March 2011

More images of the new video board, press box and batting practice at MMP

I’ve been working at this ballpark for going on 12 years, so it was a little strange, and comical, as I navigated my way to the new press box on the broadcast level on Wednesday. When I got on the elevator on the second level — the elevator I’d accessed dozens of times over the years — I was doing so in what is now the kitchen of the brand-new Insperity club (formerly the original press box).

(I also turned left a couple of times when I needed to turn right, but those who know me well understand that’s just a standard way of life for me and has very little to do with my new, unfamiliar surroundings.)

Fortunately, the vantage point in the new press box is great — and, in my opinion, better than the old one, because I can now see straight into the Astros’ dugout. Before, the only thing we could see was the backs of the players’ heads. We also have a better view of the ballpark as a whole, which I like.

The press box is smaller than the old one, so we’re all sitting a little closer together. My seat is on the second row, next to Brian McTaggart’s. So if by mid-July you see a tweet from him that says something like “S.O.S. — she’s choking me,” you’ll know we’re starting to get on each other’s nerves.

All in all, the renovations at Minute Maid Park get two enthusiastic thumbs up, due mostly to the brand new video board. You can see for yourself in the picture below that it lives up to all of the hype your friendly neighborhood blogger has been pummeling you with since, oh, late October…

(Left field board)

Press Box

On the other side of the broadcast level is Ed Wade's booth -- that's Cheo Cruuuuz and Enos Cabell taking in the game.

The new press box was the topic of conversation among broadcasters Jim Deshaies, Greg Lucas and Bill Brown during BP

Even Hunter Pence was curious about the new digs.

Batting practice: Michael Bourn, Humberto Quintero

Angel Sanchez, Quintero

Brad Mills chats with Terry Francona and Red Sox coaches. On the left is former Astro Tim Bogar.

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Astros and Red Sox lineups posted. It’s a beautiful day at Minute Maid Park.

Checking in from our new press box digs on the broadcast level…great view, perfect weather and the scoreboard looks fantastic.

Astros lineup:

 

 

 

 

48 hours: Kissimmee to Oklahoma City to Houston to Philly. Play ball!

The traveling party that departed Osceola County Stadium around 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday to head to Oklahoma City was huge — around twice the size of a normal in-season flight. It makes sense, considering how many people the Astros needed to transport from Florida to their Triple-A facility: the front office and support staff, the entire coaching staff, the projected big league 25-man Opening Day roster, the projected Oklahoma City roster and half of their coaching/support staff, and a handful who will accompany the team to Houston for the one game with the Red Sox but will end up back in OKC once the final cuts are made.

Fortunately everyone knew who they were playing for in this particular exhibition game before they arrived to the ballpark. They filed in together and then split up: half to the home clubhouse, half to the visitors.

One thing most of us didn’t participate while packing for Spring Training a month and a half ago were the chilly conditions in Oklahoma City. We were greeted by 42 degree temperatures that were dropping quickly, prompting radio announcer Brett Dolan (@astrosradio) to post this amusing tweet: “Forty degrees in Oklahoma. If we win the coin toss I would suggest the Astros defer to the 2nd half.”

The cold weather was good practice for what’s inevitably waiting for us in Philadelphia on Friday. According to the latest reports on weather.com, the forecast for the three games in Philly is as follows:

Friday — rain/snow showers, high of 45
Saturday — mostly cloudy, high of 48
Sunday — mostly sunny, high of 56

And here are the Opening weekend pitching matchups:

Friday: Brett Myers (14-8, 3.14 in 2010) vs. Roy Halladay (21-10, 2.44) — KTRH 740/FS Houston
Saturday: Wandy Rodriguez (11-12, 3.60 in 2010) vs. Cliff Lee (12-9, 3.18) KTRH 740/FS Houston
Sunday: J.A. Happ (6-4, 3.40) vs. Roy Oswalt (13-13, 2.76) KTRH 740/FS Houston
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Random notes as we prepare to head home for 36 hours…

* The Astros released their promotions schedule, revealing five bobblehead giveaways in 2011. Three of them we already know about — Michael Bourn (April 10) Hunter Pence (April 30) and TV duo Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies (June 11). The two others are: Chris Johnson (May 14) and Brett Myers (July 3).

