquarter hotel to Busch Stadium.

It was a cross between a motorcade (it involved famous people), homecoming (there was waving) and Mardi Gras (players threw beads to fans).

I positioned myself inside the waiting area, where players lined up before heading out to the masses. Here’s Hunter and his mom, Gail:

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The Pence clan, minus dad Howard…Hunter’s brother, Howie, his wife Allison, daughter Hayley, son Striker, Hunter and Gail.

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Miguel Tejada and his family — wife Alejandra, son Miguel and daughter Alexa – soon join the Pence clan.

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The families pile on to the truck and soon, they were off.

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Couple of non-Astros shots: left, Prince Fielder, right, Trevor Hoffman.

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Ryan Howard with his son.

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Nope, not a burglar…it’s the NL starting pitcher, phenom Tim Lincecum.

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And finally, it was time for batting practice…

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Pence and Justin Upton run to the outfield for the NL team photo.

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Miguel Tejada chats with FOXsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal.

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Batting practice isn’t just a time to watch ballplayers. There are plenty of interesting people on the sidelines as well…here’s Bob Costas…

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…and LL Cool J…

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…and two guys I assumed were responsible for the safety of LL Cool J. They do a heck of a job. I know it detered me from going anywhere near LL. (or is it Mr. Cool J?)

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And finally, anthem singer and St. Louis native Sheryl Crow.

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Hunterpalooza, Part 2.

 

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What a day. An exhiliarating, exhausting, exciting, activity-filled day that consisted of, in no particular order:

1. Taking pictures of Hunter.

2. Shooting video of Hunter (please bear with me on that one. The videos have been safely saved on my computer. That’s the easy part. Editing them and posting on my blog? Well, let’s just say that’s not the easy part. They’ll be posted ASAP. Soon. I promise).

3. Giving Hunter the camcorder so he can shoot the All-Star experience from his vantage point.

4. Taking pictures, shooting videos and following Hunter, while avoiding being stepped on by ESPN crew, which was also shadowing him (By far the biggest challenge of the day).

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Hunter had a full day, as you can imagine. The beauty part of the big Major League Baseball events — All-Star Game, World Series, Hall of Fame inductions — is that you never know what you’re going to see, or, more accurately, who you’re going to see.

The one thing I’ve learned is that famous people like being around other famous people. Apparently, Cards skipper (and NL coach) Tony La Russa and legendary college hoops coach Bobby Knight are buddies. Pence happened to walk by Knight near La Russa’s office before batting practice Monday, and the two struck up a conversation.

“You’re from the Dallas area, aren’t you?” Knight asked Pence.

“Yes, sir, I am,” Pence answered.

“The first time I saw you, I couldn’t believe you weren’t a basketball player,” Knight said.

The two continued to talk, until La Russa cut short the conversation and ushered Knight into his office. Later, Knight laughed and apologized to Pence for being so abrupt, and La Russa also said something about it in a semi-joking manner, which sounded to  me like he felt kind of bad for interrupting the conversation.

Pence, in typical Pence fashion, shrugged his shoulders and laughed it off.

“That’s something I won’t forget, I can tell you that,” he said. “La Russa and Bobby Knight arguing over where to talk to me.”

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Shortest team meeting in history: Monday, in the National League clubhouse. NL manager Charlie Manuel walks into the clubhouse and says, “listen up, gang, just a few words…batting practice is in a few minutes, and we’ll have a quick meeting before tomorrow’s game.” Meeting over. Great stuff. I mean, really, what do you say to a roomful of players you are normally trying to beat over the course of a season? What are you going to go over? Signs? Probably not. Rules? There are none during the All-Star Game. Better to keep it short.

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My Aha! moment…
Ever looked at someone and thought, I know I’ve seen that person before. I know that person. Who the heck is that person? Who? Who?

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Fortunately, I figured this one out within about an hour. When you’re at one of these events, there’s a list of criteria that helps to narrow down the field pretty quickly. For example:

1. He’s in the home clubhouse, receiving a tour from La Russa. This means he’s someone established, and probably famous.

2. He doesn’t look quite comfortable with his surroundings. He appears to be really impressed with the clubhouse scene. That eliminates the possibility that he’s a former Major League player.

3. Yet while he doesn’t look comfortable, he carries himself with a lot of authority. He’s confident. Clearly, he’s quite accomplished in his particular field of expertise.

Ah-ha! It’s none other than Capt. C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who made an emergency landing in the Hudson River and saved 155 lives.

And now, for the rest of the pictures from Hunterpalooza, Part 2:

Padres reliever Heath Bell and Pence, hamming it up for the camera.  

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Pence takes swings in the cage during the NL team’s batting practice.

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Everywhere Hunter turned, there were more cameras in his face. I am partial to this particular crew, because it belongs to the MLB Network. Best national baseball programming on the air, by a landslide.

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Prince Fielder takes BP.

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Batting practice is always a madhouse during the big events. Here’s ESPN’s Peter Gammons, getting ready for a live shot near the visitors dugout.

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Two NL Central stars, Pence and Ryan Braun, hang out before BP.

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Bobby Knight and Capt. Sullenberger. Really, how often do you see pairings like this one?

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Barry Larkin and the MLB Network crew do their show from the sidelines, near the home dugout.

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American League manager Joe Maddon.

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Pence chats with NL skipper Charlie Manuel during BP.

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Miguel Tejada, during BP.

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Hall of Famer and Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith.

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Pence takes in the scene as the NL team files onto the field.

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Pence and Heath Bell sign autographs…video rolling,  of course.

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Hunterpalooza, Part 1.

 

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Hunter Pence vowed to enjoy every moment of his first All-Star experience, and with only a half-day in the books, it’s clear he’s having a ball.

Heck, he even enjoyed the hour-long media session, the one activity on the schedule that most players would probably rather just skip. Not Pence. Not only did he grant interviews, he even conducted a few himself, grabbing my handy camcorder and working the room, asking questions of some of his favorite players: Ted Lilly, Brad Hawpe, Orlando Hudson…and, of course, teammate Miguel Tejada.

We’ll have more on that later. In the meantime, here is the first batch of pictures, accompanied by a play-by-play account of Hunterpalooza, Part I.

11:35 a.m. CT:
All-Stars filed in the interview room and found their booths, marked by a nameplate with their team’s logo. Pence, not one to sit still for very long, used the final minutes before the doors opened to reporters to mingle with his National League teammates. Here he is chatting with Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

 

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11:45 CT:
The doors open, the media pours in, and Pence grabs my video camera and goes to work. His first interview is with Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe.

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Pence moves on to Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson, who says to Pence, “Every now and then you go deep, and I say, “OK, that was a two or three-run shot. And now, I’ve got to get him back.”

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Noon CT:
Pence finally makes his way back to his seat, where he’s interviewed by a handful of reporters, including the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Justice (left) and MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince.

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12:15 CT:
Pence really wanted to interview Cubs lefty Ted Lilly. When the media crush finally disippated, Pence asked the burning question everyone wants to know: “Do you know what it’s like to face you? Do you have any idea how not fair that is?” Lilly: “I think I’m a little more nervous facing you than you are facing me.” (I didn’t believe him.)

 

Tejada was in a booth not far from Pence. Asked about what Tejada brings to a team, Pence answered: “Miggy’s the show. He’s always entertaining. I’m learning a lot from him. We say he has a sixth tool — when it’s clutch time, he’s one of the great players. He’ll fire you up. When Miggy says it, he has a way of firing you up. I love the way he leads. I look up to him.”

 

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As you can imagine, Albert Pujols, one of the biggest stars in the game no matter where the All-Star Game is held, is obviously a huge story this week. It couldn’t have worked out any better for the Cardinals — the year they host the All-Star Game, their marquee player is the starting first baseman, and he’s also participating in the Home Run Derby. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was named the starting catcher.

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Family time: Pence’s entire family is here to enjoy the experience. Here he is holding his nephew, Striker.

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Hunter and his dad, Howard.

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1:10 CT
After a chaotic walk to the ballpark — ESPN crews were also following Pence around, which attracted the attention of the fans on the streets, which in turn turned the casual stroll into something more Elvis-like — we arrived to the home clubhouse, headquarters for the National League team.

Holding his BP jersey:

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Astros celebrate firefighters.

 

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LaTroy Hawkins arrived to Fire station No. 22 as more than just a local baseball celebrity ready to shake hands and pose for pictures. This station was filled with firefighters trained specifically to control hazardous materials — “HazMat” — and Hawkins was awed by how much danger they put themselves in day after day in order to do their jobs.

So Hawkins stepped into their shoes, quite literally, to receive just a small taste of it. He tried on the gear — a chemical suit weighing no less than 40 pounds. He also asked plenty of questions, and he walked away with a renewed appreciation for what real heroes do for their communities.

“You’ve got to appreciate what these guys do,” Hawkins said. “Police officers, firefighters, everyone in the community. We (baseball players) make too much money. They don’t make enough money. They put their hand print on the community. We just play baseball.”

The Astros spend the morning Friday honoring Houston firefighters with their new Adopt-A-Firehouse initiative. Nine players visited their “adopted” fire houses — the house that corresponded with their uniform numbers.

The participants were: Pudge Rodriguez, Hawkins, Doug Brocail, Chris Sampson, Miguel Tejada, Hunter Pence, Cecil Cooper, Russ Ortiz and Geoff Blum.

“We owe a lot to the firefighters,” Pence said. “They sacrifice a lot for us. It’s good to be here and the Astros really appreciate what they’re doing.”

Pence poses with two young fans:

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And also with the good people of Fire Station No. 9:

 

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Blum poses with Fire Station No. 27:

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Pence cracked everyone up with a flex of the bicep…

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During Friday’s game, all players wore a special Houston Fire Department baseball cap. The game-worn caps will then be autographed by the players and made available through an auction to benefit the Firefighters Protection Fund.  A portion of the ticket prices for Friday’s game were donated back to the fund.

The Astros also hosted a pregame ceremony recognizing Captain James Harlow and Firefighter Damion Hobbs, who perished in the line of duty this spring while fighting a residential fire in southeast Houston. Members of the Harlow and Hobbs family threw out ceremonial first pitches.

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Meanwhile, back in the clubhouse, Brian McTaggart gets the skinny on all things controversial…

Geoff Blum addresses the fans booing him during Thursday’s game. Asked about the irony of driving in the winning run one day later, Blum said, “It’s interesting. This game will find you in the weirdest places. Last night was interesting, then I got a chance to redeem myself and I took advantage of it.”

Russ Ortiz is summoned to the principal’s – I mean, Coop’s office.

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Hot topics: Doug Brocail, Brandon Backe, suspended games and booing Blum (!)

Most of us already consider Doug Brocail something of a medical miracle, given the angioplasties, heart stents and multitude of DL stints and surgeries he’s endured over his 15 years in the big leagues. So it should come as no surprise that’s he’s turning to another unconventional method in an attempt to return from yet another injury.

Soon after he tore his hamstring on a play at first base in Atlanta in early May, Brocail underwent a procedure called platelet rich plasma therapy. This involved extracting a small amount of blood from the body and spinning it for approximately 15 minutes, a step that removes unwanted components of the blood that are not primarily responsible for healing.

What remains is an increased concentration of platelets, which are reinjected into the injured area. It’s not about reattaching the tendons as much as it’s a way to have the healthy areas fuse together, through the platelets.

You might remember the Steelers’ Hines Ward undergoing the procedure just before the Super Bowl earlier this year. Reportedly, Dodgers pitcher Takashi Saito also had the PRP therapy.

Whether this procedure helps Brocail get back on the mound is still to be determined, but he’s happy with the progress so far. He’s moving around well and has begun to throw bullpens again. Two months ago, he said he was shooting for a return soon after the All-Star break, but obviously, that’s not happening. Now he’s eyeing August, and while there is no guarantee he’ll make that deadline, or ever pitch again, you have to admire his determination. Stay tuned.

Randoms:
* Brandon Backe had his right shoulder examined by Astros medical director David Lintner, who diagnosed the right-hander with a partial thickness tear of his right rotator cuff. Backe will seek a second opinion next week in Birmingham, Ala. from well-known orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. The Astros expect Backe to undergo surgery, and even though they released him, they’ll be on the hook for the cost of the surgery.

Read Brian McTaggart’s full story here.

I’m a little curious as to why Backe refused the Minor League assignment after he was designated a couple of weeks ago. After the surgery, he could have rehabbed with the Astros and continued to accrue service time while on the DL. As it stands, he’s a free agent headed for surgery, looking for a job. Doesn’t make sense.

* The suspended game between the Astros and Nationals took a whole seven minutes to complete. I predicted this one would go 15 or 16 innings, just because. Instead, Miguel Tejada threw wildly to Puma on an inning-ending double play, Nyjer Morgan scored from second, and the game was over.

I did a quick walk-through of the clubhouse following the loss, just to see how the players were reacting. It was what I expected — they sat at their lockers, chatted, watched TV…just like any other day. Carlos Lee rallied the troops with a “Let’s be ready at 7:05″ pep talk, and for the most part, the team was in fine spirits.

After the game, Puma was asked if he was disappointed when the first game ended. His response: “I wasn’t out there long enough to be disappointed. I went out there, moved some dirt around, and that was it.”

On the outcome: “That’s pretty much how you expected that game to end. It was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen, in the first place (referring to the May 5 portion in D.C.).”

* Geoff Blum was roundly booed in the fourth inning for seemingly not running hard on a double that he may have been able to stretch to a triple. I suspected Blum is still not 100 percent from the hamstring issues he’s had to deal with this year, and after talking with him after the game, that appears to be the case.

Blum does not like talking about injuries, nor does he use them as an excuse. But he realized he had to address this one:

“You want to boo me, boo me,” he said. “But I’m going to give you every effort that I’ve got, and right now, I don’t have that.

“I’ve never let any team I’ve played for down and never given them anything but everything I have.”

*Russ Ortiz was not happy with his manager on Thursday.

From the Ask Alyson files:

I was wondering if there’s any chance that Hunter Pence might compete in the Home Run Derby. We know he has more power than his numbers show because he’s more of a complete hitter who puts the ball in play rather than trying to pull everything. I bet he would do very well in the Derby, and it would be a great way for him to introduce himself to the rest of the country’s fans that don’t know him. Brian S.

Players have to be invited to participate and so far, Pence hasn’t been invited. He has said he would do it if asked. To be honest, I’d rather he didn’t participate…I’ve seen way too many post-Derby slumps over the years for it to be purely coincidental and I’m just as happy with Hunter sitting this one out.

Assume that the Astros finish in second place with 82 wins, and narrowly miss the division/Wild Card, would you say that they would be active in next years free agent market?  If so, who would they target?  Nils

There is no way to know what the Astros will be doing four months from now but looking at the roster right now, we can see a ton of players who will be free agents and theoretically could come off the books. That leaves four players under multi-year contracts: Berkman ($14.5 million), Oswalt ($15 million), Lee ($18.5) and Matsui ($5). Those four will take up $53 million and I would surmise the payroll is going to come down from the $100 million-plus it is now.

If Jose Valverde walks, the Astros will need a closer. And obviously, they need starting pitching as well — who doesn’t? If Mike Hampton finishes the year strong I’d like to see them bring him back. It’s way too early to see how the Astros will address their needs, but whether they make or miss the playoffs with 82 wins will be largely irrelevant. Their task is the same every year, to put a competitive team on the field. I’d like to see one or two of the young pitchers at Triple-A get a real chance next spring to crack the rotation. This team simply has to get younger. Not having a single starting pitcher under the age of 30 is not a good thing, in my opinion.

Could you give an explanation about how players run out of options and what happens if you move someone to the Major League level and add him to the 40-man roster? Does he have to clear waivers to be sent back down?  I am specifically wondering about what ifs for guys like Bud Norris and Yorman Bazardo. Jim, Highland Haven, Texas
 
Basically, every player has three options on his contract when he begins his professional career. He can be sent down and called up as many times as a team wants in a single season and that counts as one option. So, in layman’s terms, a player is pretty much at the mercy of the club for the first three years of his Major League career, before he enters arbitration-eligibility.

Norris and Bazardo are not on the Astros 40-man roster, so their time hasn’t yet arrived. If they were to be called up, their contracts would be purchased — as opposed to a player who is already on the 40-man roster being “recalled.” At that point, their service time officially begins. Because they have no service time, they do not have to clear waivers to be sent back down.

When a player does run out of the three options, he must pass through waivers before the club can send him down.

Please send your questions to askalyson@astros.com.

On Wandy and LosAstros. And a few random thoughts.

Wandy Rodriguez was the recipient of quite a few man hugs from when he got back to the clubhouse after his complete game shutout over the Pirates on Wednesday, and who can argue? He tied his career-high with 11 strikeouts, doing so for the second time this year, and he lowered his home ERA this season to 2.21.

A couple more notes on Wandy’s outstanding start:

The Astros are 12-6 in games he has started this year.

He threw 125 pitches, a career-high.

The shutout was the second of his career and the fourth complete game thrown by an Astros pitcher this year.

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The Twitter craze is a world-wide phenomenon, and count Astros En Espanol as the latest entity to jump into the social networking era. “LosAstros” is  now fully functional and giving 140-character updates on all things Astros, in Spanish.

The Astros have one of the largest local Hispanic fan bases in baseball, right up there with the Dodgers and Mets. They also have a huge following internationally because of their Spanish Web site, which reaches fans in Mexico, Venezuela, Panama and Puerto Rico.

Through “LosAstros” on Twitter, the Astros hope to give fans insight into the team they wouldn’t otherwise get and also to give information about the Spanish Web site, TV show and radio broadcasts.

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Random thoughts:
* Last year, I remember thinking on more than one occasion that this Michael Bourn thing wasn’t working out and they really needed to start looking for another solution in center field.  Patience, of course, is one of the most important qualities in a general manager. It is not, however, one of my strong suits, which is why I’m glad Ed Wade is the GM and I’m not.

* When the Astros and Nationals game was suspended on May 5, Elijah Dukes was on first in the bottom of the 11th inning. But Dukes has since been shipped to Triple-A, so the Nationals will simply put in a pinch-runner for him when the game resumes Thursday.

* Pirates starter Charlie Morton faced the Astros only one other time before Wednesday’s game, and while his start then wasn’t memorable, the game certainly was. Morton was with the Braves on July 6, 2008, when he allowed six runs over six innings. That was the forgettable part. What was unforgettable — if you were a) playing for the Astros; b) watching the game on TV or listening on the radio; or c) covering the game as a reporter (such as myself) — was that the game was delayed by rain for more than two hours and then promptly lasted 17 innings.

What I’ll really never forget is how hungry I became around the 14th inning, to the point of desperation. I scoured the ballpark for an open concession stand and had made it almost around the entire circumference before mercifully finding one lone stand still operating. I said, “what do you have?” The lady at the stand said, “Nachos, and one hot dog.” So I bought both.

Later, I bragged to Wade that I bought the last hot dog at Turner Field. He said, “I don’t know if I’d want to eat something that had been sitting around that long,” and I said, “No worries. I gave it to McTaggart.”

* Puma, observing my furious typing after Wednesday’s win: “Twitter! Twitter!” See, I knew he’d come around. For those of you who have asked, no, Puma is not into the Twitter-Facebook thing and never will be…he likes a simpler life, even though he does travel with one of those cool electronic books. So he’s not totally living in the early 2000s.

* LaTroy Hawkins will “start” the suspended game Thursday. He was on the mound when the game was called in D.C.

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Throwing out the ceremonial pitch on Wednesday was Roberto Duran, a retired boxer from Panama. Considered in boxing circles as one of the greatest of his generation, Duran is a friend of fellow Panamanian Carlos Lee, who invited Duran to visit with him at Minute Maid Park:

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Ticket special alert: 10 games for 20 bucks (and again, no fine print).

The Astros will ring in the second half of the season with one of their more popular ticket specials — 10 games for $20.

For a limited time, fans can buy Outfield Deck tickets to 10 Astros home games for only 20 bucks — a $50 savings per purchase. The special is available online only and the offer ends Wednesday, July 15 at 5:30 p.m. CT.

The 10 dates: July 20 and 22 vs. Cardinals; Aug. 3 and 5 vs. Giants; Aug. 19 and 20 vs. Marlins; Sept. 7 vs. Phillies; Sept. 9 vs. Braves; Sept. 21 and 23 vs. Cardinals.

I’m told this one sells out pretty quickly, so click here if you’re interested. And no, there’s no “with the purchase of 17 hot dogs” attached to the special (hey, I’m an ex-reporter. I’m skeptical by nature). Ten games. Twenty bucks. The end.

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The Astros hosted their annual PLAY event at Minute Maid Park Tuesday, which involved the Astros athletic training staff, the Taylor Hooton Foundation, kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Houston and setup man LaTroy Hawkins.

The two-hour PLAY event, which stands for “Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth,” is designed to educate children about nutrition, exercise and staying active.

PLAY was formed by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) in conjunction with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which was formed by the parents of the 17-year old high school athlete from Plano, Texas, who took his own life in 2003 as a result of the abuse of anabolic steroids.

Young athletes are experimenting with anabolic androgenic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs without knowledge of the associated dangers. 

Working with the Taylor Hooton Foundation and Major League Baseball clubs, PBATS is incorporating anti-steroid education within the PLAY campaign to generate awareness of this problem.

Each participant at the PLAY event received a PLAY “Pledge Card” to sign, along with Hawkins, promising to remain active, make healthy decisions and avoid performance-enhancing drugs.

The PLAY program was created in 2004 to raise awareness about children’s health issues because obesity is a major concern in the United States.  Since 2004, the PLAY campaign has conducted 60 events inside all 30 MLB ballparks reaching thousands of children with positive messages about making healthy decisions and living a more active and healthy lifestyle.

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Lance Berkman’s favorite Minute Maid Park memory is now posted on the Astros Memories blog. All season, the Astros are posting favorite moments from past and present players as part of their 10-year Minute Maid celebration. Berkman’s answer is one of my favorites, because it’s one that few talk about now but that had a huge, huge impact on the team’s pursuit of the pennant in 2005.

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Pences cell phone, suspended games and astronauts. Discuss.

 

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Hunter Pence’s cell phone is, as they say, blowing up. He’s received about as many calls and text messages regarding his first All-Star selection as when he was first called up in 2007.

I asked him if any congratulatory messages stood out more than the others. He pinpointed two, the first of which occurred in the batting cages at AT&T Park in San Francisco early Sunday morning. Teammate Darin Estad pretty much pummelled Pence with a big bear hug when he found out the news. That meant a lot to Hunter, as did the message he received from former teammate Ty Wigginton, offering his congrats.

Erstad and “Wiggy” are two players Pence respects tremendously and looks up to, and Pence went as far to say Wigginton is probably the smartest baseball player he’s ever been around. “He doesn’t miss anything, and he remembers every detail from every game,” Pence said, adding that Wigginton is “all heart.”

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The Astros and Nationals will complete the May 5 game that was suspended due to rain this Thursday, beginning at 6:05 p.m. CT. We’ve gone over a lot of the ground rules already, but it can’t hurt to revisit. Plus, we have some more tidbits regarding the rules and regulations for that game.

First, the bare basics: Fans with tickets to the regularly-scheduled 7:05 p.m. game Thursday will also be admitted to the suspended game continuation. No separate tickets will be sold. Gates will open at 5 p.m.

The regularly scheduled game will start at 7:05 p.m., unless the suspended game ends after 6:45 p.m. In that case, there will be a 20-minute break between games.

The game will resume just as it was when originally suspended on May 5 in a 10-10 tie. It will resume in the bottom of the 11th inning, with the Nationals at-bat with one out and a runner on first base (Elijah Dukes). LaTroy Hawkins was the pitcher on the mound, and he is allowed to continue his outing if the Astros see fit.

And here’s some more fun stuff…

* All position players and pitchers who were used and removed from the game on May 5 will not be eligible to return to the contest. For the Astros, those players include Carlos Lee and Jason Michaels, as well as pitchers Roy Oswalt, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak and Geoff Geary.

* Players who are currently on the roster, but were not when the game was originally suspended, are eligible to play in the suspended game. Players who were in the lineup when play suspended, but are not currently on the active roster, must be subbed for in the same position and batting order.

Interestingly, this will be the first time the Astros host a suspended game since July 23, 1999. The Astros and Padres finished their June 13 game, which was suspended when Larry Dierker suffered a grand mal seizure in the home dugout at the Astrodome. That game was halted in the middle of the eighth inning with the Astros leading, 4-1, and they eventually won it.

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As we continue the final homestand leading up to the All-Star break, here’s a quick rundown of the ticket specials the Astros are offering this week:

Kids Free All Summer (purchase one full-price adult ticket in the View Deck I, View Deck II or Mezzanine and receive two free tickets in the same price level for kids 14 and under)

 Tuesday, July 7: Double Play Tuesdays (Two Outfield Deck Tickets for only $2 — bring in two labels from any 2 – 32 oz. POWERade bottles to the Minute Maid Park Box Office)

 Wednesday, July 8: Price Matters (View Deck II ticket, Hot dog, Soda, Chips — all for $10.)

Hunter’s Lodge (Field Box seat and Pence t-shirt for $30)

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Bud Light Young Professionals night

Bayou Bash Sunday
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From the photo vault:

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Astronaut Mike Massimino threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday’s game, and here he is outside of Dennis’s office, receiving a personalized Astros jersey while chatting it up with Craig Biggio (remember what I said about Dennis’s office being the epicenter of the Astros’ universe?).

Massimino is a veteran of two space flights, most recently the Shuttle Mission STS-125, a 12-day mission to the Hubble telescope. In total, Massimino has logged almost 600 hours of space flight time and has performed over 30 hours of spacewalks.

The Astros presented Massimino with a banner signed by the entire front office and all of the players, the same banner that went up with Massimino on the last space mission.

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Hunter Pence, All-Star.

Hunter Pence received more than a few hugs and handshakes from his teammates as word filtered through the clubhouse Sunday morning that the Astros star outfielder had just been named to his first All-Star team.

Pence played it cool as he talked to reporters about the selection, saying it was a huge honor while pointing out that there were a lot of players also deserving of the recognition.

But Pence, who along with Miguel Tejada will represent the Astros in St. Louis, can only mask his unbridled enthusiasm for so long. As we boarded the plane Sunday, Jim Deshaies congratulated Pence again, and asked how Pence had reacted to the news. Pence said, “This has been the best day of my life. I can’t even explain it.” He went on to say how exciting it was to call his family members and tell them first, and that he had no plans for the All-Star break other than to just “chill, relax.”

Pence seems truly overwhelmed by the All-Star nod, which he was not at all expecting. It’s refreshing to see someone with so much appreciation for the game of baseball, and so humbled by the All-Star selection.

Hopefully Pence isn’t looking to chill or relax when he gets to St. Louis, because almost every minute of his day will be occupied. He’s going to have an absolute blast.

Moving on to another former All-Star — three-timer Roy Oswalt. He hasn’t had the greatest year but he’s been as dependable as any pitcher in the league lately. Including his eight-inning, three-hit performance against the Giants Sunday — not a “must-win” by any stretch but still a “much-needed win” — Oswalt has had three extremely effecxtive outings, allowing three runs over a combined 23 innings.

Sunday pictures:

Pence chats with MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart about his All-Star nod:

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Tags then moves onto the sharply dressed Miguel Tejada, six-time All-Star:

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A shot of the dugout, from my seat in the press box:

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Puma bats in the ninth: 

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LaTroy Hawkins warms up as Oswalt wraps up his stellar eight-inning performance:

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After the win…a shot from the tunnel that connects the dugout with the clubhouse. That’s Puma and bench coach Ed Romero.

 

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Hunter Pence…I think I surprised him.

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Hitting coach Sean Berry and assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones.

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Catcher Humberto Quintero.

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I sat through a 52-minute bee delay and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

During the bizarre 52-minute bee delay at PETCO Park Thursday afternoon I couldn’t help but think about that “Bee Movie” Jerry Seinfeld starred in a few years ago. In that flick, bees were cute, talkative and you really rooted for them to come out ahead of the pack.

In real life, namely, Thursday, you simply rooted for someone to locate a big can of Raid and wipe the little guys out all at once, atomic-bomb style.

Cue the beekeeper.

Yes, the head groundskeeper at PETCO Park has a beekeeper on his speed dial, just for cases like the one we witnessed on Thursday, when a queen bee took up residence inside the jacket of a Padres ballgirl. For those of us who aren’t up on the life and stylings of bees, apparently, when mama bee finds her perch, her offspring find her. And they all like to hang out together, one one big frenzied lump.

So that was the issue…thousands of bees and their queen, swarming inside a ballgirls jacket in left field at PETCO park, while the Astros were batting in the ninth inning.

The delay lasted just under an hour, but the beekeeper, to his credit, made quick work of the bees once he arrived onto the scene. In fact, the process of ridding the ballpark of the Bee family took less than five minutes.

Geoff Blum, in a joking attempt to speed up the process, put a blue netted laundry bag over his head and volunteered to take care of the situation himself.

“It was driving us nuts,” Blum said of the delay. “We never seem to be able to get a game in on a getaway day under 3 1/2, four hours. That’s par for the course. That’s the way our season has been. You think you’ve seen it all in baseball, until this.”

The most bizarre part of this whole incident, however, may be the statement put out by Majestic Athletic, the official uniform of the Padres and the manufacturer of said ballgirl’s now defunct ballgirl jacket:

“To our knowledge this is the first time that bees have swarmed Majestic on-field MLB apparel.  We can only guess that the bees are attracted as Major League players to the warmth and comfort of our performance fabrics. 

“However, players and fans should rest assured that our product testing has shown no risk from swarming bees.

“We regret the inconvenience and Majestic will be providing the affected ball girl a replacement jacket shortly.”

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. And even if you did, sometimes reality is simply better than fiction.

The beekeeper:

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This drew quite a bit of interest from your Astros.

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Before the bee spectacle, Troy Aikman grabbed most the attention as the ceremonial first-pitch tosser before the game. Aikman is part owner of the Padres.

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For those keeping score at home, he bounced it.

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