May 2011

Astros lineup at Cubs 5/31. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Flyovers, past and present, plus a few notes from yesterday’s win.

Play was halted for a minute or so on Monday as four F-18 fighter jets flew, separately, over Wrigley Field, presumably in honor of a nation-wide observance of Memorial Day.

“Flew over” is probably a little misleading, because that would suggest the jets were flying at the same general altitude as a normal commercial jet — high, high in the air. Not so much this time. They were low — so low that from the press box, it looked as if they were just feet above the large scoreboard that sits atop the bleachers in center field.

Flyovers are thrilling — the noise, the speed, the patriotism that they represent. But it’s also entertaining when the first one passes over, just to watch how startling it is to the people on the ground. When it happens during a baseball game, the players have no idea it’s coming, and considering how loud these jets are, it can cause reactions and body language normally not seen on a baseball field.

Monday’s flyover brought back a memory of another similar incident that happened when the Astros were here in Chicago 13 years ago. I didn’t remember the details of it, only that Brad Ausmus was batting, and that there was an air show going on in Chicago, and some of those planes ended up above Wrigley Field at a most inopportune time.

The memory stood out to me because Ausmus, as you probably remember, was always Mr. Cool, always in control, never rattled. There were two times that I ever saw him even slightly freaked out. One was when the plane flew over Wrigley during his at-bat. Another was when he read some documentation that argued — pretty convincingly — that the team hotel in Tampa was haunted (the same day the team traveled to Tampa to play the Rays).

I mentioned the former on Twitter, and within five minutes, Astros fan Kash Sarkaria posted a You Tube link on my Facebook page that showed video footage from that game at Wrigley in 1998. Ausmus was batting, or trying to bat, when the Blue Angels popped in for a visit.

Give it a look…it’s pretty funny, with great memories to boot.

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Notes from a 12-7 win on a windy, sunny and hot day at Wrigley…

Jeff Keppinger is a career .318 hitter in 61 games against the Cubs. He was 3-for-5 with a double, home run and four RBIs on Monday, to fortify what is the fourth-highest average among active players versus the Cubs. Keppinger has hit safely in his last 10 games at Wrigley, dating back to April of last year. He is 16-for-41 (.390) with five walks, seven runs, a double, a homer and 10 RBIs during that stretch.

Hunter Pence has hit safely in 11 straight games, going 20-for-46 (.435) during his most recent double-digit hitting streak. His solo homer in the fifth inning tied the game at six.

Michael Bourn also had a big day, going 3-for-5 with three runs scored, a stolen base and a triple.

Jordan Lyles will start tonight, and after he throws one pitch he will officially be the first Astros player born in the 1990s to appear in a Major League game. Let’s hope this one starts on time — the weather isn’t looking so great. It’s supposed to storm pretty steadily starting at around 5, with a short one-hour break arriving around 7. After 9, the forecast looks pretty clear.

So while I think we will get this game in, I sense we’re in for a long night at the ballpark.

Stay tuned.

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Photos from Wrigley Field, and a few pregame notes

The Cubs PR director just mentioned that two days ago, it was 42 degrees here, and I believe it. Chicago weather, this time of year, can range from insanely cold — one time, many years ago, the gametime temperature was 49 degrees; on June 1 — to unbearably hot, as we’ve experienced several times in July and August.

It’s hot here at Wrigley Field today on this Memorial Day, but not Houston hot (thankfully). Thirty minutes before gametime, it’s 88 degrees, but much, much toastier on the field. Nonetheless, it’s a gorgeous day for a ballgame in the Windy City.

A few notes:

* At the inning break closest to 3 p.m. C T, the Astros and Cubs will observe a National Moment of Remembrance with a moment of silence in honor of Memorial Day. Across the country, Americans will pause during their Memorial Day activities to participate in this act of national unity. All MLB teams have been participating in the National Moment of Remembrance since 1997.

* We had a Jordan Lyles spotting this morning in the cramped clubhouse at Wrigley Field, so rest assured the right-hander has safely arrived to Chicago and is ready to make his Major League debut tomorrow night. He joked that his family brought the entire state of South Carolina to Chicago to witness the debut. Lyles also seemed comfortable in his new surroundings, and his manager, Brad Mills, noted his level-headedness, something he was keenly aware of during Spring Training.

“He’s always been very confident and I don’t expect that to change at all,” Mills said. “I said to him, ‘You’ll be here for two starts or 20 years.'” He just needs to go out and pitch.”

Lyles will not be on a pitch count. He threw over 100 several times while with Oklahoma City and Mills does not anticipate having to prematurely pull the reins in on his young pitcher.

* On this date in Astros history:

2001: In a 7-4 win over the Padres, Wade Miller went 3-for-3 en route to his seventh win of the year. Craig Biggio hit his fifth homer to help snap an eight-game losing streak for Houston.

1976: Houston sets a team record with 25 hits in the second game of a doubleheader sweep over the Braves, winning 16-5. Of the 25 hits, 23 were singles.

And a few photos:

Clint Barmes, Jason Michaels wait for their turn to hit

Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee have a laugh

Jordan Lyles, J.A. Happ during stretch

Chris Johnson and Jeff Keppinger chat while Brett Wallace tries to fly away

Astros lineup 5/30 at Cubs. First pitch 1:20 CT.

Sunday roundup: young Lyles gets the call, Pence extends his streak, and pictures from Ford Focus Social Media Night.

Many Major League players have debuted at Wrigley Field over the years, so count Jordan Lyles as just one of a long list of rookies whose first exposure to the big leagues will be in Chicago, at one of the game’s most historic ballparks.

Lyles will join the Astros here on Monday, and judging from how quiet the right-hander was during Spring Training — he said barely a peep the entire time — I’m guessing he won’t let on as to if he’s overly excited, or jubilant, or petrified, or some combination of all three.

In some ways, this is nothing out of the ordinary — a veteran pitcher, in this case Wandy Rodriguez, got hurt, and the club summoned its top pitching prospect to fill the roster spot. Teams do this all the time. But in Lyles’ case, there is reason for a little extra hype — he’s young. Really, really young. Lyles is 20 years old, born Oct. 19, 1990. That makes him not old enough to do a few things, like rent a car. Or enjoy a nice cool refreshing adult beverage.

He is, however, old enough to pitch professionally, and on Tuesday, just shy of three years since becoming the Astros’ No. 1 draft pick, he’ll make his debut. Most of you probably remember that Lyles was the club’s best performer during Spring Training, but that he was edged out by Nelson Figueroa. Lyles spent the first two months of the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he started off a little rocky but has had a nice run in his last seven outings, going 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA.

When he throws his first pitch Tuesday night, he’ll be the fourth youngest pitcher to start a game for the Astros. Jay Dahl was 17 when he debuted on Sept. 27, 1963, followed by Larry Dierker, who made his first big league start on his 18th birthday — Sept. 22, 1946. Next is Chris Zachary, 19 years old when he debuted on June 23, 1963. Jeff Juden was 20 when he started for the first time on Sept. 21, 1991.

Lyles will face the excitable Carlos Zambrano in the only game of the three at Wrigley that will be played at night. This should be an interesting and entertaining few hours. If Lyles ends up with his first big league win, here’s hoping his teammates take him out for a tall, cold…Mountain Dew.

________________

Postgame notes from Sunday’s game:

J.A. Happ has had seven solid starts in a row, even if he’s not seeing results in the win-loss column. The left-hander has posted a 3.35 ERA, allowing 15 earned runs over 40 innings.

Hunter Pence carries a 10-game hitting streak into the opener at Wrigley. Since May 17, Pence is hitting .380 with one homer and seven RBIs. This is Pence’s second double-digit hit streak of the 2011 season.

________________

Thanks to everyone who attended our Social Media Night, presented by Ford Focus, on Saturday. We had a great group, as usual, and we gave away a ton of loot during our Twitter Trivia contest. Special thanks to Chris Johnson (@cjastros23) for joining us and helping hand out the door prizes.

Our next Social Media Night, presented by Ford Focus, will be June 25. We’ll announce the special guest soon. The program will be the same — ballpark tour, batting practice viewing behind the Astros’ dugout, dinner, t-shirt, trivia contests and a seat in the Budweiser Patio, all for just $45.

Images from Saturday’s event:

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Astros lineup 5/29 vs. Diamondbacks. Roof closed. First pitch 1:05 p.m. CT.

Clint’s Crew 2: Houston Jr. RBI

 By Rachel Frey

On Friday, May 27, members of Houston Jr. RBI program fwere welcomed to Minute Maid Park by Clint Barmes through his “Clint’s Crew” program. Clint’s Crew hosts kids in the Houston area once a month at Minute Maid Park.

Clint’s Crew groups are given 20 tickets to the game, which are loaded with $10 for food, beverages, or other merchandise. They also received a drawstring backpack filled with Astros items.

The Jr. RBI kids were allowed to watch batting practice on the field, and got autographs from Michael Bourn and Jason Bourgeois before Clint finished his practice swings and came over to meet them. Clint signed hats and baseballs for the kids before they posed for a group picture.

Houston Jr. RBI is made up of children 15 and under, and each coach was asked to pick members from their team for this opportunity. Houston RBI participants are also members of the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy. Over 300 kids participate in the Houston RBI program, and last year, their senior division (18 and under) won the RBI World Series in Jupiter, FL.

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Rachel Frey is the Social Media and Broadcasting Intern for the Houston Astros. She studies Public Relations at The University of Texas at Austin, where she spends most of her time attending Texas Football and Baseball games. Connect with Rachel on her Twitter account: @RachelFrey or on her MLBlog: A Temporary Perspective.

Astros lineup 5/28 vs. Diamondbacks. First pitch 6:05 p.m. CT. Roof closed.

Astros lineup 5/27 vs. Diamondbacks. Roof closed. (And Keppinger returns.)

Ask and ye shall receive: Astros players and their walk-up music

I’ve never paid much attention to what’s playing when Astros hitters approach the plate, but clearly, I’m in the minority.

Walkup music has always been a constant source of intrigue to the fan base, judging from the number of questions I receive weekly asking for a rundown of players’ preferred tunes.

Thanks to my friend Nunee Oakes, scoreboard assistant extraordinaire, we have that walkup music compiled in a nice, tidy list. Without further ado, here you go…

Clint Barmes:  In The Air Tonight by Nonpoint

Jason Bourgeois:  Say I Won’t by Propane; Trillionaire by Bun B and T-Pain; Lay Me Down by T.I.

Michael Bourn:    Get Your Shine On by Bridman & Lil Wayne

Matt Downs:           Wanna Be A Baller by Lil Troy

Bill Hall:                   All of The Lights by Rihanna and Kanye West; Grove St. Party by Waka Flocka Flame; Pressin’ Them Buttons by Paul Wall

Chris Johnson:      Blowin’ Money Fast by Rick Ross

Carlos Lee:              Stereo Love by Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina; Que Buena Tu Ta by Fuego

Jason Michaels:   Here Me Now by Hollywood Undead; The Bleeding by Five Finger Death Punch

Hunter Pence:    Before I Forget by Slipknot; Coming Undone by Korn

J.R. Towles:         Down in Flames by Stoney LaRue

Brett Wallace:     Pledge Allegiance by T.I.

Pitchers:

J.A. Happ:        Written in The Stars by Tinie Tempah

Bud Norris:      You’re Going Down by Sick Puppies

Brett Myers:     Miracle by Nonpoint; Forever by Kid Rock

Brandon Lyon: Dragula by Rob Zombie

Wandy Rodriguez:  TNT by AC/DC

Aneury Rodriguez:  Danza Kuduro by Don Omar

A few key, indisputable facts:
* If you don’t find a player/pitcher on this list, it likely means he doesn’t have a song preference.
* Some players change their walkup music semi-regularly, for variety or superstitious reasons.
* I’ve never heard of half of the songs, and have heard of even fewer of the artists who sing them.

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