* Wednesday’s game between the Astros and the Red Sox will be televised on the MLB Network.

* Manager Brad Mills confirmed the roster will likely be finalized by the end of the night on Wednesday, even though the official roster doesn’t have to be filed until early Thursday. Players who are vying for spots on the 25-man roster but do not make the team will be informed either before or after the Astros-Red Sox game.
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Turns out the trip to Oklahoma City was somewhat nostalgic for a couple of Astros. First, it’s there where Mills’ pro career came to an end when he tore up his knee in a Triple-A game against the 89ers. On a more amusing note, Doug Brocail, now a special assistant to GM Ed Wade, recalled pitching for the Triple-A RedHawks when he was attempting his comeback from arm surgery with the Rangers seven years ago. He threw one pitch, the umpire called it a ball, Brocail argued, and he was tossed.

Interestingly, Astros radio announcer Dave Raymond was in the broadcast booth that day, calling play-by-play for the Iowa Cubs. He recalled Brocail’s ejection in the first two minutes of the game “one of the highlights of my five years there.”

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We didn’t have much time to explore during this trip to OKC, but driving in, it was obvious that the area around the RedHawks’ ballpark, Bricktown, is pretty impressive. Lots of restaurants, shops, hang-outs…I can see how the surroundings, coupled with the nice summers here, make this area a good destination point during the season. The ballpark itself is nice too. It’s a lot bigger than I imagined.  I’m hoping to get here again this summer, at which time I’ll have more time to check it out.

Tuesday was a pretty dreary day weather-wise, so the pictures probably won’t do it justice. Nonetheless, here are some images from batting practice and such:

View from the dugout

View from the press box

Carlos Lee

Brett Wallace

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Social Media notes: Exclusive nights and Tweet-ups…who’s in?

By now, we all know that Social Media has taken the world by storm. But it’s also filtered over to your Astros, from players joining Twitter to your friendly neighborhood blogger expanding the Social Media events at the ballpark from two in 2010 to eight in 2011.

First, Twitter. @hunterpence9 started the trend among Astros players last year, and if you follow him, you know he’s quite active in both giving some insight to his life and career as well as communicating with and responding to the fans who follow him. Ryan Rowland-Smith (@hyphen18) was already an active tweeter when he signed with the Astros over the offseason, and during Spring Training, several others jumped on the Twitter train: Chris Johnson (@cjastros23), Brian Bogusevic (@brianbogusevic) and, most recently, Brett Wallace (@brettwallace29), who joined on Sunday.

Still more up-and-comers are on Twitter as well: Drew Locke (@drewlocke24), J.D. Martinez (@jdmartinez20) and Jiovanni Mier (@jiomier). And don’t forget your non-playing personnel: MLB.com reporter Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart), radio announcer Brett Dolan (@astrosradio), yours truly (@alysonfooter) and two
other official Astros profiles: @astrosblast and @losastros.
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That brings us to the next order of business: Social Media events at Minute Maid Park. Many of you participated in our Social Media nights in the Budweiser Patio last year, and we’re bringing them back — times three. We’ll host one per month, with the first taking place on April 16. Fittingly, Pence will join us for that one.

Tabbed “Exclusive Social Media Nights,” all events (at your urging) will be held on Saturdays. Tickets will cost $45, and for that, you will enjoy the following perks:

* A game ticket in the Budweiser Patio, located directly behind center field.
* A Social Media night t-shirt (and like last year, we’ll offer an array of men’s and women’s sizes)
* Dinner: what we serve will be up to the fans. We’ll offer three choices in advance of the events, and whatever receives the most votes, wins. And we don’t mean hot dogs and nachos. We’ll fill you up with Texas Burgers, or maybe sliders, or maybe chicken sandwiches. It’ll be up to you, and we’ll throw in a half-pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream to ensure no one goes home hungry.
* A 15-minute appearance by a player. For the first one, Pence will join us from 5 to 5:15 (game starts at 6) and will help hand out prizes — autographed baseballs and other signed items — that we’ll give away during our Twitter trivia contest. The contests will be conducted solely on Twitter.
* A mix and mingle with other Social Media fans. We hope you’ll take lots of pictures and post them on your Facebook pages as well as tweet about the fabulous time you’re having with your tweeps at the game.

