Catching up after a busy week, while getting ready for another one.

Some observations after Week One of caravan season…

1. I think you’re going to really like Brad Mills. He smart, passionate about baseball and while he’s technically a “rookie” manager, he has plenty of leadership experience, having managed 11 years in the Minor Leagues and coached 11 years in the big leagues. He spent the last six years as Terry Francona’s bench coach and earned two World Series rings in the process. I believe that counts for something — a lot, actually.

Mills feels very strongly that there is a correct way to conduct yourself when you are a Major League ballplayer. He believes in the importance of the veteran players passing along that knowledge to the young players, and he also believes in every player taking the field with absolutely no confusion about what is expected. 

I swore I wasn’t going to make any sweeping proclamations about someone taking over a high position with the organization, based on some of my past observations over the last eight-plus years that I now have deemed cringe-worthy (“So-and-so’s GREAT! Capable! Approachable!” Only to find out that well, no, that wasn’t the case. At all.) But I spent a full week around Mills, first in Temple and then in Houston, where we had plenty of time to chat during the long drives to and from about a dozen caravan stops. And I have to say, with no hesitation, Mills clearly gets it.

I walked away from the caravan week with a strong feeling that the clubhouse culture is going to change dramatically soon after Spring Training begins. Toward the end of 2009, there was a feeling of defeat that I have never, ever seen from a Houston club, even in the down years. I don’t know Mills that well yet, but I just cannot envision him putting up with any sort of defeatist attitude from the players.

Plus, he’s a warm-weather kind of guy. He called Francona, who lives year-round in Boston, yesterday to let him know “It’s 75 degrees here and there is not a cloud in the sky.” Just wait until he manages 81 home games without a single rain delay. he’ll feel like he hit the lotto.

2. Of all of the recipients of the Darryl Kile Award over the years, Brian Moehler just might fit the description better than anyone. The award goes to someone who, among other things, is a great teammate who puts the team before any personal agenda.

On our way to a caravan stop on Wednesday, Moehler brought up what a fantastic signing Brett Myers is and how much it improved the Astros chances to be competitive in 2010.

Now, Myers just might have knocked Moehler out of the starting rotation mix and bump him to the ‘pen. That is of little concern to Moehler. The only thing that matters to him is winning, and Myers increases the Astros’ chances to do just that. If it means taking a lesser role on the team, then, in Moehler’s view, so be it.

3. Pitchers and catchers work out in less than a month. The first full-squad workout will take place a few days after that. Here’s what intrigues me the most:

* Jason Castro’s chances to make the team as the front-line catcher right out of the chute. I’m sensing that the club would like for it to happen, but is hesitant to put that much pressure on the kid. Someone brought up a good point — Castro needs to concentrate on his work behind the plate, handling a pitching staff, learning opposing hitters, etc…yet, his odds to make the club will largely depend on how well he hits in March. Is that fair?

* Roy Oswalt’s back: He’s changed up his conditioning routine, cutting back on running and concentrating more on core-strengthening. He said he’ll be ready when the bell rings, but keep in mind that for a player, that bell rings on Opening Day, not the Grapefruit League opener. So don’t expect miracles on March 4.

* Who gets the Opening Day start. If Opening Day honors go to the starting pitcher who had the best year in the previous season, then Wandy Rodriguez getting the ball is a no-brainer. But I’ve come across a couple of people who think there’s an argument to be made for Oswalt, the team’s unmatched ace almost a full decade. If you were Mills, who would you appoint?

In the meantime, here are some shots from the locally-based caravan stops from the last couple of days, plus the baseball dinner…enjoy.

Craig Biggio mingles with residents of the Brookwood Community.

Bill Brown, Mills, Biggio and Moehler (hidden behind Brownie) begin the presentation at Brookwood.

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Junction Jack, Moehler and Biggio play an abbreviated game of baseball at Brookwood. I think Moehler struck out Biggio here.

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Then it was off to Katy Jr. High…

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Later that night, at the baseball banquet…

MVP Michael Bourn, conducting his 1,000th interview of the week (or at least it seemed that way).

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Bourn signed a few autographs for some young admirers.

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 Rookie of the Year Jeff Fulchino and his wife, Carrie.

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Darryl Kile Award recipient Moehler, and his wife, Dee.

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Bourn, Wandy, Moehler, listening intently to seating instructions before heading to the main banquet room.

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The next day, the caravan resumed with a trip to Methodist Hospital…

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…Pearland High School..

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…and a Grand Slam for Youth Baseball Little League sign-up rally.

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3 Comments

Ha ha, check out the cheerleader in the sixth photo: “Mmm, that Brian Moehler is a fine hunk of a man!!!” LOL.

Something else intrigues me a lot: What are the chances Towles gets the nod as the opening day catcher? It?s hard to believe someone who can hit well in AAA will never be able to figure out MLB pitching.

For some reason, seeing the pic of Biggio and Mills side by side, made me wish they’d had the opportunity to work together on the field. I’ve got a good feeling about Mills, but then I had that with Cooper too at one point. I knew things with Coop were going south early in the season when I was hearing the rumors of dissention in the clubhouse. Writing was on the wall.

Anyhoo. Glad to see Michael Bourn’s starpower is taking off. Also liked seeing the pic of Mills and Dierker together. Thanks for the pics Alyson. It’s always great for a fan to see pics of the past present and future Astros coming together for good causes. :)

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