On Blum, Puma and Opening Day.
Geoff Blum’s most valuable contribution to the Astros is his ability to play anywhere in the infield, and that skill will definitely be tested from now until Opening Day, and possibly beyond.
Blum was earmarked to start at first base in case Lance Berkman’s knee wasn’t quite ready for game action when the season opens on April 5, but he also will see some playing time at shortstop this spring while Tommy Manzella is sidelined with a quad strain. Blum’s versatility is no doubt an asset, but unfortunately, he can only play one position at a time. I figured he was probably best suited for first base, but after he made a couple of impressive plays at short against the Cardinals on Monday, I’m starting to rethink it.
Blum has played in 190 games in his career at short, so it’s not as if he doesn’t have experience in that area. Although the bulk of that playing time came earlier in his career, the 36-year-old seems unfazed at the idea of moving around the infield to fill in where needed, if needed, the first week of the season.
Blum is also fantastically self-depricating and always finds a unique way to sum up his day — and sometimes, his career — with a few PumaOneLiners.
Of his performance at short on Monday: “I’d like to say it’s like riding a bike, but I’m way too old to be riding bikes.”
Speaking of the Puma, manager Brad Mills talked to Berkman around lunchtime on Monday and was pleased to hear that the first baseman’s knee is feeling “a lot better.” I saw Berkman briefly in the morning and he appeared to be walking better, so that’s encouraging. However, the news that he recently he had more fluid drained from his knee is not so encouraging, and while I’m fairly confident that he’ll play the majority of games this season, I have serious doubts that he’ll be ready Opening Day.
No one wants to see Puma start the year on the disabled list, but if he did, he’d only be required to miss four games. Teams can start the DL clock on March 26, and because the Major League Baseball season technically starts Sunday, April 4 and the Astros have an offday after their first three games, Berkman will have served the entire 15-day stint by April 9, which would make him eligible to play in the second game of the Phillies series on April 10.
With that in mind, taking things a little slower with Puma doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
The Astros are celebrating their 45th anniversary this year, and as was the case in 1965 when they opened the Astrodome, NASA will play a big role in officially opening the new season.
On Opening Day, approximately 40 NASA employees will carry an oversized American flag onto the field, representing all of their colleagues at the Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake. The game’s ceremonial first pitches will be thrown out by members of an upcoming NASA space shuttle mission, recreating the inaugural ceremonial first pitch at the Astrodome in April 1965 thrown by 22 Mercury astronauts.
A group of retired U.S. Navy Seals will parachute into Minute Maid Park and deliver the first pitch baseballs.
The national anthem will be sung by Texas Country Music artist Jack Ingram. A Houston-area native, Ingram has won multiple awards including the 2008 Academy of Country Music Top New Male Vocalist Award.
The first 40,000 fans will receive a 2010 schedule magnet, courtesy of Continental Airlines. Opening Day is not yet sold out.
Images from a windy Monday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium:
Pregame chuckles: Jeff Keppinger, Chris Johnson, Bobby Meacham
Hunter Pence, Blum
Tommy Manzella, Dave Clark
Sean Berry and Jamie Quirk catch up with St. Louis hitting coach Mark McGwire.