September 2011

Astros to honor heroes on Sept. 12.

The Astros will host an abbreviated homestand when they return from the current week-long jaunt through Pittsburgh and Washington, but it will likely be an eventful three days given who they’re playing.

The Phillies will be in town, which means Hunter Pence will visit Minute Maid Park for the first time since he was traded less than six weeks ago. Another former Astro, Roy Oswalt, is scheduled to start Monday’s game.

The brief visit home will also give the Astros an opportunity to honor our city’s finest, in conjunction with the 10-year anniversary of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

On Monday, Sept. 12, six players will visit their “adopted” firehouse and present the firefighters with a framed, autographed jersey.  They will meet both on-duty and off-duty firefighters and their families. Astros personnel slated to participate: Jason Bourgeois, Clint Barmes, Matt Downs, Carlos Lee, Larry Dierker and Humberto Quintero.

Before the game on Sept. 12, the Astros will conduct a special ceremony honoring area heroes. Members of local police, fire, EMS and military may purchase half-price tickets to the game at www.astros.com/heroes.  Those that attend the game in uniform are invited down to the field for the ceremony.  All those wishing to participate should meet at the Right Field Gate by 6 p.m.


The Houston Fire Department Bagpipe Band will perform “America the Beautiful” as heroes take the field for the pregame ceremony.  In addition, one representative from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Houston Police Department (HPD), Houston Fire Department (HFD) and Houston Emergency Medical Service (EMS) will throw out the game’s ceremonial first pitches.  Other select heroes will present a giant American flag for the singing of the National Anthem.

Firefighters Foundation of Houston Silent Auction

The Astros In Action Foundation will also host a silent auction that night to benefit the Firefighters Foundation of Houston (FFFH). Items available for bid include:

* Astros rookie ball signed by Jose Altuve, Brian Bogusevic, David Carpenter, Jordan Lyles, J.D. Martinez, Jimmy Paredes and Henry Sosa.
* Pair of military boots autographed by Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.
* Clint Barmes autographed and authenticated Stars and Stripes cap worn on Monday, May 30, 2011, Memorial Day, during the Astros-Cubs game.
* Carlos Lee autographed and authenticated Stars and Stripes cap worn on Monday, May 30, 2011, Memorial Day, during the Astros-Cubs game.

The auction will be conducted on the main concourse at the Community Clubhouse located behind the escalators at section 107. Bidding begins when gates open and closes at the end of the fifth inning.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will be donated to the FFFH. The FFFH is dedicated to providing Houston firefighters with the necessary funding, tools, technology, and equipment so that they may be able to best serve and protect the citizens of Houston. FFFH also provides financial assistance as needed to families of fallen fighters who have perished in the line of duty.

Other Activities:

Home Sweet Home: The Astros will host a special edition of their Sunday Home Sweet Home activities. Home Sweet Home welcomes a small group of active, recently returned military personnel and their guests to a special Astros experience that includes a player meet and greet.  They watch the game from a suite and are introduced to the crowd prior to the seventh inning singing of “God Bless America.”

Heroes Alley: The Astros are turning Conoco Alley into “Heroes Alley” and organizations and charities that support the military and first responders will have information available for fans interested in learning how they can support Houston’s heroes.  Participating groups include Lone Star Veterans Association, Lone Survivor Foundation, Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops, Operation Salute Our Troops, USO-Houston, Vet Center and Vet Center 710.

Military Broadcast: Fox Sports Houston and the Armed Forces Network will broadcast the Astros-Phillies game to bases overseas.

Flag Giveaway: The first 10,000 fans at the game will receive a mini American flag courtesy of Arne’s Texas Size Party Store.

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Astros lineup 9/7 at Pirates. First pitch 6:05 p.m. CT

Fishing in the Dark: How Henry Sosa learned English.

Henry Sosa is from El Seibo Province, Dominican Republic, but he has spent significant amounts of time in the United States for the last five years as a professional ballplayer, first in the San Francisco Giants organization and now, with the Houston Astros. Somewhere along the way, Sosa knew he would need to learn English in order to be able to get along better in the States throughout his pitching career.

His wife, Leslie, is American, but she’s also fluent in Spanish, and that’s the language she and her husband use to communicate. Sosa had been working on learning English on a minimal level after he started playing pro baseball, but about a year ago, he decided he really wanted to master the language. Leslie was somewhat of a help, of course, but the biggest assist came not from his wife, but from his iPod.

Sosa learned the majority of his English by listening to country music. The first country song he heard was “Fishing in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

“I learned all of the words to that song,” Sosa said. Soon after, he attended his first country music concert, a mish-mosh ensemble starring Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and a few others, in San Francisco. Later, he saw Lady Antebellum. Then he started downloading country music songs, by the dozens. To date, he has about 1,000 country songs on his phone.

One of the early favorites was McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl.” He also likes John Michael Montgomery and the Zac Brown Band. “Colder Weather” is quickly becoming a must-listen. Another favorite: “What Do You Want” by Jerrod Niemann.

Why country music as the learning tool? Simply put, because it’s actually music. The lyrics are clear. Country songs usually tell a story, which means the sentences need to make sense. And, “it’s slow,” Sosa said. “I can understand the words well.”

With 1,000 songs on his phone, clearly, Sosa is open to new music, and to new suggestions. My two recommendations: “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks and “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer” by Billy Currington.

What would you suggest? I’ll pass it along.

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Craig Biggio might not be playing baseball anymore, but the party — The Sunshine Kids party, that is — rolls on.

Biggio hosted his annual Sunshine Kids Party on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park for dozens of children and their families. He played baseball with the kids and later hosted the group for lunch in the FiveSeven Grille behind center field, where he signed autographs and posed for photos.

Thanks to Larry Stokes for passing along these photos from the event…

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Astros lineup at Pirates. First pitch 6:05 p.m. CT

Rain, rain and more rain. Labor Day in the Steel City.

There are plenty of things that we can all agree didn’t exactly go swimmingly for the Astros this year, but there is one area where they’ve been incredibly lucky: the weather.

While Major League Baseball as a whole had close to a record-setting season when it comes to rain delays and postponements, the Astros have somehow dodged a bunch of bullets on that front. They’ve had a couple of short delays here and there but nothing of note, and as far as postponements, they’ve had to schedule only one all year.

I sense that is all about to change this week. If baseball truly is a law of averages and things really do even out in the end, this could be a doozy of a roadie for your Astros.

Bad weather has completely taken over the East Coast, including the Astros’ two destinations on this trip: Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. Judging from the radar screen, the Astros-Pirates series could be, and probably will be, affected. The rain that is falling on PNC Park is letting up somewhat, but isn’t supposed to really clear up until early evening, and the most up-to-date forecasts predict we’re in for the same rain tomorrow.

A few things can happen if they can’t get the game in today. They can schedule a double header to be paired with either Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s game, or they can reschedule the missed game for Thursday, which is currently a mutual off day for both teams. However, that contingency plan will infringe on the rule that states a team cannot play more than 20 consecutive games without a day off. Because the Pirates already sacrificed an off day last Thursday in order to make up a rainout with the Dodgers, they will hit the 20-game mark on Wednesday. In order to play this Thursday, the union would have to agree to it.

Doubleheaders in Pittsburgh are nothing new, especially to the Astros. I remember a five-or-so-year stretch where they played a doubleheader in Pittsburgh every September, to make up for the inevitable early-season rain out.

This will be the Astros’ final trip to Pittsburgh this season, obviously, so there’s no time to make it up later. Teams will do everything in their power to make up games that are rained out, but with rain expected all week and two clubs playing that have absolutely no playoff implications on the line, it’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out.

Of course, the best case scenario would be for the rain to bypass Pittsburgh all together (possible, but unlikely) or do its dumping before or after the games. In the Steel City, unfortunately, the worst case scenario is usually what we’re stuck with. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: As of 1:45 ET, the Astros-Pirates game is to begin at 2:30 ET.

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In the meantime, here are a couple of leftover pictures from the weekend at home that might be of interest:

Craig Biggio mingles with the good folks from the United States Navy before Sunday's game.

It was Dog Day at Minute Maid on Sunday. This big guy actually scared me a little. Maybe because he's the size of a horse.

Jason Castro with his fiancee Maris Pearlman and his dog, Rollie (named after Rollie Fingers)

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Astros lineup 9/5 at Pirates. First pitch 12:35 p.m. CT

Astros lineup 9/4 vs. Brewers. First pitch 1:05 p.m. CT

Astros notes: team photo day hijinx, and celebrating Milo’s 84th birthday in style.

The Astros took their annual team photo on Saturday, a strategically smart day to take it, given the number of September callups who are back in uniform after spending various amounts of time in the big leagues this year.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Team Photo Day is a lot more organized and efficient nowadays. Perhaps that’s because presently, media relations guru Sally Gunter runs the show, as opposed to the old days when your friendly neighborhood blogger, in her former life, was responsible for this team activity as a member of the PR staff.

Team photo day hijinx: Carlos Lee tries to sit in Bat Boy Row (and was told he wasn't allowed)

Nowadays, the seating (well, actually, standing) chart is mapped out ahead of time, with each player told exactly where to go. In the old days, we asked players to file in by height, with the tallest in the back. Leaving it up to the players was mistake No. 1, which is why you often found vertically-challenged players such as Craig Biggio and Billy Wagner taking up space in the back row.

The 1999 team photo — specifically, the back row of the ’99 team photo — brings back especially vivid memories of the old days. You have to understand that back then, clowning around was a big part of photo day. Dealing with these guys was like trying to get a bunch of fourth-graders to line up after recess to start math class.

Houston Astros Class of '99

I looked over the group, and everything seemed to be A-OK. The players were where they were supposed to be, the coaching staff was assembled in the front, the bat boys, clubhouse staff and athletic trainers were all present and accounted for. I was just about to breathe a sigh of relief and instruct the photographer to start snapping when I noticed something didn’t look quite right in the back row.

“Cammy,” I yelled out to 6-foot Ken Caminiti. “Are you standing up straight?”

Caminiti nodded.

“Are you sure?”

Another nod.

“Cammy. Right now you’re the same height as (Mike) Hampton. STAND UP.”

Caminiti giggled like a high-schooler, stood up straight and was back to normal, a couple of inches taller than Hampton and more evenly aligned with Bill Spiers.

The photographer snapped about a dozen pictures, and that was it. I didn’t think much more of it until years later, when I was gazing over the team photos hanging in the Astros’ clubhouse. I found my way to that old ’99 team photo and chuckled at the memory of the Caminiti incident. Then I peered in closer and noticed something I hadn’t before — again, Caminiti is the same height at Hampton, maybe even a little shorter, and Spiers towers over him.

Score one for the big guy.

(That probably would explain Cammy’s especially jolly grin and why Hampton looks like he’s about to burst out laughing.)

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Heck and Armstrong

The Astros fan base was introduced to Jack Armstrong Jr., the club’s third-round draft pick, on Saturday. He was decidedly more subdued and better dressed than our first introduction to him (as seen in this highly-entertaining Vanderbilt video), and he was, by all accounts, a very impressive 21-year-old. He’s got quite a presence about him, partly due to his 6-foot-7 frame. He’s also well-spoken and pretty media savvy for a kid barely out of college.

Armstrong, who spent the better part of the summer pitching in the Cape Cod League, has a tender elbow and will be closely monitored between now and Spring Training.


“Now, we’re in the process of doing rehab and rest to get him pointed toward 2012,” Assistant GM Bobby Heck said. “We expect him to be full go as we enter Spring Training 2012.”
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Earlier in the week, several of us took advantage of the off day and celebrated Milo Hamilton’s 84th birthday. It was a typical Milo party — great food at one of Houston’s finest restaurants (Damian’s Cucina Italiana), delicious libations and 21 vivacious guests.

You may look at the pictures and ask, “Where are all the men?”

Answer: They weren’t invited.

Keep on keeping on, Captain.

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Astros lineup 9/3 vs. Brewers. First pitch 6:05 p.m. CT

Astros lineup 9/2 vs. Brewers. First pitch 7:05 CT

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