March 2011

TV-radio notes: J.D. to moonlight as sideline reporter eye candy.

0316_jd_brownie.jpg

After more than a month of Spring Training, it’s always nice to get some fresh, new faces around camp…especially when those fresh, new faces belong to Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies.

Many moons ago, Brownie and J.D. attended Spring Training for the entire month, like the radio announcers. But in the last several years, their time in Florida has instead centered around the few days before and after the Astros’ Spring Training television broadcasts.

FS Houston usually swings through town to show a game or three on TV, and Brownie and J.D. are here now, preparing for two regionally televised games on Friday in Jupiter against the Marlins and Saturday at home against the Cardinals.

Brownie and J.D. will be in the booth together Friday, but because Saturday’s game will be delivered to both the Houston and St. Louis markets, they’re going with one broadcaster from each team: Brownie, and Cards announcer Al Hrabosky.

Where does that leave J.D.?

“I’m going to be the Tony Siragusa guy,” J.D. said, referring to the retired NFL defensive tackle who is now a sideline analyst for football games shown on the Fox Network. “The sideline guy, hanging out, not contributing a whole lot. But it gives the fans a chance to see the games.”

“Does Tony Siragusa eat when he’s on the air?” Brownie wondered.

“My hunch is that he’s got something squirreled away,” J.D. said of the 340 pound Siragusa. “That’s what I’ll do. I’ll be the guy eating hot dogs in the stands. They can get a shot of me every now and then and I’ll have a different food product every half inning.”

So on Saturday, look for hits from Hunter Pence, strikeouts from Wilton Lopez and a little mustard in J.D.’s well-trimmed goatee.

Watch our full interview with Brownie and J.D. here.

_____________

Speaking of our television broadcasters, did you know 2011 is Brownie’s Silver Anniversary? It’s his 25th year as the Astros primary play-by-play voice on television. This season also marks the 15th for Brownie and J.D. as a team.

On that note, Milo Hamilton, the legendary elder statesman on the radio side, will host the second to last Astroline tonight (Wednesday) at 8 ET/7 CT at the ESPN Club on the Disney Boardwalk. His guest will be Nelson Figueroa.

You can listen to the show on 740 KTRH and Astros.com. You can also tweet me questions and comments if you have any…

_____________

Camp tidbits:

* Wandy Rodriguez, sidelined with some mild shoulder tendinitis, will throw a side session on Friday and will be re-evaluated before being scheduled for his next start. He is not expected to miss another turn in the rotation, although Brad Mills did not want to reveal the target date he and his staff have for Wandy just yet.

* Angel Sanchez was unavailable for Wednesday’s game after tweaking his back on Tuesday in Sarasota.

* The Astros will enjoy their one and only scheduled off day Thursday before resuming the Grapefruit League schedule on Friday in Jupiter. Lefty J.A. Happ will start that game, while the Marlins will counter with right-hander Ricky Nolasco.

_____________

The Astros hosted a special guest during their morning routine on Wednesday: 16-year-old Matt Myers, who plays baseball at Seminole High School in Sanford, FL. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in January. His visit was coordinated by third base coach Dave Clark, who introduced Myers and his family to most of the Astros Spring Training contingent. Myers also threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game.

_____________

In case you missed our #TwitterTuesday contest, our winner was @MigM_, who guessed correctly that Jeff Bagwell’s first car was a Mercury Capri (and it was orange. Bags admitted he thought he looked pretty cool in it, but looking back realizes he definitely did not).

Here’s Bagwell’s video confession.

_____________

On to the photos…

Bagwell

0316_bag.jpg

Bagwell, Jamie Quirk, Jason Michaels

0316_bags_quirk_jmike.jpg
Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee

0316_bourn_lee.jpg

Clint Barmes, Bill Hall

0316_hall_barmes.jpg

J.D. signs autographs

0316_jd_auto.jpg

Michaels, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee

0316_pence_lee.jpg

Astros are on Facebook
Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter
Check out Astros witticisms at AstrosOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

Astros are on MLB Network, and Bagwell’s on Twitter (Tuesday only).

0314_mills_armsinger.jpg

As a self-admitted MLB Network junkie, it sure has been a long month without my favorite cable sports station.

