February 2011

Tips and notes for the Spring Training traveler.


Back by popular demand (thanks to you who emailed me as a friendly reminder), we’re running our yearly, informal, hopefully helpful Guide To Spring Training. In this blog, you’ll find tips for navigating around Osceola County Stadium, spring home of your Astros, and also getting around the areas surrounding the ballpark, with suggestions as to where to eat, where to lodge and what roads to avoid if you don’t want to lose your mind (yea, I’m talking about you, highway 192).

Hopefully, these tips will help you out as you travel to Central Florida for another spring season. I will admit up front that I definitely don’t get out much during Spring Training, so I’m probably not the best source when it comes to nightlife. But I have stumbled across a few good places here and there, and hopefully, you’ll find the insight beneficial. Please feel free to contribute in the comments section below. I’m sure a lot of you are seasoned Spring Training veterans and have found plenty to do when you’re down there. So please share your knowledge/experiences. Thanks!

For those of you not going to Spring Training, please check back often to this blog and astros.com for complete coverage of everything happening with your Astros throughout the spring season. We’ll be providing news, photos and videos, all with hopes that you’ll
reacquaint yourselves with some of your old favorites as well as get to know those who are new to the team. You can also follow me on Twitter, where I’ll be providing minute-by-minute updates throughout. Where I go, you’ll go.

1. Where is Kissimmee and how do I get there?
Kissimmee is about 20 minutes from Disney, to the west of Orlando, on Highway 192. The address is 1000 Bill Beck Blvd., on the left heading toward the turnpike.

From the Orlando Airport, take the South exit (to Kissimmee) out of the airport. Merge onto Boggy Creek Road, pass under the #417 – Greenway and continue on Boggy Creek to the next stop light (Circle K store on corner) turn right. This is still Boggy Creek Rd. After
you pass the Lakeside Subdivision stay in the right lane and go right at the next light (still Boggy Creek), go over the bridge, turn left at the light (Bill Beck Blvd.). Stadium parking lot will be on the right approximately 1/2 mile ahead.

If you are staying anywhere near Highway 535, which is directly off of I4 in Lake Buena Vista, I strongly suggest you travel to the ballpark via Osceola Parkway. It’s a toll road, so you’ll have to pay around two bucks each way, but trust me, it’s worth going that way and avoiding 192 and its billion stoplights. Take the Parkway East for about four miles to Michigan Ave. (You’ll see a shopping center on the left that has, among other things, a Buffalo Wild Wings). Turn right on Michigan for about two miles until you get to 192. Turn left and the ballpark will be on your left, about a mile down.

2. How can I watch the team work out?
Just show up at the ballpark — workouts begin Feb. 16 (pitchers and catchers) and Feb. 20 (full squad) and they’re open and free to the public. It’s a great time to get an up close view of your favorite players and you’re free to roam around all fields in the back of the complex, while the workouts are going on.

Workouts usually begin around 9:30 a.m. and last until noon or so. They’ll probably conclude a little earlier during the first four days, when it’s just pitchers and catchers.

When the team is on the road during Grapefruit season, half the squad stays back and works out at the home complex. Those workouts are also open and free to the public, but keep in mind that a lot of the marquee players will be with the team on the road (especially
when they play a team located close to Kissimmee). WORKOUTS ARE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC ON HOME GAME DAYS.

3. Where can I obtain autographs?
Most players do not sign during the workout hours, but don’t be discouraged. Many players finish the workouts on the field, go into the clubhouse for a few minutes in the weight room, and then come back out to sign.

Once the games start, the best place to obtain autographs is the patio located near the back of the clubhouse, down the left field line. Typically, once a player comes out of the game, he’ll stop and sign before he heads inside. Sometimes, he’ll first go inside to work out and then come out and sign.

Most players sign, but not at all do. Odds are, you’re going to have a great success rate getting autographs from the young players. The veteran guys are pretty good about signing as well but there are always exceptions.


If you bring four things for one player to sign, you’ve got “dealer” written all over you and you’re probably going to be blown off. Please don’t ruin it for everyone else, especially the kids. Game programs, ticket stubs and hats are great indications that you’re a well-meaning fan, not a dealer. Success rate odds increase heavily when you bring those items.

