September 2010

Astros lineup 9/11 vs. Dodgers. First pitch 6:05 CT

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Astros visit firefighters, ValleyCats advance, and an old fave from the photo vault.

It’s a tradition that is only in its second year, but the Astros have started a good thing by dedicating two full days to honoring our local heroes.

On Friday, Astros players visited local fire stations to thank firefighters for their service to the Houston community. The players “adopted” the firehouse that corresponds with their uniform numbers — Jeff Keppinger visited Fire Station No. 8 downtown, while Bud Norris visited No. 20, Brad Mills No. 2 and Jason Michaels No. 4.

The firehouse was presented with an autographed, framed jersey and an autograph and photo session with the Astros figure that visited. In two years, the Astros Adopt-A-Firehouse program has had 13 players visit local firehouses.

Images from all four firehouses:

Jeff Keppinger
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Brad Mills

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Bud Norris

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Jason Michaels

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On Saturday, the Astros will remember the ninth anniversary of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 by honoring firefighters, police, first responders and military personnel during a pregame ceremony titled “Heroes Take The Field.”

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Congratulations to the Tri-City ValleyCats, who shut out Batavia, 1-0 on Thursday to advance to the New York Penn League Championship game for the third time in seven seasons. Jake Buchanan threw seven shutout innings to pick up the win, while closer Mike Ness earned the two-inning save.

Tri-City will host the Brooklyn Cyclones on Saturday in the first of a three-game series.
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Interesting quotes from Dodgers manager Joe Torre before Friday’s game. Talking with KRIV’s Mark Berman, Torre noted the Astros’ sweeping roster changes and commended the team for taking the risk in retooling right in the middle of the season:

“I think it’s taken a lot of courage for them to do this. I admire what they’re doing. It’s sort of like that kid in class. You’re always admiring that kid who asked the question that you were afraid to ask. It’s something I think has to be done.”

“The mortal sin is the fact that you don’t try. You’re gonna make mistakes because the only way you are going to find out if what you’re doing is working is to get them out there in between the lines and work it.”

“You have to exercise some patience in hoping you can be a part of watching them grow and I’m talking about the fans here, and the fans that were here (Thursday) seem very enthusiastic with the club they are watching on the field.”

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From the photo vault…

In honor of our old friend and current Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus being in town this weekend, I present to you one of my favorite pictures from a Fan Fest many moons ago.

Players were paired up for the photo booth session, and I always felt a little sorry for the poor chap who was stuck with Ausmus, because, well, his services weren’t really needed. Invariably, a large portion of the female fan base would point to Ausmus and politely say to the other player, “Thanks, but I want the picture with just him.”

Eric Bruntlett, as you can see here, didn’t take it personally and spent most of his hour in the photo booth leaning out of the shot.

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Astros lineup 9/10 vs. Dodgers. First pitch 7:05 CT.

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Homestand preview: mystery grab bags, Pence goes back to school, harmonicas and more.

In observance of the ninth anniversary of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Astros will honor area first responders and military personnel with a special pre-game ceremony. Active members of local police, fire, EMS and military that attend the game in uniform are invited down to the field for the ceremony.

All those wishing to participate should meet at the right field gate by 5:00 p.m.

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Included in the ceremonies will be “Heroes Take The Field” – one  representative from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Houston Police Department (HPD), Houston Fire Department (HFD) and Houston Emergency Medical Service (EMS) has been selected to take a position on the field with an Astros player for the National Anthem and will throw out ceremonial first pitches. Other local heroes will present a giant American flag for the singing of the National Anthem.

The Astros In Action Foundation will also host a Mystery Autographed Baseball Grab Bag fundraiser that day. For $25, fans will be able to purchase a bag that contains one autographed baseball from the Astros current roster. In addition to the current roster, former Astros players and fan favorites Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Jose Cruz, Larry Dierker, Roy Oswalt and Jimmy Wynn autographed baseballs will be included.

The Grab Bag fundraiser will be conducted at two locations on the main concourse – the Community Clubhouse located behind section 107 and behind home plate at the Astros timeline. Each location will have a full set of the autographed baseballs. The baseballs will be available from the time gates open until all grab bags have been purchased. Proceeds from the fundraiser will be donated to the USO.

