September 2011

Astros lineup 9/18 at Cubs. First pitch 1:20 CT

Rookie Road Trip, old school-style.

The photos we posted from the Astros Rookie Road Trip last night prompted a few requests to bring back the images from yesteryear, when Rookie Roadies were more of a private affair and the images captured were taken with a disposable camera from Walgreens.

Rookie Road Trips have been going on for decades, but until recently, teams were unable to share the experience with their fans, mainly because there was no such thing as Social Media and therefore there was nowhere to post the pictures.

Nowadays, we have blogs, Facebook and Twitter, which gives us an avenue to make photos of Jordan Lyles dressed as a ladybug available not only to his adoring Houston public, but also to second-graders in China, construction workers in Australia and middle school teachers in Kalamazoo, MI, if those folks have any sort of interest in your Astros (which I doubt they do).

But once upon a time, the Rookie Roadie was an inside job. I was, however, fortunate twice to be in the right place at the right time and as a result have in my possession two priceless images from past Rookie Roadies. Many of you have seen these before. For you newbies, enjoy the sights…

September, 2000: Morgan Ensberg, anything but svelte and lean in his Hooter's outfit, asked for a scrunchie soon after this image was taken on the team charter.

September, 2001: Ricky Stone, Tim Redding, Carlos Hernandez,Scott Linebrink, Adam Everett, with grand papa Roy Oswalt in front. I think that's Rodrigo Rosario in the back but I'm not positive.

Programming Note: Minute Maid Park will be hopping tonight as the Astros host the Lone Survivor Foundation’s Second Annual Gala entitled ‘Mission: Never Quit!’ in the Union Station Lobby beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Keynote speakers for the event are Texas Governor Rick Perry, U.S. Navy SEAL (Ret.) Marcus Luttrell and U.S. Army Ranger (Ret.) Captain Chad Fleming. Political commentator Glenn Beck is a special guest speaker for the event.

Tickets still remain for the Gala, which includes the speakers portion, a reception and dinner, as well as a live auction and a performance by award-winning country music star and Houston native, Jack Ingram. For more information please visit http://www.lonesurvivorfoundation.org/gala.

This is the second straight year the Lone Survivor Foundation, a non-profit organization established by Navy SEAL (Ret.) Marcus Luttrell, has hosted its Gala in Houston at Minute Maid Park. The foundation was inspired by the events of Operation RED WINGS in 2005, during which Luttrell was awarded the Navy Cross. Luttrell chronicles his actions and describes Operation RED WINGS in the NY Times best-seller, Lone Survivor, the Eyewitness Account of Operation RED WINGS and SEAL Team 10.

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Astros lineup 9/17 at Cubs. First pitch high noon (:05)

This year, the Astros’ Rookie Road Trip involved nearly half the team. The other half stood back and took pictures.

The Rookie Road Trip, traditionally, is for the players who qualify as, well, rookies. In the past, the Rookie Roadie was kind of like the Chicken Pox — you do it once and you’ll never have to go through it again.

Well, friends, times have changed. Now, the Rookie Roadie is for rookies who are in their first season, and also for players who still qualify as rookies but spent time in the big leagues the previous season and already did one Rookie Roadie. It’s also for anyone whom Carlos Lee decides needs to dress up in hilariously humiliating outfits and parade around in public. So for reasons inexplicable to me, you and the parties involved, also dressing up postgame on Friday in Chicago were pitcher Wilton Lopez (a rookie in 2010 and no longer a rookie this year) and Javier Bracamonte, who has been with the Astros since 2001 and isn’t a ballplayer. He’s the bullpen catcher.

Anyhoo, the Rookie Roadie is a time-honored tradition in baseball, comparable to the college freshman who has just joined a fraternity. The veteran players buy crazy outfits, take the rookies’ clothes out of their lockers and replace them with the getups. Nine times out of 10, the outfits are something you’d see on women of questionable backgrounds (either that or Hooter’s waitresses). Every now and again, a team might change things up and work farm animals into the mix, as the Astros did in 2010.

This year’s Astros rookies and Carlos Lee special selections were dressed in a wide array of outfits that you might see on Halloween — in Vegas.

Bumble bees, police, Princess Leia, Wonder Woman…with a PG-13-ish twist, so to speak.

Here’s the video.

And here are the pictures (with assistance from two of last year’s rookies, Bud Norris and Chris Johnson.):

A Bud Norris twitpic from inside the clubhouse shows Paredes, Altuve and Del Rosario getting ready for the big reveal.

Best part of the day might have been when Del Rosario stepped into the back room and asked equipment manager Carl Schneider for some socks.