The place I rent down here has the bare minimum when it comes to cable programming, so I’m a little limited. After three (three!) Disney channels, TNT, E! and ESPN, the pickings are slim. Sadly, I’m experiencing pangs and withdrawal symptoms without MLB Network — and Bravo, too, come to think of it. Now, not only am I without nightly baseball talk, I also have no way of getting my daily dose of the fantastic train wrecks that are the “Real Housewives.”

Anyhoo, I happy to see Greg Amsinger and his crew at our spring complex early Monday morning, shooting b-roll and stocking up on interviews with about a dozen Astros. While I won’t be able to actually watch Tuesday night’s “30 clubs, 30 days” special featuring your Astros, it was, I suppose, gratifying enough watching the crew gather the content.

A full hour, beginning Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT, will be dedicated to all things Astros. They talked to every prominent player while they were here shooting, and they will also dedicate an entire segment solely to the farm system and the talent that we may see in the big leagues in the not-so-distant future.

0314_myers_armsinger.jpg

“It’s for the hardcore baseball fan,” Amsinger said. “It gives a little bit of everything, not just the guys at the big league level.”

Hopefully you’ll watch, enjoy, and give me a proverbial scouting report. For a full schedule of “30 clubs, 30 days,” click here.
_______________

Question from e-mailer Ben:

I was wondering if you could tell me the following distances (miles/hours to get to certain camps.) Most notably Nationals, Braves, Phillies and Yankees.

Answer from your friendly neighborhood blogger:

The Astros travel anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours for Spring Training road trips, which is why the Braves (30 minutes) and not the Red Sox (three hours) are the official Preferred Opponent of Your Spring Training Houston Astros.

Here’s a photo of the entire Grapefruit League schedule, bus-ride version. To calculate the time it takes to get to the road destination, simply subtract the time the bus leaves from 10 a.m., which is the standard arrival time for a 1 p.m. game (4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, 3 for a 6 p.m. game. You get the drift).

0316_schedule.jpg

So, if the Astros are traveling to Lakeland to play the Tigers, that trip is an hour, so the bus will leave from the ballpark at 9 a.m.

I don’t know the exact mileage, but you can find that easy enough on Google maps. Enter “Kissimmee” and the road city and it will include how many miles it takes, in addition to directions.

_________________

Why is this man smiling?

0316_bags.jpg

I can’t tell you yet, but you’ll find out soon enough when we reveal our #TwitterTuesday question on, well, Tuesday.

Jeff Bagwell is the topic of this week’s Google-free trivia question and we’ll tweet that question exactly at noon CT. The first correct answer wins two free tickets to any Astros game this season with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season.

The exercise is simple — I tweet the question, you tweet your guesses back to me. When we receive the first correct answer, we’ll run a video of Bags giving his answer. Soon after that, we’ll also type it out on Twitter, for those who might not be able to access the video.

(Bagwell is here until Friday, by the way.)

_________________

The Oklahoma City RedHawks have announced that tickets for the March 29 exhibition game against the Astros will go on sale to the general public beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday (March 15).

Remaining availability is limited, and seats are expected to sell quickly. For the Astros-RedHawks exhibition, Club seats are $20, Field and Bleacher seats are $16, Third Base Terrace seats are $12 and Lawn seating is $10. First pitch on March 29 is scheduled for
6:30 p.m., with gates opening at 5:00 p.m., the same time Astros batting practice is scheduled to begin.

Tickets are available for purchase by phone at (405) 218-1000, online at http://www.okcredhawks.com, or by visiting the RedHawks ticket office on Mickey Mantle Drive in Bricktown.

Astros are on Facebook
Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter
Check out Astros witticisms at AstrosOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

Female ballplayer throws batting practice, promotes Baseball for All.

0312_justine_coaches.jpg

Of all of the life lessons Justine Siegal can pass along to the many kids she’s impacted over the years, perseverance could very well be at the top of the list.

Sure, Siegal initially had no choice but to take no for answer when she first reached out to all 30 teams with a request to throw batting practice to Major League hitters during the next Spring Training. She sent emails, and she received no responses. Well, she did get one — “it was a beautiful email,” she said. “Telling me, politely, no.”

But Siegal was encouraged that at least someone did read it. So she pushed on. She reached out to people she knew who might have an “in” with general managers. She showed up at the Winter Meetings. She got some one-on-one face time with club execs.

“People started warming to it,” Siegal said.

First, Oakland A’s. Then her hometown Indians. The Rays, Cardinals, Astros and Mets soon followed. By those teams saying yes, Siegal, a 36-year-old former high school and amateur baseball player, became what is believed to be the first woman to throw batting practice to big league hitters.