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Here’s a story you might enjoy. Imagine being 13 years old and taking a limousine to school and then hanging with Hunter Pence. That’s exactly what seventh-grader Jacob Barrios of Spring Branch is going to do on Sept. 14.

As part of Whataburger’s “Take a Player to School” program, Barrios will be personally escorted to school in his own limo by Junction Jack, and later that morning, he will host Pence as his special guest during lunch.

This past summer, fans were invited to participate in an online essay contest that awarded one lucky student the opportunity to bring a player to school at the start of the 2010-11 school year. More than 1,600 entries were received from parents, relatives and friends of area kids, grades one through eight.

Barrios, who attends Landrum Middle School, has had to deal with quite a few challenges in his young life, including losing his five-month-old brother just before school started last year. Despite suffering from dyslexia and Irlen’s Syndrome, Barrios has made A/B honor roll every grading period and was inducted into the Junior National Honor Society in the spring, at which time he received the Principal’s Award.

Barrios is known as a hard worker and a team player, and he’s about to be rewarded for it, big-time. Wonder how long it’s been since Pence has been in a school cafeteria. Hope he doesn’t forget his lunch money.

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Other highlights from the upcoming 10-game homestand:

Sept. 10: Harmonica Night. The Astros will attempt to set a new Guinness Book record by having close to 10,000 fans play the harmonica after the game that night. The event will take place before the fireworks. (Yes, I’m serious.)

Sept. 12: The Pearland Little League World Series team will be recognized on the field prior to the game.

Sept. 19: The Astros will host the second Dog Day of the season, where fans are invited to bring their dogs to the game that day.

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Oldies but goodies

Whenever we post old pictures on this blog, it usually gets a nice reaction from you guys, so I’ve decided to make it a regular feature as we move to the final stages of the season and into the winter.

For now, we’ll title it “from the photo vault,” because quite frankly, I’m a little travel-weary and not feeling overly creative. Once I rename PumaOneLiners I’ll come up with something clever for this as well.

From the Photo Vault, installment one…we present an image from the 2004 Texas Baseball Hall of Fame inductions, featuring your favorite Killer B’s, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell:

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Astros lineup 9/8 at Cubs. First pitch 7:05 CT.

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Astros lineup 9/7 at Cubs, pregame notes and batting practice photos.

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Pregame notes:

The Astros have won 11 of their last 15 games and 16 of their last 24.

Tonight’s starter, Nelson Figueroa, has posted a 1.96 ERA over four starts with the Astros, who are 3-1 in those games.

The Astros are 29-40 on the road this year, but they’ve won eight of their last 12 road games.

The Astros rank fifth in the National League in batting average in the second half with a .264 average. Prior to the All-Star break, the Astros were 15th with a .238 average.

Chris Johnson has hit three home runs in the six career games he’s played at Wrigley. He’s hitting .375 at the Friendly Confines.

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Images from batting practice:

Bagwell, Bourn 

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Bourn signs autographs for kids behind the cage.

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Carlos Lee

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Brett Wallace

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Jason Michaels

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Was that Miss Piggy and Super Mario walking the streets of Chicago? Nah. Those were your Houston Astros.

The purpose of the Rookie Road Trip, historically, is to dress up the rookies in crazy outfits and properly humiliate them with as many people watching as possible. The Astros’ travel schedule prevented them from adequately executing the second part, because the flight out of Phoenix put them at the Chicago hotel around 11 p.m. Sunday night — too late for many passers-by to really catch the rookies in all of their costumed glory.

So the veteran players came up with a much better idea: dress them in the crazy outfits after the day game at Wrigley Field on Monday, send them to a rather populated area outside of the ballpark postgame to sign autographs, and drop them off a few blocks from hotel — in the heart of downtown Chicago — and let them hoof it back to team headquarters in full fancy gear.

The final product was spectacular. Thanks to the rookies, who embraced the assignment with a good-natured approach that made the entire process what it’s supposed to be, the 2010 Astros Rookie Road Trip was funny to all involved. Chris Johnson (pictured above, with Jason Castro), led the group, walking to the platform outside of Wrigley Field, arms opened, before posing for a myriad of photos while signing autographs. When the bus dropped the rookies off a few blocks from the hotel, nearly the entire team filed off — rookies and non-rookies — and what was intended as a simple three-block walk to the hotel turned into a parade on and around the famed Magnificent Mile that lasted at least 20 minutes.

Kudos to the Astros rookies for not taking themselves too seriously and making this time-honored tradition what it’s supposed to be — fun, and an exercise in team unity.

Good for them, and good for you, Astros fans,  because this is one group you might want to keep an eye on moving forward. They’re happy to be here, and they’re having one heck of a good time wearing the Houston uniform (and other stuff too. Proof below).

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This is one of those photos that you refer back to whenever you’re having a bad day. Awesome. 

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Chris Johnson, signing autographs on a plaza outside Wrigley Field. In Major League Baseball, you have two types of players: those who get it, and those who don’t. CJ gets it. He can do two things at once: work hard at his craft, and laugh at himself. Good for him.  

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Two Brians, Esposito and Bogusevic, sign autographs at Wrigley. The bus was parked 10 feet away where the entire front office contingent was looking on with amusement. Good times.

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Tommy Manzella, Brett Wallce.

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Fernando Abad, Henry Villar. For the record, Villar was the first to put his costume on in the clubhouse and he made sure the stomach was in just the right spot.  They were pretending to be serious for this photo, but they were among the most animated throughout the field trip.

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To illustrate the history of this time-honored tradition, here are the two oldest photos I have of Rookie Road Trips:

2001…the most recognizable rookies are Roy Oswalt, front and center, and Adam Everett, far right. You’ll also spot Carlos Hernandez, Ricky Stone, Tim Redding and Scott Linebrink. 

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Morgan Ensberg, circa 2000.

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Astros lineup, plus photos from batting practice at Wrigley Field.

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Pregame notes:

Since June 24, Wandy Rodriguez is 8-2 over 13 starts with a 1.65 ERA, the second-lowest among NL starting pitchers during that span.

Carlos Lee has 34 RBIs in 35 games since July 28, the most in the big leagues over that span.

Houston has won eight of its last 11 games on the road.

Lee’s 94 career RBIs vs. the Cubs is the second-most by an active player, trailing only Albert Pujols’ 119.

The Astros are 36-24 in the NL Central.

Chris Johnson is fourth among all MLB rookies with a .321 batting average.

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Images from batting practice:   

Bagwell, Quirk, Quintero.

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Brian Bogusevic prepares to make his first big league start (playing left field) while Coach Bagwell watches from behind the cage.

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Gathering on the field to stretch…Castro (left), Bourn, Bourgeois. And more.

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Castro takes some swings in the cage.

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Quirk throws BP to Jason Michaels.

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Lee, Blum, Pence.

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Pence, Johnson.

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Loyal Astros fans

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Luis Gonzalez is larger than life. Quite literally.

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The Diamondbacks added a feature to their home games this season, and immediately, it soared to the top of my list of favorite between-inning gimmicky events designed to entertain the crowd in some of the road ballparks we visit.

Maybe it’s because Luis Gonzalez was my very first favorite Astros player when I moved to Houston in 1997. Maybe it’s because this thing looks so much like Randy Johnson that if it wasn’t made of 10 feet of foam, you’d think it was really him.

The Diamondbacks Legends Race takes place at the end of the fifth inning and features likenesses of four D-backs legends: Gonzo, Johnson, Matt Williams and Mark Grace. It is similar to the Sausage Race in Milwaukee and the Pierogi Race in Pittsburgh, but as funny as those races are, this one has a little something extra special. It’s probably the size exaggerated size of those gigantic heads, plus the fact that they really do look like the Dbacks legends they’re meant to portray. (For those of you old enough to remember the movie Ghostbusters, this has a very Stay Puff Marshmallow Man feel to it.)

If we had this in Houston, I’m thinking a Bagwell-Biggio-Dierker-Cruz foursome could do some serious between-innings damage. Bagwell’s foam head could sport his signature goatee, while Biggio’s could have a grin that takes up his whole face. Cruz’s would have long wavy black hair and Dierker’s could simply stand seven feet taller than everyone else.

Gonzo

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Grace

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Johnson

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Williams.

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Astros lineup 9/5 at Diamondbacks. First pitch 3:10 CT.

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