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).
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?”
* 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.
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.
And finally, we tour Opening weekend through pictures (and an inside-the-dugout view of the home opener pregame celebration):
Tickets are currently available for our first exclusive Social Media night, which will take place on the Budweiser Patio April 16 and will feature the Astros’ most popular tweeter, Hunter Pence (also known in these circles as @hunterpence9).
What are Social Media nights, you ask? They’re once-a-month gatherings in the patio area right behind center field that include quite a few perks, including a 15-20 minute appearance by an Astros player.
* A game ticket in the Budweiser Patio — the area contains three rows and seats a total of 108.
* 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 invite fans to vote on three choices through Twitter, and whatever gets the most votes is what we’ll serve. We’ll also throw in kettle chips and popcorn, and a half-pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream for dessert.
* An appearance by an Astros player. For the April 16 event, Pence will join us from 5 p.m. to around 5:15 (the 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.
Here are the rest of the Social Media dates for 2011:
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
The Astros have spent about 36 hours in Houston in the last two months, but all of that is about to change with nice, long, 10-game homestand, beginning with their Opening Day on Friday.
Good seats are still available for the 6:05 p.m. CT game with the Florida Marlins. The festivities begin at 11:30 a.m. outside of Minute Maid Park with the annual Street Fest, which will feature live music and appearances by several key Astros players and personnel.
12:30 p.m.: Drayton McLane, Ed Wade, Tal Smith and Brad Mills, joining host Milo Hamilton.
4:15 p.m.: Bill Hall, Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace, Angel Sanchez, joining host Brett Dolan.
Inside the ballpark, the pregame ceremonies will include recognition of the men and women from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, who will present the United States Flag. The flyover will be conducted by Commemorative Air Force Gulf Coast Wing B-17G Texas Raiders, while the Color Guard will be from the United States Army.
The national anthem will be performed by 15-year-old aspiring country singer Mary Sarah, a native of Sugar Land. God Bless America will be performed by country music star Jack Ingram.
The first 40,000 fans to the game will receive schedule magnets from United Airlines. Following the game, the Astros will host Friday Night Fireworks (weather permitting), provided by Marathon Oil Corporation.
Opening weekend will also feature FanFest on Saturday and Sunday. Those details can be found here.
I’m not really savvy when it comes to understanding wireless technology, but here’s what I gleaned from the recent announcement that the Astros and AT&T upgraded the service at Minute Maid Park — connectivity at our baseball home, which was pretty decent in the past, is about to get a whole lot better.
They’ve expanded broadband connectivity with a new Distributed Antenna System (DAS) and Wi-Fi. This is part of AT&T and the Astros’ ongoing efforts to support growing demand for advanced wireless devices and services and is designed to enrich baseball fans’ wireless experience whether they are checking scores, updating social networking sites, or uploading photos to friends while cheering in the stands.
(Or tweeting me).
Inside the venue, there are 225 access points to cover 40,950 seats, concession stands and concourse areas. Minute Maid Park visitors with a Wi-Fi-enabled AT&T smartphone can easily connect to the AT&T Wi-Fi network without any setup or log in required, through an auto-authentication process.
After 44 days in Wi-Fi challenged Kissimmee and another three in downtown Cincinnati — where cell phone reception apparently goes to die — let me just say, it’ll be nice to be home, and even nicer to stay there for a while.
If you could sample beer and watch baseball in order to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, would you?
On April 16, the Astros invite you to enjoy a night of Astros baseball while sampling a variety of import and domestic beers in Champions Pavilion. Tickets for this event will include One Mezzanine Ticket, eight, 3-ounce beer samples, a ballpark meal (hot dog and bag of chips), meet and greet with Jimmy Wynn from 5:30 to 6:30 and a chance to bid on exclusive Astros memorabilia in a silent auction. Cost: $40. A portion of all proceeds will go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. To order tickets, call Richard Tapia at 713-259-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*You may remember Sean Casey, the now-retired first baseman who played for the Reds, Pirates, Tigers and Red Sox over a 12-year career that ended in ’08. Casey is now a part-time television analyst for Fox Sports Ohio as well as a regular on MLB Network, and he was in Cincinnati for all three games between the Astros and Reds this week.
Casey had a chance to catch up with Mills, who was bench coach for the Red Sox during Casey’s short stint in Boston. Unsolicited, Casey offered this take: of all of the people he worked with in his career, no one had a better feel for, or understanding of, the game of baseball than Mills.
* The pitching matchups for the upcoming Marlins series are:
Fri: LHP Wandy Rodriguez (0-1, 15.75) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (0-0, 2.57) (FS Houston)
Sat: RHP Bud Norris (0-1, 11.25) vs. RHP Javier Vazquez (0-1, 15.43) (FS Houston)
Sun: LHP J.A. Happ (0-1, 15.75) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (0-0, 3.18) (FS Houston)
* FS Houston did not broadcast Thursday’s series finale in Cincinnati, leaving a lot of you to ask: what did Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown do during the game?
Answer: They hung out in the TV booth with the rest of the crew, surfed the ‘net and took in a ballgame. Here’s proof:
The Astros have finalized their schedule for FanFest, which will take place at Minute Maid Park April 9 and 10. Lots to cover, so let’s get started…
* FanFest will take place primarily on the main concourse and admission is free with the purchase of a game ticket for April 9 (6:05 p.m. start time) and April 10 (1:05 p.m.).
* FanFest will include autograph sessions with current and former players, Talkin’ Baseball discussions with broadcasters and staff, silent auctions and a Garage Sale of Astros promotional merchandise and “memory lane” autographed items.
* Proceeds will benefit two entities this year: The MLB Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park (FanFest), and UNICEF’s relief efforts in Japan (in stadium auctions).
* FanFest activities on April 9 begin at noon, with gates opening at 11 a.m. That day will feature four autograph sessions: two from noon to 12:50 p.m. and two from 1 to 1:50 p.m. Each session will include autographs from four current players for a donation of $20 per session. This will be the only day current players sign.
* FanFest acitivites on April 10 will begin at 11:30 a.m. Astros alumni will sign both days, free of charge.
* Tickets are available at astros.com, at the Minute Maid Park Box Office on Texas Ave. or by phone, toll free, at 877-9ASTROS (877-927-8767).
Autograph session guidelines:
* Current players will sign in two autograph sessions (A and B). Each session will feature two groups of current players and/or coaches. Buying a group’s autograph ticket in either session entitles the purchaser one autograph from each player in that group.
* A third autograph session (session C) featuring Jeff Bagwell will take place on Saturday.
* Free former player autograph sessions will be held on Sunday from 1 – 3 p.m.
Saturday, April 9
Noon – 12:50 p.m. Autograph Session A – $20 per session (Players subject to change)
Group #1–Club Level 207 Brad Mills, Bill Hall, Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez
Group #2–Club Level 228 Clint Barmes, Michael Bourn, JA Happ, Chris Johnson
1 – 1:50 p.m. Autograph Session B – $20 per session (Players subject to change)
Group #3– Club Level 207 Jason Michaels, Hunter Pence, Humberto Quintero, Brett Wallace
Group #4– Club Level 228 Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Nelson Figueroa, J.R. Towles
Free Session-Club Level 207 Drayton McLane
3:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. Autograph Session C – $50 (Subject to change)
Champion’s Pavilion Jeff Bagwell
Sunday, April 10
1 – 3 p.m. Autograph Session D – Alumni Free (*No autograph ticket required, players subject to change)
Union Station Atrium
Ryan Bowen, Enos Cabell, Jose Cruz, Danny Coombs, Jerry Da Vanon, Larry Dierker, Charlie Hayes, Bill Heath, Art Howe, Terry Puhl, Shane Reynolds, Carl Warwick, Brian Williams, Jimmy Wynn, Gerald Young
Autograph Ticket Purchase Details
* Fans will need an April 9 or April 10, 2011 game ticket to purchase an autograph ticket.
* All current player autograph session tickets and Jeff Bagwell autograph session tickets will go on sale at the Minute Maid Park ticket windows at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 9.
* Fans are encouraged to review the autograph schedule, choose their priority groups and line up at the corresponding ticket windows for their preferred group.
Session A, Group 1 – Texas Avenue auxiliary ticket window No. 5
Session A, Group 2 – Texas Avenue auxiliary ticket window No. 6
Session B, Group 3 – Texas Avenue auxiliary ticket window No. 7
Session B, Group 4 – Texas Avenue auxiliary ticket window No. 8
Session C, Group 5 – Right Field ticket window No. 32
* A maximum of 200 autograph tickets will be sold for each current player group in sessions A and B.
* A maximum of 250 autograph tickets will be sold for Jeff Bagwell, session C.
* Autograph tickets for sessions A and B cost $20 each, and autograph tickets for session C cost $50 with all proceeds benefiting the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy.
* Fans will be able to purchase one autograph ticket, per autograph group, per person.
TALKIN’ BASEBALL DISCUSSIONS – Saturday and Sunday
LOCATION: Union Station Atrium
Fans can ask questions of Astros staff and broadcasters in interactive discussions on a variety of baseball topics. This year’s Talkin’ Baseball discussions include:
Saturday, April 9
2:30 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. The Astros in 2011– Drayton McLane, Tal Smith, Ed Wade and Milo Hamilton
3:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. Larry Dierker’s Baseball Library
Sunday, April 10
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Story Time with Milo Hamilton
Kids can enjoy a special reading of Dr. Seuss’ Cat In The Hat by Hall of Famer Milo Hamilton
ASTROS IN ACTION FOUNDATION GARAGE SALE – Saturday and Sunday
LOCATION: MAIN CONCOURSE, CONOCO ALLEY
Proceeds benefit the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy
• A fan favorite, the Astros Garage Sale will feature a wide variety of Astros promotional merchandise including bobbleheads, t-shirts and “memory lane” autographed items beginning at just $1.00.
ASTROS IN ACTION FOUNDATION SILENT AUCTION – Saturday and Sunday
LOCATION: MAIN CONCOURSE, COMMUNITY CLUBHOUSE BEHIND SECTION 107
Proceeds benefit the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy
• Fans can bid on unique autographed items during the silent auction. Bidding begins when gates open and closes at the end of the sixth inning. Items available for bid include game used and autographed memorabilia.
ASTROS IN ACTION FOUNDATION MYSTERY GRAB BAGS – Saturday and Sunday
LOCATION: MAIN CONCOURSE, CONOCO ALLEY AND COMMUNITY CLUBHOUSE BEHIND SECTION 107
Proceeds benefit the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy
• For a donation of $50, fans can select a mystery grab bag that is guaranteed to contain at least one current and/or former player autographed item.
FREE FUN ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS – Saturday and Sunday
LOCATION: SATURDAY – SQUEEZE PLAY
SUNDAY – UNION STATION LOBBY
• The Kids Fun Zone will feature Astros mascots Junction Jack, Cousin Jessie and Junction Julie, interactive activities and entertainers for kids 14 and under beginning at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday and from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.
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A well-trafficked video room is pretty standard in big leagues clubhouses in this modern era, but the ever-evolving technological boom has also enabled ballplayers to study up for games on their own time, in their own surroundings.
By now, everyone carries with him something portable, whether it’s a laptop, iPhone, iPod or, the most recent fad, the iPad. As we know, these are multi-purposes devices that (arguably) make life easier. For ballplayers, they also provide an essential service to help prepare for games.
In the video room, video coordinator Jim Summers has every at-bat, every pitch and every game a player or coach might need available at his fingertips. But he also has an app called TVTI Video Player, which allows him to export all of this data and deliver directly to players. In turn, players can watch at their leisure, while sitting at their lockers, or during team flights, or in their hotel rooms before and after games.
Watching prior at-bats is part of Hunter Pence’s daily pregame routine, and with TVTI Video Player, he can do so on his own schedule without having to always coordinate with Summers.
“Now he can pull out his iPad, sit at his locker and watch any at-bat he wants,” Summers said.
Interestingly, in addition to wanting to break down opposing hitters and study their own deliveries, pitchers often want to watch video of other pitchers around the league who have similar styles. For instance, Nelson Figueroa recently requested footage of Jon Garland facing the Reds, whom Figueroa will face on Tuesday.
To expedite, Summers simply calls up the game and exports it to Figueroa’s iPad. The best part is, players do not need to be online to watch the videos.
On a much different note…
Sure, Miss America’s visit to Citizens Bank Park on Sunday garnered a nice round of appreciative applause from the crowd after the 17-year-old sang “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch.
But the appearance had a much more profound impact on radio announcer Dave Raymond.
Raymond was positively giddy upon learning that Miss America, Teresa Scanlan, was present at the Astros-Phillies finale, and for good reason. Although he had never met her, the two have a connection — not only are they both from Gering, Nebraska (pop. 7,500), but Scanlan grew up down the street from Raymond’s family, and, as a youngster, watered his parents’ plants when they were out of town.
Raymond had already graduated from college by the time Scanlan was born, so their paths never crossed — until Sunday, that is, when Scanlan, at the request of Raymond, was whisked to the radio booth following her on-field performance. She spend an inning on air with Raymond and his broadcast partner Brett Dolan and was delighted to discover the connection to Raymond’s family.
There’s yet one more twist — Raymond’s parents, vacationing in Napa, were listening to the broadcast of the game — and the interview with Scanlan — through the MLB At-Bat 11 app on their iPhone. Raymond’s mother sent a flurry of excited text messages to her son, which he relayed to Miss America.
Noting his parents were on vacation, he asked Scanlan the only logical question.
“So who’s watering the plants?”
And finally, we end with a pictorial view of a clear, cool day at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday…
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
I saw a tweet by a friend early on Friday that said, “Is it just me or does Opening Day have the same intensity as a playoff game?”
I can understand the logic. Maybe it’s the chill in the air, or the packed house filled with extra-loud fans, or maybe it’s just simply the adrenaline rush felt by anyone who had just endured 33 straight fun but meaningless Spring Training games. Whatever the reason, Opening Day is special.
That said, I think television announcer Jim Deshaies summed it up well in the postgame show when he said, “This game was like a really good movie with an ending that (stunk).”
The Astros played pretty spectacularly through eight innings only to lose it in the ninth, behind a bunch of broken-bat singles and at least one well-placed hit off closer Brandon Lyon.
Still, it was comforting to watch Brett Myers pick up where he left off in 2010 with seven strong innings, extra-base hits by Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence and some slick defense by Bill Hall and Brett Wallace, among others. I’ll be honest, after Wednesday’s 10-0 loss to the Red Sox that closed out the exhibition season, I was disturbed and a little worried how this opening weekend was going to go.
I realize that any loss is a bad loss, and that there are a lot of games left to play. But I found the overall effort on Friday encouraging.
Enough game chatter. What else was happening on Opening Day at Citizens Bank Park?
Well, it was cold. I’m sure you heard it was cold, because it’s all anyone could talk about leading up to this trip to Philly. If there’s one thing you need to understand about baseball people, we’re obsessed with the weather. I check my iPhone weather app 10 times a day leading up to a road trip. Then, when I want something more specific, like an hour-by-hour breakdown, I log on to weather.com and dig, dig, dig. Part of it is a need to know how to pack for the trip. But mostly, it’s due to paranoia. The worst thing you can say in this business is probably “season-ending injury,” but a very, very close second is “rain delay.”
The forecast for Friday in Philly was terrible. Rain! Mixed with snow! And wind. Yes, WIND!
But it turned out to be a pretty decent day, reasonably speaking. The local weather reports said the precipitation would move out of the Philly area by 1 ET, and although there was a little drizzle when the game started, the rain did indeed stay away for the duration.
The preference is always to start the season in the home ballpark, but even when a team’s on the road, it’s hard not to get a little caught up in the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day.
Snapping photos and shooting video from the Astros dugout in the half-hour leading up to game time was a treat this time. It’s interesting to see how players respond to the excitement of Opening Day. Some are visibly hyped, some (usually, the veterans) are a little more subdued.
One aspect, which I sense is probably universal throughout the league, is an outward camaraderie among teammates. This was in full force in the Houston dugout on Friday: lots of handshakes and back slaps, and lots and lots of hugging. Man love!
Pregame introductions were nothing out of the ordinary. J.A. Happ was given a nice ovation from his phormer hometown phans, while Brett Myers was roundly booed (probably because he was the starting pitcher for this game).
Enjoy the images from the day…and please watch the video footage here.
The Phillie Phanatic, arguably the best mascot in all of professional sports, was on the top of his game for the opener on Friday. In an over-the-top stunt, a handful of half-dressed men carried the Phanatic out in a giant egg, only to watch him pop out dressed (and later, dancing) as Lady Gaga.
(If you saw the Grammys, you’ll probably find this amusing.)
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Happy Opening Day! Here is your Houston Astros Opening Day lineup. First pitch: 12:05 p.m. CT.
Lee needs: 33 hits for 2000
Bourn needs: 27 SB for 200
Hall needs: 16 G for 1000
Lyon needs: 47 G for 500
Michaels needs: 58 G for 1000
Myers needs: 13 wins for 100
* Players are bracing for cold weather today, giving the Astros’ clubhouse a very burglar-like feel. So far I’ve spotted at least five players wearing protective face masks, including this Opening Day third baseman: (courtesy of @brettwallace29)
There’s a lot of hullabaloo flying around because of the less than desirable weather conditions, but every weather report I watched on the local news this morning, as well as regular visits to weather.com, indicate the rain and light snow will have moved out of the Philly area by 1 ET, which happens to be gametime.
Play ball, and, as we say in baseball, Happy New Year!