Siegal threw a round of BP to Astros hitters on the backfields at Osceola County Stadium Saturday morning. The Astros were the fourth team she threw to, but it was “the first time I’ve done this where I haven’t felt nervous when I started,” she said.

0312_justine_throw.jpg

The batting practice experience helped Siegal fulfill one lifelong goal, but ultimately, her main purpose is to bring awareness to her organization, Baseball For All, which provides girls and women the opportunity to get involved in baseball as players, coaches and umpires. Her web site, baseballforall.com, details many opportunities for girls to play in tournaments and participate in camps and academies.

“They don’t want to just watch and wear a pink jersey,” Siegal said. “They want to be a part of baseball.”

Siegal, who was the first woman to coach men’s professional when she coached for the Brockton Rox in 2009, has received a positive response from all of the teams she’s worked with this spring. The Rays “almost made it a home run derby,” she recalled. “It was a really light atmosphere, with Coco Crisp leading the way. They were having a good time with it. That’s what I wanted — for them to enjoy the experience.”

Siegal wears a patch, dedicated to the memory of Christina-Taylor Green, on her left sleeve. Green, who was killed during the shootings in Tucson in January, was the only girl on her Little League team and had aspirations to become the first female Major League Baseball player.

0312_patch.jpg

“When she was shot, a lot of parents reached out to me, wanting to know what BFA was going to do to help,” Siegal said. “I knew I wanted to do something. Then I heard about the patch.”

Asked how the Green family reacted to the attention the patch is receiving as she tours the different spring training facilities, Siegal said simply, “They gave me the best compliment possible — they said they’re very proud of me.”

____________

Play was halted for about 15 minutes on Saturday after a female fan apparently was hit in the head by a foul ball. She was tended to by the on-site EMTs and taken away on a stretcher. There was no indication how severe the injury or the fan’s condition available. We will provide an update when we receive word.

_____________

Promotional updates:

On March 14 vs. PHI, the first 2,000 fans will receive Astros drawstring backpacks presented by Holiday Inn Main Gate East…Kid’s Run the Bases!, for children ages 5-12, will be featured twice this Spring on March 20 and 27 immediately following the game…the March 20 will feature $1 hot dogs and free Astros posters, presented by Florida Operation Lifesaver, while supplies last…Military Appreciation Day, presented by Outback Steakhouse, will be March 27, as well as free Astros posters presented by Florida Operation Lifesaver, while supplies last.

____________

Sunday

The Astros will play their fifth of six split squad games on Sunday, with half the team going to Disney to play the Braves and the other half traveling to Lakeland to face the Tigers.

The pitchers scheduled to throw in these games are:

ATL: RHP Bud Norris, RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP Jeff Fulchino, RHP Mark Melancon, RHP Fernando Rodriguez, RHP Henry Villar.
DET: LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith, RHP Aneury Rodriguez, LHP Wesley Wright, LHP Gustavo Chacin, RHP Enerio Del Rosario, RHP Jose Valdez.

____________

Finally, here are some images from Saturday’s activities at Osceola County Stadium:

Hunter Pence
0312_pence.jpg

Pence, Carlos Lee
0312_pence_lee.jpg

Oswaldo Navarro, Bill Hall
0312_navarro_hall.jpg
J.D. Martinez

0312_martinez_auto.jpg

Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg works with Wesley Wright.

0312_arnie.jpg

Lining up for the anthem.

0312_anthem.jpg

Astros are on Facebook
Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter
Ch
eck out Astros witticisms at AstrosOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

Focus Friday: Carlos Lee

0310_carlos.jpg

Every Friday throughout Spring Training, we run non-baseball questions for a feature we call #FocusFriday, where fans tweet their questions and we relay them to the selected player of the week.

Most of the questions for Carlos Lee revolved around ranching and raising cattle — a side business that takes up the majority of the left fielder’s time during his offseasons in Panama.

You can watch the video here, while reading along with this transcript…

@CarlaFendley: Do you raise cattle to sell or is this just a hobby?

Carlos Lee: It’s part of my business. I raise cattle for mainly slaughterhouses. It’s mainly for reproduction.

@irishndude4 How many cattle do you have?

CL: It all depends. In Panama I’ve got a lot more. In Houston, it’s probably around 600. I mainly check them out, brand them, dehorn them, make sure everything is OK, take care of the babies.

