February 2011

I don’t know how good this team will be, and that’s why I like it.

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I am asked almost daily for my prediction for the 2011 Astros. I am asked to guess how many games they’ll win and if they’ll contend, if they have enough starting pitching and hitting and a strong enough bullpen to stay afloat in the NL Central division.

My answer comes off as wishy washy, but it’s the honest truth — I don’t know. I really, really don’t know. And that’s why this team is going to be fun to watch.

When I look at this team, I see a very good starting rotation, and when you have good pitching, you have a chance. When I look at the lineup, I see a lot of players without long-term track records, and that’s why it is nearly impossible to handicap how this season is going to shake out.

Chris Johnson had a terrific rookie season. Jason Castro (pictured above, with Humberto Quintero) and Brett Wallace struggled offensively as they worked to acclimate themselves to the big leagues in a very short amount of time. The middle of the infield will have more pop than last year’s with the addition of Clint Barmes and Bill Hall, but we don’t know how that will translate over the course of six months.

I see interesting arms in the bullpen in Wilton Lopez and Mark Melancon and Fernando Abad, but again, so many of the Astros’ up-and-comers have little to no track record, and therefore, it is impossible to project how they’ll perform over the long haul.

So how good will these Astros be in 2011? I just don’t know. And to me, that makes them a very intriguing story. In 2009, the Astros had the oldest team in two categories: age, and service time. Those are the two distinctions no team wants. Over the course of two years, the Astros have gotten younger and better defensively, and while players who are just starting out are going to have their share of inevitable struggles, I sense it’ll be fun to watch them develop,
too.
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On the other hand, there are plenty of Astros who have been around a while. A long, long while — in many instances, more than three decades. Fortunately, they’re all members of the support staff and not the 40-man roster.

Twelve have been to at least 30 Spring Trainings, led by the grand daddy of them all, Matt Galante, who is participating in his 45th camp. The rest of the list: Special Assistant to the GM Jose Cruz (44), bullpen coach Jamie Quirk (39), bullpen assistant Strech Suba (34), traveling secretary Barry Waters (34), clubhouse manager emeritus Dennis Liborio (34), bench coach Al Pedrique (34), Oklahoma City pitching coach Burt Hooton (34), assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones (34), manager Brad Mills (33), strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman (33), visiting clubhouse manager Steve Perry (32).

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On to the links…

MLB.com

Carlos Lee would like to put last year behind him and start anew

In this McTaggart notebook, we learn that Drayton McLane was surprised the club lost its arbitration case with Pence and that Alberto Arias is concerned about his right shoulder.

McTaggart also has some dandy photos from the first full-squad workout on Sunday in his blog.

Chronicle

Get to know your new hitting coach in this Justice column.

Hunter Pence labeled as the club’s hardest working player, possibly ever. Here’s why.

Could the Astros and Nationals be moving in together in a few years? Justice has the scoop.

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It’s Feb. 20 in Kissimmee, and the gang’s all here.

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The Astros’ clubhouse is, as expected, packed to the gills now that the entire squad (minus new father Bill Hall, who will be here in the next couple of days) has reported to Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.

The roomy locker room area appeared to shrink a bit with the addition of the handful of position players who hadn’t already reported earlier last week. After a flurry of media interviews with a few of the veterans — Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, et al — the squad was ushered to the meeting room upstairs, where Brad Mills, Drayton McLane and Ed Wade made a few brief comments.

Wade got right to the point — yes, the team has had a lot of turnover in the last year, and yes, clearly, the Astros are getting younger. But that doesn’t take the onus off the players who have been here a while and have a responsibility to set an example this spring, and this season.

“We’ve got a good solid core veteran group in this room that has to take accountability for the status that you have in the game,” he said. “We do have young guys. The club is going to have a new face going into the 2011 season. But you veterans have to step up and do what you’re capable of doing and lead by example.”