Seems like just yesterday we were in Corpus Christi getting our first looks at young up-and-comers Martinez and Altuve. And here they are now, Cat Woman and saucy Ms. Jockey. So proud. *sniff*

Walking back from grabbing a bite to eat, I saw and heard a ruckus on Michigan Ave. near our hotel. I assumed it could be only one thing. Yup. (Photo compliments of Chris Johnson)

Princess Leia (known in our circles as Carlos Corporan) never looked so good. Must be the black socks and loafers.

Laughter and more laughter. It's been a long season but there were fun times along the way. This was one of them.

Several fans got an eyeful when the rookies showed up on the plaza outside of Wrigley.

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Astros lineup 9/16 at Cubs. First pitch 1:20 p.m. CT

We added an extra player to attend Social Media Night on Sept. 24. Two for the price of one!

Tickets are currently on sale for our final Social Media soiree in the Budweiser Patio, scheduled for Sept. 24, the final Saturday game of the season.

We’ve already announced that J.D. Martinez is scheduled to make an appearance during our Twitter Trivia portion of the night. But we just added another player to the mix — pitcher Bud Norris, who will most definitely NOT be scheduled to pitch that day and has therefore graciously volunteered to hang out with us for a spell.

So, all told, 45 bucks will get you a game ticket on the Bud Patio, a ballpark tour, batting practice viewing, dinner, dessert, a t-shirt and an opportunity to win a slew of signed prizes by both Martinez and Norris during Twitter Trivia.

We’ll also be raffling off (for free) a visit to the television booth to hang out behind Brownie and J.D. for an inning and watch how that whole operation works.

Ticket sales have been steady but there is still a bunch left. You can purchase them here .  Hope to see you there!

(Please note that 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.)

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The Astros Player Development Department announced their 2011 Minor League Players of the Year on Thursday, naming infielder Jose Altuve as Player of the Year and right-handed pitcher Jake Buchanan as Pitcher of the Year. The club also named Charley Taylor, pitching coach of the Astros Gulf Coast League affiliate, as Player Development Man of the Year, and Luis Martinez, manager and coordinator of the Astros Dominican Summer League, as International Man of the Year.

All four will be recognized at a special pre-game ceremony at Minute Maid Park on Sept. 24, (which you’ll be able to view from the patio if you attend Social Media Night!). Martinez will be unable to make the ceremony due to previous commitments. Prior to the game, Altuve and Buchanan will be made available to fans for a free autograph session from 4:45-5:15 on the main concourse at Minute Maid Park.

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Random, but interesting stat from Elias Sports Bureau:

Roy Halladay threw a six-hit shutout in the Phillies’ 1-0 win at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday, becoming the first pitcher in 23 years to shut out the Astros in Houston in a 1-0 game. That had last been done by Orel Hershiser in September 1988 at the Astrodome, during his Major League record streak of 59.0 consecutive scoreless innings.

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Belated but big time congratulations to Jason Bourgeois for being named the Astros’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. If there’s someone who embodies the spirit of selflessness and generosity, it’s Bourgeois, who does a ton for the community, all under the radar and away from the spotlight.

He mentors Houston area baseball and softball players through Jason Bourgeois Youth Sports. Started in 2009, his mission is to help inner city kids play baseball and to build life skills through the lessons that team sports offer. The organization is supporting a number of urban teams – East Houston Little League, South Central Sportz, North Forest Athletic Association and Junior RBI – by providing uniforms and equipment, resources Bourgeois did not always have as a kid.

(Bourgeois also stepped up in a big way when Michael Bourn was traded. That trade put the community department in a major bind given the slew of activities Bourn was slated to attend at the Astros Urban Youth Academy. That’s not why Bourgeois earned the Clemente nomination, but it’s worth noting that he was more than happy to fill in for Bourn and did so literally at a moment’s notice).

And, Bourgeois is just a good dude, the kind of guy you root for and the kind of professional you’d like to be playing for your team. So kudos to the Astros outfielder.

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Larry Andersen famously brought us Jeff Bagwell, but that’s not exactly where the story ends.

Andersen ended his visit in the clubhouse Wednesday morning with these wise words: "Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schizophrenic, and so am I."

Larry Andersen played during a glorious era of Astros baseball, back in the mid-80s, when yucking it up in the clubhouse occurred as frequently as winning on the field. In 1986, the Astros had plenty of both.

Andersen was a fan favorite in Houston during the time he played here, both for his tenacity on the mound and for his fun-loving and boisterous personality that allowed him to say just about anything without the worry of embarrassing himself later.

That’s why it’s always fun when the Phillies are town, because 10 times out of 10, you’ll see Andersen, now a long-time broadcaster with Philadelphia, hanging around the Astros’ clubhouse, where he still has plenty of friends among the support staff in there.

We all know by now the famous connection Andersen has to Jeff Bagwell — the two were swapped at the trade deadline in 1990, with Andersen going to the Red Sox and Bagwell, a little-known Minor League third baseman, going to the Astros.

That one worked out pretty well for the Astros, obviously, which only adds to the popularity of the former relief pitcher. But did you know Andersen is also responsible for the presence of another  extremely popular figure in the Astros family?

Way, way back in the stone age of 1996, Larry Dierker was hired as the Astros manager, which opened a spot in the broadcast booth. Jim Deshaies, who had retired a little over a year earlier, called Dierker simply to offer his congratulations. Dierker, who was being bombarded with phone calls from former teammates and colleagues wanting to be considered for his Major League coaching staff, half-jokingly said to J.D., “What should I mark you down for?”

Deshaies laughed and assured Dierker the phone call was of a congratulatory nature and nothing else. But Dierker said, “You know, I think you might be a good candidate for the broadcasting job.”

J.D. was lukewarm on the idea but later did have discussions with the Astros about the possibility. The talks basically went nowhere, mainly because the Astros were courting other former players for the job — including Larry Andersen.

Andersen flew to Houston, interviewed with Drayton McLane and his top executives and was ultimately offered the job. But Andersen also had an opportunity to be the pitching coach for the Phillies’ Triple-A club, and he chose to take that position instead.

Long story longer, the Astros circled back with Deshaies and eventually, J.D. got the broadcasting gig. Directly or indirectly, however you choose to view it, we have Andersen to thank for two of the Astros’ best-ever: Bagwell and Deshaies.

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Barmes borrows bat, hits key home run.

Craig Biggio, hanging out in the equipment manager’s office Wednesday morning, broke into a smile and greeted Clint Barmes with a warm handshake when the Astros shortstop walked in the door.

“Worked out pretty well,” Barmes laughed.

“I told you it would,” Biggio responded.

Apparently, before Tuesday’s game, Biggio recommended Barmes use one of his bats, which has a thicker handle than the ones Barmes normally uses.

“I came in here and asked (equipment manager) Carl (Schneider), ‘You have any of my old bats laying around?’”

In the fourth inning, Barmes sent a three-run homer to the left field Crawford Boxes, and the Astros went on to win the game — by three runs.

Needless to say, Barmes is using the bat again today.

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Astros lineup 9/14 vs. Phillies. First pitch 1:05 p.m. CT

Craig Biggio goes back to school…for one day.

Craig Biggio has three kids ranging from 11 to 18 and also coaches baseball at a local high school, so needless to say, he’s pretty at ease in the presence of young people.

Biggio fit right in as he chatted with Caleb Henson and friends at Swenke Elementary School on Tuesday and chowed down on burgers and fries as part of the Whataburger “Take a Player to School” program. This past summer, fans were invited to participate in an online essay contest that awarded one student the opportunity to meet with a player at his or her school at the start of the 2011-12 school year.

More than 950 entries were received from parents, relatives and friends of area first through eighth graders. Henson, 12 years old and a fifth grader at Swenke Elementary, was declared the winner and awarded the special visit from Biggio.

Henson’s big day actually started early in the morning. Junction Jack, the Astros’ mascot, personally escorted Henson to school in a limousine. Around noon, Henson met Biggio and the two enjoyed a private lunch with four of Henson’s classmates, followed by a visit to one of his classes.

Henson and his family were treated to tickets to Tuesday night’s game with an invitation to Henson to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. As a catcher, however, he requested to catch the pitch instead.

Video from Biggio’s visit can be viewed here.

The essay submitted on behalf of Henson explained why he was a worthy candidate to win this honor:

“Caleb is a well-rounded inspiring student. He is deaf in one ear and is scheduled for another surgery to stop the invasive cyst from damaging his brain. Caleb hasn’t let it slow him down. Caleb is in the Chess Club and makes straight A honor roll all year. His 4th grade teacher sent a request to the principal that he be moved into the gifted and talented room.  Caleb volunteers at a nursing home where he plays guitar and sings, and takes our Therapy Dog. Caleb is a catcher on a select baseball team. Caleb plays football, currently for a hand-picked team. Coach Ricco chose players who are good sportsmen, have an attitude to learn, and who are intellectually ready. We are worried that he may not get to play. Caleb’s upcoming surgery could prevent him from playing sports for 6 months or more. Caleb is really dreading it and if he won, it would help him focus on something better. Caleb has a hard time making friends. If [an Astros player] attended school with him it would help Caleb develop new friendships.”

Needless to say, Caleb was one cool kid on Tuesday…

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