4. What else is there to do in Kissimmee?
Kissimmee is located next to the Happiest Place on Earth, so there’s plenty to do. Disney isn’t just an amusement park anymore; there’s something for everyone, including great nightlife for adults.

“Astroline” will begin its Florida broadcasts on March 2. The show will air live every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET (7 CT) at the ESPN Zone on the Boardwalk at Disney. There are a ton of restaurants and nightclubs along the Boardwalk, so once Astroline is finished, you can
find plenty to do in the same area.

In terms of dining, I’m partial to La Forchetta, located a couple of miles from the Osceola County Stadium complex at 321 S. John Young Parkway (when you’re driving away from the ballpark, turn left on JYP and go about a mile and a half. It’s on the left. If you get to the bridge, you’ve gone too far.) La Forchetta has delicious Italian home cooking, overseen by owner Maria Manzi. Get there early — the restaurant has only about 15 tables, and during Spring Training, it fills up quickly.

If you stop by Kissimmee Steak House, located to the left of the ballpark (turn left out of the complex on 192), odds are, you’ll run into Milo Hamilton. As most of you might know, Milo’s list of his favorite restaurants on the road is about a mile long, and Kissimmee
Steak is right at the top.

The Loop on Osceola Parkway has really grown over the last several years, and you’ll find just about anything you’re looking for there, from restaurants to brew pubs to shopping and a movie theater. Restaurants of note: Pei Wei, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Bonefish Grill.

Downtown Kissimmee has been built up nicely in the last few years as well. If you turn left on Main (coming from the ballpark) and head toward Downtown, you’ll find a nice array of restaurants, sports bars and wine bars. A few of us Astros types are partial to Three Sisters — good bar food, cold beverages, great happy hour specials. Very casual setting.
5. When do games start?
The Astros open on the road this year. They will play the Braves at their Disney complex on Feb. 28 beginning at 1:05 p.m. ET. The first home game is the next day, also against the Braves and also at 1:05 p.m. ET. All exhibition games will be a
ired on either 740 or
790 am. FS Houston will televise the games on March 18 and 19.

You can view the full Spring Training schedule here .

6. How do I get tickets?
Individual game tickets can be purchased at astros.com, in person or by mail at the Osceola County Stadiums box office (home games only). You can also order by telephone and in person at Florida Ticketmaster outlets (home and road games).

The box office is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET and on all game days.

Credit card purchases can be made by calling Florida Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000. Mail orders for home games can be sent to Osceola County Stadium, 631 Heritage Park Way, Kissimmee, Fla., 34744. Checks should be made to Osceola County Stadium and include $7 postage and handling for each order. Gameday parking is also $7.

Of course, the easiest way to order tickets is online at astros.com.

7. Housing
There are hotels everywhere, but it also might be more economical for a family or group of friends to rent a townhome. If you’re looking for last minute housing, try Bob Rivera, either via email (bob@gblservices.com) or by phone — 321-946-8889.

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Pence is auctioning off his Twitter profile, for charity.

Last season, Hunter Pence took the Twitterverse by storm, and over time, we’ve grown accustomed to the flurry of activity that populates his Twitter account, @hunterpence9. He uses the forum to communicate with fans, give updates on his career and, most recently, raise money for charitable causes.

Pence is currently participating in TwitChange, where celebrities auction off their Twitter profiles for charity. Fans bit on a follow, retweet or mention and a package of all three. Hunter is also adding an autographed ball to the winner of each auction.

Pence’s charity of choice is Operation Once in a Lifetime, whose mission is to make the dreams of U.S. Soldiers and their families come true by providing free financial and morale support to U.S Service members, their families and veterans.

There is still time to put in a bid, but the auction ends Saturday. Here is Pence’s TwitChange page, where you can start bidding now:

For a complete list of celebrities participating in TwitChange, check this out :  (Pence is about halfway down, on the right.)

Speaking of Twitter, Astros radio announcer Brett Dolan is the first of the club’s broadcasting team to hop on the Twitter bandwagon, and he’s already amassed over 300 followers. Brett’s funny and entertaining, and he’s going to be tweeting through Spring Training and the regular season. All good news for Astros fans. Give him a follow at @astrosradio for a bird’s-eye view of life in the broadcasting booth.