Wade added that he is a firm believer that a player does not have to have seven, eight, nine 10 years in the big leagues to assume a leadership role. He’s had the discussion with Pence on a number of occasions and hopes the up-and-coming group of Astros quickly grasps the importance of accountability and properly handling themselves as professional ballplayers, and as Houston Astros.
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The first day of Spring Training is very similar to the first day of school. Everyone is happy to see each other (as we see with Lee and Wandy Rodriguez, pictured above), old acquaintances are renewed and new ones are formed. Everyone is loose and relaxed, and the worries are few.

In a few weeks, once hitters have their swings back and pitchers have built up some innings, players will start feeling restless, wanting the games to start counting for something. But for now, as you’ll see below, everyone is just happy to be here.

Team meeting: Drayton McLane

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Ed Wade
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The first gathering of the entire team on the field. They receive a few instructions from bench coach Al Pedrique, and then off they go.

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Drills, drills, drills: pitchers covering first

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Outfielder drills

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Brett Wallace takes grounders at first base

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Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg chats with J.A. Happ

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Batting practice: Carlos Lee

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Hunter Pence

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Drayton McLane, Hunter Pence

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Morning news and notes: Video board’s first images, ‘Grey’s’ mystery solved and what they’re writing about your Astros

The new video board at Minute Maid Park was installed a few weeks ago, and recently, the ballpark entertainment staff was finally able to test it out. We received this photo yesterday of the very first image to appear on the new gigantic scoreboard (thanks Steve Grande):

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Mystery solved

I received this message from an anonymous reader this morning:
“One of the writers for Grey’s Anatomy, Stacy McKee, is a Houston native. She wrote the episode with the Bagwell line. That’s probably the reason for the Bagwell shout out.”

Off the field fun

The Astros send out a sheet of notes after workouts every day, and I found this cluster of tidbits to be most interesting:

IN THE OFFSEASON:  LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith took mixed martial arts classes as part of his offseason regimen…RHP Nelson Figueroa and his family hosted a foreign exchange student…LHP Wesley Wright got married…RHP Mark Melancon conducted a baseball clinic for Major League Baseball in Australia in November…C Jason Castro took three classes at Stanford University, and now needs two more to earn his bachelor’s degree…GM Ed Wade ran in the Houston Marathon on Jan. 31…Hunter Pence opened a new baseball training facility in Houston, and conducted several instructional sessions with youngsters.

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On to today’s links…

MLB.com:

McTaggart: Despite falling a few spots on the depth chart, J.R. Towles has an upbeat attitude this spring

In this notes package, Tags touches on Pence’s arbitration hearing and Dave Clark’s managerial stint in Winter Ball.

Chronicle:

Richard Justice likes these Astros and he thinks you will, too.

Justice also explains why you can mark Brett Wallace down as the Opening Day first baseman.

Zachary Levine writes about a largely unheralded bullpen…

...and he dissects why nicknames in our game are so silly, and often, boring. (this is funny stuff)

We conclude with some photos from Friday’s workout:

Two catchers: Quintero and Castro

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Cage work: Tommy Manzella and hitting coach Mike Barnett

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Brian Bogusevic

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2009 first-round pick Jio Mier

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Friday Focus: Ryan Rowland-Smith

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The Astros have a somewhat limited list of players who have embraced the world of social media, but this offseason, they gained another willing participant when they signed left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith. The former Seattle Mariner goes by @hyphen18 on Twitter and embraces the opportunity to do something that wasn’t possible a decade ago — communicate directly with the fans without needing a go-between to deliver the message.

Rowland-Smith is a native of Australia but believe it or not, he has Houston ties. He also has an interesting story as to how his last name came about. In our first installment of a weekly give-and-take we call “Friday Focus,” we ask five questions that give some insight to our players, off the field…

You’re one of a growing list of players who have Twitter profiles. What made you decide to be on Twitter?

RRS: It goes back to 2009, when I started. I had friend of mine who works for ESPN, Stacey Pressman. She said, “You should try it, the football players are all doing it, and it could be something good.” So I decided just to give it a go. It’s a good way to communicate with the fans. If they have questions they can just go straight through Twitter and that’s how that came about.

So you make a point of responding to the fans who follow you?

