April 2010

Astros potpourri: Gold Gloves, broadcasting news and charity events galore.

Accolades for Bourn

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We lead off, fittingly, with our leadoff hitter, who had his hands full before Friday’s game when he scooped up a couple of well-deserved awards for his stellar season in 2009.

Michael Bourn, the club’s MVP last year, was presented with the Rawlings Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence and the Lou Brock Award, presented to the National League leader in stolen bases.

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Brownie, J.D…and Bagwell.

In the years since Jeff Bagwell retired, he’s been hesitant — and by hesitant, I mean wholly disinterested — in getting involved in the television side of the game. Bags shies away from the spotlight, and as polished as he was talking to the media every night as a player, moving up to the broadcast booth — a landing place for so many former players — wasn’t anything Bagwell aspired to do.

I don’t know what changed his mind, but who cares? Saturdays are about to get a lot more fun around here, with Bill Brown, Jim Deshaies and Bagwell teaming up on FS Houston for 13 home games this year.

“It’s something fun to do around the ballpark,” Bagwell said. “Drayton (McLane) and I talked about it thought it would be something kind of fun, would be nice for the fans, and for me.”

He plans to go easy with the criticism, having not forgotten how truly hard it is to play this game and how much slower baseball looks from the press box

“Mental errors, or if someone doesn’t run the bases the right way — that’s the only thing I’ll bring up,” he said. “I am definitely pro-player, I promise you that.”

Read the full story on Bagwell’s new gig here, and watch the video here

Below are some images from Bagwell’s autograph session on Friday with kids who registered for Prepared 4 Life’s Lemonade Day event. He’ll do so again on Sunday, signing for kids outside of the Squeeze Play near the right field entrance from 12:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Lemonade Day is a nation-wide event taking place on May 2, which teaches kids the skills they need to be successful in the future. Youth learn to set goals, develop a business plan, establish a budget, seek investors, provide customer service and give back to the community.

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Speaking of our lovable former first baseman…if you haven’t caught former Astro Morgan Ensberg’s explanation as to why Bagwell is the most well-respected Astro, probably ever, do yourself a favor and take a minute to read his most recent blog entry.

Not only does Ensberg perfectly illustrate some of the “little things” Bagwell did as the leader of this team for so many years, you’ll also get a hilarious account of the first time Ensberg was called up in 2000. He walked into the gigantic home clubhouse and was horrified to see his locker was right between Bagwell and Biggio. Good stuff.

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Make A Wish

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Lost in the Opening Day frenzy was a nice side story involving the Astros and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Seventeen-year-old Ramon suffers from Muscular Dystrophy, as does his 15-year-old brother Jose.  Along with their sister Vanessa (five), mom Griselda and dad Ramon, the family was invited down onto the field to watch batting practice and mingle with several players. 

The kids are huge Astros fans, and Ramon was an avid ballplayer until MD made that impossible. Ramon shies from being the center of attention, but on Monday, he was given the star treatment by the players.

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(photos: Stephen O’Brien)

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A Gathering of Champions

A lot of you were bummed out when Casey Daigle didn’t make the team out of Spring Training, not because you were so attached to the young right-handed reliever, but because Daigle making the team increases the odds that his better half– wife Jennie Finch — would make a few cameo appearances at Minute Maid Park.

Ironically, she’ll be in Houston in the near future, likely without hubs. Finch, arguably the best women’s softball player on the planet, is one of many sports stars scheduled to attend “A Gathering of Champions,” benefitting Houston Children’s Charity.

More than two dozen former athletes are scheduled to attend the April 30 event, hosted by Paige and Tilman Fertitta. Several have ties (past and present) to the Astros: Bagwell, Nolan Ryan, Craig Biggio and Larry Dierker.

You can find more details about the event here.

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Also mark your calendars for the annual Tommy Bahama Island Cowboy Classic, scheduled for Monday, April 26. This is always well-attended by current and former Astros players, as well as many people from the front office and broadcast teams. This year, proceeds will benefit Astros in Action and support the Montgomery County Special Olympics.

For more information, click here.

Opening Day — morning, noon and night.

While baseball players like to pretend they’re too cool to get caught up in the hype of Opening Day, in an honest moment, most would probably admit that the excitement generated for this one game is hard to ignore.

While it might be construed as just another game for the players, this day just feels different. Maybe it’s seeing the Astros in their crisp white pinstripe uniforms after six weeks of red Spring Training jerseys. Maybe it was because this was Brad Mills’ first Opening Day as a Major League manager. Maybe it’s because the players are more optimistic about a new season than they have been in years.

Of course, it’s hard to treat this like just any other gameday when you’re surrounded by a street festival, pep rally, packed ballpark and elaborate pregame introductions with parachuters falling from the sky.

Nope, definitely not just another day at the office…

Brad Mills and Drayton McLane make their way to the pep rally early on Monday. Mills, McLane, Ed Wade and Tal Smith led the first rally, while several players were slated to drop by a second one after batting practice later in the day.