The Budweiser Patio has always been a fantastic vantage point — you’re directly next to the bullpen and can watch the pitchers warm up from about 20 feet away — but this year it’ll be even better now that we’ve added a scoreboard in left field.

What’s the catch, you ask? Well…there is one. We’ll be offering the tickets for three days exclusively to my Twitter followers, before we open it up to the general public. You can access that profile here. I’ll send out a warning a day in advance of the tickets going on sale. The patio seats 108, so if you’re interested, you’ll want to act quickly once the link is posted. (The first one sold out in five days last year.) We’ll be selling these tickets a couple of
weeks in advance of each event, so look for tweets in the near future about April 16 only.

Here are the dates for the remaining Exclusive Social Media Nights:

Saturday, May 28 vs. Diamondbacks
Saturday, June 25 vs. Rays
Saturday, July 16 vs. Pirates
Saturday, August 20 vs. Giants
Saturday, September 24 vs. Rockies

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Tweet-up Tuesdays

We’ll host two Tweet-up Tuesdays in 2011, on June 14 (vs. Pirates) and Aug. 2 (vs. Reds). These are more informal events, with seating in the bullpen section. Tickets will be offered at a heavy discount — $15, down from the normal $27.

The bar area of the Bud Patio will be reserved for a mixer for Tweet-Up ticket holders. Once the game begins, we’ll move to our seats, and throughout the game, we’ll conduct trivia contests over Twitter. I’ll tweet a question and the first correct answer wins a prize (fans must be in attendance to claim the prize).

We will post the link to order Tweet-up tickets directly on this blog when they’re ready to go, so please check back.

Hope to see you at the ballpark for these fun, interactive events.

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Bobblehead preview

Speaking of giving stuff away, we got a sneak peek of a couple of bobbleheads the Astros are giving out in 2011. The full schedule of all promotional nights will be released in the very near future, but for now, enjoy the quick preview…

Bourn Gold Gloves Bobblehead — April 10

Pence Play Green Bobblehead — April 30

Is this thing on? Testin’ out the new blog setup

We’re up an running (hopefully) with our brand new blog software, and, if all goes well, we’ll have a lot more freedom with our content and how we post it. The new setup appears to be a lot more user-friendly, so let’s test it out. Here’s what I wanted to post last night but couldn’t (with a few updates):

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The Astros are down to less than a week’s worth of Spring Training games, and with that comes some mild tweaking of the pitching staff.

Brett Myers started in a Minor League game on Saturday rather than face the Nationals on the Major League side. The logic behind Brad Mills’ thinking is the same he has for why he’s starting J.A. Happ on Tuesday in Oklahoma City instead of on Monday against the Phillies: no need to show the opponent too much of what they’ll see in the not-too-distant future.

Happ’s first regular-season start will arrive on Sunday, April 3 against the Phillies, whom the Astros are also playing on Monday in Clearwater. The Phillies are already familiar enough with Happ’s work. No need to show them everything he has a few days before they see him again — when the games actually matter.

Myers has faced the Nationals once this spring already and will probably see them again at some point during the season. The starting pitchers have long shaken off the offseason rust and are looking now like they might look a month from now. So protecting them this time of the spring isn’t a terrible idea.

“I know there’s a good chance he’ll face (the Nationals) twice during the season,” manager Brad Mills said of Myers. “Do we want to expose him that much during the spring? That’s kind of what we’re looking at.”

So while the regular season rotation will be Myers, Wandy, Happ, Norris and Figueroa, the rotation for the final five games of the exhibition season will be Henry Villar, Wandy, Norris, Happ and Figueroa.