RRS: If they have a legitimate question, yes, I’ll respond to it as best as I can. I’m not going to talk about stuff that I can’t tell them. But for the most part if they ask questions and they’re interested in something, I go back and forth. It’s a fun way to be able to do that.

You recently explained through Twitter how your last name, Rowland-Smith, came about. What is the story there?

RRS: Actually, I only found out (recently). As a visiting player you go to visiting stadium and they try to heckle you about your last name, thinking I took it from my wife. I’m not married (laughs). I went back home and we’re sitting around during Christmas and I asked my grandfather, “Hey, where did the name come from?” I was thinking, how do I not know this? He basically told me a couple of generations back, my great-great-great grandfather, his first name was Rowland and his last name was Smith. I guess he was a big deal. When he passed away, they wanted to keep his name to honor him and the family. So they changed everyone’s name to Rowland-dash-Smith.

You’re new to the Astros but not to Houston. What is your connection there?

RRS:  My girlfriend’s parents live there. I’ve been there a couple times. I was there for Thanksgiving. My girlfriend’s dad works with Waste Management. They do a  charity thing where they go downtown and hand out food. I was part of that, that was my first time being downtown. At that time, I didn’t know I was going to be with the Astros.

One final question — What do you do to pass the time after Spring Training workouts?

RRS: I’m new to the area, and I’m trying to make some friends here. I’ve only known everyone for three days. I just go home and do little things that need to be done, just hang out, catch up, maybe talk on the phone back in Australia. It’s morning there, so I’ll go back and get on Skype, hang out and relax. You try to get an early night because we get here early.

Morning roundup: Bagwell debuts on ‘Grey’s’, single game tickets on sale, and Bobblehead news.

The only connection that ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy has to our fair city of Houston, that I can think of, is Chandra Wilson, who plays the outspoken yet lovable Dr. Miranda Bailey and has been a staple of the show since it first aired six years ago. She grew up in Houston, attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and performed at a very young age at the Theatre Under the Stars.

I have no idea if Wilson’s allegiance to her hometown had anything to do with Jeff Bagwell getting a mention on last night’s show — in fact, it’s highly doubtful, considering Wilson is not one of the show’s writers — but it was pretty cool nonetheless.

I was well on my way to falling into a wonderful Ambien-induced slumber when the scene aired, so forgive me if the details are fuzzy. Scene: two guys, both of whom seemed to be fighting over Teddy, got to talking amongst themselves. One of them had briefly pitched in the Major Leagues. Guy 1 to Guy 2: “Did you ever pitch to Jeff Bagwell?” Guy 2 to Guy 1: “Once. It wasn’t pretty.”

That would be the second time the Astros have been mentioned on a hit medical drama. Remember back in 1997 when “ER” aired a live episode? The Astros-Cubs game was playing in the background. It happened to be the night the Astros clinched the division, and if I remember correctly, Brad Ausmus’s home run was playing when the cameras panned on the television.

So, even if our guys are sometimes ignored on the national sports landscape, it’s nice to know we’ve got the prime time, hospital-themed drama market cornered.

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Single-game tickets go on sale today at 9 a.m. CT and can be purchased online at astros.com, at the Astros Spanish website, astrosdehouston.com, at the ballpark Box Office on Texas Avenue or by phone toll free at 1-877-9ASTROS (1-877-927-8767).

You can find a full list of promotional giveaways on astros.com, but here are a few highlights to whet your whistle:

On Opening Day (April 8), the Astros are giving away 2011 schedule magnets to the first 40,000 fans. Michael Bourn Bobbleheads — celebrating his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award — will be given away on April 10.

The Astros are hosting two Dog Days this year: April 17, and Sept. 9. Fans can enjoy the game with their canine friends in designated areas of the ballpark and partake in in a pregame “Pooch Parade.” (Complete with real-live poopie picker-uppers.)

The Astros will again “Play Green” in 2011 and will celebrate Green Week April. 26-May 1. A reusable grocery tote bag will be given away on April 28, followed by a Play Green Bobblehead featuring Play Green ambassador Hunter Pence (April 30).