We also have a Spanish twitter account, @losastros, in addition our English-speaking Astros Twitter account, @astrosblast.

Chilly memories on a frigid Houston day.

There’s not much I miss about the Midwest, but every so often, this time of year, I get wistful about one element from my childhood.

Snow Days.

Yes, Snow Days with a capital S and a capital D. They deserve that distinction because they were better than holidays, better than weekends, better than the prom (come to think of it, looking back, wasn’t everything better than the prom?). Snow Days were spontaneous and spectacular, given to us on a moment’s notice while triggering absolute euphoria that affected everyone the same way, whether age eight or 18.

Ah, Snow Days.

I try to explain Snow Days to my friends in Houston — at least, to the ones who grew up here. They get it, to a point, but it’s simply impossible to explain how fantastically awesome they were, especially for a certain teenage kid whose best subjects were Study Hall and Typing and who vowed never to set foot in a classroom again once her formal education was complete.

The chain of events was simple. We’d stand at the window the night before, hands clasped, and watch the snow dump all over our neighborhoods. And we’d pray to the Snow Gods, for three things: a blizzard, a little ice, and no break in the dumpage until morning. No messing around: make the streets impassable, and the driveways unshovel-able, and do it in such dramatic fashion that the superintendent had no choice but to tell everyone not to come in that day.

Then we’d get up in the morning, run back to the window and assess just how bad — and by bad, I mean, good — it looked out there.

Next step: turn on the TV, cross fingers, and listen for our school’s name to be mentioned among the dozens of closings.

Those minutes can be agonizing. I’m sure it was the same for every kid in Dayton, Ohio but I swear, it seemed like my school was always the very last one mentioned.

And then we’d hear those four glorious words: “Northmont High School. Closed.”

Occasionally, the closings wouldn’t be announced until we were already on our way to school. That was irritating, but after we were of driving age, it could also be highly entertaining. I carpooled with three friends, and often, after we’d get the good news over the radio, we’d turn the car around, head to Bob Evans and eat pancakes (except for my friend Jennifer. She usually ordered the cherry pie.)

What do Snow Days have to do with baseball, you ask? Nothing. But I was sitting in my office late Thursday afternoon and chuckled a bit when a company-wide email hit everyone’s Inboxes at the same time. It was from our president, informing us that due to extreme weather, our offices will be closed on Friday.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, the level of chatter from cubicle to cubicle seemed to get slightly more animated.

Snow Day!

(Stay safe, everyone.)

Video board installation complete. Bring on Opening Day.


You have to feel at least a tiny bit of empathy for the members of the team from Daktronics that installed the Astros’ new video board. They probably figured they were going to have a nice, pleasant week of typical Houston winter weather while working on this gigantic project —
temps in the 50s or 60s, light winds, probably at least a little sun peeking through.

Oops. While Houston isn’t suffering nearly as much as our friends up north, the drastic drop in temperature over the last 24 hours has made this one chilly town. And on Wednesday, as the last piece of the 90-something piece video board went up, the mercury on the
thermometer had not yet passed 25 degrees.

Nonetheless, the ceremonial installation of the final piece of the world’s largest puzzle was complete by noon, while many of the front office, including Ed Wade and Tal Smith and their staff, watched with admiration from the field.

Kudos to Daktronics and their installation team for a job well done. (And for giving us an excuse to hold a barbecue celebration in the 5/7 Grille after it was over. When all else fails, just eat cake.)


Video board (s) bare facts:

*Located in right field
*54 feet high x 124 feet wide
*Square Pixels: 1,080 feet (h) x 2,472 feet(w)
*High Definition Quality
*Total Square Footage: 6,695 (approximately)
*Fourth-largest video board in MLB (3rd in NL)

*Located in left field
*24 feet high x 40 feet wide
*Square Pixels: 480 feet (h) x 792 feet(w)
*High Definition Quality

*Located above club level, spanning from foul pole to foul pole
*997 feet in length (3 feet, 8 inches high)
*Square Pixels: 14,940 feet(w) x 54 (h)

And the pictures, play-by-play style…






And we’re done!


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