August 2011

I left my heart (and my coat, scarf and gloves) in San Francisco

After dealing with record-setting, sweltering and somewhat scary temperatures in Houston for as long as we have this summer, it seems unfathomable that I could actually be wearing a scarf and jacket this time of year.

Needless to say, many, many of us in the traveling party were more than a little anxious to get to chilly, sunny San Francisco. Denver was boiling hot, too — granted, there’s very little humidity which makes the mid-90s temps a lot more tolerable, but still — and we’re just grateful to have one city on the schedule this summer that is going to give us any kind of break from the mind-numbing heat and humidity.

San Francisco is just beautiful, but the city itself pales in comparison to AT&T Park, home to the World Series champion Giants. Even if the team wasn’t as good as it is, the ballpark is worth the price of admission, with its breathtaking view beyond right field and cozy atmosphere that makes it feel a lot smaller than its actual dimensions (it seats approximately 42,000 — around same as Minute Maid Park.)

The view beyond right field

Ballpark highlights include McCovey Cove, the section of the San Francisco Bay just beyond right field that was unofficially named after Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. On game days, fans hang out in the water on their boats and kayaks and wait for home run balls to bounce in.

In its nearly 12-year history, 57 home runs have qualified at “Splash Hits” — home runs hit by Giants that land in McCovey Cove on the fly without hitting the Arcade or Portwalk. Of the 57, 35 were hit by now-retired slugger Barry Bonds.

During Bonds’ era, McCovey Cove would be saturated with kayaks, piloted by fans hoping to catch one of those Splash Hits or, more likely, a batting practice home run. These days, it’s not so crowded out there. Thursday afternoon when the Giants were finishing up BP, there was this guy:

__________________

For our food feature of the day, we’re most certainly NOT saving the best for last. We begin with a dish I’ve discussed on this blog in the past, but it’s one that I never get tired of writing about. It’s the delicious Cha-Cha Bowl, named after Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda and loaded with enough yummy ingredients that would make even Bryan Caswell’s mouth water.

The Cha Cha Bowl consists of grilled chicken, black beans, rice, sliced zucchini and carrots and topped by a pineapple salsa. It’s one of a handful of items served at Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ, but clearly, the healthiest option. After what we ingested in Denver, a little lighter fare is welcome. *uurp*

_______________

Notes:
* Jose Altuve has never gone more than one game without getting at least one hit since he was called up to the big leagues a little over a month ago. He also began play Thursday with the third-highest rookie batting average in the league at .310.

* Entering Thursday’s game, Brian Bogusevic ranked second in the Majors with a .474 average over 15 games since Aug. 7. He had four homers and 12 RBIs over that 15-game span.

1. Aramis Ramirez - .475
2. Brian Bogusevic – .474
2. Nick Hundley – .474
4. James Loney – .442

*  Catcher Jason Castro continues to progress while rehabbing at the club’s spring complex in Kissimmee, Fla. but it’s likely he’ll remain there through September, which would eliminate the possibility of a return to the big leagues this year. Castro is catching bullpens, which is an encouraging sign that he’s improving as time goes on. A return to the Astros was unlikely this year anyway, and when dealing with knee surgery for a catcher, it’s best not to take any chances by pushing him to return before he’s ready.

* Melting pot: Your Astros currently have 14 players from the USA, two from Venezuela, five from the Dominican Republic, two from Puerto Rico, one from Nicaragua and one from Panama on the active roster.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Check out our witticsms on AstrosOneLiners

Questions? Email afooter@astros.com

Astros lineup 8/25 at Giants. First pitch 9:15 p.m. CT

Elarton in the outfield? A historical perspective on Wesley Wright’s right field debut.

Wesley Wright’s move from the pitcher’s mound to right field and back to the pitcher’s mound during Tuesday’s game in Denver marked a first for the franchise, in that no other pitcher in club history had ever played the outfield in the same game that he also pitched.

That much was easy enough to verify through the various statistical mechanisms Major League teams have at their fingertips when unusual things happen. Getting to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding the last time an Astros pitcher appeared in a game as an outfielder without also having pitched, however, was a bit more challenging. Sure, Elias Sports Bureau was typically efficient in relaying the information. But was it that cut and dried? No.

According to the box score of June 13, 1999, Scott Elarton, the 6-foot-8 starting pitcher not exactly known to be light on his feet, played center field during that game. Technically, that is correct. Sort of. Indeed, Elarton was listed as a center fielder in that game against the Padres at the Astrodome. But he never actually played in center, and, what’s more, he wasn’t inserted onto the lineup card by his manager to play that position until six weeks later, on July 23, 1999.