In early May, the Astros will celebrate Pink in the Park Week (May 9-15) as the ballclub raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research. A variety of events, including a Ladies Golf Tournament, Brunch and Bazaar, Ladies Night (May 13) and Wine and Cheese Night (May 14) are planned. Giveaways that weekend include a Pink Tote Bag (May 13), and a bobblehead featuring Chris Johnson with a pink bat (May 14), which has become synonymous with the league-wide commitment to women’s health and breast cancer research.

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FanFest will take place Opening weekend, April 8-10. We’ll reveal the details as it gets closer, but among the highlights will be current player and alumni autograph sessions, Talkin’ Baseball seminars and silent auctions.

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On to today’s links:

MLB.com

In Brian McTaggart’s notes roundup, we learn that Ryan Rowland-Smith has chucked his signature glasses in favor of contact lenses and that Jeff Keppinger hopes to get his walking boot off by next week.

Tags also features a brash and bold Brett Myers, now a senior member of the starting staff.

Chronicle

Justice: Jason Castro gets high praise from coaches

I thought it was interesting, but not at all surprising, that it was pitching coach Brad Arnsberg who first took Castro into the video room to study opposing hitters and also familiarize himself with his battery partner for that day’s game. Arnie spends hours studying tape in that video room and apparently pitchers aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits.

Zachary Levine tackles Bud’s stomach flu, Pence’s day in Arizona and prospect Delino DeShields Jr.’s pending day in court.

At this pace, Spring Training might as well start Jan. 1.

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I’m not sure if this is the case with every club, but here in Kissimmee, anticipation of the first full squad workout, scheduled to take place this weekend, is waning with each passing day.

That’s not to say we’re not looking forward to it. Of course we are. It’s just that with so many position players here and working out, it feels as if the “first full squad workout” on Feb. 20 has already happened.

Times have certainly changed. In the old days, a couple of position players would show up early to get a few workouts in before the real stuff started. The majority of the team — especially the starting lineup — would usually arrive on one of the last flights out the night before the official report date, with players filtering into the clubhouse in the late hours to check in with the staff.

Nowadays, positions players are beating the pitchers here, for a number of reasons. Offseasons are no longer spent eating potato chips and getting fat and sluggish. Most players start a workout regimen about a month after the prior season ends, and by the time they get to Spring Training, they’re already in tip-top shape.

Strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman can take at least part of the credit for all of the early arrivals. A slew of young Astros up-and-comers lived in Houston over the winter and worked out every day with Coleman, so when he packed up and headed to Florida around Feb. 10, a lot of the players followed.

Once the equipment truck leaves Houston, the clubhouse and athletic training staffs do too, and players no longer have access to the home weight room as they did earlier in the offseason. So they head to Florida.

And they’re here in full force, even though “report” day isn’t for another three days. The backfields at the Osceola County Stadium complex on Thursday were filled with infielders, taking both ground balls and a few rounds of batting practice.

That said, workouts on the field are not exactly the same as workouts in the weight room. Chris Johnson spent most of the offseason in the Astros’ weight room, yet after one day of running around the fields, “I could hardly get out of bed this morning.”

In that case, it’s probably good that we still have six weeks until Opening Day…

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A lot of you have asked who has the advantage to win the first base job, Brett Wallace or Carlos Lee. Right now, around 10 days before the first Spring Training game, the odds are overwhelmingly in Wallace’s favor.

Lee is a backup plan in case Wallace really, really, really scuffles this spring (yes, it deserves three reallys, to illustrate just how disastrous of a showing Wallace is going to have in order to not be the Opening Day first baseman.)

The Astros like Wallace, a lot. Ed Wade likes him. Hitting coach Mike Barnett likes him. And manager Brad Mills is firmly in his corner as well, praising the 24-year-old’s “unbelievably quick hands.”

“He’s got great hands, and he’s always hit at every level he’s played,” Mills said. “He’s got eye-hand coordination that’s pretty special. The experience he was able to get last year at the Major League level was huge. He was traded in a lot of big deals and wasn’t able to get situated. Last year, he found out what the Major Leagues were about.”

