May 2011

Astros lineup 5/19 at Cardinals. First pitch: 12:45 CT.

Astros lineup 5/18 at Cardinals. First pitch 7:15 p.m. CT

Midday tidbits: watch party, Ladies Tee Time, and what was up with the uni-cap combo yesterday?

We’ll be at Lucky’s Pub tonight (Wednesday) at 7:15 p.m. CT to watch the Astros play the Cardinals, and to lure you to our little shindig, we’re offering really cheap food and some tempting drink specials:

* Half price appetizers to anyone wearing Astros gear
* Cheap beer! $.50 Small Domestic Drafts all night; also, $2 Smitchers, $4 24-oz Tecate, Dos XX and Mexican beers; and, $2.50 Import Cans.

We had one of these watch parties last year when the Astros were playing the Cardinals, and the Astros won. So, tonight, we’ll look to extend that historical streak to 2-0. Hope to see you there!

(Lucky’s Pub is located at 801 Saint Emanuel Street, just blocks from Minute Maid Park.)

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The Astros’ signature Pink in the Park week ended on Monday with the second annual Ladies Tee Time, a golf tournament solely for the female contingent of our Astros fan base. A beautiful day made for another successful tournament, with proceeds going toward breast cancer awareness and research.

Summer Barmes, wife of shortstop Clint Barmes (second from left, in green), was one of nearly 50 participants.

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I’ve watched the last two games on my computer, following the play-by-play on Gameday through Astros.com. I wasn’t watching on TV, so I didn’t realize the Astros had changed up their uniform combination until fans started asking about it.

Tuesday’s combo in Atlanta featured the road grey jersey and the red cap, as opposed to the red jersey and black cap that is more standard. I asked a club source about the switch, and explanation was simple: they thought it would be a good look, and decided to give it a whirl.

What do you think? Yay? Nay?

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Faith and Family Night

For the fifth consecutive year, the Houston Astros are bringing Faith and Family Night to Minute Maid Park following the 6:05 p.m. Astros game vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, May 28. The Astros Faith and Family Night includes a personal testimony from Astros catcher J.R. Towles followed by a concert by contemporary Christian artist Jeremy Camp.

Admission to the concert is included with a valid game ticket to the Saturday, May 28 Astros-Diamondbacks game. All seating for the concert will be general admission seating along the first base side of the ballpark. The band will perform from the warning track near first base. Fans purchasing tickets for the game must sit in their ticketed seats until the end of the game, but may then move into any available seat on the first base side of the ballpark for the concert.

For information on the concert and tickets, fans can visit www.astros.com/faithandfamily or call the Astros Ticket Office at 1-800-ASTROS2.

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Race for the Pennant set for May 30.

On Memorial Day (Monday, May 30), the Astros will host the Ninth Annual Astros in Action Race for the Pennant. The 5K Run/Walk and Junction Jack’s Kids Fun Run  begins at Minute Maid Park in front of Union Station on Crawford Street, heads towards the Elysian Viaduct, travels back through downtown Houston on La Branch Street, and finishes inside the ballpark.  The course is a USATF Certified Course (Certification #TX09026ETM).  Runners and walkers are encouraged to register online in advance of the event by going to www.astros.com/race.

Registration forms are available at all Academy Sports + Outdoors stores.  In-person registration and packet pick-up will also be available at the Academy Sports + Outdoors store located at 2404 Southwest Freeway on Saturday, May 21 (10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.), Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29 (10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.).  Registration forms are also available in the Union Station Lobby, the Fan Accommodations booths (sections 112 and 323) and the Community Clubhouse (behind section 107) at Minute Maid Park.

Participants in the race will receive an official race t-shirt, two free tickets to a select 2011 Astros home game and an invitation to the Post-Race Party inside Minute Maid Park.  The party will immediately follow the race and will feature food, drinks and live entertainment provided by the Last Train Out. Special guests will include Astros Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton, mascot Junction Jack and his friends, along with the Coca-Cola Park Patrol.  An awards presentation will be held at the Post-Race Party, along with door prizes for a few lucky winners.

The first overall male and female runners in the 5K run each receive two round-trip coach class airline tickets on United Airlines.  Awards will be given to the first place overall male and female finisher, top male and female in each age category and top three male and top three female finishers in each age category.  Age categories: 0-14, 15-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70+.  Junction Jack’s Kids Fun Run is non-competitive and all participating kids will receive medals.

This year’s Race for the Pennant course is presented by The Methodist Hospital in partnership with the JLH Foundation and endorsed by the Chevron Houston Marathon. Proceeds from the race benefit the Astros In Action Foundation.

Astros lineup 5/17 at Braves. First pitch 12:05 p.m. CT

McLane, Crane sign the documents, address the media, wait for approval.

Prior to the press conference, McLane and Crane signed the documents for the sale of the team. (Stephen O'Brien/Astros)

Jim Crane still has to wait a couple of months before the Houston Astros are officially his team, so understandably, he was somewhat handcuffed during a joint news conference announcing the pending sale of the Astros on Monday.

There is no doubt the Astros will soon belong to Crane and his investors. But until the process goes through the necessary channels (approval by Major League Baseball and its 29 other owners), the team is still Drayton McLane’s. The official changing of the guard will not happen until sometime in July, most likely.

That didn’t stop select media members on Monday from jumping in full-force with pointed questions that most of the everyday beat writers knew Crane wouldn’t be able to answer, yet. Yes, fans all want to know what the payroll will be moving forward, what Crane’s philosophy is regarding the free agent and trade markets, and what, if anything, he plans to do in the immediate future to try to help the Astros swing the win-loss pendulum to the, well, winning side.

Those are questions that will be addressed soon enough — but not quite yet.

That does not mean, however, that Crane didn’t say anything of substance. Quite the contrary. Some highlights:

“As the new owner of the Astros, I want to let you know I love baseball. I have a couple of messages for Astros fans. First and foremost, the Astros fans come first. You are the customer. Our team will work hard to deliver a superior product and a great experience for the fans. I believe in running a first-class franchise and everything we do will be built around building a championship team. This is a dream come true for me and my partners. Owning the Astros in my hometown and being in business with people I highly respect is all I ever could have wished for.”

On payroll and cost structure:
“We’ve certainly studied it very hard and looked at the economics and we certainly have enough cash available to run the team effectively.”

On his management style:
“I hire the best people, hold them accountable and let them run the business. We’ll help them when we have to make the big decisions but we’ll hold them very accountable, and day to day, they will hold the responsibility to run the business.

Q: Will you take an aggressive approach?
“When you look at our style, we will be smart and spend our money wisely. There’s only a certain amount of money we can spend. We will spend every dollar wisely, We will appreciate every dollar we spend here. Our style is to be smart. It starts with the draft. We need to make sure we’re building a team for the future.”

McLane’s portion of the press conference was, for obvious reasons, reflective, and a little emotional. In many instances he sounded like the same Drayton, mentioning “champion” about a half-dozen times and talking at great lengths about the importance of leadership and making a difference.

“One of the responsibilities of leadership is to hand it down better than you found it,” McLane said. “Find somebody that’s going to be accountable and has the ability to be a champion and be successful.”

McLane recalled a conversation he had with John McMullen when he bought the team in 1992. McMullen told him, ‘I need to warn you. This will totally, completely, change your life. You whole life will be wrapped up in the Houston Astros.”

McLane, already a thriving multi-millionaire with business ventures all over the world, said, ‘That will never happen.’

“Boy,” Drayton said on Monday. “Did I not know what I was talking about. No matter where you go, that’s what people want to talk about — the Houston Astros.”

McLane believes there will be no such learning curve needed with Crane, a former collegiate baseball player and lifelong fan of the game.

“He knows a whole lot more about baseball today than I knew in ’92,” McLane said. “He’s shown that skill and ability and he’s going bring passion and the financial ability to continue to move the Astros forward.”

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Images from a busy day at Minute Maid Park:

Drayton gives a nice farewell speech while introducing the soon-to-be new owner, Jim Crane.

McLane and Crane, posing together after the formal portion of the press conference concluded.

A packed house: this is the most well-attended Astros press conference in recent memory.

Larry Dierker was with the Astros when McLane bought the team in 1992 and was hired five years later to manage it.

Once the formal press conference was over, reporters had a chance to conduct one-on-one interviews. There were several going on at once this time. You see McLane in the forefront here, with Crane toward the back of the room talking with a different wave of media.

Astros lineup 5/16 at Braves. First pitch 6:10 p.m. CT.

On deck: Social Media Night No. 2 — May 28 in the Budweiser Patio

Our first Social Media night of 2011 was another rousing success, and fortunately, we don’t have to wait long for event No. 2.

We’re hosting six of these shindigs this year — one per each month of the baseball season. Our May event will be held on Saturday the 28th, and will feature third baseman Chris Johnson (also known as @cjastros23 for you Social Media aficionados).

Prizes will be signed (and presented) by Chris Johnson.

Included on the agenda is a tour and batting practice viewing, prior to the start of the program in the Budweiser Patio. You can attend both, or one, or, if you choose, neither (all you have to do in that case is meet us at the Budweiser Patio by 5 p.m. for a 6 p.m. game.)

Here’s the rundown:

3 p.m.: Early Bird Tour and/or Batting Practice Viewing begins from the Union Station Lobby
4 p.m.: Gates open to the public
4:45 p.m.: Tweep gathering at the Budweiser Patio
5 p.m.: Appearance by Chris Johnson, Twitter Trivia
6:05 p.m.: First pitch/Dinner is served

Two major components of these programs will be conducted through Twitter. First, in the next few days, I’ll tweet three dinner options, and all you have to do is tweet back your choice. I’ll tally up the votes and the one that receives the most votes is what we’ll serve.

Second, Chris Johnson will be on hand from 5-5:15 to give out prizes fans can win through Twitter Trivia. I’ll ask the question and then the first one to tweet back the correct answer wins. Prizes will include baseballs autographed by Johnson, and the CJ Pink Bat Bobbleheads we gave out over the weekend.

It is very important, subsequently, that you are following me on Twitter, as that is the only way to win prizes. It’s a simple process to sign up (twitter.com), and here’s the direct link to my Twitter page.

Tickets are $45. Please click here to reserve your tickets. Hope to see you there!

Astros lineup 5/15 vs. Mets. Roof open. First pitch 1:05 CT

Astros players celebrate Pink in the Park (and some even wore ties!)

The Astros have hosted three Pink in the Park Brunch and Bazaars, but they added a classy and unique element to Friday’s event that probably puts this one just a smidge above the others.

The Astros hosted 12 honored guests, all breast cancer survivors, all living proof that effective treatment — and yes, probably a little luck, too — can make the Big C not a death sentence, but rather a mere road block during the journey to remission. Breast cancer survival rates have increased significantly over the years, thanks to research, research, and more research — which, fittingly, is where the proceeds from this Astros event will end up as well.

The breast cancer survivors were escorted into Union Station and to their “seat of honor” in style. Flanked by an Astros player on each arm, the guests were introduced by Hall of Fame announcer Milo Hamilton and seated at the Royal Table, right smack in the middle of the ballroom.

I have to say, your Astros sure do clean up well. They were all gracious and charming, too (perhaps partly because wives, girlfriends and most importantly, moms, were invited to this as well.)

(Watch the full video here)

Linda Anderson, escorted by Brandon Lyon and Jeff Fulchino. (Linda was also the winner of MLB's Honorary Bat Girl contest,)

Ellen Cohen, escorted by Chris Johnson and Jason Castro. Cohen, a former State Representative, was the president and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center for 18 years.

Julie Karlsson, escorted by Wandy Rodriguez and Angel Sanchez.

Kathy Larsen, escorted by J.R. Towles and Brian Bogusevic.

Mary Mahone, escorted by Humberto Quintero and Fernando Abad.

Jessica Nolly, escorted by Bill Hall and Jason Bourgeois.

Beth Sanders-Moore, escorted by Clint Barmes and Michael Bourn.

Dori Shannon, escorted by Brett Wallace and Hunter Pence.

Bobbie Smith, escorted by Aneury Rodriguez and J.A. Happ. (Bobbie has worked gamedays at the ballpark for as long as I can remember as did her late husband, Cotton. Bobbie might be the nicest and friendliest person, ever. We love her.)

Karla Sorenson, escorted by Enerio Del Rosario and Jose Valdez.

Peggy Sorenson, escorted by Brett Myers and Matt Downs.

Donna Stokes, escorted by Mark Melancon and Carlos Lee.

The event began with a shopping bazaar on the main concourse that featured numerous local boutiques and unique fashion designers. A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Methodist Cancer Center. Additional funds were raised through a silent auction of numerous unique items including an exclusive opportunity to have a dinner for 10 people personally prepared by renowned Chef Bryan Caswell at Reef, his award-winning seafood restaurant in Midtown.

The brunch, co-chaired by Astros President of Business Operations Pam Gardner and Elizabeth McLane, wife of Astros Chairman and CEO Drayton McLane, was emceed by Lisa Malosky, former sports reporter and current associate editor of Health and Fitness Sports Magazine.

Malosky conducted a question and answer session with Dr. Jenny Chang, an internationally acclaimed breast cancer researcher and clinician, and Director of The Methodist Cancer Center.

The featured speaker was Denise Hazen, author of Treat Her Like a Princess: How to Help Your Girlfriend with Breast Cancer.  Hazen, a stage three breast cancer survivor, wrote the book based on her own experience to help caregivers guide their friends through the process of breast cancer treatment.

Wandy Rodriguez and his wife, Luz.

Angel Sanchez and his wife, Michelle.

Milo Hamilton, Lisa Malosky.

Summer Barmes, Sara Lyon, Pamela Michaels, Michelle Quintero, Gloria Moore (Pamela's mom)

Brian Bogusevic and his girlfriend, Kelly Smith.

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