Huh?

June 13 was a suspended game. The Astros were ahead 4-1 in the eighth inning with Jeff Bagwell batting, when Larry Dierker collapsed in the dugout and suffered a grand mal seizure. After Dierker was rushed to the hospital, the game was suspended and to be completed during the Padres’ next visit to Houston, on July 23.

Dierker, whose first game back after brain surgery was one week earlier on July 17, had a much different-looking lineup card this time. Here’s the sequence as play resumed in the bottom of the eighth, with Bagwell batting, according to baseball-reference.com:

Jose Lima replaces Shane Reynolds (P) playing 3B batting 9th
Russ Johnson replaces Jose Lima playing 3B batting 9th
Scott Elarton replaces Ricky Gutierrez (3B) playing CF batting 2nd
Glen Barker replaces Scott Elarton playing CF batting 2nd
Phil Nevin pinch hits for John Vander Wal (1B) batting 4th

What happened?

Carl Everett (CF) and Gutierrez (3B) were on the disabled list on July 23, but not on June 13. Elarton and Lima replaced them in the lineup, but were then replaced by players who could actually play those positions by the time the ninth inning began.

(This would explain why when Jim Deshaies called Dierker on the way to the ballpark Wednesday morning and asked him about it, Dierker had no recollection of Elarton playing center. He said it never happened. Technically, he’s right.)

________________

We ended our culinary tour of Coors Field on Wednesday by loading up another signature dish — the Monster Chicken Nachos. Monster is right. After I told them I want ‘em fully loaded, this thing must have weighed five pounds when I brought it back to the press box and pretended that I was going to share it with the taste-testing posse.

Just kidding. I did offer up samplings, but seeing it was only 11:45 a.m. and the nachos were positively dripping with cheese, chicken, beans, pico de gallo, jalapenos and probably some other stuff that I’m not remembering, I didn’t have many takers.

Our main man J.D. came through once again and dove in. His reaction? Favorable, putting it mildly.

“It’s a mouthful of yummy goodness that bites you at the end,” he said. Pretty accurate. The nachos are doused with jalapenos, and if the juice drips just so onto the nacho, you’re in for some serious face redness, nose-running and heavy breathing. Overall, I give the Monster Chicken Nachos a thumbs up, but the “kick” was a little too much for this Midwestern girl.

Our pals Brownie, J.D. and Greg Lucas were also “treated” to another Coors Field delicacy — chocolate-covered bacon. I wisely steered clear. Brownie’s take: “I’m a vegetarian again.”

Chocolate covered bacon. (Eew.)

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Check out our witticsms on AstrosOneLiners

Questions? Email afooter@astros.com

The food at Coors Field is delicious, and that’s no bull.

J.D. Martinez will be our guest at our sixth and final Social Media Night, which will take place Saturday, Sept. 24 in the Budweiser Patio. Martinez will be the last of a long line of players who have joined us for the Twitter Trivia portion of the evening. Our April guest was Hunter Pence, followed by Chris Johnson (May), Brett Wallace (June), Matt Downs (July) and Jose Altuve (August).

The program is the same — for the price of $45, you’ll receive a tour of Minute Maid Park, batting practice viewing (from the seats directly behind the Astros dugout on the first base side), a t-shirt, ticket to the game in the Budweiser Patio, dinner, dessert and a chance to win autographed prizes and meet Martinez during Twitter Trivia.

The player appearance is usually from 5-5:15, but to accommodate Martinez’s pregame preparation routine, we’ll begin the Twitter Trivia at 4:55 and conclude sharply at 5:10.

We also will raffle off (for free) a one-inning visit to the television booth to watch Brownie and J.D. work their magic. Jeff Bagwell also works every Saturday home game so…

You can purchase tickets here. Hope to see you then!

________________

Our culinary tour through Denver and, later this week, San Francisco, continued on Tuesday when I hit the concourse and loaded up on three more recommended Coors Field specialty items: the Rockie Dog (a foot-long Italian Sausage topped with grilled peppers, sauerkraut and onions), the Helton Burger from the Helton Burger Shack and a salad from the Right Field Greens “Build your own Salad” station.

As carefully as I could, without bumping into anyone, I brought the load o’ goodies back to the press box, where my self-appointed taste-testers were willing to lend their appetites, all in the name of a blogging. I didn’t share the salad — I figured it might be my only shot to eat something healthy during this roadie — but I split the dog and burger equally and encouraged the posse to dig in.