Other notable quotables:

Mills on Bud Norris: “I don’t want to put a thumb print on it, because I don’t want to hold him back. But it’s scary when you think about the ability he has.”

Mills on J.A. Happ: “He’s a talented first-class individual. He just wants to continue to get better. Last year every game out, he competed. He competed every inning, every pitch. A guy with ability like that, he’s going to give you a chance to win ballgames.”

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From behind the camera lens, Spring Training Day Two:

Having some chuckles before workouts begin…

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Early morning workouts always start with a little light running…

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Two bearded veterans: Fulchino, Myers.

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Melancon practices comebackers with Mills watching from the side.

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Wallace, Barmes, Meacham, Quirk

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Barmes, Manzella

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Mills, Johnson

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Norris, Lyon

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Links from the first day of Astros camp, media-style.

The first week of Spring Training typically is the busiest for a team in terms of media. While beat writers are in it for the long haul — all 44 days — television stations and columnists usually come through for anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

Houston has always had a pretty tame media market, but the usual suspects are in Kissimmee this week — MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, the Chronicle’s Zachary
Levine and Richard Justice and KRIV’s Mark Berman. Here’s what they had to say (and write) after pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time in Kissimmee, Fla.:

MLB.com – McTaggart

Despite pending sale, Drayton McLane says it’s business as usual:

After a long, cold winter (even for those who live in Houston), the Astros were ready to hit the fields

(A lot of high picks from the 2008 and ’09 drafts are in camp this year, and while most are still a year or two from the Majors — although I think we’ll be hearing from RHP Jordan Lyles sooner than later — it’s great that they’re getting exposure to big league Spring Training. While there are a lot of things teams can do to mess up a young, developing player — bring him up too early, build up too many innings on his arm, etc., there are absolutely no risks or
drawbacks to bringing a kid to big league camp. The exposure to veteran players and learning how things work up here can only be a positive. That’s good news for Jiovanni Mier and J.D. Martinez and their contemporaries.)

News and notes: unsurprisingly, Hunter Pence is here early. And he’s not the only one.

(Funny side note — as I was leaving work yesterday, I stopped in the clubhouse lunchroom to grab a bottle of water and ran into Pence, who is, to put it lightly, a little excited about the addition of granola to this year’s spring training culinary options. He was so thrilled that he held up the bowl and said, “tweet this.” So I did. Here’s the photo.)
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Chronicle

Spring Training, Day One, through the camera lens

As long as I can remember, Chronicle photographer Karen Warren was a staple at every Spring Training, until a few years ago, when her schedule changed and her trips to Kissimmee became more infrequent (and, for a few years, ceased completely). This year, we were all pleased to see veteran photog back at Spring Training, snapping away. You can check out Karen’s work here.

Chron links:

Justice explains how the Astros are laying the groundwork now for more fruitful times in the future.

With Roy Oswalt gone, Brett Myers is now the most experienced pitcher on the staff. Levine explores why Myers wants to lead, but doesn’t want to be called “Ace.”

From the video corner:
Footnotes: sights and sounds from Day One of Spring Training

KRIV: Drayton McLane meets and greets the team on report day

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Spring Training, Day One: Pitchers, catchers and lots of facial hair.

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Brett Myers was a target for reporters on Wednesday, which was to be expected considering the 30-year-old right-hander is now one of the elder statesman of this pitching staff. And, with a long-term commitment from the team, Myers also understands the added responsibility to serve as a camp-opening spokesman of sorts.

Myers has Roy Oswalt’s old locker, located at the front entrance, in the corner. The new digs were not lost on Myers, who quipped: “I don’t want this locker. The last guy who had it got traded.”

During a somewhat lengthy chat with reporters, Myers praised manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg for giving him some room to breathe and letting him be himself last year. “This coaching staff lets you have fun within your means,” he said. “So you do your thing and they let you be yourself. I didn’t have to mind my P’s and Q’s as much. They just let me be me and from there we had a good relationship.”

