April 2011

Astros lineup 4/17 vs. Padres. Roof open. First pitch 1:05 p.m. CT

The Astros, and Major League Baseball, celebrate Jackie Robinson.

Michael Bourn wishes he could have met Jackie Robinson, shake his hand and express gratitude for what the baseball pioneer did to pave the way for today’s players.

Instead, Bourn is one of dozens of Major Leaguers across the country helping educate today’s youth about who Robinson was, the legacy he left behind and how one courageous man took a lifetime’s worth of abuse so that players in the ensuing generations wouldn’t have to.

“It’s a day that you want to pay tribute to the first African-American player to play in the Major Leagues,” Bourn said, before addressing students from Cullen Middle School in Houston. “Willie Mays, Barry Bonds…whoever you want to talk about. They wouldn’t have had the chance if Jackie hadn’t broken the color barrier.”

Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on Friday — April 15, the 64th anniversary of the first time Robinson, baseball’s first black player, stepped onto a Major League field. The Astros were out and about in Houston in full force, visiting four area schools that participated in the “Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life” program.

Students were invited to submit entries for the Breaking Barriers Essay Contest, presented by Whataburger. Fourth through eighth graders wrote about their personal stories of overcoming barriers. The Astros received 686 essays from 34 schools, and from all of the entries, four were selected as the Houston-area winners: Charissa R. (C.E. King Middle School), Shivanki J. (The Honor Roll School), Rylie B. (Velasquez Elementary School) and Latrell S. (Cullen Middle School).

For her essay, Latrell wrote:

“My life flashed before my eyes. I thought to myself, ‘Will I live or will I die?’ The determination in my eyes said ‘run.’ Rushing through polluted water was gross at the time for a seven-year-old girl, but at least I was mature enough to know why I was running. (Hurricane) Katrina took away my life and home, but at least I knew I wasn’t alone. The tone in my attitude showed hopefulness and disturbance. All through that experience, I was holding back the mental abuse the storm put upon me. My mind was mostly disturbed, but I was determined to leave the past behind. On that moment, I was compeltely and extremely determined to live my new life.”

In addition to tickets to Friday’s game and on-field recognition, the schools were rewarded with a visit from an Astros player. Bourn, Bill Hall, Jason Bourgeois and Nelson Figueroa each visited one winning area school.

“I just want them to understand it’s a privilege to play baseball and if any of them play baseball, they need to understand who Jackie Robinson is,” Bourn said. “They need to know who he is and what this day represents and the opportunity that we get, to play at the highest level with the highest competition, is because of this man, who suffered a lot of enduring pain, physically and mentally.”

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In conjunction with Jackie Robinson Day, Major League Baseball launched a new site: IAM42.com, a new digital campaign designed for fans to make a personal connection to the legacy of Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson through online video sharing and social networking via Twitter and Facebook.

IAM42.com features personal video tributes from more than 60 current players and legends to honor the 64th Anniversary of Robinson’s historic moment, including Baseball Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Lou Brock and Andre Dawson and MLB All-Stars Jason Heyward, Prince Fielder, David Price, Mariano Rivera and David Wright.

Launching on Jackie Robinson Day, fans of all ages are encouraged to share their thoughts on the enduring impact of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. The site will be updated throughout the year, in the lead-up to the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day, April 15, 2012.

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The Astros’ celebration of Jackie Robinson Day, in pictures:

Cullen Middle School assembly

Bourn, Dave Raymond at Cullen Middle School

Jason Bourgeois, Bill Brown at The Honor Roll School

Brett Dolan, Nelson Figueroa at Velasquez Elementary School.

Bill Hall at C.E. King Middle School

*Update 7:50 CT Friday: the Astros hosted a reception for past players and current Astros in honor of Jackie Robinson day. Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, a Houston resident who starred in the Negro Leagues, was in attendance. Here are some images from the Astros’ suite before the game:

Monte Irvin, Kevin Bass

Kevin Bass, Michael Bourn.

Bourn meets Irvin for the first time.

Irvin, Jimmy Wynn

Jason Bourgeois, J.C. Hartman, Enos Cabell, Michael Bourn, Kevin Bass, Bill Hall, Monte Irvin (front left), Jimmy Wynn (front right).

Astros lineup 4/15 vs. Padres. Roof open. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Astros lineup 4/14 vs. Padres. Roof open. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Notes from Wednesday’s game, plus Pence and a birthday cupcake

Postgame notes following the Astros’ 9-5 loss to the Cubs…

• The five runs scored by Houston in the sixth inning were the most in an inning by the club this season, besting the previous high of four accomplished twice, most recently in the 8th inning on Tuesday vs. CHC.
• With five innings pitched, Wandy Rodriguez surpassed the 1,000 innings pitched mark, becoming the fourth Astros lefty in franchise history to do so, joining Bob Knepper (1738), Mike Hampton (1138) and Jim Deshaies (1102)…he now has 1,001 career innings, all as an Astro.
• Matt Downs hit his first home run since April 10, 2010 vs. the Phillies. Downs has an RBI in each of his last four games, with five RBIs over that span.
• Bill Hall extended his club-best hitting streak to eight games and is hitting .321 (9-for-28) during the streak.
• Angel Sanchez has hit safely in five consecutive games with a .478 average (11-for-23).
• Mark Melancon has appeared in a club-high seven games this season and has not allowed a run in his six innings of relief.