I made the administrative decision to leave the sauerkraut off the hot dog. The group didn’t seem to notice or miss it. Radio announcer Brett Dolan dubbed the dog “scrumptious,” while media relations director Gene Dias gave two thumbs up to the toppings. “I really like the peppers, he said. “It gave it a nice touch. There was a healthy portion of toppings, too.”

J.D. said the sausage had “a nice kick to it. Good spices, but not overpowering.” He liked the spongy bun and, like Dias, noted the heaping portion of veggie toppings (I didn’t have the heart to tell him most of it came from Dolan scraping off the peppers off his portion).

“The onions could be a little more cooked,” J.D. noted.

Next up: the Helton Burger. This was a thick burger with a special sauce, grilled onions and pickles. In other words, it was a fancier (and much more expensive) version of the Big Mac. And it was delicious. J.D. didn’t like the lack of sponginess of the bun — as we know by now, he likes his buns with a little more bounce — but he gave two thumbs up to the caramelized onions.

Helton Burger.

The salad, as I said, I kept to myself. I like the made-to-order concept, and it’s easy to facilitate at a ballpark. You get a choice of four types of lettuce, a choice of chicken, shrimp or tofu, tons of veggies and a handful of dressings. They mix it up in a bowl and toss into a plastic container, and you’re on your way. Very large portion, very healthy and very filling. Totally worth the money.

(Once word got around that we were sampling food during our visit to Denver, a few Rockies reporters and support staff offered suggestions, some of which I’ll look into on Wednesday. One I’ll be skipping, however: the Rocky Mountain Oysters. I don’t eat oysters anyway, but after I asked my posse if there were any oyster-eaters among us, I was informed what Rocky Mountain Oysters are actually made of. Let’s just say I won’t be tasting them. Heck, I don’t even want to talk about them. Just Google it and we’ll leave it at that.)

_________________

Astros notes:
* The Astros settled their rotation situation on Tuesday with the announcement that Henry Sosa will start Thursday’s game in San Francisco on three day’s rest, and J.A. Happ will be recalled in time to start on Friday, on full rest. A corresponding roster move will be made before the game and presumably, the move will involve a position player (if the Astros wish to go back to carrying 12 pitchers).

* First-round draft pick George Springer, who signed his contract last week, has joined the Astros’ Tri-City club, where he will continue to work out. He could possibly begin playing later this week. Because he had such a long layoff by not signing sooner, he’ll need a little extra time to get into game-ready shape.
_________________

And we conclude with a few images from two days in Denver:

Jose Altuve, Brad Mills take in batting practice

Warming up: Altuve, Angel Sanchez

Clint Barmes, Sanchez

Jimmy Paredes, Matt Downs

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Check out our witticsms on AstrosOneLiners

Questions? Email afooter@astros.com

Astros lineup 8/24 at Rockies. First pitch 2:10 p.m. CT

Astros lineup 8/23 at Rockies. First pitch 7:40 p.m. CT

Road trip notes: Who’s hot in the Minor Leagues, and what’s good at Coors Field. Yes, we’re blogging about food again.

As the Astros begin a seven-game road trip with a loss to the Rockies, let’s see what’s up in the Minor Leagues (reports are through Sunday’s games)…

Triple-A Oklahoma City
J.A. Happ tossed seven scoreless innings Sunday night, helping Oklahoma City to a 4-0 shutout win over the Iowa Cubs. Happ struck out six and allowed one hit. Jordan Schafer, who was activated from the DL and started the Astros’ opener in Denver, was 2-for-5 in the game and improved to 10-for-20 in five rehab games. 2b Jose Vallejo (2-for-3) and OF Jacob Goebbert (2-for-5) each had multiple hits in the game.

Who’s hot: 1B Brett Wallace, who is hitting .354 since his demotion to Oklahoma City three weeks ago. In his last 10 games, he has compiled a .344 average, two doubles and nine RBIs. ..IF Anderson Hernandez is hitting .301 this season and .400 in August. This month, he has 34 hits in 85 at-bats and a .469 on-base percentage. He extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a first-inning single on Monday.

Double-A Corpus Christi
Hooks LF Adam Bailey, 1B Emerson Frostad and CF T.J. Steele combined for seven hits and seven RBIs in Corpus’s 9-6 win over Springfield. RHP Paul Clemens, one of the pitchers acquired in the Michael Bourn trade, allowed three runs on six hits over six innings. Those were the first runs he had given up over his last 28 1/3 innings, between Double-A Mississippi and Corpus Christi.

Who’s hot: Clemens. In four starts for the Hooks, he’s 2-0 with a 1.05 ERA and 22 strikeouts. …in nine games with Corpus, Bailey is hitting .375 with five doubles and seven RBIs.