Other notable quotes:

Mills on new hitting coach Mike Barnett’s extensive coaching resume: “When he got this job, he didn’t have to call a lot of players. A lot of players called him. He works he tail off and rally cares about the hitters.”

Mills, on making sure pitchers pace themselves as they get ready for the season (using Wilton Lopez as an example): “We really put a lot on (Lopez) last year. He got tired and we had to sit him out for about four games last season. He loves to pitch and he loves to pitch every day. He’s such a workhorse and wants to do so much. We had to pull the reins back a little bit.”

On leadership in the clubhouse: “I tell the guys here, lead yourself. Everything you do, from the time you walk into the clubhouse to the time you go home…guys start rising to the top. Those are the ones who are going to be leaders.”

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Random thoughts as we watch morning workouts:

* Pitchers and catchers were the only groups required to be at the Osceola County Stadium complex on Wednesday, but a slew of position players are here as well. It seems as if more and more players every year start arriving earlier, way ahead of the required report date. Most of them have been working out all winter anyway, and I would imagine it’s enticing to finally be able to get out of the weight room and onto some real baseball fields.

Among the early arrivals: Hunter Pence, Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace, Tommy Manzella, Jeff Keppinger (with crutches), Clint Barmes, Koby Clemens, Brian Dopirak, Anderson Hernandez, Jiovanni Mier, Brian Bogusevic, J.D. Martinez, J.B. Shuck. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t others, I just might not have seen them yet.)

* I keep getting the question, “Is it/will it be weird to go into the clubhouse and not see Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman there?” And I find myself giving different answers ranging from yes, it’s strange to no, I haven’t really given it much thought.

On my way to work this morning, it dawned on me that this is not even close to the first time that Spring Training has started and some sort of franchise icon is not there because he’s moved on or retired. At first, you see that his old locker is occupied someone else and say to yourself, “Hm. That’s kind of weird.” It lasts a few minutes, and that’s pretty much the end of it.

It was kind of weird for the first 10 minutes or so the spring after Jeff Bagwell retired, kind of weird for about the same amount of time after Craig Biggio was done, and the same goes for Brad Ausmus -- although Ausmus’ exodus was a little more upsetting, for a few reasons: 1)he was a fantastic quote and 2) watching the competition sprint over to Ausmus’s locker five seconds after I approached him was, without fail, wonderfully amusing. There was a fear that if you let someone talk to Ausmus without eavesdropping, that person will get material that was equal parts witty and insightful and over-the-top brilliant, and your stuff will stink.

One time I went over to Brad and said, “I have nothing to ask you. I just want to see how long it takes for everyone to freak out that I’m talking to you and they’re not.” The answer — and the competition — usually arrived in under 10 seconds.

* It took a while to do this, but we’ve officially changed our Twitter profile dedicated to Astros witticisms from PumaOneLiners to AstrosOneLiners. As much as it pains me to do so, “Puma” has moved on, and so shall we. To ease the pain, I dug up my favorite shot of CJ and Castro from the Rookie Road Trip last year and am using that as the new AstrosOneLiners avatar.
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And with that, enjoy the images from Camp Astros, Day One…

Arnsberg, Myers

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Catchers warming up for morning workouts

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Jose Cruuuuuuuuuuuuz, Burt Hooton
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Drayton McLane watches the team work out from behind the protective fence.

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J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon throw bullpens, under Arnsberg’s watchful eye.

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Jeff Keppinger won’t start the season on time, but he arrived to Kissimmee plenty early.

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Wandy Rodriguez

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Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson, Humberto Quintero, Jamie Quirk

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Two young spring invites: J.B. Shuck, Koby Clemens

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Hunter Pence

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Pence, Mills

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PFP drills

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The day before report day: players arriving in droves.

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Although report day isn’t until Wednesday, the home clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday had plenty of traffic as pitchers and catchers — and several position players, too — trickled in for the start of Spring Training.

