June 2011

Astros Play Green, plant trees

By Rachel Frey

Chris Johnson joined members of the Astros front office staff and Keep Houston Beautiful to plant trees at the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park this morning.

Twenty trees were planted to represent each home run hit by an Astros player at Minute Maid Park from the beginning of the season through part of June. This is part of the Astros’ Play Green® campaign to create a positive environmental platform at Minute Maid Park and throughout Texas. There will be another planting later in the season.

To learn more about the Play Green ® program, visit the website: http://mlb.mlb.com/hou/community/play_green.jsp

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Astros lineup 6/30 vs. Rangers. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Have you hugged your hashtag today? On Thursday, we celebrate all things Social Media.

Thursday, June 30 is Social Media Day, but before you send last minute cyberchocolates and baskets of Farmville flowers to your betrothed tweeple, check out how Major League Baseball is commemorating the Mashable-created holiday:

Fans attending one of the nine scheduled games on Social Media Day can utilize the check-in feature within MLB.com At Bat 11 to win a free team-specific ‘checked-in’ t-shirt. All nine home ballparks (including Minute Maid) will have shirts to distribute to fans that check-in via At Bat 11 on iPhone, iPod touch or Android devices at the park.

Through At Bat 11, fans additionally will be able to view interactive ballpark maps, post and track messages on Twitter, get expanded video highlights and more.


Also, fans “liking” their favorite team’s official Facebook page (in your case, the Astros) on or before Thursday will be  able to enter into a special Social Media Day All-Star Sweepstakes to win a personalized 2011 All-Star Game jersey.

In addition, one grand prize winner will be drawn from all eligible entrants and receive four tickets to this year’s Midsummer Classic, to be played Tuesday, July 12 at Chase Field in Phoenix.

The 18 Clubs playing games on Social Media Day 2011 each will have a specially-designated All-Star Game-themed hashtag for fans to use in hashtag battles on Twitter. MLB.com will track the results throughout the day, providing regular updates from Club Twitter accounts and @MLB on which fan base is best representing its Club in the hashtag competition, and deliver an exclusive discount to the winning team’s online shop.

Each Club, as well as @MLB, will post a memorable photo on its official Web site and allow fans to submit their own personal captions, which automatically will be tweeted to their friends and followers. The best captions will be re-tweeted by the Club’s official Twitter account and one tweet will be posted by @MLB to its 1.3 million followers.

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The Astros are one of many sponsors for the upcoming “Racing Humans” 5K run, where 10 percent of all regular registration fees will go to The Fallen Patriot Fund of the Mark Cuban Foundation.

The Racing Humans event is a 5K “mud run” on July 2, 2011 at the nationally ranked Three Palms Extreme Sports Park in Conroe, Texas.

The Fallen Patriot Fund was established to help families of U.S. military personnel who were killed or seriously injured during military operations in Iraq. Financial resources are vital to help the families of those armed forces members who have made an extreme or the ultimate sacrifice.

The Racing Humans event is an extreme sport mud run that is 5K in length with 10 different obstacles: Mud Mountain, Dumpster Dune, Tire Torture, the Pit of Despair, Hell Hills, Water Boarding, the Belly Crawl, High Step Over, Tarzan and the Alligator Alley pond swim.

Runners will be grouped and released in waves every half hour from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. All Saturday there will be plenty of family friendly entertainment including food, live music and fireworks afterwards. Registration is $50. For more information, visit either the RacingHumans.com or FallenPatriotFund.org website, or email info@racinghumans.com. To make a donation to the Fallen Patriot Fund, visit FallenPatriotFund.org.

Astros lineup 6/29 vs. Rangers. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

A look back at four years ago today: Biggio’s 3,000th.

A four-year anniversary of any kind usually comes and goes without a lot of attention, but given the state of the Astros
these days, I thought it might be nice to shift the focus, briefly, back to June 28, 2007.

That was the day Craig Biggio logged five hits — his 2,998th, 2,999th, 3,000th, 3,001st and 3,002nd — in an extra-inning win over the Colorado Rockies, making Houston history in front of the hometown fans.

The season, at that point, was dreadful. The Astros were 13 games under .500 at 33-46 (although they were an even 18-18 at home). But on this night, the record didn’t matter. Minute Maid Park was jam-packed and loud. And no one went home disappointed.

I thought maybe I’d write about some of the memories I have from that night, and honestly, here’s what I remember about it: the Astros were coming off a road trip, June 28 was the first game of a long homestand, and I thought I had at least one more day before 3,000 would happen. Most of the articles for MLB.com were written ahead of time, ready for posting as soon as he got the Big Hit. But there was still a little extra background work I needed to do for one story — the main story — and I figured I’d spend the majority of the June 28 game finishing that up.

Then Biggio singled in his second at-bat. That made me a little uncomfortable. Then he got a hit in his third at-bat, and I went into a full, all-out panic. Looking back, I don’t remember which of the news items I had not yet completed, but whatever it was, it clearly was important enough to put me in a frenzy and force me to type, furiously, non-stop, for the next several innings. By the time I was almost (but not quite) caught up, Biggio was coming to bat for the fourth time.

We all know what happened next. He got another hit — the big hit. The 3,000th hit. I needed to file a story immediately,
while keeping one eye on the field for anything notable that happened in the moments following. Maybe that’s why today, the images are little more than lightning-quick flashes in my mind. Biggio’s kids ran onto the field. Then his wife was there, too, crying. Then Jeff Bagwell was standing there, next to Biggio, looking equal parts sheepish and horrified.

I don’t remember what happened after that, or how long play stopped. I have no recollection of the game going into extra innings. I do remember Carlos Lee winning it with a home run, but I didn’t remember that it was a grand slam.

(I do, however, recall emailing my boss two days later and saying “I need the entire Phillies series off. I’m getting into bed and sleeping for three days.” And I pretty much did).

Just sifting through those old articles brought back a little of the adrenaline rush all of the writers undoubtedly went through that night as we all tried to capture the moment in perfect fashion. I did find one item, however, that I think would be appropriate to reprint.

When the dust had settled that night and the clubhouse had mostly cleared out, Biggio and I sat down and he dictated a letter to the fans that we made into a blog, and we posted it on Astros.com. He spoke and I recorded, and later, transcribed. It was a sweet gesture and worth revisiting. Here it is:

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Now that that the big night is over and we’ve all had a chance to reflect on the excitement that we all felt when hit No. 3,000 was finally in the books, I want to take a moment to thank you, the fans, and tell you what a thrill it was to  celebrate this milestone with so many people who have supported the Astros over the years.

If you were a fan here at Minute Maid Park, if you were a player in either dugout and obviously if you had my name and number on the back of your jersey, it was a very special night. It was one of those nights in baseball that doesn’t come around very often. For it to happen the way that it did, here at home, it really is beyond words. It’s indescribable, the emotions the went through me. I just have a total appreciation for the way the fans feel about the way that I go about my business.

I was born and raised in the east, but the city of Houston has become home to me and my family. To be able to play my entire career with one team is a blessing for all of us — for me, my wife, Patty and our children, Conor, Cavan, and Quinn. Life for a baseball player can be very difficult for a player and his family, but for us, to be honest, it’s been very, very easy.

We’ve been in one city, and when you’re in one city, you don’t have to keep picking your kids up, moving them around, worry about taking the kids out of school early, worry about summer vacations while concentrating on what’s going on with your season. I was very lucky. Part of playing in one city is not having to uproot your family. I’m very, very lucky for that.

I remember playing in the Astrodome in front of tiny crowds in the early days, and now, we draw close to three million fans every year. Jeff Bagwell and I can remember those old days and we’re very proud of what this organization has become. Our fans expect us to win. We expect to win. Not getting to the postseason is not an option. This is the reality of what we do.

We have taken our sports fans from loving the game of baseball to absolutely going crazy about it now. They follow us the way they do an east coast team. Baggy and I are proud of that.

It hasn’t always been like this, and there were times that I deserved to get booed and deserved to take the criticism that I’ve taken. But I think as a person and as a man, you stand up when things aren’t going well and you say, I just wasn’t good. I think the fans have respected that and appreciated the fact that when you stink you say you stink and you don’t sugarcoat it. Over a 20-year period we had some good times and some bad times, but in general, we haven’t had a lot to be upset about.

The night I reached my 3,000th hit, so many people who are important to me were there to see it. My family, Baggy, Nolan Ryan, the organization and the fans made that night so special. That night, I was a fan. Today, I’m a fan. It was unbelievable. From the standing ovations every single time up to the standing ovation when it happened.

It was important to me to bring Baggy out on the field. I was so proud of that, I was so happy for him to be out there one more time, because he wasn’t able to end his career the way he wanted. Hopefully, I can write my own story and leave when I want to leave, but he didn’t have that choice. So for me, that night, I wanted to really make my family No. 1 and he was No. 2.

I wanted him to be out there between the lines with me one more time, to enjoy it and for the fans to say hey, Baggy, we love you and thank you for everything you’ve done for the city. That night was just a magical moment.

To you, the fans, I just want to say thank you. I love you guys. Thank you for opening up your living rooms, your TVs, your hearts to my family and to me. As a player, it doesn’t happen like this very often. For it to happen, I just want to thank you for it and I love you guys for it. Thanks.

Craig Biggio

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Astros lineup 6/28 vs. Rangers. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Fifteen minutes of fame… as a Sauce packet

By Rachel Frey

In its second season, the Saucy Sprint is a live promotional race at the top of the 5th inning of Houston Astros home games. It is sponsored by Taco Bell, one of our corporate sponsors, and features their iconic sauce packets: Mild, Hot, and Fire.

Staff members and interns volunteer their athletic talent to participate in the race throughout the summer, and I ran the race on June 15. My competitors were Greg, another intern who wore the “Fire” sauce packet, and Chris, a full-time staff member who suited up in the “Mild” sauce packet. Chris has veteran experience with close to 50 races under his belt, and Greg is tall, so he can cover ground more quickly than I can. With these competitors, my chances to win looked slim.

Even though this event is fairly new, it has already become a fan favorite with people cheering on their favorite sauce packet to the finish line. I was the “Hot” sauce packet, and just getting prepared for the race was fun. Since I had been in the press box before the contest, I had to change clothes and put on black tights and awesome orange Chuck Taylors. I then carried the sauce packet costume through the tunnels to the field entrance near the home bullpen.

As shown in this video, suiting up in the costumes is quite a process, but I managed to get inside it and make my way towards the field. Running in the suit is very challenging- I could not hit my full stride because of how far the packet came down.  Trying to see through the eye slots was another adventure- I was so scared of running into a player or tripping over a forgotten bat. But the scariest part of the race? Traveling down a flight of stairs as a sauce packet!

After I won, I returned the sauce packet costume and put my slacks and shirt on before I returned to the press box to finish tweeting the game. I thank my followers who sent encouraging tweets, and I especially appreciate this tweet from Alyson:  “My Hot (Sauce) Twintern @RachelFrey won the Saucy Sprint!”

Thanks for the ego boost, boss! Also, special thanks to the sponsorship department and their interns for running this contest every home game. Thinking outside the bun, while on the run, has become a part of the fan experience­, and I am happy to share a behind-the-scenes look at it! Please comment and enjoy!

Sunday roundup: The Matt Downs conundrum, Astros sign more draft picks and photos from Social Media Night.

We had another rip-roaring good time Saturday night in the Budweiser Patio for our latest installment of Social Media Night, presented by Ford Focus.

It’s nice to see a blend of returning patrons and new fans at these events and it’s of course even nicer to see everyone having a great time. Last year, we had two Social Media Nights, but we decided to make it a monthly thing this season. The program includes a ballpark tour, batting practice viewing, t-shirt, dinner, dessert, ticket in the Budweiser Patio and an opportunity to win prizes through Twitter trivia.

The highlight is always the visit by the Astros player who helps hand out the prizes. Hunter Pence was the guest for our April event, followed by Chris Johnson in May. On Saturday, Brett Wallace joined us and helped distribute 12 autographed baseballs and two autographed J.D and Brownie bobbleheads.
Great times all around, as you’ll see from our slideshow (and the next event is July 16):

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Matt Downs is averaging a home run every 13.7 at-bats, a pretty impressive statistic when you consider he’s only had 82 at-bats this year. His six longballs, amazingly, rank second on the club.

That brings us to the next logical question: should he be starting more games? Brad Mills and his coaching staff appear to be leaning toward trying to get his bat in the lineup with more frequency. But that also brings forth a pretty common conundrum.

It’s like baseball’s version of the chicken and egg theory. Do you play Downs more, which will take away a hugely valuable weapon in the late innings? Or do you keep him on the bench as your most valuable pinch-hitter, eliminating the opportunity to give your hottest bat three or four plate appearances during a game?

Downs is valuable in that he can play all over the infield and appears to really like those late-game situations when he can push the Astros ahead with an extra-base hit. But it’s dangerous to assume a bench player will automatically thrive if given more playing time. Sometimes he’s best left to do what he’s always done really well. When it comes to Downs, I’m guessing the coaching staff is still figuring out how and where he best fits.

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The Astros signed two more draft picks on Saturday, bringing the tally of signees to 31 of the 50 players selected. Right-hander Steven Martin (37th) and catcher Kevin Gonzalez (36th round), both products of Texas A&M, finished the paperwork on the fifth floor of Union Station before Saturday’s game and posed for this photo:

The Astros have signed eight of their top 10 selections and 20 of their top 25. They’ve also signed six non-drafted free agents.
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This date in Astros history, June 26, 1988:

Catcher Craig Biggio makes his Major League debut in a 6-0 win versus the Giants. Biggio walks in the fourth inning and scores the game’s final run after stealing second. Starter Jim Deshaies and reliever Larry Andersen combine to blank the Giants on seven hits. Biggio will get his first hit three days later against Dodgers ace Orel Hershiser, that year’s Cy Young Award winner.

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Astros lineup 6/26 vs. Rays. First pitch 1:05 p.m. CT

Astros lineup 6/25 vs. Rays. First pitch 6:05 p.m. CT

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