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The Astros held their breath, crossed their fingers and probably did a few other bad-luck busting rituals I don’t know about as they awaited the results of x-rays taken on Clint Barmes‘ left hand Saturday morning, but unfortunately, nothing worked.

Barmes, who was hit by a pitch during the Astros’ loss to the Yankees Thursday night, will miss four to six weeks with a non-displaced fracture of a bone on his left hand, near the little finger.

Immediately after coming out of the game, Barmes said he felt “sore, but promising” and expressed a hope that the hand was just deeply bruised, but not broken.  X-ray results the next morning told a different story.

Not surprisingly, Tommy Manzella was brought back over from Minor League camp to finish out Spring Training on the big league side. As far as who will replace Barmes at shortstop, Angel Sanchez probably has the inside track at this point. Also in the mix are Manzella, Matt Downs, Oswaldo Navarro and Anderson Hernandez.

(Full story can be found here).

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On Thursday, the Astros unveiled to the media and VIP guests Minute Maid Park’s new state-of-the-art high-definition scoreboard in right field. The scoreboard is 54 feet high and 124 feet wide, along with ribbon boards. It’s the largest video board in the Major Leagues to feature a 1080i display format.

Lookin’ good…

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Finally, what they’re saying on Twitter:

Hoping Duke’s loss was all a figment of imagination:

@CJAstros23 Please tell me I was dreaming last night and duke didn’t get smoked by 20??? Someone please lie to me

One teammate admiring another’s athleticism…

@hunterpence9 If you don’t think pitchers are athlete’s check out @hyphen18 core routine… #CrazyAussie

…and that teammate’s response:

@hyphen18 It’s my ‘7 minute abs routine’

Astros notes: Rotation tweaks, Barmes’ hand, and what they’re Tweeting

The Astros are down to less than a week’s worth of Spring Training
games, and with that comes some mild tweaking of the pitching staff.

Brett Myers will start in a Minor League game on Saturday rather
than face the Nationals on the Major League side. The logic behind Brad
Mills’ thinking is the same he has for why he’s starting J.A. Happ
on Tuesday in Oklahoma City instead of on Monday against the Phillies:
no need to show the opponent too much of what they’ll see in the
not-too-distant future.

Happ’s first regular-season start will arrive on Sunday, April 3 in
Philadelphia, whom the Astros are also playing on Monday in Clearwater.
The Phillies are already familiar enough with Happ’s work. No need to
show them everything he has a few days before they see him again — when
the games actually matter.

Myers has faced the Nationals once this spring already and will probably
see them again at some point during the season. The starting pitchers
have long shaken off the offseason rust and are looking now like they
might look a month from now. So protecting them this time of the spring
isn’t a terrible idea.

“I know there’s a good chance he’ll face (the Nationals) twice during
the season,” manager Brad Mills said of Myers. “Do we want to expose him
that much during the spring? That’s kind of what we’re looking at.”

So while the regular season rotation will be Myers, Wandy, Happ, Norris
and Figueroa, the rotation for the final five games of the exhibition
season will be Henry Villar, Wandy, Norris, Happ and Figueroa.

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The Astros will collectively hold their breath and cross their fingers and any other cliched trick as they await the results of x-rays that will be taken on Clint Barmes’ left hand Saturday morning.

Barmes was hit by a pitch during the Astros’ game with the Yankees in Tampa on Friday and while he felt “sore, but promising” after his exit, he’s hoping the hand is just deeply bruised, and not broken.

“It hit me pretty square,” Barmes said. As soon as he got to first base, he felt the hand swell and immediately went to the training room to ice it.

Stay tuned.

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From the Astros Twitter files: 

Hoping Duke’s loss was all a figment of imagination:

@CJAstros23 Please tell me I was dreaming last night and duke didn’t get smoked by 20??? Someone please lie to me

One teammate admiring another’s athleticism…

@hunterpence9 If you don’t think pitchers are athlete’s check out @hyphen18 core routine… #CrazyAussie

…and that teammate’s response:

@hyphen18 It’s my ‘7 minute abs routine’

Tri-City ValleyCats relive 2010 and get their rings.

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If the season the Tri-City ValleyCats had in 2010 is a foreshadow of things to come in Houston, more fruitful times are ahead of the Astros, at many levels of the organization.

Maybe the Short-Season A ValleyCats’ New York-Penn League championship title received minimal fanfare while the Astros were wrapping up their season last September. But their accomplishments were well-documented within the organization, and celebrated Tuesday night at the Astros’ Minor League complex in Kissimmee.

In the Major Leagues, it’s customary to hold a ring ceremony for a League and/or World Series championship early the next season. But in the Minor Leagues, most of the players who comprised a championship roster for one club have moved to a new team, and new city, the next year. Instead, the logical time to celebrate a title is during Spring Training, when the players are all together, regardless of where they might end up on opening day.

By all accounts, this ceremony had perfect attendance. Nearly every player from last year’s Tri-City team was there, in addition to the ValleyCats front office, the entire Astros’ Minor League staff and most of the Major League front office — around 120 total.

(Watch video from the banquet here)

“What you guys accomplished was really special,” said Fred Nelson, the Astros’ Director of Player Development, during his opening remarks to the players. “We don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now, or maybe two or three years from now in your life. But the ring you’re going to be getting tonight cannot be taken away from you.”

Added general manager Ed Wade: “Everybody in the office in Houston, everybody connected to player development, was paying a lot of attention to what you guys were doing in Tri-City. It hasn’t happened a lot in this organization, but it’s going to happen a lot more often.”

The banquet included a video that showed the highs and lows of the regular season, the intensity of the playoffs and the euphoric celebration after the ValleyCats clinched the title. What really struck me while watching the video wasn’t so much the timely hits or great plays that led them to the title, but rather the collective laughter from the players in the room as they watched the footage of the celebratory pile on, the crazy dancing and yelling in the clubhouse and the time-honored tradition of dousing each other with bubbly beverages — in this case, sparkling cider.

While I’m sure it was a lot more fun for the players when they actually won the title, it was still highly entertaining for this outsider to watch them relive the moment.

(And the rings are gorgeous.)

Video images

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Ring ceremony: Jake Buchanan and ValleyCats Vice President/General Manager Rick Murphy.

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Ryan Cole

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Oscar Figueroa (with ValleyCats president Bill Gladstone in background)

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Telvin Nash

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Group shot…

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…holding up their rings.

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Last minute ticket info as we near the Spring Training finish line

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As we inch toward the beginning of the regular season, we’d like to pass along some information about the upcoming exhibition game at Minute Maid Park, along with a couple of ticket tidbits you may have missed…

March 30 vs. Boston Red Sox

Before Brad Mills joined the Astros, we didn’t see much of the storied AL East Red Sox beyond an Interleague series every four years or so. But I sense it’s no coincidence that we’ve seen more of the Red Sox in the last two years than we did in the 15 years prior, now that Mills is in the mix.

For a baseball fan living in Houston, that can only be viewed as a good thing. While having the Royals and Blue Jays as our exhibition guests at Minute Maid Park for the better part of a decade was nice and all, it’s simply more fun to have a team like the Red Sox in town. And they’ll be here March 30 at 7:05 CT (in addition to a three-gamer in early July.)

Click here to reserve your tickets for the final exhibition game of 2011…

Also, we’re offering a First Pitch sweepstakes for the Astros-Red Sox game. Fans can text “pitch” to 26099 for the chance to throw out the first pitch on March 30. The contest ends Thursday afternoon and the winner will be notified on Friday.

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If you’re more focused on the regular season, check out this new cheap ticket, premium game package: The Opening Day 3-Game Hot Pack.

The package includes a ticket to Opening Day (April 8 versus the Marlins), a ticket to the June 28 game versus the Rangers and July 3 versus the Red Sox.

Details can be found here…

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Brett Wallace, Part Deux.

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Over the winter, it was widely believed within the inner workings of the Astros front office that Brett Wallace would have few problems securing the starting first base job during his time at Spring Training this year. However, in an industry where there are few guarantees, it would have been unwise to anoint him as the sure-fire favorite over Carlos Lee before the team had even arrived to Kissimmee to get ready for the season.

That said, after spending a little bit of time with Wallace during the offseason at Astroline and various community activities, I gained an understanding of his demeanor and guessed that he wasn’t going to have a problem dealing with what was waiting for him — daily speculation as to whether he was doing enough to win the job outright.

I don’t know him that well yet, but it’s clear that Wallace is a take-it-as-it-comes kind of player, who sees what’s in front of him with clarity, takes it at face value and deals with it in a level-headed manner. If he’s felt any pressure or stress this spring, he’s hid it well.

As we’ve discussed in past blogs, the first base job wasn’t as much his to win as it was his to lose. And yes, there’s a difference.

Competition for a position during Spring Training means two prominent players are going to get relatively equal playing time at that position and at the end, one will be declared the winner.

Wallace was the primary first baseman throughout the spring, with Lee playing all but two of his games in left. Lee, who showed last year that he can play a pretty decent first base, was strictly a Plan B in case Wallace had a terrible spring.

Wallace has had a great spring, but there still seems to be some confusion as to his standing on this team. I read a report on Fox Sports’ web site this morning that I found curious: “The Astros are at their payroll limit, but would like to add a left-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Jason Michaels if they go with Carlos Lee over Brett Wallace at first base, which is hardly a sure thing.”

That was an accurate statement, two months ago. But no longer. If the Astros are responsible for putting the best team on the field, then I fail to see how Lee at first, Michaels in left and Wallace in Triple-A is a better combination than Wallace at first, Lee in left and Michaels as the first guy off the bench in a late-inning pinch-hitting situation.

What am I missing?

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A few weeks ago, Baseball America came out with a listing of how much teams have spent on International signings and the Astros were, according to this report, the third-highest spenders in 2010, behind the Mariners and Yankees.

According to the list, the Astros, who opened a new Dominican Academy last May, spent $5.13 million on International signings. Around $2.5 million went to their most heralded signing, 16-year-old outfielder Ariel Ovando (who is now 17).

While Ed Wade pointed out that the amount a team spends isn’t as important as the quality of the players it is spending on, it’s still nice to see the Astros near the top of this list. When Wade took over, he made two hugely important hires — first, Assistant General
Manager of Scouting Bobby Heck, and later, Felix Francisco, the club’s  Director of Latin American Scouting. Geographically, the scouting efforts were expanded, as were the spending parameters.

“We talk a lot about the impact that Bobby Heck and our free agent scouts have made through the domestic draft, but of equal importance is the work that Felix Francisco has done internationally,” Wade said. “Since coming over from the San Diego Padres, Felix has enhanced our Latin American presence a hundredfold.  It’s not about spending the third-most money or handing out the highest bonuses.  It’s about making smart baseball decisions and always working for the betterment of the Astros.  Felix is smart, aggressive and loyal, not
to mention extremely valuable.”

Here’s the Baseball America list of the top 10 International spenders:

1. Mariners, $6.47 million
2. Yankees, $5.27 million
3. Astros, $5.13 million
4. Pirates, $5.00 million
5. Athletics, $4.73 million
6. Blue Jays, $4.18 million
7. Cubs, $4.16 million
8. Rangers, $3.57 million
9. Braves, $3.28 million
10. Padres, $2.75 million

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On a much, much lighter note, I stumbled across this hilarious blog post from our friends in St. Louis. The post served as a tip of the cap to Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold, who noticed some glaring inaccuracies in Topps’ Photoshopped version of Lance Berkman’s “new” Cardinals baseball card. Then it escalated into something much more hilarious.

I initially found the post mildly amusing, until I got to the beer vendor part. I haven’t stopped laughing since. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
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And now for a pictorial wrap up of the weekend that was:

Craig Biggio

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Biggio, Cheo Cruz

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Carlos Lee

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Chris Johnson

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Puma

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Astros notes: FanFest, Myers, Bourn…and your Opening Day first baseman.

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The Astros have announced details about this year’s FanFest, which will take place April 9 and 10 in conjunction with Opening Weekend at Minute Maid Park. The events will take place primarily on the main concourse and will include autograph sessions, Talkin’ Baseball seminars with broadcasters and staff, silent auctions and the popular annual Garage Sale.

Admission is free each day with the purchase of a game ticket. The game on April 9 begins at 6:05 p.m. CT and at 1:05 p.m. CT on April 10.

Proceeds from the autograph sessions, Garage Sale and Mystery Grab Bags will benefit the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park. Additionally, in-stadium and online auction proceeds will benefit relief efforts in Japan.

The list of, and schedule for, former and current players who will sign autographs will be announced in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, here are the basics:

Saturday, April 9:

* FanFest begins at noon, with gates opening at 11 a.m. This day will feature four autograph sessions, two from noon to 12:50 p.m. and two from 1 p.m. to 1:50.

* Each session will include autographs from four current players for a donation of $20 per session. Alumni will also sign.

* Other activities: Garage Sale, Mystery Grab Bags and auctions and face painters, clowns and other free activities for kids.

Sunday, April 10:

* Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Astros alumni players will sign autographs (current players sign on Saturday only).

* Other activities: Garage Sale, Mystery Grab Bags and auctions and face painters, clowns and other free activities for kids.

Tickets to the April 9 and 10 games are on sale now with prices starting as low as $7 for adults and $1 for kids ages 3-14.  Game tickets are available online at http://www.astros.com, at the Minute Maid Park Box Office on Texas Avenue or by phone toll free at 877-9ASTROS (877-927-8767).

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Myers to start Opening Day

The news that Brett Myers will pitch the first game of the regular season came as a shock to exactly no one, but it was still nice to hear Brad Mills make it official before the game in Jupiter on Friday.

Logic would dictate that Mills will have his rotation set up in a righty-lefty-right-lefty format, which would probably mean pitchers one through four would be Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ. But that doesn’t mean that’s how the rotation will look in another two weeks.

Mills hesitated to reveal how the pitchers will line up, probably because Wandy has been sidelined with shoulder tendinitis. However, Wandy has been cleared to start Tuesday’s game, and if you count out the days following that start, assuming he’ll be pitching on normal rest, that would put him on schedule to start April 1. Since that day is taken by Myers, it would make sense if Wandy pitched the next game.

Stay tuned.

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Other notables:

* Angel Sanchez’s back is still bothering him and he did not play on Friday.

* Michael Bourn, who has been hampered this week by a sinus condition, was back in the leadoff spot on Friday. Mills said before the game they’d be keeping an eye on him: “With this heat, it would be easy for him to get run down.” Bourn was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored against the Marlins.

* One Killer B leaves, another arrives. Jeff Bagwell left Kissimmee on Friday but plans to return the final week of Spring Training. Meanwhile, Craig Biggio is here for the weekend. Both are special assistants to the GM.

* Congrats to Jason Michaels and his wife, Pamela, on the birth of their son, Logan James. Little “LMike” arrived on St. Patty’s Day, weighing in at a robust eight pounds, seven ounces and measuring 20 inches.

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Links worth clicking:

* When you have a chance please read this delightful piece from Jerry Crasnick about Astros pitchers and their coach. It perfectly captures Brad Arnsberg and his relationship with his pitchers.

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* Heading into Spring Training, first base wasn’t Brett Wallace’s job to win as much as it was his to lose. He was penciled in as the starting first baseman when he arrived to Kissimmee, but with less than two weeks remaining before Opening Day, you can chuck the pencil and mark it in red ink.

From the feedback I received from readers throughout the spring season, there seemed to be a feeling that Wallace was competing with Carlos Lee for the first base job. That was not the case. Lee showed he could play a pretty good first base last season and was considered a Plan B for that position — but only if Wallace showed he wasn’t ready for the full-time job.

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Wallace would have had to have a monumentally terrible spring for that to happen. Instead, he’s had a fantastic go of it, hitting .364 through Friday’s game in Jupiter (where he went 2-for-4). He’s got it all but wrapped up.  

MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez has a nice write up on Wallace here.

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