@AppyAstros: What do you miss the most about Panama during the baseball season (aside from family/friends)?

CL: I’m pretty used to being in the United States. It’s my job and I’m kind of used to it. I know my time here is (until) October and hopefully it’ll be November this year. I know when my time is up, then I can start thinking about Panama again.

@allphilla Since you are a rancher, have you ever considered opening a steak house a la Roy Oswalt in Houston?

CL:
(laughs) That’s a totally different business and I don’t think I’m ready for that. But I would be happy to sell my beef to Roy.

@MrBlaineTrain: Carlos, what is your favorite place to eat at in Houston during the season?

CL: I like Vic and Anthony’s. It’s a really nice steak house and it’s really convenient for me after the games. So I just go there a lot.

With Opening Day three weeks away, competition (for jobs) heats up.

MLB.com beat writer Brian McTaggart took his first stab at predicting the Opening Day roster in his latest blog, and for the most part, I agree with his predictions. Mostly.

Tags notes that with three weeks left in the spring, a lot can (and probably will) change. There aren’t a ton of roster spots up for grabs this spring, but several players are making cases for themselves for the few jobs that are available.

I agree with Tags that Brian Bogusevic probably has a leg up over Jason Bourgeois for the fifth outfielder job, because he’s left-handed (even though it would be a luxury to have someone with Bourgeois’ speed on the bench). I like his bullpen mix of Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez, Fernando Abad, Jeff Fulchino, Mark Melancon and Henry Villar, although I am more inclined to believe Nelson Figueroa, whom Tags has benchmarked as a long reliever, will instead win the fifth starter job.

That said, I love how 20-year-old Jordan Lyles is giving the front office and coaching staff pause as he continues to pile up the quality innings this spring. He’s allowed three runs — two earned — over eight innings and had a very promising showing during a game against the Cardinals in Jupiter (where he was most impressive against the Pujols-Holliday-Berkman trifecta).

Should Lyles force his way into the rotation, that would probably push Figueroa to the bullpen and Ryan Rowland-Smith, possibly, to Triple-A. As Tags notes, the final spot in the bullpen is entirely up for grabs, with Sergio Escalona and Enerio Del Rosario quietly making cases for themselves.

As for the backup infielders, Matt Downs is having a very nice showing this spring and, I feel, has an advantage over the rest to win a roster spot. Another interesting candidate is Tommy Manzella, who has been honing his skills at second and third with hopes to find a niche on this team away from the shortstop position, now occupied by Clint Barmes.

Other candidates for backup infield spots are Anderson Hernandez and Angel Sanchez, both strong offensive players who are having nice springs. Defensively, Manzella and Downs probably have the advantage.

______________

One position that I do not feel is up for grabs is first base. I still believe this is Brett Wallace’s job and that he’ll be there on Opening Day. Manager Brad Mills has been careful not to make any definitive declarations regarding first base, but he has lauded Wallace on many occasions for his approach and ability.

“He has confidence in his ability,” Mills said. “And, quite frankly, so do we.”

Mills did reveal that Carlos Lee will probably receive a small dose of playing time at first base once the Astros play their final split squad games (March 20). I would caution not to read too much into that. Lee has been taking ground balls at first base all spring but is preparing for the season as the left fielder.

______________

Notable:

*Jeff Keppinger is officially out of the walking boot he’s been wearing since he had offseason surgery on his foot.

* Michael Bourn was not in Thursday’s lineup for no other reason than Mills wanted to give him a rest. Bourn had the most spring at-bats of anyone heading into the game with the Nationals, and the short turnaround following the rare night game on Thursday was a perfect time to give Bourn a short break.

* The Astros will play a day game in Kissimmee with the Red Sox and a night game (5 p.m. CT start) at the Nationals on Friday, the fourth of six split-squad days the Astros have on their spring schedule.

* Justine Siegal is scheduled to throw a round of batting practice to Astros hitters prior to Saturday’s game with the Orioles. Siegal is the first woman to throw batting practice to a Major League club, having done so with the Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays.

Siegal wears a patch on her sleeve in honor or Christina-Taylor Green, who was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting near Tucson. Green, the granddaughter of former Phillies manager Dallas Green, was the only girl on her Little League team and wanted to be the first woman to play in the Major Leagues.