This year’s camp will be a big one, possibly the biggest one ever. It’s the most players in one Spring Training that I can remember, but seeing I haven’t been here that long (comparatively speaking), I asked around. A few members of the clubhouse staff have been here since 1980-ish, and they can’t remember a camp ever having as many as 63 players. So there we have it. The biggest camp, ever.
 
Most of these early days are filled with meetings, meetings and more meetings. Ed Wade, Brad Mills and their coaching and operations staffs have been in lockdown upstairs in a conference room near the Astros’ offices for most of the morning the last two days, going over, and critiquing, every player on the roster.

Meanwhile, the equipment room in the clubhouse is an overpopulated place, as is the case this time every spring. Players drop by to pick up all of the items that were packed away on the truck in Houston — shoes, jerseys, pants, undegarments, sleeves, t-shirts, belts, shower shoes, jackets, sweatshirts, socks, helmets…and on and on and on.

And here we go…

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(Above: Chris Johnson, Brian Bogusevic)
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Other stuff:

Astroline

Former pitcher Shane Reynolds will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline this Wednesday at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown from 7 to 8 p.m. CT. The following week, former manager Phil Garner will join Milo for the final Houston airing before the show moves to Florida.

Mills will appear on the first show at the Disney Boardwalk on March 2.
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“We Are Your Astros”

The Astros recently revealed their 2011 advertising campaign tagline: “We Are Your Astros.” The campaign features iconic Bayou City landmarks that reflect the team’s close connection with the community.

The imagery features action photos of Astros stars alongside well-known locations from around the city that most Houstonians will recognize. These landmarks include: the downtown skyline, the Sam Houston statue at Hermann Park, Houston City Hall and Rocket Park at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. 

Other Houston-area landmarks included in the campaign are the Texas Medical Center, Hines Water Wall, San Jacinto Monument and Battleship Texas. These images are bathed in orange and Astros red hues of a morning sunrise, symbolizing the 2011 club’s fresh, young roster, and were created by the design team at Lee Queao Creative.

The campaign will be executed on several Houston-area billboards in addition to graphics both in and around Minute Maid Park including wallscapes facing the U.S. 59 Freeway, column wraps and light pole banners.  The artwork will also be included in television commercials, print ads, collateral materials and animations on the ballpark’s new high-definition video boards.

The campaign will extend to surrounding Texas cities, including San Antonio and Austin, and feature familiar locations from those communities. Here’s what you’re going to see around town, starting next week:

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I walked around Minute Maid Park today and hardly recognized the place.

Although Minute Maid Park is 11 years old, several areas these days have that “new house” smell. It makes sense, really, when you think about how many familiar pockets of the ballpark are being torn out and completely redone. Upgrades are popping up all over the place, and as far as I can tell, everything is on schedule to either be ready for the College Classic (press box, video board) or Opening Day (new press club).

The one place NOT being renovated is the Astros’ clubhouse, with good reason — there’s no need for upgrades there. It’s still one of the best clubhouses in the league and looks as new as it did when the facility opened in 2000.

On Wednesday, however, the clubhouse was a fine mess. That’s par for the course this time of year — the equipment truck is due to pull out of the parking lot mid-afternoon on Thursday, and everything that will eventually be packed onto the truck is currently sitting in the clubhouse.

In addition to the uniforms, equipment, sunflower seeds and dozens of other baseball-related items that go on the truck, the team and the support staff are invited to drop off any personal items they’d like to send as well. Most Astros folks who live in town will send along a suitcase and a few miscellaneous items, to lighten the load when they have to fly to Florida.

So in addition to bubblegum, socks and jerseys, you’ll see some car seats, tricycles and golf bags in the mix on the truck as well.

Enjoy the mish-mosh of photos from around Minute Maid Park…

Press Club — best seat in the house, hands down. (Speaking from experience)

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Press box

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Control room — the new home for ballpark entertainment staff.

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Clubouse scene, one day before “Truck Day.”

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Traveling secretary Barry Waters and equipment manager Carl Schneider working the phones in an empty clubhouse. Their last few moments of peace and quiet for at least the next 7 1/2 months.

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