November 2009

Roy Oswalt opens a restaurant, and several towns celebrate.

Several months ago, Roy Oswalt introduced me to a friend visiting Minute Maid Park. “Where are you from?” the friend asked. “Ohio,” I said. “Ohio?” he responded. “Do you own any land there?” I said, “You mean, like the bedroom at my parents’ house where I grew up?” I answered. Roy laughed. “She’s a city girl,” he said. “She doesn’t know land.”

But I sure do now. I just spent a whirlwind 36 hours in central Mississippi, about 90 minutes from Jackson. This is home for Oswalt, and it contains everything that is important to him — his family, his ranch, his community, and now, his brand new restaurant.

“Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse” opened its doors to the public for the first time late Friday afternoon, and I was grateful to be there to see the finished product. Roy cleared the land for the restaurant with the bulldozer Drayton McLane gave him, and now, a year later, that small area of land is a quaint 24-table eatery perfect for a night out with the family.


I’ve heard plenty about Oswalt’s hometown of Weir, Miss. and the ranch he owns in neighboring Kosciusko, aptly named “Double 4 Ranch.” But with all of the stories he’s told over the years, I couldn’t really picture it. So this seemed like as good a time as any to see it up close (through the lens of my ever-present camera, of course).

I admit, when I think of log cabins and lodges, I picture this:

But after entering the gate at Double 4 Ranch and traveling some distance down a winding road, this is what was before me:

Log cabin? Hardly. More like a log mansion — five bedrooms, 3,000 square feet, simply exquisite. I Twit pic’d several interior shots, which you can find here and here and here.

Big thanks to Roy’s friend and ranch partner Joey Barton, who gave me the grand tour of the ranch and was a terrific host throughout the excursion. The ranch consists of 1,000 acres of high-fenced hunting grounds, so obviously, I got the abbreviated tour. Still, I saw plenty of white-tailed deer that comprise the majority of the controlled wildlife at the ranch. Most of the time, the deer ran from us, and that was apparently my fault — deer get used to the people that are around all the time, but they can pick up a new scent from hundreds of yards away. And they don’t particularly like visitors. (I didn’t take it personally.)



Roy spends the majority of his time during the offseason at the Double 4 Ranch, and now, I can understand why. While I am without question a newbie to country living and admittedly don’t fully grasp the lure of hunting, fishing and ranching, I can certainly appreciate the sheer beauty and peacefulness that only this lifestyle can offer.

I live near downtown, six blocks from the dreaded train tracks. I wake up three times a night to horns blowing. I spend half the year in noisy hotels and I would never dare travel without my earplugs.

Standing on the balcony at Roy’s ranch, all I could see was a clear lake and acres of land, and all I heard were crickets. I thought, I’d pay significant money for just a week’s worth of nights this quiet.


Roy generously housed four of us at the lodge — myself, plus three colleagues from the agency that represents him. Once we were all present and accounted for, Joey led the caravan to Homeplate. On the way, however, Joey decided to take us on a slight detour through Weir, to give us a tour of three significant landmarks from Roy’s childhood: his high school, and the baseball and football field where his athletic career began in earnest.

The high school:



Below is a picture of the Weir High School baseball field — not only did Roy pitch on that mound, but his dad, Billy, cleared the land when Weir decided to start a baseball team during Roy’s sophomore year.

The school may be small, but the championships are plentiful, as these banners show. One of my favorite Oswalt football stories originated here. Apparently, he conducted himself in a somewhat unsportsmanlike fashion during one particularly high-scoring game. As Roy ran into the end zone, he turned around to face his opponents and jogged in backward, all the while pretending he was shooting guns into the ground — “Pew! Pew! Pew!”

The press box…I love this.


We arrived to the restaurant before 5 p.m., and the place was already packed. Keep in mind, this isn’t like Westheimer Road in Houston, where restaurants are as plentiful as orange construction barrels. Roy’s main reason for even building a restaurant was to give people a nice place to get a good steak and seafood dinner without having to first drive more than 40 minutes to get there.

Homeplate Steak and Fish is central to four towns — French Camp, Weir, Kosciusko and Ackerman. Judging from the constant flow of patrons Friday night, it’s clear people from all directions are excited about the convenient location as well.

Below: Roy poses with his agent, Bob Garber.

(Random interjection — Oprah Winfrey is from Kosciusko, the city where Oswalt’s ranch is located. That would explain the Oprah Winfrey Road we passed on our way to the restaurant.)


Now, I think we can all agree that usually when a famous sports figure gets into the restaurant business, his actual involvement includes two things: a) lending his name to the project and b) cashing the check he gets for lending said name. That is far from the case with Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse.

Not only did Roy have a direct hand in building the establishment, he was front and center during business hours, working the cash register, seating people, overseeing the kitchen operations and socializing with the patrons.

Opening night was a family affair. His wife, Nicole, ran non-stop for hours, cleaning tables, refilling iced tea and taking orders, as did her sister. Both sets of parents were also there to offer moral support.

(Nicole did stop long enough to entertain us with the story about how she and Roy met. They went to different high schools, but they met at a choir convention during a field trip to Mississippi State. Yes, choir. Apparently, every student had to put in chorus time, even the jocks.)

There was something endearing about watching Roy and Nicole attempt to operate the cash register:





That’s his dad, Billy.


Overview of the restaurant



Interesting twist: When it became obvious they were slightly short-handed in the kitchen, Roy’s agent, Bob, rolled up his sleeves and washed dishes. For three hours. At some point, Mike, who works with Bob, jumped in to help as well.


This is the special 44 oz. steak, a nod to Roy’s uniform number. To get some perspective, I put my 6 oz. filet next to it.


As much as I loved the ranch and the restaurant and the tour of his tiny hometown, what struck me the most is how much Roy simply blends in. In Weir, he’s not Roy Oswalt, superstar pitcher. He’s just Roy, a hometown kid who has no intention of living anywhere else. Because he’s happiest when he’s out of the public eye, he’s clearly in a good place.

I just hope I can visit again.

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A fun November day at the ballpark, and more comedic stylings from the Puma.

When Lance Berkman told his wife why he was going to Minute Maid Park Saturday afternoon, Cara Berkman summoned her three oldest kids (above) and said, “We’re going too.”

Berkman (aka Puma) was one of four Astros representatives to participate in an event designed to help 20 families who are transitioning from homelessness to self-sufficiency.”Take A Minute” marked the beginning of national Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. Families were treated to a Thanksgiving meal, a tour of Minute Maid Park and an autograph session Berkman, Jeff Bagwell, Hunter Pence and manager Brad Mills.

Cara Berkman didn’t hesitate when she heard what the event was about.

“I said to Lance, ‘Homeless children? We’re going,’ Cara said. “I want my kids to see this and be involved. They need to understand there are people that have hard lives and need our help.”

Brian McTaggart gives a full report of the event here.



Covering offseason activities is fun, mainly because players in general are well-rested and relaxed, and any fatigue and/or bitterness from a down year has pretty much subsided.

I chuckled a bit as I headed to the event, knowing it would take about two minutes for Puma and I to pick up where we left off — I snap pictures, he acts like he’s annoyed and then he spends the next several minutes lamenting the presence of Facebook and Twitter — “two things contributing to the downfall of society,” Berkman grumbles. (He was especially thrilled when I told him about Twit pic).

Bagwell isn’t quite so dramatic, but we did have a good laugh about the fake accounts floating around. To review, the Berkman Twitter account is bogus, and if you’re ever wondering if that is really Bagwell’s Facebook page, the answer is a resounding no. He’s made progress over the years when it comes to logging on but I can assure you he does not now, and never will, be a Facebooker.

Enjoy the pictures.

My attempts to take pictures of the four Astros at the autograph table were intercepted by one Puma, who just cannot help himself.



Another block, this time, with a sweatshirt.


So I switched my positioning and was a bit more successful. Here’s Pence, displaying his own brand of goofiness:


Bagwell tapes a PSA for “Take A Minute.”


Berkman and Pence, catching up after five weeks of no baseball.


The new guy always gets the most attention. Brad Mills spent as much time granting media interviews as he did signing autographs.


Autograph session




Group photo


And finally, a visit from Junction Jack.



Try ’em Before you Buy ’em

Speaking of offseason fun at Minute Maid Park…

The Astros Ticket Services Department will host a Select-A-Seat event for fans interested in season tickets on Saturday, December 12 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

If you are interested in 2010 full season ticekts or 27-game mini-plans, come out to the ballpark for a one-on-one guided tour to find the perfect set of seats. Ticket sales representatives will offer valuable information on each available seat location to ensure you invest in the perfect plan.

Also, new for 2010 is the “Buy Two, Get Two Free” season ticket offer. As part of this package, fans purchasing two season tickets in the View Deck I and View Deck II seating levels or in select Terrace Deck sections will receive two additional season tickets in the same price level for free. These full season packages start at only $415 per season seat — only $5 per game.

The Astros are also offering special “Early Bird” incentives for those who buy their season tickets by Dec. 18. The incentives include a choice of taking batting practice, playing catch in the outfield or a taking clubhouse tour at Minute Maid Park. (At first glance, I’d go with the clubhouse tour. It’s pretty cool, although I would imagine for those of you whose baseball careers petered out in the seventh grade, batting practice might be fun).

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Oswalt merchandise, Castro news, and other offseason tidbits.



(photo courtesy of

Roy Oswalt launched his web site,, a couple of months ago, but he just recently added a new element — merchandise.

Oswalt is offering hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts and youth clothing that feature his personal logo, “RO44.” He also has a number of items available bearing the logo of his soon-to-be-opened restaurant, Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse.



Not only are the items reasonably priced and pleasing to the eye, but he’s giving every bit of the money he makes off the merchandise to community/charity efforts in both his hometown of Weir, Miss. and his second home, Houston. The recipients of the proceeds will be revealed at a later time.

Click here to check it out the gear.


Rising Stars Game

You were first introduced to catcher Jason Castro last Spring Training when he was invited to Major League camp, and it’s likely you’ll continue to hear about the former No. 1 draft pick as he makes his way through the Astros’ player development system.

Castro, who spent the majority of the ’09 season at Double-A Corpus Christi, is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He’ll be the lone Astros representative to participate in Saturday’s Rising Stars Game, which will showcase the best of the best in the AFL.

The game will be broadcast to a national television audience on MLB Network, and a live feed will also be available at, beginning at 7:15 p.m. CT.’s Jonathan Mayo has the rest of the details in this story, including information on who will call the game from the booth and other noteworthy tidbits.


Wanted: A local angle?

Speaking of broadcast booths…

Every October, I wonder why local television announcers are not part of the national postseason broadcast. Imagine how much the broadcast would be enhanced if the networks included announcers who watched every single game a team played that season, beginning with Spring Training. They could certainly provide insight you just can’t get from play-by-play and color announcers who don’t have as much background and anecdotal info as the local guys.

It’s not unheard of to have a third broadcaster in the booth during the regular season, so why not do this during the playoffs? At the very least, they could invite a local guy in to do three or four innings.

Radio announcers call postseason games, but the TV guys are left in the cold. They travel with the team through the playoffs, but they have absolutely no role. I always thought that was a shame. Imagine in ’04 or ’05 if Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies alternated time in the booth with the national announcers. They could provide the same tremendous insight as they do during the regular season. And, if nothing else, at least Willy T.’s last name would be been pronounced correctly.

Just a thought.


Bourn autograph session

When I hear about a convention geared toward all things male, I can’t help but picture a bunch of Al Bundys sitting on the couch, drinking beer out of a can, belching and telling stories about the four touchdowns they scored in a single game in high school.

But apparently, there’s more to the “Guy Expo” than just lounging around and talking politics and sports. This weekend’s event will take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center and promises, simply put, the best of what men like.

Sports will obviously be involved, and the Astros will be well-represented. We’ll have a booth set up at the Guy Expo, and our very own Michael Bourn will be signing autographs on Saturday from 1 to 2 p.m. CT. Former Houston flamethrower J.R. Richard will precede Bourn with his own hour of autographs from noon to 1.

Click here for more information.

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Verified players on Twitter.

My blog about Twins closer Joe Nathan using Twitter to respond to a column written about him prompted questions from a few of you as to how many Major League players Tweet.

There are plenty of bogus accounts out there using the names of ballplayers, so’s Mark Newman has compiled a list of verified accounts. Currently, Roy Oswalt is the only Astros player with a Twitter account. He hasn’t done much with it, but he’s planning to being more active in the near future.

The “Lance Berkman” account is bogus.

Click here for the full list of legit accounts.

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More confirmed names for Astros Alumni Golf Tournament.


The list of golfers continues to grow as the Astros put the finishing touches on their Alumni Golf Tournament, scheduled for Nov. 17 at Wildcat Golf Course.

The participants, as of Tuesday:

Larry Dierker, Kevin Bass, James Mouton, John Edwards, Phil Garner, John Hudek, Bill Heath, Enos Cabell, Xavier Hernandez, Eric Anthony, Brian Williams, Mike Jackson, Jim Deshaies, Alan Ashby, Jeff Bagwell, Shane Reynolds, Doug Drabek, Roger Metzger, Art Howe, Scipio Spinks, Glenn Wilson, Billy Smith.

New manager Brad Mills has also expressed interest in participating, and barring any last-minute meetings (which are pretty common after a new skipper is hired), he plans to be there.

If you’d like to participate in the tournament, you can sign up by calling 713.259.8979 or registering online here.

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