* Three more games will be aired on MLB Network, in addition to the March 18 and 19 games that will be shown by FS Houston: March 15 at Baltimore, March 27 vs. Detroit, March 30 vs. Red Sox (at Minute Maid Park).

* The Astros now have three active players on Twitter: Hunter Pence (@HunterPence9), Ryan Rowland-Smith (@hyphen18) and our newest addition to the Twitterverse, Chris Johnson (cjastros23). All three tweet regularly and enjoy the give and take with the fans. On Thursday, through Twitter, we learned that Rowland-Smith forgot the Astros had a night game on Thursday and arrived to an empty clubhouse at 8 a.m. (thus ruining his one and only chance to sleep in this spring) and that Pence had seven eggs (five in an omelette), two muffins and potatoes for breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe. This equated to, quoting the right fielder, a “Happy Hunter.”
___________

On to the pictures from an overcast afternoon and somewhat soggy (but playable) field during Thursday’s pregame practice:

Clint Barmes

0310_barmes_cag.jpg

Barmes, Chris Johnson

0310_barmes_cju.jpg

Bourn and his son, Bryson

0310_bourn_bryson.jpg

0310_bourn_2.jpg

Brad Mills, Carlos Lee

0310_mills_lee.jpg

Astros are on Facebook
Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter
Check out Astros witticisms at AstrosOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

Astros looking for Honorary Bat Girl…send us your story.

One of the best days of the season, in my humble opinion, is the day that Major League Baseball celebrates Mother’s Day.

Not only is it fun to watch players wear pink wristbands and shoelaces and swing pink bats, it’s all for a great cause, raising millions for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Again this year, Major League Baseball and Susan G. Komen for the Cure are scouring the country looking for Honorary Bat Girl candidates to represent their home town teams this Mother’s Day.

If your life has been personally affected by this terrible disease, please consider submitting a 900-word-or-less essay and photo to be the Astros’ Honorary Bat Girl. The deadline is April 14.

Mother’s Day is on May 8, which will be a road game for the Astros, but Major League Baseball will select another date to honor the winner.

Here is a sample entry, submitted by Karissa Ma, the contest winner in 2009. When diagnosed with breast cancer on March 2, 2005, at age 30, Ma, who had undergone six surgeries, watched virtually every Astros game in the pennant-winning ’05 season. And, despite feeling ill and losing all of her hair as a result of the chemotherapy treatments, she attended all of the Astros’ postseason home games that season.

0309_bat_girl.jpg

“During the 2005 season, they were not only my favorite team, but also an escape from the hospitals and doctors,” Ma wrote. “On Opening Day 2005, I attended the game having just been released two days prior from my first mastectomy and still had my drains attached. My husband thought I was crazy, but to me, this was a way to bring some normalcy to our lives.

“Every Friday night we had ‘date night’ at MD Anderson [Cancer Center]. This was my weekly chemo treatment, but we also watched our Astros and again, it helped us cope.

“While I am still receiving treatment, I am unable to be a mom. However, I know in my heart I will be able to celebrate Mother’s Day soon. Until that day, I share Mother’s Day with the Astros, watching them with their pink bats. Every day I bat against breast cancer by my countless hours of volunteering with the Komen Foundation and speaking to young women about it.”

Random notes: TwitterTuesday, Astroline, TV games and Snooki.

0308_bourn_smile.jpg

A tip of the cap goes to @mcLeod_jd, who had the only correct answer of the more than 250 guesses that poured in for #TwitterTuesday.

The question — who is Michael Bourn’s favorite actress? Answer: Sanaa Lathan.

I suppose I was in the majority in that I had never heard of Sanaa, nor had I heard of any of her movies, even after Bourn rattled them off. But that’s what I liked about this question — it had a stronger degree of difficulty than the previous two weeks, which kept the contest going for more than four or five minutes.

As a reminder, we ask a Google-free question on Twitter every Tuesday at noon CT sharp. The first to tweet the correct answer to me wins two free tickets to any game this season, with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series in July and the last homestand in September.

The incorrect guesses are often more entertaining than the actual answer. For example, along with about 175 guesses that Halle Berry is Bourn’s favorite actress, I received two votes for Debra Winger and one each for Snooki, Betty White and Rudy from the Cosby Show.

A few news and notes from a relatively quiet day at the Kissimmee Complex:

* Jason Castro began physical therapy in Houston on Monday at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center. After undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus, Castro is effectively out for the year, with a small chance of a September return.

* FS Houston will air two Astros games: March 18 at the Marlins, and March 19 vs. the Cardinals. Additionally, four games will be on MLB Network: tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Mets, March 15 at Baltimore, March 27 vs. Detroit and March 30 vs. the Red Sox (at Minute Maid Park).

* Clint Barmes will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline Wednesday at the ESPN Club on the Boardwalk at Disney. The show starts at 8 ET/7 CT and can be heard on 740 KTRH and Astros.com. I’ll be asking for some questions through Twitter when the show gets closer, so if you have a question for the Astros shortstop, send it my way: http://www.twitter.com/alysonfooter

* The Oklahoma City RedHawks have announced that tickets for the March 29 exhibition game against the Astros will go on sale to the general public beginning at 9 a.m. on Tuesday March 15.

Remaining availability is limited, and seats are expected to sell quickly. For the Astros-RedHawks exhibition, Club seats are $20, Field and Bleacher seats are $16, Third Base Terrace seats are $12 and Lawn seating is $10.

First pitch on March 29 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., with gates opening at 5:00 p.m., the same time Astros batting practice is scheduled to begin. Tickets are available for purchase by phone at (405) 218-1000, online at http://www.okcredhawks.com, or by visiting the RedHawks ticket office on Mickey Mantle Drive in Bricktown.

And we end with a few early-morning batting practice images:

Enos Cabell, Carlos Lee
 
0308_lee_enos.jpg

Hunter Pence
0308_pence.jpg
Brett Wallace, Matt Downs getting their bats ready for BP

0308_wallace_downs.jpg

Chris Johnson (@cjastros23) is tweeting. Who’s next?

0307_cj_wallace.jpg

It all started last week, when I asked fans to tweet their non-baseball questions for Chris Johnson for our weekly feature, “Focus Friday.”

One of our more loyal followers, @MissSadieK, asked of our third baseman: “Will you ever become a member of our Twitter family?” CJ said he didn’t know much about “The Twitter,” or how to set it up, but he would give a try if someone would show him how to do it.

Done. After batting practice in Viera on Monday, we got him all squared away, first with his Twitter name, @cjastros23, and next with his first tweet: “As promised I am now a member of the twitter family! Spring training game time at Nationals! Let’s get to work!”

As you’ve probably gathered from the stories and blogs you’ve read, Johnson is a lot of fun, a total hoot, and I would imagine he’ll provide a lot of entertainment (and hopefully some baseball insight too) through his tweets. He’s also a die-hard Duke fan and is very happy to have a new communication tool through which to express himself throughout tournament season.

Johnson is the third current Astro to join the Twitterverse. Hunter Pence (@HunterPence9) and Ryan Rowland-Smith (@hyphen18) are the other two. Hopefully you’ll give all three a follow.

Pence, flag football, Yogi and Cameron Diaz. Just another day at Astros Spring Training.

0305_pence_ff4.jpg

It was supposed to be little more than a fun few minutes of catching passes from a Major League ballplayer, but right from the get-go, this flag football game carried with it a little something extra.

Addressing “teams” comprised of boys approximately 10-12 years old, Hunter Pence was fully engrossed in this flag football scrimmage. He huddled. Called plays. Talked strategy. If the kids were at all awestruck by being in the presence of a big leaguer, that quickly faded when the competitive juices kicked in and winning was on the line.

“It was beautiful offensive coordination,” Pence quipped, assessing his play calling. “I had a lot of great talent to work with. Those kids were amazing. I had a lot of fun. It brings me back to the old days as a kid.”

The flag football game was part of a flurry of activities Pence participated in during his visit to Disney on Friday, as part of the ESPN The Weekend festivities. Pence started in the Fun Zone, where he mingled with fans, signed autographs and, finally, choreographed  a well-organized football game.

“That was the most intense flag football scrimmage I’ve ever been a part of,” Pence said. “The kids were actually sharp, paying attention, making great plays. That’s what this is all about — hanging with the young guys.”

Pence also sat on a panel of baseball players and experts during a special presentation of “Baseball Tonight,” staged in front of a live audience. The entire BBTN crew was there — Karl Ravech, Tim Kurkjian, Bobby Valentine, John Kruk and Nomar Garciaparra, in addition to Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista and Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee.

ESPN Deportes held a similar panel discussion on Saturday, with participating from Carlos Lee as well as retired Yankee Bernie Williams.