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So what happened with Brett Wallace in the sixth inning? To recap, Bill Hall hit a pop up just past the infield, just out of the reach of two Cubs fielders. The ball dropped, but Wallace raced back to first — where Hall was standing, safely.

Wallace’s view was blocked and he didn’t know the ball wasn’t caught.

“Just from that angle, with the second baseman going back, you’re basically blocked out,” Wallace said. I couldn’t see the ball. It looked like (right fielder Tyler) Colvin scooped it up. It was just a judgement call.”

Wallace guessed he would have been out at second had he run that way anyway.

“It would have looked a lot better if I went to second and was out, but I think it would have been the same result,” he said.

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Chris Johnson was kept out of the lineup for Wednesday’s finale with the Cubs, a precautionary move stemming from a plunking the night before that left him with a bruised arm.

“It’s tough for him to move his arm around,” Brad Mills said. “We’ll give him tonight (off) and see how he is (Thursday).”

“Hopefully the swelling will be down tomorrow just so I can get that range of motion back,” Johnson told MLB.com “It’s not really too painful. I just can’t extend my arm.”

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Hunter Pence would probably say that his 28th birthday was a dud because of the Astros’ loss, but it started off pretty well. He had lunch with President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush, and later bantered back and forth with Kevin Millar during an interview on MLB Network.

At the end of the chat, he received a birthday cupcake, which he took a big bite out of — on air. Here’s the video, with a couple of images to illustrate the moment:

Astros lineup 4/13 vs. Cubs. Roof open. Happy 28th birthday Hunter Pence!

Bourn, Bourgeois and Bass: when things come full circle.

Congratulations to Astros fan and timely tweeter @brandonburkman, our #TwitterTrivia contest winner on Tuesday. This week’s question involved Jason Bourgeois, who grew up in Houston and spent a lot of time at the Astrodome while his dad worked in the Astros’ ticket office.

As a teenager, Bourgeois passed the time by roaming around the stadium during games, and most nights, he stopped off at the Astros’ bullpen to try to chat up the relief pitchers. One reliever in particular often engaged young Bourgeois in conversation, even as that pitcher was warming up to come into the game.

The question was — who was the pitcher? Answer: Billy Wagner.

It’s a little eerie that this was our #TwitterTuesday trivia question, considering the other off-the-field storyline we followed on the FS Houston television broadcast during the game. This one involved yet another a current Astro, also was asked about his memories of days spent at the Dome.

Michael Bourn’s favorite player back in the day was Kevin Bass. Because of this, Bourn hung out mostly in the outfield stands in the Dome with hopes to someday grab the popular Astro’s attention. It never worked. No matter how much Bourn yelled, he received nary a nod from Bass.

Bourn is currently in his sixth Major League season but until Tuesday, he still hadn’t crossed paths with Bass. That changed during batting practice when FS Houston staged a meeting between the two. Bourn says now that he understands why Bass blew him off all of those years ago, now that he’s an outfielder and has 100 percent of his focus aimed toward the field.

Additionally, Bass now understands the fandom part of baseball little better. He stood on the ConocoPhillips deck in left center field in the third inning during the Astros’ game with the Cubs, attempting to get Bourn’s attention. Bourn ignored him for the most part but later gave a half-grin, and a wave, briefly, when he saw who was yelling at him.

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We play #TwitterTuesday trivia every Tuesday night at 7:30 sharp. It’s pretty simple: I pose a question on Twitter that you can’t find the answer to on Google, and the first person to tweet back the correct answer receives two free tickets to a future Astros home game. The only games not available are the Red Sox series in July and the final homestand of the season.

We decided to focus our attention on Bourgeois this week, in honor of him becoming the latest Astros player to hop on the Twittertrain. Give him a follow at @jbourgeois1st. (Other Astros tweeters: @cjastros23, @brettwallace29, @hunterpence9 and @budnorris20).

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We’re all set for our first Social Media Night this Saturday: the Budweiser Patio is reserved, the t-shirts are printed and Hunter Pence is on board for his appearance before the game.

Now all that’s left is deciding what to serve for dinner. We’re leaving it up to the fans, so please tweet me your vote by the end of the night Wednesday:

Choice A:

Bryan Caswell’s Slider Trio: A beef slider with caramelized onions, a pulled pork slider with creamy cole slaw and a “shroom” slider – roasted cremini mushroom with cheese.

