All-Star week notes: Operation Veteran Appreciation, Social Media Night and the first half of 2011, in pictures.

Beginning with the upcoming homestand and continuing throughout the rest of the season, the Astros have added another program that honors our military veterans: Operation Veteran Appreciation.

For every home game, one veteran is selected to receive two free Astros tickets pre-loaded with $15 that can be spent at the ballpark. These field level tickets are for distinctively designed patriotic seats that let all fans know those sitting in them have served their country:

The Astros are currently accepting nominations for Operation Veteran Appreciation. If you know a military veteran in our community who’d like to be a part of the program, the Astros and Gallery Furniture want to hear about it. Thank a veteran by nominating him or her at Astros.com/operationvet.

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Our fourth Social Media Night will take place on Saturday, July 16 in the Budweiser Patio, and now, we’re ready to vote on what we serve for dinner.

Here at the choices:

A. Texas Cobb Salad – Crisp Greens, Grilled Chicken, Diced Tomato, Diced Avocado, Diced Hot House Cucumbers, Blue Cheese Crumbles, Fried Tortilla Strips and Buttermilk Ranch Dressing – served with FiveSeven Cheese Bread

B. Ballpark Beef Nachos – Fresh Fried Tortilla Chips with Tender Sofrito Style Braised Beef, Queso Blanco, Jalapenos, Pico De Gallo, Guacamole and Sour Cream

C. Trio of Sliders – Ballpark Beef with Caramelized Onion & Cheddar, Bar-B-Que Pulled Pork with Dill Pickle Chips and Grilled Chicken Breast with Roma Tomato and Herbed Cheese Spread.

You can place your vote in the poll below, and we’ll tally up the numbers through this blog and on Twitter and announce the winner soon. Even if you are not attending Social Media Night, feel free to vote — ideally, of course, you’ll vote AND attend the event.

What is Social Media Night? It’s a fun night in the Budweiser Patio that includes a player appearance at the opportunity to win autographed prizes. Our guest on Saturday will be infielder Matt Downs.

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. Downs will hand out prizes to the Twitter Trivia winners. Prizes will include autographed baseballs and a couple of signed bobbleheads.

(If you are a returning patron and wish to skip the tour, I will be on hand to escort you directly to batting practice. The view party takes place behind the home dugout on the first base side.)

Seating for Social Media Night is limited — just 108 seats available. You can reserve your tickets by clicking here. Hope to see you there!

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At 30-62, it goes without saying there weren’t a ton of “highlights” to look back on as the Astros start the proverbial second half of the season. But even in the most disappointing seasons, there are always a few good and/or poignant times to look back on. I sifted through the photos we took in the first half and set aside about a dozen of my favorites, starting with a whole lot of hugging on Opening Day in Philly:

Wandy, Bill Hall

Wandy, Nelson Figueroa (there was definitely a Wandy/man love theme going on Opening Day)

Brothers from different mothers: Matt Downs, Clint Barmes

The Astros clubhouse, on Jackie Robinson Day

I love this picture: a fan favorite from yesteryear, Kevin Bass, and a fan favorite from today, Michael Bourn, gathering for a reception on Jackie Robinson Day

Speaking of yesteryear, we caught up with former catcher Brad Ausmus after he threw a round of BP to Padres hitters in San Diego. Brad was about to leave on a cross-country trip with his family (and Trevor Hoffman's family) to Cape Cod. In an RV. Ah, retirement.

Brrr...Bourn prepares for Opening Day in Philly. It was 80 degrees and sunny with about 20 percent humidity in Houston that day. Just saying.

The beauty part of getting our players on Twitter is now they can take their own pictures and post them, and I can steal them. Which is exactly what I did after Chris Johnson took this Opening Day photo.

When we finally did return from the road to host our 2011 home opener, it was nice to see these two people smiling: Former Prez George Bush, and Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

The Astros were down by about seven runs when this photo was taken. You have to love Mark Melancon for always keeping the faith.

Melancon's first trip to visit the Navy Seals left quite an impression.

If you watch our television broadcasts even semi-regularly, you've probably heard Jim Deshaies talk about a "3-Rod Night." So it should come as no surprise that J.D. staged this photo of the three Rods -- Wandy, Fernando, Aneury.

Fun on the Today Show set: Melancon, J.R. Towles, Brad Mills, Al Roker, Jenna Bush Hager, Junction Jack, Clutch...a Who's Who of "Lend a Hand Today."

A sweet photo from our visit to Texas Children's...

...and we end with one for the ages: elementary school kids absolutely riveted by an Astros school assembly. (Can't reveal who the emcee was at this particular time be he bore a striking resemblance to radio announcer Dave Raymond.)

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Questions? Email afooter@astros.com

1 Comment

Knew you had to post the pic of Ausmus ;o)

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