A full video of Friday’s activities can be found here. Here are some photos for further illustration…

0305_pence_ff2.jpg

0305_pence_ff3.jpg

Backstage at Baseball Tonight…Pence, Bautista, Lee

0305_backstage.jpg

And on stage.

0305_bbtonight_stage.jpg

_______________

As I watched Cameron Diaz make her way to the front row of seats near the visitors dugout during the Astros-Yankees game on Sunday, I couldn’t help but wonder if she enjoyed that snail-like crawl down Hwy. 192, or if she stopped by the Firehouse Subs at the corner of 192 and John Young Parkway for a quick bite before the game like the rest of us.

The Astros’ spring home was packed to the gills on Sunday, and loosely calculated, the breakdown was as followed: 69.999 percent Yankees fans, 29.999 percent Astros fans, 0.002 percent Hollywood actresses (Diaz, who is famously dating Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, and Amanda Aardsma, girlfriend of Astros pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith).

Mix in a Hall of Fame legend (Yogi Berra) and there were clearly enough distractions to keep people occupied, just in case an exhibition game featuring 25 mph winds and a few Spring Training-ish home runs weren’t enough to hold their attention.

I snuck down to the concourse to try to snap a quick picture of Diaz, but needless to say, between the people trying to take pictures of her, the people trying to take pictures of the Yankees and the security gently asking us to “KEEP THE AISLE CLEAR PLEASE!”, I
didn’t have much luck. So her she is from the side. Sorry, best I could do.

0306_cameron_diaz.jpg

Here’s Yogi Berra chatting with Matt Galante, Burt Hooton and Jose Cruz. Yogi was an Astros coach from 1986-89 and still has many friends in the organization.

0306_yogi.jpg

Focus Friday: Chris Johnson

0304_cj_flip.jpg

Welcome to FocusFriday, our weekly Spring Training feature that invites fans to tweet non-baseball, human interest questions for various Astros players.

Last week, we featured Hunter Pence, and this week’s subject is Chris Johnson. If you’re curious about his hobbies outside of baseball, favorite place to eat in Houston or who he’s picking to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, read on. You can also watch the video here.

@finalfour: Do you follow college basketball and who do you think will win the NCAA tournament?

CJ:
Duke will win. I follow college basketball a lot. I love it. Duke’s my favorite team . They had a tough blow with Kyrie Irving going down but I think we’ll be able to hang in there and get to the Final Four and win it again for the repeat. They will win the National Championship.

@FreeDrinkPhx: What were your favorite cartoons/kids shows and do you still watch cartoons/kids shows?

CJ: I’m going to have to say Saved by the Bell was my favorite kids show growing up. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like the show Saved by the Bell. And what kid when he was younger didn’t want to be like Zack Morris? I know I did.

@zackmaddox21: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of baseball?

CJ: I’m kind of a movie guy. I like going to see movies. Anything relaxing, anything indoors, just because we’re outside so much.

(What was the last movie you saw?)

Last movie I saw…I just rented Due Date. It was OK, pretty good.

@allphilla Are you a video-gamer, and if so, what do you play?

CJ: I play video games a little bit. I like Call of Duty. It’s the only game I play — Call of Duty or Madden. I’m not very good because I don’t really play a lot but I’m a pretty good gamer.

@EckmanBrandon: What is your favorite place to eat in the Houston area?

CJ: Vic and Anthony’s. It was the first place I ever went to when I got called up to Houston and the crab cakes are outstanding.

@MissSadieK: Will you ever become a member of the Twitter family?

CJ: I don’t really know much about the Twitter or how to set it up. I’m not a big-time computer guy but I do have an iPhone, so I guess that could make it easy. If I can get somebody to show me how to do it. I’m kind of nervous that I won’t get a lot of friends on there. I could probably give it a shot.

(I think the Social Media Director for the Astros could probably help you set it up…)

CJ:
OK, then, I will get a Twitter account. I will tweet.

@Evie: We know you like Entourage, but what is your guilty pop culture pleasure?

CJ: I’m a pretty big Justin Bieber fan. I’ve got the fever. His songs are great. I listen to them on my iPod before the games, try to get pumped up. I haven’t been to his concerts yet. He hasn’t come through Houston yet, I don’t think, but when he does, I’m going to jump all over it. I just hope we don’t have a game, because then I’d miss the game.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers