The art of the press conference, and a few Mills tidbits.

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Once I learned that Brad Mills was hired as the Astros manager,I reached out to two good friends who have covered the Red Sox for parts or all of the last decade and asked them simply, “What do you think of Brad Mills?” Here’s what I received back:

Friend No. 1:
“Mills is a genuinely nice guy and he did an amazing job turning the Sox into such a well-run machine. He’s so efficient at everything he does. He’s not a great quote but he’s friendly and respectful. He’s the ultimate taskmaster.”

Friend No. 2:
“Tremendously organized. Probably the most organized coach I’ve ever been around. He had basically every day of Spring Training plotted out weeks in advance of camp, with charts on where everyone is at all times.

“He was a big help to Francona on the bench, helping pitchers with pickoff moves, etc., and aligning the defense, etc. He had great communication skills with the players and has been Francona’s confidant since their days as roommates at Arizona.

“I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about Brad Mills. And being around Francona on the Red Sox bench for the last six years can only help from an experience standpoint.”

Two things stood out to me from these responses: 1) both said Mills was incredibly organized and 2) Friend No. 2 pointed out that Mills is good at aligning defenses. And can I just say, hallelujah on both counts. The Astros are already better off in ’10 than they were in ’09, and they’re more than five months away from playing a game that counts in the standings.

I’ve heard from many of you over the last couple of weeks, and please allow me clear up a few misconceptions: coaches are responsible for much, much more than what you see them do during an actual game. Scouting reports need to be scoured. Spray charts need to be studied. Pitchers and catchers need to be prepped. And on and on and on.

Positioning has been an issue with this team for a long time — too long. Just hearing that Mills had a lot to do with aligning the Red Sox’ defense makes me feel like the Astros are on the right track. It seems like such a small thing, I know. But it’s not. It’s huge. Manager and coach pregame preparation can make all the difference between and winning and losing seasons.

Here’s what Red Sox manager Terry Francona said about his now former bench coach:

“I’ve probably taken it for granted that everybody is where they’re supposed to be because he’s so good at it. We’ll certainly have to make some adjustments. But his gain far outweighs any adjustments we have to make. Millsy embodies so much of what is good in baseball. For him to get an opportunity, it sure is nice. It sure is exciting for all of us.”

I have no idea what kind of manager Mills will be and until he’s actually sitting in the hot seat, none of us can make the judgment. But he was impressive during his press conference on Tuesday and I’m looking forward to seeing how he guides this team through a challenging transitional period.

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On another note, I haven’t seen the press conference room at Minute Maid Park this packed since Roger Clemens unretired for the 97th time a few years ago. When I saw Drayton McLane in the hallway a few minutes before the press conference started, I jokingly said, “Congratulations on getting this over with before the World Series.” He laughed and said the Commissioner called him three times — twice Monday and once Tuesday morning. “He said, ‘You have until 5 p.m. (Tuesday) to get this done,'” McLane recalled. That was the deadline — hire a manager by then, or wait until after the World Series. The former reporter in me was thankful this thing was over and done with.

I’m sure most of you have watched the press conference on TV or online in some capacity. Sound bites are nice and photo opps are fun, but that doesn’t give you the full experience. Here are some images from Tuesday’s presser, some of which you won’t normally see just by watching from afar. Enjoy.

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The media waited inside the press conference room, but outside, Mills and several members of the front office chatted casually before entering the room. Kudos to Mills (seen here with assistant GM Ricky Bennett) for acting naturally as three or four photographers snapped close up photos.

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A little to the left of Mills stood owner Drayton McLane and GM Ed Wade.

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PR director Gene Dias (middle) gives the gentle, “OK, we’re ready” signal, which is a nice way of telling the group, let’s go. Time to start the presser.

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The normal order of speakers at a major Astros press conference is 1)Wade; 2)McLane and 3) whoever they hired/signed. This announcement was obviously a big one, hence, the packed room. That’s Larry Dierker in the front.

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Mills came across very well at the press conference. When he was asked to hold up the jersey again, he held up the front instead of back. “The name on the front is more important than the name on the back,” he said. Good move.

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Once each speaker has answered questions at the podium, the formal part of the presser is over and it’s time for “one-on-ones.” TVs like this because it gives more of a personal touch. Beat/print reporters like this because they need more quotes than just what is said during the formal part.

Reporters headed in three directions — most went to Mills, some went to Wade, some went to McLane. It’s a media free-for-all.

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Once word spread that hitting coach Sean Berry and Mills are friends and neighbors in California, Berry became a media target. Berry happened to be in town for a Make-A-Wish golf tournament (which was rained out Monday and rescheduled for November).

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Nothing like a press conference to bring a couple of former Astros greats to the ballpark. Left, Enos Cabell. Right, Larry Dierker.