Choice B:

Diablo Grilled Chicken Sandwich: A chargrilled chicken breast topped with crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato, candied jalapenos and a rich boursin spread.

Choice C:
Foot Long Angus Beef Hot Dog, with an Extreme hot dog topping bar consisting of 20 plus toppings.

All listed menu items served with hand cut fries, and we’ll hand out pints of Blue Bell Ice Cream (choice of Homemade Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate or Flavor of the Month) for dessert.

Here are drawings of the t-shirts we’re giving out:


We still have a handful of tickets remaining, so if you haven’t signed up yet, you can do so here.

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And finally, images from batting practice Tuesday on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park…

 

Al Pedrique talks to the media about managing for one game, while Mills, suspended for Tuesday's game, watches the team practice defensive drills.

Brett Wallace, Carlos Lee

Bill Hall, Jason Bourgeois

 

Hanging out before warming up for practice

The view from the press box

 

 

Astros lineup 4/12 vs. Cubs. Roof open. First pitch: 7:05 p.m. CT

Astros lineup 4/11 vs. Cubs. The roof is open. Game time: 7:05 p.m. CT

Mid-day news and notes: Jackie Robinson Day, Tommy Bahama Golf Tournament, Milo CD

The Astros have often been playing on the road on the April 15 anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, but this year, the team will be home for the celebration.

The Astros plan to host several activities honoring Robinson’s legacy in addition to all Major League players, coaches, managers and umpires wearing Robinson’s uniform No. 42.

During the day, the Astros will visit four schools as part of the team’s Breaking Barriers essay program, presented by Whataburger.  “Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life” is a national Major League Baseball education program developed in conjunction with Scholastic, Inc., that teaches students the values that Jackie Robinson exhibited in life.

Area schools were invited to participate in the Houston Astros Breaking Barriers program by submitting essays written by students in fourth through eighth grades that discussed personal stories of overcoming barriers.

The Astros received 686 essays from 34 schools, and from all entries, four winning essays were selected as the Houston area winners. These four students will receive a special Astros player visit to their school, and the school receives 500 tickets to the April 15 game, along with 500 Whataburger coupons.

During the Astros Jackie Robinson Day pregame ceremonies, the four essay winners, their teachers and principals will be recognized on the field.

Other pregame ceremonies will include youth from Houston RBI, Grand Slam for Youth Baseball, the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy along with members of the Houston RBI 2010 Senior Boys World Series Championship team ringing the field further emphasizing Major League Baseball and the Astros’ efforts to teach the game of baseball to kids in minority and underserved communities.

Nine local youth ballplayers from Houston RBI, Grand Slam for Youth Baseball, the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy and the Houston RBI 2010 Senior Boys World Series Championship will take the field with Astros players during the national anthem and will wear t-shirts specially designed to represent one of Jackie’s nine values taught in the MLB Breaking Barriers program. Former Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars residing in the Houston area will throw ceremonial pitches.

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* The sixth annual Tommy Bahama Island Cowboy Classic will be held at The Woodlands Country Club on April 25, an off day for the Astros.

Because the event is held during the season, on a scheduled day off, there is usually a pretty good turnout of current players and coaches. This year’s event will benefit the Astros in Action Foundation, supporting Montgomery County Special Olympics. Registration begins at 10 a.m. For more information, click here.

Bud Norris at last year's Tommy Bahama Golf Tournament

 

* One more community note worth noting: FanFest activities over the weekend resulted in raising $35,000 for the Astros in Action Foundation and the Urban Youth Academy.
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“Baseball Voices,” the ongoing series of audio tributes to baseball’s greatest announcers, are now available digitally. The nine-release collection, which is produced and narrated by Chicago Cubs radio broadcaster Pat Hughes, are available on iTunes and Amazon.

The series highlights the glorious careers of legendary broadcasters, including our very own Milo Hamilton. Other announcers who are also featured are Harry Caray, Red Barber, Jack Buck, Bob Uecker, Harry Kalas, Marty Brennaman, Dave Niehaus and Bob Prince. All have been honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame with the Ford C. Frick Award.

Hamilton’s commemorative CD highlights some of his most famous calls and memorable moments. From his broadcast beginnings to his Hall of Fame induction, fans can relive Hamilton’s classic calls and greatest stories throughout the 50-minute compilation.

“These are the legends of baseball broadcasting,” said Hughes, who has been the radio play-by-play voice of the Cubs since 1996. “Their voices are forever engrained in the minds of millions of fans across the nation and now, with the mass-release of this series, they are
instantly available for nostalgic remembrances and reminders of what made them great.”

All of the CD releases are also available at http://www.baseballvoices.com and many of the home ballparks of the announcers. They are also expected to be available at additional retail outlets soon. Banshee Music, of Milwaukee, WI, is serving as distribution partner.

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