Class A Lancaster
RHP Zachary Grimmett allowed three runs over six innings but absorbed the loss in the JetHawks’ 3-2 loss to Stockton. 3B Jonathan Meyer was 1-for-3 and 2B Alex Todd recorded a hit and an RBI to raise his average to .355 in nine games with Lancaster.

Who’s hot: 1B Jonathan Singleton, obtained from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade, has a .317 average in his last 10 games with two homers and seven RBIs. …RH reliever Wander Alvino has a 2.87 ERA over his last 10 games.

Class A Lexington
Who’s hot: RHP Carlos Quevedo is 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA over his last 10 games started. …OF Domingo Santana, acquired as the player to be named in the Pence trade, has a .300 average (6-for-20) with one homer and seven RBIs over five games with Lexington.

Short Season A Tri-City
Who’s hot: OF Rafael Valenzuela has a .429 average (15-for-35) with six doubles and seven RBIs in his last 10 games. …IF Matthew Duffy has hit .316 (12-for-38) with one homer and seven RBIs in his last 10 games.

Rookie Greeneville:
Who’s hot: IF Joshua Magee, hitting .289 overall, has a .541 average (20-for-37) with four RBIs in his last 10 games.

Gulf Coast League Astros
Who’s hot: IF Luca Martone, hitting .313 overall, has a .444 average (12-for-27) with two doubles and two stolen bases in his last 10 games.

________________

Former Astros head athletic trainer Dave Labossiere, who retired three years ago and moved to nearby Steamboat Springs, Colorado, visited the team on Monday at Coors Field. Labossiere was with the Astros for 25 years and watched plenty of baseball, both through the great years and the really bad ones.

Here’s an endearing photo from yesteryear of three old favorites — Labossiere, Mike Scott (seated, right) and popular TV broadcaster Jim Deshaies. All three were relaxing in the clubhouse in the Astrodome after a game. Ah, the good old days.

________________

I’ve been looking forward to the Denver-San Francisco road trip for a few reasons — mainly, because both cities are fantastic, as are the ballparks, and the weather is perfect in both places this time of year (yes, it’s hot in Denver, but the humidity is non-existent, which makes for a pleasant day even when it’s in the 90s).

But more importantly, the food at both Coors Field and AT&T Park is delicious. I’ve blogged plenty about the outstanding fare at Minute Maid Park — we even got some love for the El Real Fajitas in this USA Today article — but I wanted to expand our horizons a bit and explore the food at other fun faraway places.

Consequently, each day of this road trip, we’ll feature a signature item at the ballpark. First up: Wood Stone Pizza Oven on the main concourse at Coors Field, behind section 137.

I ordered the veggie pizza, ate three of four pieces and gave the rest to Deshaies, who was then required to put on his best critic’s hat and give his review:

“Delightful blend,” he said. (He initially said “This is really good,” but I told him I needed something more insightful for the blog). “The wood fire coal taste is a great presence. The blackened crust gives you the coal flavor you’re looking for. The flavor is robust but there’s no grease. Could be a little greasier. If you’re looking for grease, this not for you.”

My take: delicious. When I walked up to the concession area and ordered, the nice pizza lady on the other side of the counter said, somewhat apologetically, “It’s still in the oven. It will be ready in five minutes.” Music to my ears. This meant it hadn’t been laying around under a heater for the last 15 minutes, which typically makes the piping hot cheese taste more like a rubbery coagulated mess. They handed me the pizza and I nearly burned my hand on the bottom of the box. All good (like the ‘shrooms).

Veggie Pizza from the Wood Stone Pizza Oven

_________________

Random: The 2011 Astros Wives Gala, chaired by Summer Barmes and Mary Catherine Melancon and benefitting the Houston Area Women’s Center, raised $440,000. Over 22 years, the Gala has brought in more than $4 million for HAWC …the Astros will need to name a starter for Thursday’s opener in San Francisco to replace Jordan Lyles, who was temporarily optioned to Triple-A. A logical option would be Happ, but he pitched Sunday and would be starting on short rest if he were to be called up. Aneury Rodriguez, who has experience starting but hasn’t since June, had an outside shot to get the spot start but pitched 2 1/3 innings Monday …Clint Barmes, a 10th-round pick of the Rockies in 2000, faced his old club for the first time on Monday. Barmes entered the game with a .285 career average and 35 home runs at Coors Field. …upcoming pitching matchups: Tuesday at COL: Bud Norris vs. Alex White; Wednesday at COL: Wandy Rodriguez vs. Aaron Cook.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Check out our witticsms on AstrosOneLiners

Questions? Email afooter@astros.com

Astros lineup 8/22 at Rockies. First pitch 7:40 p.m. CT

Weekend roundup: Altuve, Social Media Night, and a farewell to a special Twintern.