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Mills and Milo Hamilton on stage at the rally.

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Rally, round 2…Michael Bourn and Dave Raymond.

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Crowd shot from Streetfest.

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Tommy Manzella waves to the crowd at Streetfest.

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Batting practice: Bud Norris

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Pre-batting practice warmup.

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Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris

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We took our camera into the dugout before and during pregame ceremonies and discovered there’s a lot of hugging between teammates on Opening Day.

Bourn, Matsui…

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…Lee, Pence.

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Chris Johnson, enjoying every moment of his first big league Opening Day.

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Puma, Brad Mills.

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Parachuting onto the field….

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Lining up for anthem after introductions.

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Touching Base with Dave Clark

Every Friday through Spring Training, we ran a feature called “Touching Base” in an effort to let the fans get to know the Major League coaching staff, from the four newcomers to the two returnees.

Coaches duties extend far beyond what you see them do on a field once the game starts, and we hope this gives you a little insight into what they do from day to day.

We started with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, followed by hitting coach Sean Berry, bench coach Al Pedrique, first base coach Bobby Meacham and bullpen coach Jamie Quirk.

We end the six-week series with third base coach Dave Clark.

Check out our one-on-one video interview with Clark here.

 

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They say the best way to age 10 years in half that time is to a) be the President of the United States or b) be a Major League Baseball manager.

But you can probably add one more to the list: third base coach.

They hear the boos, the cheers, the jeers, the suggestions (“Squeeze! Send him! Hold him!”) and the constructive criticism (“you stink!”). It’s a thankless job, where you’re pretty much darned if you do, darned if you don’t.

Such is life for Dave Clark, who chuckles at the reactions he sometimes sparks from the fans sitting on the third base side of the field.

“You hear all kinds of things,” Clark laughed. “You either love that third base coach or you hate him. Most of the time, people hate me, hate them, hate that guy.”

(Quick commentary: I’m of the opinion that every fan of every team experiences at least two of the following three sentiments, and often, all three, multiple times in a single season: 1) they want their GM fired; 2) they think their third base coach is the worst third base coach in the history of baseball; 3) they think their team is the very worst of the 30 teams at scoring from third with less than two outs. It’s pretty much universal).

Clark prides himself on being aggressive with his baserunners but also tries to be conservative in the right situations. With only a few seconds to make what can be a key decision between winning and losing a game, a third base coach has no time to mull over the “what ifs.” They do that after the game, and sometimes several times through the night.

“Heck yea,” he said, asked if certain decisions kept him up at night. “There were a few times last year I’d see a play in my head, I’d go to bed, I’d wake up with the same play. It goes over and over in my head, Did I make the right decision? Most of the time, I think I did.”

 

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Coaching third base is Clark’s most visible duty, but it’s not his only one. Behind the scenes, Clark is in charge of positioning the outfielders and making sure they’re ready for any and all conditions that they’ll come across over the course of a season.

“Fly balls, ground balls, sun balls,” Clark said. “There are so many little things people don’t realize and don’t see that we have to work on. We try to hit every area there is: the wind, the sun, the playing surfaces. We go into every series knowing how hard the outfield is, if it’s fast, if it’s slow.”

Clark is entering his second season as the Astros’ third base coach, although he left that post briefly in September of last year to manage the club in the wake of Cecil Cooper’s dismissal. Prior to joining the Major League club, Clark spent six seasons as a Minor League manager from 2003-08, winning two league titles while twice being named Manager of the Year. As a player, he was an outfielder, patrolling both right field and left field for 13 years.

Teams assign duties to their coaches depending on their areas of expertise, which is why it made sense for the third base coach to be in charge of outfielders this year. In the past, Jose Cruz, himself a former left fielder, oversaw the outfielders in addition to serving as first base coach.

 

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Defensive alignment is one of the coaching staff’s most important jobs, but from a public standpoint, Clark realizes he’ll be judged by one thing only: waving the runners home.

“I love being aggressive,” Clark said. “There are certain times in a game that you have to be aggressive. There are certain times when you have to be conservative. And that’s just from being around the game long enough to know.”

As for the hecklers behind third base…

“They’re out there, having fun, paying money to watch the game,” Clark said, adding with a laugh, “but they could cool off on me a little bit.”

Just the facts: Dave Clark
Born
: Tupelo, MS
Resides: Collierville, TN
Age: 47
Drafted: First round by the Cleveland Indians, 1983.
Major League debut: September 3, 1986
Final game: September 27, 1998
Little known facts: He was inducted into the Jackson State Sports Hall of Fame in November of 2000, joining the likes of Walter Payton, Jackie Slater and Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd; his brother, Louis, played seven years in the NFL with Seattle and Green Bay; He was 26-0 as a Golden Gloves boxer while in high school.

 

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