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Photo opp No. 477: Mills checks out the field at Minute Maid Park. Photographers document every move while trying not to step on anyone.

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Mills and Wade have a chuckle while getting situated:

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Tal Smith (left), Mills, Wade

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Then McLane joins in.

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Side view.

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16 Comments

If Brad Mills is as good at positioning players as you say, Carlos Lee’s defense should be much less of an issue next year. And with the unpredictability with this club maybe they just might be interesting. Especially if Norris and Paulino continue the progress that they showed in the last two months of the season. (After the team lost motivation)

I still say that if Valverde sticks around that the Astros have a chance a contending. Especially with Mills organized style of managing.

Unofrtunately, I don’t see us handling Valverde’s inflated income next seaosn, and he’s all but said he wants to close for the Cubbies. I also don’t see us hanging on to Tejada, or at least I sort of hope we don’t; his 21 errors and 30 or so DPs are a little too much for someone who makes what he makes, even if he takes the pay cut.

Yeah, but with so much money used to buy the Cubs I don’t think they’ll be big players this off-season especially when you consider the economy and the fact that not that many teams are looking for closers. More than likely Valverde will be back do to a poor market.

As for Tejada I am in agreement with you, however the DP’s are the main reason I don’t want him back. Every time he grounded into a DP it cost us momentum, and who knows how many more games we win if Tejada wasn’t DP prone.

To me last season struggles were because of one of two things. (1) A lack of discipline on the part of the players, and/or (2) A bunch of key players had off years. The fact that Berkman didn’t have 100 RBI’s and 30 HR’s (which is his usual stat line), Carlos Lee hit less than 30 HR’s and didn’t walk as much as he normally does, and Roy O had an ERA over 4 for the first time in his career means that the 2009 season was just a problem of key players not performing up to there capability.

Definitely true, and let’s hope Mr. Mills has what it takes to get this clubhouse back together! Go ‘Stros in 10!

Unless Mills can turn back the clock and make Berkman, Lee and Oswalt play like they did 4 years ago, I don’t think he’s going to make much of a difference…

Tim Bogar was my first choice by a landslide. Mills was my second choice. He seems like a competent, good man. We have to keep building the farm system. We stopped about the time we didn’t sign Beltran and that should have revealed the absolute necessity in the Astros having a great farm system. But it didn’t. We have to commit to having a great farm system through eternity because we are not going to sign Sabathias and Texeiras. We have to win with home grown talent. Don’t give up Abreus and Santanas and Moras and Garcias and Guillens like Hunsicker did.

You know, that could make a pretty interesting feature or series or whatever; getting with the different members of the coaching staff and giving the fans some insight into what it is exactly they do, what their days consist of and who is in charge of what. As far as most of us know, the bench coach is around for moral support and to take over temporarily when the manager gets ejected, it would be cool to learn about all the other things they do and why it’s important to pick the right guys for the job. Just an idea.

I happened to notice that the #2 looks FAR better on Mills than on Mr. Fragile-sui. Writing on the wall maybe? Dare we hope?

Outstanding idea Ashitaka…I will mark that down as a Spring Training priority. Would be a good six-part series where I could follow one coach around per day and get a feel for what he does and what he’s responsible for. It’s a pretty fascinating study, considering coaches usually arrive to the spring facility around 6:30 a.m. to prepare for the day.

Kyle…please don’t mistaken what I meant by positioning…coaches are supposed to know ahead of time what the hitters’ tendencies are and where they make the majority of their outs. Brad Mills cannot make Lee faster. He can, however, tell him where to stand. I use one of the Astros’ games in LA last season as an example…Ausmus logged 2 doubles and the Dodgers won. Only problem was the 2 doubles were hit to the exact spot in the outfield where Ausmus always hits them and would have been outs had the coaching staff checked the charts. After the game, in fact, Ausmus said, “check the charts.” The fact that Ausmus played here for 10 years and everyone pretty much knew where he tended to hit the ball made it even more embarrassing. That stuff cannot happen at this level. No excuse.

He looks like a cross between Dick Chaney and John Locke. Doesn’t he have a son who was big major league prospect a couple of years ago?

Did they give him the jersey number 2 because he was the team’s second choice?

Who said anything about Carlos Lee getting faster? I was only saying that with Brad Mills putting Carlos in the right spot that those balls that drop in left field will happen less often than usual.

Isn’t Darin Erstad #2? I haven’t heard anything on Erstad lately… is he no longer on the roster?

Clearly Mills spends more time positioning fielders and planning Spring Training than he does selecting his ties. Whew, there’s some serious 80s hotel art wafting from that neckwear.

Hey Alyson, do you think Steve Sparks would consider being the pitching coach? Just judging by his experience and the pitching segments he does on Astros live, it seems as though he’d be a great coach.

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