June 2011

Jimmy Wynn Training Center opens at Urban Youth Academy

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By Rachel Frey

The Jimmy Wynn Training Center at the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy was dedicated today, June 24, in a ceremony that honored the former Astro’s career and community service. Representatives from the Houston Astros, Minute Maid, Grand Slam for Youth Baseball (GSFYB), Major League Baseball, and other civic and community leaders attended the dedication. GSFYB ambassadors Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, and Brad Mills were also present.

The center is this summer’s field refurbishment project for GSFYB, which is a partnership between the Astros and Minute Maid. The center has 3,412 square feet of multi-use space covered in artificial turf, two cable-suspended batting cages, umpire/staff locker rooms with a shower, and two Yoshida pitching machines, which were donated by Mr. Tadashi Yoshida and shipped in from Chiba, Japan. Major League Baseball also assisted with the completion of this project.

Milo Hamilton was one of the first people to speak, and instructed attendees to, “honor [Jimmy] the way he should be honored. You’re honoring one of the greatest citizens and baseball players.”

Jimmy has been the ambassador for GSFYB over the past six years, and according to Fred Arnold from GSFYB, he cried when they told him the center was to be named after him.

“Come out and learn the game of baseball, learn the facts of life– you have no excuse now,” Jimmy said. “If you need me I’ll be available. I might be slow, but I’m available.”

Jimmy Lee Solomon, who is from the Houston area and is an Executive Vice President of Baseball Development of Major League Baseball, was also present to celebrate the opening.

“This is more than a building– it’s more than the bricks and steel,” Solomon said. “It is a catalyst for change in the community. Kids in areas like this have no chance at the American Dream. We must provide hope to them [through opportunities like the center]. The worst poverty we can leave children in is the poverty of hope.”

Astros lineup 6/24 vs. Rays. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Well, what do you know. We’re talking about Altuve — again.

I love this quote from Jose Altuve to Corpus Christi Caller-Times beat writer Greg Rajan, the first writer to talk to the Hooks second baseman following the announcement of the Futures Game rosters:

“I know everywhere I go, people talk about my size and (point out) that I’m a short guy,” Altuve said. “But I want to show them that short guys can play baseball, too.”

Altuve will represent the Astros at the MLB All-Star Futures Game on Sunday, July 10 as part of the World Team roster. Although he began play Thursday with a .372 average over 21 games since his promotion to Double-A, and although he has a Minor League-leading .398 overall average this season, it’s likely that the first thing people will want to talk about when they see the second baseman in action is his size.

Because Altuve is, indeed, short. He’s listed at 5-foot-7. Interestingly, in this article, Rajan identifies Altuve’s height  as (a likely more accurate) 5-foot-5.

But judging from his comments, it appears Altuve takes his short stature in stride. That’s good, because he has better things to concentrate on — like the fact that he’s quickly climbing to the top of the depth chart in terms of talent in the Astros’ system. And that he has yet to play at a level in the Minor Leagues that he hasn’t dominated.

And that the number of prospects who play in the Futures Game who eventually make it to the big leagues is staggering. It’s not a 100 percent success rate, but it’s awfully close.

Clearly, we have few things on which to hang our proverbial hats in Houston these days. Times are tough. The team loses, a lot. But there’s plenty going on in the Minor Leagues these days, including promotions of some of the more interesting prospects. Shortstop Jiovanni Mier was bumped up a level from Low A to High A. Catcher Chris Wallace bypassed High A all together and was jettisoned to Double-A.

But Altuve is by far the most intriguing story line. He’s little, yes. He’s also knocking the cover off the ball in nearly  half of his at-bats and seems unfazed by the elevated degrees of difficulty as he hops up the organizational ladder. This  one’s going to be fun to follow.
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The Astros will begin an extended, all-Interleague homestand on Friday with the first of three with the Rays, followed by three with the Rangers and then three with the Red Sox.

There are plenty of storylines to follow during that Boston series. Brad Mills spent six years as Terry Francona’s bench coach before he was hired to manage the Astros. Chris Johnson’s dad, Ron, is Boston’s first base coach. Heck, one of my favorite Astros of all-time, Tim Bogar, is the Red Sox’ third base coach.

The series will also mark Carl Crawford’s return to his hometown, and although he’s on the disabled list and might not be ready to come off before the Red Sox leave town, it’s likely he’s looking forward to reuniting with childhood teammates Jason Bourgeois and Michael Bourn.

My fabulous Twintern, Rachel Frey, gives this brief overview of the long-time friends and now-friendly rivals:

For Michael Bourn, the Red Sox series means more to him than being one of the most popular all season. It brings his longtime friend, Carl Crawford home to Houston. Their relationship was recently featured in FS Houston’s Spotlight on Michael Bourn.

Crawford is currently on the disabled list and could be eligible to come off before the final Red Sox game in Houston. Even if Crawford doesn’t end up playing, the reunion is likely to be special for both players.

Both boys grew up in Houston, and met after Michael’s dad Ray was scouting Carl’s team and decided he needed to have Carl on his team. Michael was eight years old at the time.  They even played with Jason Bourgeois on an East Houston Little League team that won the state title.

Michael and Carl went on to play baseball at different high schools, and followed different paths to the Majors. Carl accepted his draft offer out of high school. Michael declined his, and played for the University of Houston for three seasons before being drafted again. Just shy of 10 years later, they ended up at the same spot: the 2010 MLB All-Star Game. Both Houstonians started in the outfield.

They went on to talk about how they envisioned the perfect ending to their story. To learn what each one of them said, watch the Spotlight special, which is airing several times before the Red Sox come to town July 1-3. Tickets for this series are selling fast, but good seats are still available.

Astros lineup 6/22 at Rangers, and some pregame notes.

Pregame notes from Arlington…

Tonight’s starter, Brett Myers, is coming off his 11th career complete game, a 7-3 win over the Dodgers on Friday. At one point he retired 17 straight Dodgers from the first inning through the seventh and he faced the minimum in his middle seven innings, allowing only one hit in 21 plate appearances.

That complete game was the Astros’ first since J.A. Happ tossed a two-hit shutout on Aug. 30, 2010 versus the Cardinals.

Astros starting pitchers have compiled a 2.93 ERA since June 11. Wandy Rodriguez (2-0, 0.00) and Bud Norris (0-1, 0.69) are 2-1 with a 0.36 ERA within that span, having allowed one earned run over 25 combined innings.

The Astros have not homered in eight consecutive games, dating back to June 14. It’s the longest homerless streak for the club this season. The Astros haven’t had an eight-game homerless drought since August of 1992. The streak that year reached nine games.

Two Astros prospects, both native Houstonians, won their leagues’ home run derbies on Tuesday night. High Class A Lancaster first baseman Kody Hinze, a Nimitz alum, was victorious at the California League and Carolina League’s joint event. Hinze leads the Cal League with 19 home runs in his 66 games.

Class A Lexington catcher Chris Wallace, who played at UH and Cy-Fair, won the Class A South Atlantic League’s event. Wallace’s 14 home runs are tied for third in the league. (Info courtesy of Chronicle beat writer Zachary Levine)

The Astros have signed 28 of their 2011 Draft picks thus far along with six non-drafted free agents. This includes the signing of eight of the club’s top-10 selections and 19 of their top 25 picks.

Astros lineup 6/21 at Rangers. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Social Media Night, presented by Ford Focus, set for Saturday night. Tickets available here.

Social Media Night No. 3 is right around the corner, and with just a few days until the team returns home for another long homestand, tickets for this premium night are still available.

Social Media Night, presented by Ford Focus, will take place Saturday night (June 25) in the Budweiser Patio behind center field and will feature first baseman Brett Wallace as the special guest.

For the price of $45 per ticket, you’ll receive a ballpark tour, batting practice viewing, a ticket to the game, t-shirt, dinner, dessert and an opportunity to win prizes through our Twitter Trivia contests. Wallace will make an appearance from 5-5:15 and hand out prizes to the Twitter Trivia winners.

Ford Focus will have a display at the ballpark, where you can sign up to receive information about the 2012 Ford Focus and enter for a chance to win a 2011 F-150 customized PBR truck.

Seating for Social Media Night is limited — just 108 seats available. You can reserve your tickets by clicking here. See you then!

Astros lineup 6/20 at Rangers. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Corporan on this Father’s Day: “God Bless America.” Plus news, notes and photos from L.A.

Carlos Corporan has plenty to be grateful for this Father’s Day weekend, even if it means being away from his family — specifically, his newborn son, not yet three weeks old.

It was only days ago that Corporan wasn’t sure if Carlos Jr. was going to live, but after the first of three surgeries and a positive prognosis, the new dad is feeling better about what’s to come.

The left chamber of Carlos Jr.’s heart didn’t properly develop in utero, and the condition required several surgical procedures to fix. There was a 25 percent survival rate after the first one, “but he made it,” Corporan said. “And he’s gained three pounds already.”

Corporan’s wife is with the baby in Oklahoma City and while his thoughts are with his family, he’s especially grateful for this stint with the Astros. The health insurance is much better in the big leagues than what he had as a Minor Leaguer, and the bump in salary — he’ll make the prorated Major League minimum during his time up here — is much needed during a time when the medical bills are piling up.

Corporan is also thankful for his baseball career because it brought him to a country that has much more stable health care than what’s available in his native Puerto Rico.

“Back in my country, he probably would have died,” Corporan said of his son. “They probably wouldn’t have found (the heart  problem). God Bless America.”

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Speaking of Father’s Day, if you haven’t read this touching article about Clint Barmes, please take some time to do so. Barmes’ strength was tested last offseason when he experienced several jolting life changes, including the death of his dad about a week after his daughter was born. A heart-warming and heart-breaking story by Brian McTaggart about one of the nicest people in the game.
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As two of the Astros’ three Rodriguezes — Aneury and Wandy — sat side-by-side deep in chatty conversation, Deshaies spotted the third Rodriguez, Fernando, and coaxed him over to the group for a fun Father’s Day photo — Brothers in Arms:


Notables:
* Unable to schedule a red-eye out of Los Angeles Saturday night, Hunter Pence instead caught a 5:30 a.m. flight back on Sunday to Houston, where he underwent an MRI on his hyperextended left elbow. The MRI revealed a sprain, but revealed no tears or ligament involvement. Pence’s range of motion has improved since Saturday. He is day-to-day and is listed as questionable for the Texas series.

* Corporan was in the starting lineup again on Sunday, which gives J.R. Towles another day to rest a banged up body and sore legs. Towles was available to play in the series finale in L.A. if needed, but ideally, Mills was hoping to stay away from him if possible.

* Humberto Quintero continues to work with a rehab therapist in Houston to recover from the high ankle sprain that knocked him to the disabled list a couple of weeks ago. Those hoping for a speedy return are going to be disappointed, however.

Quintero is still a ways away from a return and Mills said of Quintero’s chances to be healthy enough to go out on a rehab assignment during the upcoming homestand: “he’s not that close.”

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We often joke that today’s technology has eliminated the need for people to actually talk to each other. We chuckle and roll our eyes at the notion, but let’s face it, there’s truth to it. Why call someone when you can get your point across with a text, email, tweet, or, my personal favorite, Facebook “poke?”

I’m sure silent communication is probably breaking down family dynamics and somehow messing up our kids, but let’s worry about that another time. For now, we dissect the course of events on Saturday at Dodger Stadium, where three people — fan Andy sitting to the right of the foul pole in right field, FS Houston telecast producer Wave Robinson, hunkered down in the TV truck on the seventh level of the Dodger Stadium parking lot, and your friendly neighborhood blogger (me), sitting on the fifth level of the ballpark in the press box — banded together to reach one common goal.

All without actually having to actually talk to each other.

Andy tipped me off through Twitter that he was coming to the game dressed in what I can only assume is his prized possession — his authentic Jim Deshaies No. 43 jersey. Flabbergasted but tickled pink that the jersey was still in circulation, I notified the TV trucksters, figuring they’d be interested to know our lovable television analyst was being well-repped in the Dodger Stadium grandstands.

Text to Wave: “Astros fan down 1b line will be wearing Deshaies jersey. Just in case your cameras are looking that way. He tweeted me a photo of the jersey and is very fired up about it.”

Wave: “Saw the tweet. Will find him for sure.”

Me: “Cool, thanks!”

Andy, meanwhile, tweets me a photo of the view from his seats. One word: obstructed. Right behind the right field foul pole, which stunk for Andy, but was great for us, because we could easily find him.

Text to wave: “I think he’s right next to RF foul pole. I can see him from here. Orange hat.”

Later, this text from Wave: “Can’t see the back. If you can reach him he needs to show the back toward the field. Maybe stand between innings.”

And this tweet from me to Andy: “They can’t get a good shot of your back…can you stand up and face the field? Thanks.”

And, 10 seconds later, another one from me to Andy: “Actually I mean stand up and have your back toward the field. Next half inning will work.”

Right on time, I see Andy looking down, presumably reading his Twitter feed. Seconds later, the inning ends and Andy pops up from his seat and turns his back to the field:


Wave text: “Got it. On TV in 30 seconds.”

Three people in three entirely different areas of a gigantic stadium, talking with each other, with no actual spoken dialogue.

Sure, we sound silly when we use words like “tweeting” and “texting” and “tweeps” and “tweeple” and “friends of friends” and “followers,” but, hey, can we at least admit that it works?

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Astros lineup 6/19 at Dodgers. Going for the sweep…first pitch 3:10 p.m. CT

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there, from our Astros family to yours!

 

Revised Astros lineup: Pence, Towles out; Bourgeois, Corporan in

Hunter Pence was scratched from the lineup before Saturday’s game with a hyper-extended left elbow, which he suffered on a diving play at first base in the series opener.

Pence will fly to Houston Sunday morning — he couldn’t get a red-eye flight out of Los Angeles on Saturday — to be examined by team doctors and undergo an MRI on his elbow.

J.R. Towles was also a late scratch. His ailment is being categorized simply as “soreness.”

The new lineup is:

Bourn CF

Bourgeois RF

Keppinger 2B

Lee LF

Wallace 1B

Johnson 3B

Barmes SS

Corporan C

W. Rodriguez P

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