Opening weekend roundup: Bagwell, Dierker, a former president and one very famous astronaut.

Larry Dierker, chatting with our staff historian (and occasional PA announcer), Mike Acosta

Floating around FanFest today was surprisingly educational, but that’s what happens when you sit in on a Larry Dierker Talkin’ Baseball session. The session was titled “Larry Dierker’s Baseball Library,” — entirely appropriate, considering the former player-turned-broadcaster-turned manager is a walking encyclopedia of Astros history.

Not only is Dierker incredibly knowledgeable, he also has a way of talking that makes you want to listen. His recollections always come with a touch of humor and reflection. You really can picture in your mind what was going on at the time, even if he’s harkening back 40 years.

Anyway, during his Talkin’ Baseball seminar, Dierker touched a bit on what it was like to be an 18-year-old in a clubhouse filled with veteran players his rookie year in ’64. In many respects, the older guys looked out for him — but in their own special way.

“They took me under their wing,” Dierker said. “But those probably weren’t the best wings to get under. They taught me a lot about what goes on after the games.”

Dierker was too young to really hang out with his teammates, and, more importantly, he wanted to meet girls. So the teenaged pitcher spent most of his free time at bars around the campus of the University of Houston (years later, he obtained his degree there).

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Of all of the pictures Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are in together, this one that appears more places than any other:

At first glance, the expression on Bagwell’s face looks like one of affection for his longtime teammate. This was a familiar scene — Biggio scored a run with Bagwell on deck, followed by a quick high five.

I think this picture is so popular because of Bagwell’s expression. He shows just a hint of a grin — a rare occurrence for the first baseman when he was on the field. Bagwell’s stoic demeanor while playing was one of his trademarks (and earned him the nickname “Mr. Grumpy” by the more astute sector of the Astros’ fan base.)

Turns out, the look on Bagwell’s face wasn’t derived from his love for Biggio. Most of Biggio’s teammates over the years were used to the second baseman’s somewhat over-the-top superstitious behavior, from having to have his glove waiting for him in the exact same spot in the dugout to chewing the same gum from inning to inning if he was having a particularly good day at the plate.

As Bagwell signed a painting of this famous photo presented by a die-hard fan at FanFest, the former first baseman remembered that before the two could high-five, Bagwell had to go to a different spot to intercept his teammate. Biggio was taking a zigzag route back to the dugout, because well, that’s what was working for him up until then. So the look on Bagwell’s face was more of an eye-roll, as if to say, “Really, Bidge?”

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Other stuff:

* Jason Castro said he’ll be off the crutches in about two weeks, which is good news for obvious reasons — walking on crutches is not the least bit enjoyable and it takes twice as long to get from point A to point B. But there’s an added incentive for Castro chucking the crutches — he hasn’t been able to drive, and he’s had to depend on his dad to take him everywhere. It’s be like being 15 all over again.

Castro is rehabbing in Houston, so traveling with the team is probably not an option at this point. He does, however, plan to be at every home game when his rehab schedule allows.

Of his season-ending knee injury, Castro said this: “It’s tough. But I’ve come to terms with it and I’ve accepted what’s happened.”

* Clint Barmes was projected to miss four to six weeks when he fractured his hand toward the end of Spring Training, but that timetable has become considerably shorter. The shortstop took dry swings on Friday and played catch and took grounders on Saturday and appears to be progressing way ahead of schedule.

When he does return, he’ll wear a Bagwell-type pad on his hand, which he has now broken twice after being hit by pitches in the same spot.

* While the Astros record is terrible — 1-7 after just over a week of the season — it’s encouraging to see the offense producing of late. All we heard over the winter and through Spring Training was that the lineup lacked star power and it was going to struggle to score runs, but the hitters have done a pretty good job in the last several games:

– J.R. Towles picked up another hit on Saturday and has hit safely in all four of his starts this season.
– Bill Hall went 1-for-4 and has now hit safely in four straight games after going 1-for-15 in his first four.
– Brett Wallace has recorded RBI in four straight games and in five of his last six.

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Thanks to everyone who purchased tickets to our first exclusive Social Media night, which will take place April 16 and will feature right fielder Hunter Pence.

Social Media nights are held in the Budweiser Patio. A base price of $45 includes a game ticket, dinner, a t-shirt, and lots of opportunities to win autographed items through our Twitter trivia session. Pence will join us from 5 to 5:15 and will hand out the prizes while posing for pictures with the winners.

It’s a great time and a great way to meet other social media-minded fans. If you’d like to join in, please click here to order your tickets.

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And finally, we tour Opening weekend through pictures (and an inside-the-dugout view of the home opener pregame celebration):

Jason Castro, and his crutches, in the dugout before pregame introductions

The Astros getting ready for Opening Day introductions

That's former President George Bush and astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Kelly's twin brother Scott, also an astronaut, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Pregame introductions.

Mark Kelly and Drayton McLane carrying on a conversation while a bazillion cameras captured the image.

FanFest: Bagwell.

FanFest: Michael Bourn and a young fan.

FanFest: Chris Johnson, J.A. Happ.

Talkin' Baseball with Tal Smith, Drayton McLane, Milo Hamilton and Ed Wade.

FanFest: Pence, Wallace, Michaels, Quintero.

9 Comments

FYI – Astronaut Mark Kelly’s twin brother, who threw out the first pitch- is named Scott, not Steve, as mentioned in your article.

Yikes! Thank you! Fixed :)

I would love to know where Milo got the Ivy hat he has on….

Alyson, you left out crucial details! Who took the Bagwell/Biggio photo, team photog Stephen O’Brien? Any idea which game it is from?

Nevermind. =)

“HOUSTON – OCTOBER 10: Craig Biggio #7 of the Houston Astros is congratulated by Jeff Bagwell #5 after hitting a home run against the Atlanta Braves during the second inning of game four of the National League Divisional Series on October 10, 2004 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)”

Thanks Photog! You could tell it definitely was a playoff game with Bagwell’s full beard. Poor Bidge was the only one without the playoff beard…that’s one thing he couldn’t do — his beards came with large bald patches :)

Alyson, Thank you for filming this for us!! You don’t KNOW
how good it was to “see” Jason Castro in uniform!! His
injury made me so very sad for him. Good to see him, even
if it was for just a few minutes!! I just know he is going to be like Hunter Pence…….a fan favorite!! Thanks for the stroll
down memory lane with Bags and Biggio. Those were some
very good years. Did you know the fans called the Astros the Cardiac Kids, back in the late 80′s and early 90′s?!!
Thanks again for everything you do for us fans………we
really appreciate it! Becky :) :) :)

Alyson, I have to admit I was surprised to see my artwork on your article. Great article!!!

The photo of Charissa Robbins with Bill Hall has the wrong school, It is CE King Middle School. Thanks

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