September 2009

Capps takes issue with Miggy and Cheo.

Until Pirates closer Matt Capps revealed exactly why he was barking at Miguel Tejada during the ninth inning Sunday, what sparked the exchange of words was anyone’s guess. And a lot of us guessed (wrong).

Some thought maybe Capps was yelling at Tejada to run out the ball after he launched a high pop fly that eventually landed in shortstop Ronny Cedeno’s glove. Tejada’s journey toward first was little more than a casual jog, so a few of us thought maybe Capps took issue with Miggy’s stroll down the line.

(As most of you know, I detest players not running hard down to first. I absolutely hate it. But I didn’t take issue with this one because I thought the infield fly rule was in effect. Turns out, it wasn’t. There was a runner on first, but not second, which meant no infield fly. Miggy thought the infield fly rule was in effect as well, as did others. Thankfully, Jim Deshaies sat next to me on the bus on the way to the airport and set me straight.)

Another philosophy floating around was that Capps took issue with Tejada yelling at himself when he popped up Capps’ 95 mph fastball. It wasn’t that Capps thought Miggy was yelling at him, but when a player yells at himself, it indicates he felt he should have made good contact with that particular pitch. Pitchers often take that as an insult.

That theory made the most sense to me. It was also incorrect.

Capps suspected Miggy and first base coach Jose Cruz of stealing signs, and the closer minced no words when approached by reporters after the game.

“Just compete,” Capps said. “You don’t need to do any of that stuff. Those two have a thing going out there. I’m set, and he’s not even looking at me. That tells me all I need to know.”

Miggy fired back when Chronicle reporter Zachary Levine got a hold of him after the game.

“I’ve never gotten signs,” Tejada said. “If he wants to disrespect me, that’s fine. He shouldn’t disrespect any coach.”

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A couple of days ago we revealed who Lance Berkman stuck his tongue out at after his home run was upheld following an instant replay review by the umpires. Puma confirmed it was first baseman Adam LaRoche, who had been teasing his first-base counterpart during the waiting period, mouthing “It’s going to be a double” and holding up two fingers.

Astros team photographer Stephen O’Brien captured LaRoche’s antics (all in good fun), and I wanted to share that with you:

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Some days on the job are more fun than others. This was a great day.

 

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The Astros held their Fan Recipe Challenge Cook Off on Saturday, and you could say I was more than a willing participant as one of five judges.

Yes, I’m a team player, but more than that, I’m perpetually hungry. I also have a weakness for anything loaded with sugar, so when I heard Nancy Doctor’s sourdough cinnamon rolls were on the docket, I jumped at the chance to be a taste-tester.

The Astros were looking for new ideas for menu items to be offered at Minute Maid Park in 2010. So they opened the floor to the fans, and the recipe ideas arrived in droves.

The Astros waded through dozens of ideas and narrowed them down to four. On Saturday at the FiveSeven Grille, the contestants cooked up their tasty delights for the panel of judges.

The lineup:

Sarah Robinson’s “Slammin’ Chicken Sandwich;”
Dawn Harmon’s “Chicken Lettuce Wraps;”
Brad Turcotte’s “Green Chile Cheeseburger;”
Nancy Doctor’s “Sourdough Cinnamon Roll.”

We were asked to judge the items based on three criteria: taste/quality, ability to produce in a stadium environment and creativity.

The winner will be introduced next Friday (Sept. 18) on FS Houston, on the Astros reality-based show “Here’s the Pitch!” hosted by Jennifer Vogel. The show starts at 5:30 p.m. CT.

The first place winner receives 12 game tickets and use of a Luxury Suite for a game next year, plus a Lance Berkman signed ball. And, of course, his or her dish will be served at the ballpark every game next year. Second, third and fourth place finishers received signed bats and four game tickets.

From behind the camera lens: 

The judges, left to right: Astros right-hander Bud Norris, Houston Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman, myself, Vice President of Guest Services Marty Price and Executive Chef of Minute Maid Park and Aramark Sports & Entertainment Jason Kohler.

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Norris took his judging duties seriously, as you can see here. He was also planning an extra workout to offset the heavy intake of calories (mostly from those delicious cinnamon rolls).

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Dawn Harmon prepares her chicken lettuce wraps.

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 Ken Hoffman tastes chicken lettuce wraps.

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Sarah Robinson gets ready to wow the crowd with her slammin’ chicken sandwich.

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Nancy Doctor prepares her mouth-watering cinnamon rolls.

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Brad Turcotte takes a brief break from preparing his Green Chile Cheeseburger (actually, it’s a turkey burger) to pose for a picture.

 

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The contestants gather for a group shot upon the conclusion of the cook off.

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Astros honor late sportswriter (and friend) Neil Hohlfeld

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Three years ago when the Astros created the Houston Baseball Media Wall of Honor, I figured my friend Neil Hohlfeld would eventually win the award, which is voted on annually by members of the Houston media.

But I never could have imagined that he would receive the honor posthumously, which is why Saturday’s dedication came with a touch of sadness for those who knew and loved the longtime Houston Chronicle sportswriter.

Hohlfeld covered the Astros as the Chronicle’s beat writer from 1979 until 1995 and remained with the newspaper until last summer, when he passed away from a heart attack at the age of 56.

His family was presented with a replica of the induction plaque that now hangs on the broadcast level of the Minute Maid Park press box, next to inaugural winner Anita Martini and last year’s recipient, Gene Elston.

In this photo, president of baseball operations Tal Smith and FS Houston’s Greg Lucas present the plaque to Hohlfeld’s wife, Lynne, and his sons, Joey and Andy. (Neil’s daughter, Maggie, is attending college in Ohio and could not be there for the ceremony.)

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Who was Puma sticking his tongue out at last night?

After umpires checked the instant replay and upheld Lance Berkman’s home run during Thursday’s game with the Braves, cameras caught Puma sticking his tongue out at someone from the opposing bench.

Braves manager Bobby Cox? The umpires? The fans?

None of the above. The gesture was aimed toward fellow first baseman (and friend of Big Puma) Adam LaRoche. Apparently, during the delay while umpires were reviewing the play, LaRoche was peering into the Astros’ dugout mouthing to Puma “it’s going to be a double, it’s going to be a double.” (All in jest, of course).

So when the home run was indeed ruled a home run, Puma let his buddy know what he thought of that particular prognostication. Just a couple of fun jabs between two comrades.

We Shall Never Forget

Here are some snapshots from the pregame ceremony at Minute Maid Park on Friday, in remembrence of Sept. 11. The Astros clearly left no stone unturned while tracking down the good people of Houston who make sacrifices of all sorts in order to keep the city safe.

The Astros first honored “invisible heroes” — 9-1-1 call takers who are “the calm, reassuring voice on the other end of the phone working quickly” to offer assistance.

Nearly 1,000 call takers were in attendance for Friday’s ceremony, many of whom held a giant American flag on the field throughout the event.

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Representing the 9-1-1 call center near home plate were the 9-1-1 mascots — “Red E. Fox” and “Cell Phone Sally”, joined by Lt. John Shannon, who was recognized by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for his commitment to emergency communications during Hurricane Ike. Wanda Richards of the LaPorte Police Department was recognized as a 9-1-1 “silent hero” for 2009, as was Kimberly Maldonado of the Jersey Village Police Department.

(I thought it was just so nice of Cell Phone Sally to look right at the camera while I took this picture.)

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The Astros recently hosted a contest at Astros.com where fans could nominate their community heroes to be honored before Friday’s game. The winner was Judi Meyn, who has served as an area paramedic for over 30 years and a member of the life flight team for 20. When she is off duty, she spends her time with a volunteer ambulance company or teaching EMT classes at San Jacinto College. Here she is with third base coach Dave Clark, just after she threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

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Heroes of all kinds marched onto the field: members of the United States Military, the Houston Police Department, the Houston Fire Department, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Galveston County Emergency Communication District and many other agencies from jurisdictions all over the Houston area.

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The Houston Fire Department Honor Guard presented the colors.

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After a moment of silence to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, Sgt. Ronald Hunter from the Harris County Sherriff’s Office performed the national anthem.

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Three representatives from police, fire and military sectors were recognized for contributions that “exemplify the spirit of a hero.”

Officer David Freytag (left) has been serving as a Houston police officer for 46 years, was a member of the HPD Honor Guard and also served in the United States Army.

Firefighter Jermain Wiggins (center) was recognized saving a life during a fire last January, when he went into a burning house, found a woman lying in the middle of the living room, grabbed her and carried her out.

While serving in Afghanistan, Staff Sergeant David Worswick (right) survived both an attack on his base and the impact of a road-side bomb that thrust him head first into the windshield of his humvee, which knocked him unconscious. Once he awoke, he immediately began assisting those around who could not help themselves. Worswick received a purple heart for his actions that day.

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Remember this face.

 

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It belongs to right-hander Ross Seaton, who stopped by Minute Maid Park after finishing up his season at Class A Lexington and before heading to Florida to start the Instructional League portion of his offseason.

Seaton, who turns 20 on Sept. 18, is one of five hurlers who garnered quite a bit of attention in Lexington, where the majority of the truly promising pitchers in the organization played in ’09. Seaton, a native of nearby Sugar Land, was selected in a compensation round early in the 2008 draft, the 108th pick overall.

He finished his season with an 8-10 record and a 3.29 ERA over 24 starts, logging 130 2/3 innings. He walked 39 and struck out 88.

Check out this story in the Lexington Herald-Leader about the five arms that made up the Legends rotation: Robert Bono, Seaton, Brad Dydalewicz, Jordan Lyles and Kyle Greenwalt. I am not suggesting they will be ready in 2010 — in fact, I can guarantee you they won’t be. But look for them to start knocking on the door, at the very least, at some point in ’11.

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And here’s more news about young players..the Astros announced their Minor League team MVPs on Thursday. They MVPs will be honored during a pregame ceremony at Minute Maid Park on Sept. 26. Point of interest – Koby Clemens is the MVP of the Lancaster (High A) JetHawks after posting a .345 average, 45 doubles, 22 home runs and 121 RBIs.  

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Here and there at batting practice Thursday:

Chris Johnson and J.R. Towles. Johnson has definitely gotten his fill of media attention this week. He’s done at least three TV interviews and talked to a bunch of print reporters, too.

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Tommy Manzella

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Kazuo Matsui

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Roy Oswalt and Sean Berry.

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Oswalt taking BP…he didn’t bat that night, however…he left the game after just two innings.

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Humberto Quintero

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Aaron Boone and Chris Coste…lots of leaning.

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Run production in 2010. Anyone else concerned?

I’m all for the team getting younger next year, and at some positions — catcher and shortstop, namely — it’s probably unavoidable, and necessary.

But here’s what worries me. The production from the middle of the order has been, at best, ordinary in the second half this year, and I’m wondering if this is a preview of what we’re going to see next year, too.

I’m concerned about the veterans — specifically, Lance Berkman, who hasn’t hit a home run since July 9 and who is on pace to fall far short of 100 RBIs on the season. He’s driven in fewer than 100 only twice before, since his first full season in the Majors in 2001: in ’03, when he drove in 93, and ’05, when he drove in 82 after starting the season a month late because of the knee injury.

Carlos Lee has put forth a steady year, although he’s also in danger of falling short of the 100 RBI mark. He has 88 with 23 games remaining. His overall numbers are decent — .306 average, 23 homers — but you can’t help but wonder what he’ll be as a 34-year-old in 2010.

This is disconcerting because the production of both Berkman and Lee is vital to the Astros makeup, and if they do inject some youth into their order next season, they have to figure those young players are going to have their share of struggles at some point (or points) in the season.

I full support the defensively-sound Tommy Manzella getting a very real shot to win the shortstop job next Spring Training, and I hope the Astros are serious about approaching the catcher situation with the same open mind when Jason Castro reports to Kissimmee in February. But we can’t just assume that the offensive production is going to come from those two future rookies, or from Chris Johnson, should he win a job at third base.

For any of this to work, the Astros have to be able to pencil in Berkman and Lee for their normal productive numbers, and quite frankly, given the fact that they’re both turning 34 next year, I’m not really optimistic that they’ll be able to carry the lineup. Especially since they haven’t consistently done so this year.

There probably is not a quick fix for the problem. It’s unlikely the Astros would be able to find a Berkman-type to pluck from another organization, so realistically, Berkman and Lee will be the two big boppers in the Astros lineup again next year, with Hunter Pence presumably moving up one spot to No. 5 in the order. The club might look into bringing back Miguel Tejada to play third base, but even so, his role will be mainly as a singles and doubles producer, with his home run power all but gone.

That’s why I believe it’s imperative this team shore up its defense and starting rotation. Better range partially translates into quicker innings for starters, which in turn allows them to pitch deeper into games. Adding a veteran starter could be a nice piece for a rotation already in the capable hands of Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez.

It could be a lean year for the offense in 2010, and the Astros need to prepare accordingly.

Puma sat by the water cooler today and talked candidly about his homerless streak. Read McTaggart’s story here.

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Here’s The Pitch!

The latest episode of the Astros reality-based show “Here’s the Pitch!” will be aired on FS Houston Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT. Featured guests include Geoff Blum, who takes his family to the zoo to feed a white tiger. Berkman shows his softer side on Faith and Family night at Minute Maid Park, and the Astros Buddies tell us what it’s like to be a kid meeting players and hanging out on the field.

Kazuo Matsui talks about how it felt to achieve the 2,000 hits, and one segment will be dedicated to answering fan questions.

Also, the finalists in the fan recipe challenge will be announced.

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Birthdays were a hot topic on Wednesday, and with all due respect to Mike Hampton, his 37th came and went with little fanfare. The same can’t be said about Jose Valverde’s birthday, which is either March 24, 1978, March 24, 1979 or July 24, 1979, depending on which web site you’re referencing.

In a strange twist, had it not been for Valverde’s brand new web site, papagrandellc.com, the birthday discrepancy probably never would have been discovered.

Valverde has a couple of biographies working on his web site. One said he was born on March 24, 1978, and one said he was born on July 24, 1979. The Astros’ media guide in 2008 listed his birthday as March 24, 1979. After doing some digging, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart discovered the true date — March 24, 1978.

That’s the long way of saying, “slow news day.”

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And a quick thanks to you, the readers…

The latest blog rankings were recently released and I was thrilled to see that my Footnotes blog landed at No. 10. I’d like to thank everyone who has supported the efforts and kept the blog a lively place for debate and discussion. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the pictorial side as well. It’s been a lot of fun telling the story of the Astros from a behind-the-scenes perspective. Thanks everyone!

Biggio, a cover model? And happy birthday, Milo.

 

Veteran Houston sportswriter Gene Duffey wrote a nice piece for Health and Fitness Sports Magazine that should pique the interest of Astros fans, as well as Houston sports fans in general. 

The magazine’s 24th anniversary issue features Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, former Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and former Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon in a feature titled “Now…And Then.”

The article touches on Biggio’s post-playing career, which includes coaching the St. Thomas High School baseball team and catching up on things he missed during a 20-year career that ended with 3,060 hits, all with the Astros.

“Biggio, a Long Island, NY native, and wife, Patty, took their first summer vacation in 2008, visiting Italy and the Jersey Shore,’” Duffey writes.

‘Retired? I haven’t been there,’ he laughed. “It’s baseball seven days a week.’”

Bagwell talks about his active involvement in Houston charities, including his two years serving as the celebrity spokesperson for Prepared 4 Life’s Lemonade Day, a free community-wide event that offers young people the opportunity to savor the sweet taste of success that comes with owning and operating their own lemonade business.

Biggio appears on the cover of the issue, which is due to hit stands on Sept. 24.

“We were honored to have Craig appear on the cover of this special issue,” Editor-in-Chief Rod Evans said. “The profiles of Biggio and the other sports luminaries should be very enjoyable for any Houston sports fan. We always try to do something extraordinary for our anniversary issue, and I think we’ve hit a home run this year.”

Health and Fitness Sports Magazine is a free publication that can be found at fitness centers, spas, salons, supermarkets, hospitals, clinics and other facilities around Houston. Readers are also invited to view the publication online at Healthandfitnessmag.com. You’ll have to sign up in order to gain access to the article, but it takes only a few seconds (I signed up yesterday).

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It could be said that baseball is Milo Hamilton’s first love, but fine dining has to be a close second. During his multiple decades as a baseball broadcaster, Milo has compiled an extensive and impressive list of restaurants he likes to frequent on the road, as well as his favorite eateries right here in Houston.

One of his favorite in-town stops is Truluck’s on Westheimer, near the Galleria. On Thursday, he reserved the party room at the upscale restaurant and invited 21 friends from the Astros family to join him in celebrating his 82nd birthday.

Happy birthday, Milo!

Milo and his son, Mark.

Jamie Hildreth, Astros Sr. Vice President of Sponsorships, gives a birthday toast to the man of the hour.

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100,000 strong

As of the wee hours on Friday, the Astros Facebook page reached the 100,000 member mark. I’d like to send a quick thank you to all of the fans who have joined and an extra shout out to those who have kept the page lively by engaging in enlightened conversations regarding the 2009 Astros. I know this has been a difficult and frustrating season, but we really are interested in hearing any and all comments regarding the team, good and bad. On Facebook, everyone has a voice.

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Questions? Send to askalyson@astros.com 

 

Home, at last.

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Once the buses pull up to Minute Maid Park, it’s another 30 minutes or so before the equipment truck arrives with the luggage. About half the players wait for the truck; the other half leave right away and pick up their luggage when they arrive to the clubhouse the next day (or, in this case, Friday, considering Thursday is an off day).

The clubhouse workers have odd hours on arrival days, as we explained while blogging about the St. Louis clubhouse workers a few days ago. They’re there waiting for the team and spend several more hours unpacking, washing uniforms, putting equipment back where it belongs, which includes everything from the players’ gear to video equipment to items belonging to the athletic training staff.

Once the uniforms are laundered, the attendants go through the painstaking process of setting up each locker. Fortunately, the scheduled off day allows for the staff to not have to be back in the clubhouse first thing in the morning.

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The truck pulls up, and the clubhouse attendants get to work. 

The 30 minute wait involves milling around doing a whole lot of nothing, but as soon as that truck pulls up, it’s like a bunch of kids on Christmas. Everyone pushes forward, hoping his suitcase is the first one off.

 

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 Assistant clubhouse manager Carl Schneider launders the uniforms.

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Once the luggage is unloaded and the players and staff have left, it’s time to put everything back where it started. Trunks, trunks and more trunks.

I get tired just looking at this mess.

It’s hot, humid and late. But there’s always time to have a little fun.

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A shot of Roy Oswalt’s antlers.

A nice, serene, quiet shot of the clubhouse. You’ll notice there’s quite a difference in dimensions between the home clubhouse at Minute Maid and the visitors clubhouse at Wrigley. Pretty soon, this room will be filled, and the chaos starts all over again.

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