Jessica Mathews, Kelly Chilcote, Paige Tracy and Heather Lord keeping up with the times at Social Media Night.

About an hour before Jose Altuve hit the ball to the left-center gap, scurried around the bases and ran through Dave Clark’s stop sign at third, he was spotted in the Budweiser Patio behind center field, yukking it up with 108 loud and proud Social Media Night attendees.

Altuve was the special guest on Saturday at our fifth installment of Social Media Night, a sold-out event that featured fajitas for dinner, signed baseballs for prizes and an appearance by the rookie second baseman, whose hustle and clutch hits (and, let’s be honest, diminutive size) is quickly making him a fan favorite in Houston.

Altuve handed out 15 prizes during Twitter Trivia — 12 signed baseballs, plus a signed rally towel, a signed replica BP jersey and a signed Brownie and JD bobblehead.

We also raffled off a visit to the TV booth. The lucky winner was Becky Lee, who brought her equally as lucky friend, Melanie Scales, with her. They met Brownie and J.D. and Jeff Bagwell, who acts as the third man in the booth for Saturday home games.

The next (and final) Social Media Night is scheduled for Sept. 24, the last Saturday home game of 2011. We’ll announce the guest soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures…


__________________________________________________________________________________________

Saturday’s event also marked the final day at the office for my fabulous Twintern Rachel Frey, who headed back to Austin to finish up her last year at the University of Texas. A lot of you followed her blogs and tweets throughout her time here, and it goes without saying that she did an excellent job, was a huge help and will be greatly missed.

(She’s also really, really organized, which, let’s just say, was a nice change of pace for yours truly.)

Rachel compiled quite a body of work during her four months here and hopefully built up a nice portfolio to take with her as she continues to follow her career path. I can only pray that she never forgets what was perhaps her finest hour: her two days as a hot sauce packet during the Taco Bell Saucy Sprint race. Her behind-the-scenes video of the experience got the second-most clicks of any video we’ve posted all season, behind only footage of the day Hunter Pence was traded.

Here is Rachel’s final blog as an Astros intern…you can find her blog at http://rachelfrey.mlblogs.com/ and you can tweet her, too.

Good luck and thanks, Rachel!

****************

This summer has been amazing.  There is no other way to describe it. The Astros definitely took a gamble when offering an internship in Social Media and Broadcasting. There have been broadcasting interns in the past, but they have never had a social media one. I mean they let me tweet and blog about the team– usually without proofing prior to posting it. They’re crazy to let a college kid do that, right?

Well, I appreciate them taking a risk on me. I’ve learned so much during my time here — how to respond to questions on Twitter, how to find unique things to write about, and even how to navigate my way around the ballpark while wearing heels, and carrying 75 t-shirts for social media night.

I have to thank all of the people who have guided me through this summer. Alyson is a no brainer — she has supported my writing, and taught me all kinds of wonderful things. I would have never made it through this summer without the encouragement I’ve received from her.

Mike Cannon, Director of Broadcast Operations, is my other boss. While he isn’t involved in most of the visible social media interaction I have had with you, he has spent so much time educating me about radio and television broadcasting. I’ve been able to learn every step of the process- from how he records many of the advertisements you hear during radio broadcasts, to how Fox Sports transmits the images to the satellite.

Chanda “Momma” Lawdermilk is our internship coordinator, and she definitely spends many hours finding, corralling, and helping interns. I’m so appreciative of her hard work.

There is a multitude of other people I should be thanking — the people of the Astros front office are extremely welcoming and have helped shape the direction I want to take my career, but this letter could easily triple in size if I thanked each person individually. For all Astros employees who read this, please know I appreciate the time I was able to spend with you.

As I leave this morning to head back to Austin to start the school year, I want to say one final thank you to the fans. You all have helped make this summer as incredible as it has been.

Today, I’ll slip back into the real world, where no doubt I’ll spend many hours procrastinating on studying for tests while watching Astros games. I have one year left before I graduate, and I hope you’ll follow me on the rest of my journey through my blog and twitter.

Thank you,

Rachel Frey

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Check out our witticsms on AstrosOneLiners

Questions? Email afooter@astros.com

Astros lineup 8/21 vs. Giants. First pitch 1:05 p.m. CT

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers