January 2012

Jim Crane: “We will not change the name Astros.”

The idea of changing the Astros name was brought up last week, and that same idea put to rest on Monday.

A name change, owner Jim Crane said in a taped video message to season ticket holders, is not happening.

“You asked for change and we added several fan friendly initiatives last week and we hope you like them,” Crane said. “We will continue to listen, and to look for additional ways to improve on and off the field.

“One thing that we are not going to change is the name. We received strong feedback and consensus among season ticket holders and many fans, and we will not change the name Astros. The Houston Astros are here to stay.”

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Caravan dates, times and addresses: free autograph signings in every city.

The following is a rundown of all of the caravan appearances that will be free and open to the public:

Wednesday, February 1 – Austin, TX
Jordan Lyles, J.B. Shuck, Kyle Weiland, Doug Brocail, Dave Raymond

Academy Sports + Outdoors
5400 Brodie Ln., Sunset Valley, TX 78745
7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, February 1 – Brownsville, TX
Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes, Fernando Rodriguez, Alex Trevino

Chick-fil-A – Lunch service for fans
4325 N. Expressway #77, Brownsville, TX 78520
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Academy Sports + Outdoors
4305 Old Hwy. 77, Brownsville, TX 78520
7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Thursday, February 2–Harlingen and McAllen, TX
Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes, Fernando Rodriguez, Alex Trevino

Academy Sports + Outdoors
3901 Expressway 83, McAllen, TX 78501
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 2 – San Antonio
Jarred Cosart, J.A. Happ, Humberto Quintero, Larry Dierker, Brett Dolan

Academy Sports + Outdoors
7523 N.W. Loop 410, San Antonio, TX 78245
6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Friday, February 3 – Corpus Christi and Victoria, TX
Brian Bogusevic, Chris Johnson, J.B. Shuck, Shane Reynolds, Milo Hamilton, Jim Crane

Academy Sports + Outdoors
8903 N. Navarro, Victoria, TX 77904
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Monday, February 6 – Oklahoma City, Okla.
Jose Altuve, David Carpenter, J.D. Martinez, Larry Dierker, Milo Hamilton, Jim Crane

Academy Sports + Outdoors
7700 South Walker, Oklahoma City, OK 73139
7:15 p.m. – 8:15 p.m.

Monday, February 6 – Houston
Jason Bourgeois, Bud Norris, Bobby Meacham, Brad Mills, Bob Watson, Jimmy Wynn, Jim Deshaies

Chick-fil-A – Lunch service for fans
2715 Southwest Freeway, Houston, TX 77098
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Academy Sports + Outdoors
2404 Southwest Freeway, Houston, TX 77098
6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, February 7 – Sugar Land
David Carpenter, Chris Johnson, Bud Norris, Brett Wallace, Doug Brocail, Brett Dolan

Academy Sports + Outdoors
23801 Brazos Town Crossing, Rosenberg, TX 77469
6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, February 8 – Spring
Brian Bogusevic, Jason Bourgeois, J.D. Martinez, Brad Mills, Jose Cruz, Jim Deshaies

Academy Sports + Outdoors
1360 Lake Woodlands Dr., The Woodlands, TX 77380
6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Thursday, February 9 – Cypress
Jed Lowrie, J.D. Martinez, Brad Mills, Alex Trevino, Bill Brown, Jeff Luhnow

Academy Sports + Outdoors
19720 N.W. Freeway, Houston, TX 77065
6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Friday, February 10 – Katy
Jason Castro, Jed Lowrie, Brett Wallace, Jose Cruz, Bill Brown

Academy Sports + Outdoors
23155 I-10 West, Katy, TX 77449
3:15 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

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Minute Maid Park in 2012: cheaper tickets, cheaper beer, new outside food and beverage policy.

The day that Jim Crane officially became the owner of the Houston Astros, he hinted that several changes were on the way that would benefit fans in 2012.

This wasn’t just window dressing. Asked during the press conference in November if those changes included lowering ticket prices, Crane indicated that was indeed the area that he and President/CEO George Postolos would be focusing their attention on in the immediate future.

Turns out, Crane consulted with the staff on these issues even before he took over as the Astros’ owner. And now, less than three months before Opening Day, a comprehensive plan has been put in place.

Ticket prices for more 5,000 seats have been lowered, and more affordable beer prices will be offered throughout the ballpark. And for the first time since Minute Maid Park opened, fans will be permitted to bring in their own food and beverages.

“We feel this is the right thing to do,” Crane said. “It is a way for us to let our fans know how vital they are to our success, and to let them know we’ve been listening to them.”

From the get-go, Crane has been open-minded about fan ideas and suggestions. He has attended several meet and greets throughout January with season ticket holders, and many of the decisions made to lower prices and allow outside food and drink were made after hearing the feedback from the fans.

Here’s the skinny:

Tickets:

The Astros reduced the price of seats in the Field and Club levels and the Outfield Deck.

Seats in Field Box II (section 132, rows 11-40 and all of sections 133-134) are now priced at $29, down from $41 in 2011. The new Power Club (sections 233-236) in the Club Level offers tickets for $35 that includes a $15 credit for food, beverage and retail items. Those seats were $46 in 2011 with no food credit.

The Outfield Deck tickets are now $5 for adults and $1 for kids ages 3-14 . In 2011, adult tickets were $7. With this reduction, a family of four can attend a game for $12.

As a special thank you for their loyalty and commitment, the Astros will also issue five percent rebates to full-season and 27-game plan season ticket accounts in 2012 to those who have renewed their tickets by the Jan. 31 deadline. Those rebates will be distributed in the form of a gift card that can be used to purchase food, merchandise or individual game tickets at Minute Maid Park.


Beer:

The Astros have expanded their $5 beer special to include every permanent concession stand and permanent bar at Minute Maid Park where domestic beer is sold. This beer in a 14-ounce cup will now be available at 35 locations throughout the ballpark.

Outside Food and Beverages:

Fans are now allowed to bring food and water into Minute Maid Park for games. Food must be transported in a small, clear (see-through) plastic bag, and water must be in a sealed, plastic bottle, being one liter or less in size. One bottle of water per person is allowed.

_________

The Astros will also continue to offer several of the popular ticket specials that have been available in recent years:

Price Matters Days presented by H-E-B

This offer, which is available for every Monday through Thursday Astros game, includes one View Deck II ticket, one hot dog, a bag of H-E-B chips and one soda for $10, which represents a savings of over 50 percent. Also, for $10 more, fans can purchase a lower level seat in the Bullpen Boxes.

All You Can Eat

For $30, this deal includes a Mezzanine game ticket and unlimited hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, nachos, soda and water and is available for every home game. Groups of 20 or more are eligible to purchase this package for $25.

Coca-Cola Value Zone

This offer, which is available for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday game, includes a Mezzanine ticket and Astros cap, as well as a hot dog and Coke product beverage for $20.

POWERADE Double Play Tuesdays

This offer, which is available every Tuesday, features two Outfield Deck tickets for $2. Additionally, fans can now also purchase two Field Box II tickets for $40, which is new in 2012.

9-Inning Lunch Break

This package is offered for weekday, 1:05 p.m. games and includes a Field Box ticket and $20 in Minute Maid Park food and beverage vouchers, which is a $61 value, for $45, a savings of $16 per ticket.

Dynamic Pricing

This offer is available for every Astros home game for select seats. Prices, which fluctuate based on demand, can represent up to 50% in savings per ticket.

Special Fundraising Pricing

Charities and community organizations can earn up to $10 per ticket by selling discounted Astros tickets.

Group Ticket Specials

With the Astros Group Ticket Program, groups of 20 or more can purchase discounted tickets. Group discounts can be as high as 50% per ticket, depending on the size of the group.

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The 1986 Astros reunion: celebrating good times and great baseball memories.

Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan

Who doesn’t love a good “Where Are They Now” story?

Under normal circumstances, finding out Where They Are Now takes quite a bit of digging. But for a few hours over the weekend, there was no need to search far and wide for such information on the 1986 National League West champion Houston Astros.

Where Are They Now? On Saturday, many of the ’86 Astros were all together, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the old Astrodome.

The annual TRISTAR Houston Collectors Show brought together 18 members of that ’86 team, a group that lives in Houston baseball history as one of the most beloved, ever. The characters of that team are as well-remembered as the heart-stopping moments that defined that season. TRISTAR hosted an ’86 Astros reunion as part of their two-day show at Reliant Arena, and also on the agenda was a reception that brought the team back together for a 90-minute question and answer session between paying patrons and the former Astros players.

The lot of 18 included manager Hal Lanier, Jose Cruz, Bill Doran, Jim Pankovits, Billy Hatcher, Nolan Ryan, Dickie Thon, Alan Ashby, Kevin Bass, Phil Garner, Bob Knepper, Glenn Davis, Danny Darwin, Jim Deshaies, Terry Puhl, Mike Scott, Jeff Calhoun and Craig Reynolds.

The group gathered in the lobby of the hotel before the formal program began, and like any class reunion, it was a happy scene. Many of the players from that team are still in baseball, and still more live in Houston. But in terms of getting together and catching up on old times, such occasions rarely, if ever, take place. That makes events like this special, and fun to watch from the sidelines. It also served as a nice precursor for the season-long celebration the Astros are planning to commemorate their 50th anniversary in 2012.

Emceed by SportsRadio 610′s Rich Lord, the Q&A session sparked laughter and reflection. Lanier was grilled on why he lifted Knepper from Game 6 of the NLCS, and Ryan, asked what his favorite moment was in his 27-year career, cited the 1969 World Series with the Mets, “Because it was the only time I played for a World Series title.”

The Astrodome, unsurprisingly, came up in conversation more than once. “I drove by the Dome today and thought, “Man. I wish there was something we could do to preserve it,” Doran said. “It’s a special place.”

The whereabouts of a few of the ’86 Astros are more well-known than others. Following a long run as a radio announcer for the Astros, Ashby moved on to work in the same capacity for the Blue Jays. Garner is mostly retired, but is working on a part-time basis with his original team, the Oakland A’s, and will be with them during Spring Training. Cruz is still with the Astros as a special assistant.

Hatcher and Doran are both with the Cincinnati Reds, Hatcher as a coach and Doran as a special assistant. Pankovits managed the Astros’ Short Season A TriCity team to a New York-Penn League championship in 2010 and is now a coach in the Mariners’ system. Davis is active in the hotel business and children’s ministries in Georgia, and Puhl is a local businessman and baseball coach for the University of Houston-Victoria. Bass is also locally based, working in real estate. Thon coaches in Puerto Rico; Lanier does the same in the Independent Leagues. Reynolds is a pastor at Second Baptist Church in Houston.

And Ryan? “I’m just out signing Japanese ballplayers,” the Rangers owner said to a chorus of laughs.

Scott? “I travel, golf, and babysit my granddaughter.”

Deshaies: “I say clever things like, ‘That’s right, Brownie,’ and dream of being like Mike Scott.”

Simply put, this was a great night.

Group shot (and special thanks to Chronicle photographer Karen Warren for allowing us to piggy back on her photo session).

TRISTAR show: Alan Ashby.

TRISTAR show: Kevin Bass.

TRISTAR show: Jose Cruuuuuuuz and fans.

TRISTAR show: Phil Garner.

Reception: Kevin Bass, Terry Puhl, Jim Pankovits, Jose Cruz.

Reception: Bill Doran, Jose Cruz, Terry Puhl, Dickie Thon.

Reception: Bill Doran, Dickie Thon, Phil Garner.

Reception: Jim Deshaies, Danny Darwin, Bob Knepper, Billy Hatcher.

Reception: Bob Knepper, Billy Hatcher.

Reception: Alan Ashby, Nolan Ryan, Terry Puhl, Phil Garner, Mike Scott.

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Astros president Pam Gardner resigns, will become special advisor to Jim Crane.

The Houston Astros and Astros Owner and Chairman Jim Crane announced today that Pam Gardner has voluntarily resigned from her role as President of Business Operations and will become a special advisor to Crane.

“The Astros have been a very important part of my life for more than 23 years,” Gardner said.  “It truly has been a joyful and rewarding experience.  I’m very proud of what we have been able to accomplish as an organization and the important role the Astros play in the life of our city and region.

“With the upcoming 50th anniversary of the club and the 2013 move to the American League, this is an ideal time for a fresh start.  The Astros are in very good hands with Jim Crane and his impressive ownership group.  The best is yet to come.”

“Pam’s leadership has been instrumental to the Astros success and reputation for many years,” Crane said. “She is an invaluable resource and we look forward to her continued service to the Astros in her new role.”

Gardner has been with the Astros for 23 years, served as president for 11 years and held the honor of the longest tenured female executive in Major League Baseball. She has been recognized professionally on several occasions over the years, most recently being named one of 20 women listed as “Game Changers” by Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal in 2011.  She received the prestigious Marguerite Ross Barnett leadership award from the Houston Area Urban League in 2008 and was also named one of the “Women on the Move” by Texas Executive Women and the Houston Chronicle.

In November of 2006, Gardner became the first female executive inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame.  In April of 2005, Gardner was recognized by the Sports Business Journal as one of the 20 Most Influential Women in Sports.  She was also included in a special exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, saluting women in baseball.

Under Gardner’s leadership, Comcast Sports Net Houston was formed in the fall of 2010 and will televise Astros and Rockets games beginning in 2012-13, as well as ancillary team programming.  She also played a major role in the building of Minute Maid Park (formerly Enron Field), and oversaw the completion of the Urban Youth Academy in northwest Houston.  In 2011, she helped plan and implement two new HD video scoreboards at Minute Maid Park and the private Insperity Club behind the home plate area.  During her tenure, she led the Astros business group in hosting playoff events at Minute Maid Park including the 2004 All-Star Game and the first World Series game played in the state of Texas in 2005.

Gardner originally joined the Astros in 1989 as director of communications, developing advertising and marketing campaigns for the club.  In 1994, she was named director of marketing, where her role expanded to include more strategic planning.  Gardner became vice president of marketing in 1996, overseeing advertising, marketing and ticket sales for the Astros, with emphasis on growing general revenue areas.

Gardner was named senior vice president of sales and marketing in 1999, and added sponsorship sales and marketing operations to her responsibilities.  She spearheaded the advertising and marketing efforts for both the team and the new ballpark in its inaugural season and led the development of the new logo and uniform design that the team currently utilizes.  The club also set franchise attendance records in two consecutive seasons (1998-1999) in the Astrodome, in addition to the current franchise standard set in 2004 at Minute Maid Park.

Gardner currently serves on the board of the Astros in Action Foundation, the board and Executive Committee of Central Houston, Inc., which she will chair in 2012 and is a member of Texas Executive Women and the Greater Houston Partnership.  She is a member of the Board of Directors of Newfield Exploration Company.

What offseason? Players are working out now, and we have the pictures to prove it.

Remember when ballplayers used to show up to Spring Training fat and out of shape after spending the offseason either working a part-time job or sitting on the couch eating potato chips?

Yea, me either.

That routine died out generations ago. Once players started making enough money to support themselves year-round, they were able to concentrate on staying in shape, and some — maybe even most — actually do just that.

The Astros have always had a large number of players who work out in Houston during offseason, for two reasons: a) the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Dr. Gene Coleman, makes himself available throughout the winter to conduct workouts in the home clubhouse, and b) Houston’s mild climate in the winter makes the city a destination spot for many players looking to establish year-round roots. With so many players living in Houston or spending a healthy portion of the offseason here, it’s easy to utilize the Minute Maid Park facilities to get in the daily workouts.

Some players have been here the entire offseason. Others started coming by after Thanksgiving, and a few began their Minute Maid Park workouts when the calendar flipped to 2012. In total, anywhere from 12-15 players have had a presence here this winter.

MLB.com reporter Brian McTaggart recently dropped by the weight room to check it out for himself and gave a rundown of players, which includes Wandy Rodriguez, Humberto Quintero, Bud Norris, Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace, Brian Bogusevic, Angel Sanchez and Fernando Rodriguez. Jarred Cosart, one of the club’s top pitching prospects after arriving in the trade with the Phillies last year, has been working out with Coleman most of the offseason. Catcher Carlos Corporan and catching prospect Chris Wallace have been spotted there as well.

“We had workouts starting the last week in October up until about a week before Christmas,” Coleman told McTaggart. “We had nine weeks of workouts there, and we developed a base to start with, and we started developing strength the second time through. And now we’re trying to maximize strength and develop some power and get them ready for Spring Training.”

Brian Bogusevic, Gene Coleman, Angel Sanchez, Fernando Rodriguez.

Bogusevic

Humberto Quintero

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Reliever Fernando Rodriguez will appear with Milo Hamilton on Astroline Thursday at 7 CT at Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown. Astroline can be heard on 740 KTRH and will be streamed live on Astros.com. As always, you can tweet me your questions for Rodriguez and we’ll read them on the air.

The schedule for Astroline shows through February is as follows (guests TBD):

Wed. January 25
Thurs. February 2
Wed. February 8
Wed. February 15
Thurs. February 23
Wed. February 29

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On April 28, athletes from all over the country will come together at Minute Maid Park to honor Joe Niekro at the 3rd Annual Knuckle Ball…A Pitch for Life.

At the peak of his Major League Baseball pitching career, Niekro was famous for his command of the knuckleball, a baseball pitch with an erratic, unpredictable motion. Like a knuckleball, Niekro’s life took an unpredictable path on October 27, 2006, when he died suddenly from a ruptured brain aneurysm. In honor of his memory, his daughter, Natalie Niekro, created The Joe Niekro Foundation, with a mission to raise funds for brain aneurysm research, and treatment, and help bring public awareness to this devastating condition affecting as many as 1 in 15 people.

A number of former players from the Astros, Major League Baseball, NFL and NBA will be on hand at the black-tie gala. The event will feature a reception, formal dinner, silent and live auction. Joe’s brother and Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro will serve as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, with a special presentation of The 2012 Joe Niekro Humanitarian Award to Haynes and Boone, LLP Partner and current Chairman of the Board of the Harris County -Houston Sports Authority, J. Kent Friedman.

To kick things off, special performances from country music superstars Chuck Wicks and Trailer Choir will take place at Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar on April 27.

Proceeds from the musical concert will also benefit The Joe Niekro Foundation and brain aneurysm awareness. The two hit acts will also make a special appearance at The Knuckle Ball gala.

For tickets and more information on both events and The Joe Niekro Foundation, visit http://www.joeniekrofoundation.org/knuckleball.

__________________

The Astros have several part-time positions available, including jobs in Guest Services, Tour Guides and the Box Office.

You can find a complete list of job opportunities available here, or an application can be filled out simply by dropping by Union Station during business hours.

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Astros CAREavan begins Feb. 1. Full schedule posted here.

The Astros CAREavan will begin on Wednesday, Feb. 1 and will cover central and south Texas, Oklahoma City and the Houston area. In addition to a number of private stops, the Astros players and staff will participate in free autograph signings in each city at Academy Sports + Outdoors.

The team will make two-day trips to Austin (Feb. 1-2), Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen (Feb. 1-2) and San Antonio (Feb. 2-3), travel to Corpus Christi and Victoria (Feb. 3), and head to Oklahoma City (Feb. 6). The team’s annual winter trek will also visit five different communities in the Houston area (Feb. 6-10). More than 30 Astros players, alumni, coaches and front office staff will take part in the 2012 CAREavan. A summary of the team’s activities and the players participating are listed below and a list of stops open to the public is posted at www.astros.com/careavan. *Players may be added and are subject to change.

The 2012 CAREavan is part of a two-week winter baseball festival that includes the annual Baseball Dinner and the Astros In Action Foundation’s FanFest. On Friday, February 10, the Astros In Action Foundation and Minute Maid will host the 27th Annual Baseball Dinner benefiting the Grand Slam For Youth Baseball scholarship program. This year’s dinner will highlight 50 years of Houston baseball. Past Astros MVPs will be honored and the evening will feature awards given to current Astros and other area baseball standouts.

FanFest will be Saturday, February 11, from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. at Minute Maid Park. The one-day fundraising event will feature autograph sessions, a garage sale of Astros merchandise, mystery grab bags and new experiences including the opportunity to run the bases. Fans will be able to meet the new ownership group and hear from Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow at Talkin’ Baseball sessions. Proceeds from FanFest benefit the Astros Urban Youth Academy. Information about CAREavan, the Baseball Dinner and FanFest is available at www.astros.com/community.

The full CAREavan schedule is as follows:

Outer Markets – FEBRUARY 1-3 AND FEBRUARY 6

Wednesday, February 1 – Austin, TX

Jordan Lyles, J.B. Shuck, Kyle Weiland, Doug Brocail, Dave Raymond

Cedar Park Middle School

  • 1:15 p.m. – 2:10 p.m.
  • Fielder’s Choice assembly
  • Open to all media

RBI Austin Baseball and Softball Clinic

  • 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Open only to pre-registered youth players and all media

Ronald McDonald House

  • 5:15 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • Open to all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Open to fans and all media

Wednesday, February 1 – Brownsville, TX

Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes, Fernando Rodriguez, Alex Trevino

Chick-fil-A

  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Lunch service for fans
  • Open to fans and all media

Lucio Middle School

  • 1:30 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.
  • Fielder’s Choice assembly
  • Open to all media

Welcome to Brownsville Reception

  • 2:45 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
  • Open to all media

CAREavan Baseball and Softball Clinic

  • 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • Open only to pre-registered youth players and all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Open to fans and all media

Thursday, February 2 – Austin, TX

Jordan Lyles, J.B. Shuck, Kyle Weiland, Doug Brocail, Dave Raymond

Dell Diamond Children’s Hospital

  • 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
  • Open to all media

River Oaks Elementary

  • 2:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Fielder’s Choice assembly
  • Open to all media

Thursday, February 2 – Harlingen, TX and McAllen, TX

Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes, Fernando Rodriguez, Alex Trevino

Memorial Middle School

  • 1:00 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.
  • Fielder’s Choice assembly
  • Open to all media

Welcome to McAllen Reception

  • 2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
  • Open to all media

CAREavan Baseball and Softball Clinic

  • 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Open only to pre-registered youth players and all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • Open to fans and all media

Thursday, February 2 – San Antonio

Jarred Cosart, J.A. Happ, Humberto Quintero, Angel Sanchez, Larry Dierker, Brett Dolan

RBI San Antonio Baseball and Softball Clinic

  • 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Open only to pre-registered youth players and all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
  • Open to fans and all media

Friday, February 3 – San Antonio

Jarred Cosart, J.A. Happ, Humberto Quintero, Angel Sanchez, Larry Dierker, Brett Dolan

Chick-fil-A

  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Lunch service for fans
  • Open to fans and all media

Adams Elementary School

  • 2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
  • Fielder’s Choice assembly
  • Open to all media

RBI San Antonio Baseball and Softball Clinic

  • 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Open only to pre-registered youth players and all media

Friday, February 3 – Corpus Christi, TX and Victoria, TX

Brian Bogusevic, Chris Johnson, J.B. Shuck, Shane Reynolds, Milo Hamilton

Flour Bluff School

  • 10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.
  • Astros story time
  • Open to all media

Corpus Christi Hooks Luncheon

  • 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
  • Open to luncheon ticket holders and all media

CAREavan Baseball Clinic (Victoria)

  • 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Open only to pre-registered Victoria NW Little League players and all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors (Victoria)

  • 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • Open to fans and all media

Monday, February 6 – Oklahoma City, Okla.

David Carpenter, Milo Hamilton

Oklahoma City RedHawks Luncheon

  • 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
  • Open to RedHawks guests only and all media

Mercy Health Center

  • 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
  • Open to all media

Tinker Air Force Base

  • 3:45 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
  • Open to all media

Oklahoma City RedHawks Season Ticket Holder Reception

  • 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
  • Open to RedHawks season ticket holders and all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 7:15 p.m. – 8:15 p.m.
  • Open to fans and all media

HOUSTON AREA – FEBRUARY 6-10

Monday, February 6 – Houston

Jason Bourgeois, Bud Norris, Bobby Meacham, Brad Mills, Bob Watson, Jimmy Wynn, Jim Deshaies

Chick-fil-A

  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Lunch service for fans
  • Open to fans and all media

Clemente Martinez Elementary School

  • 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
  • Real Men Read MENtoring event
  • Open to all media

Carver High School/Astros Urban Youth Academy

  • 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Careers in Baseball panel discussion
  • Open to pre-registered Urban Youth Academy members and all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Open to fans and all media

Tuesday, February 7 – Sugar Land

Chris Johnson, Bud Norris, Brett Wallace, Doug Brocail, Brett Dolan

Colony Meadows Elementary School

  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Fielder’s Choice assembly
  • Open to all media

Methodist Sugar Land Hospital

  • 2:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.
  • Open to all media

Ft. Bend Family YMCA

  • 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Open to all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Open to all fans and media

Wednesday, February 8 – Spring

Brian Bogusevic, Jason Bourgeois, J.D. Martinez, Brad Mills, Jose Cruz, Jim Deshaies

AVANCE Houston/Southwest School

  • 2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
  • Fielder’s Choice assembly
  • Open to all media

CAREavan Baseball and Softball Clinic at The Edge

  • 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Open to pre-registered members of Orwall and South Montgomery youth leagues and all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Open to all fans and media

Thursday, February 9 – Cypress

Jed Lowrie, J.D. Martinez, Brad Mills, Alex Trevino, Jeff Luhnow, Bill Brown

CyFair College Branch Library

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Bilingual Astros story time

Spillane Middle School

  • 2:30 p.m. – 3:10 p.m.
  • Fielder’s Choice assembly
  • Open to all media

CAREavan Baseball Clinic

  • 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Open to pre-registered members of the CyFair Sports Association and all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors

  • 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Open to all fans and media

Friday, February 10 – Katy

Jason Castro, Jed Lowrie, Brett Wallace, Bill Brown

Brookwood Community

  • 11:00 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
  • Astros attend Brookwood Pep Rally, tour the residential community for adults with functional disabilities
  • Open to all media

Methodist Hospital West

  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.
  • Open to all media

Academy Sports + Outdoors (Katy)

  • 3:15 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Open to fans and all media

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Dennis Liborio: loyal employee, clubhouse staple, one of a kind.

The first time I met Liborio 15 years ago, I called a friend and said, "There's a guy that works here who looks exactly like David Crosby."

In the spring of 1988, a cocky, sunburnt kid from New York sauntered into the Astros’ clubhouse at their Spring Training facility and said to the man standing at the door, “I’m looking for Yogi Berra.”

“And who the heck are you?” the man snapped.

“I’m Craig Biggio,” the kid snapped back. “Where’s Yogi?”

“Oh boy,” the man said to himself. “This guy’s going to be a beauty.”

And from there, a friendship was born. Biggio, fried to a crisp after driving from New York to Florida with the top down on his convertible, and Dennis Liborio, a rough-around-the-edges but soft-hearted Bostonian, eventually became friends, and the two evolved into family over the next 20-plus years.

Liborio is retiring after 32 seasons as the Astros’ clubhouse manager due to health issues. While he’s not a household name to Astros fans, his departure comes as a sad blow to generations of players and staff who grew close to Liborio during their time in Houston.

You may recall reading about Dennis in this blog. Two years ago, we ran a semi-regular feature called “Who’s in Dennis’ chair?” Dennis’ office in the Astros’ clubhouse often doubled as a who’s-who of baseball notoriety, for one simple reason: everyone loves Dennis, and everyone loves to visit Dennis. As a result, the big, comfy black chair in his office was rarely vacant.

Larry Andersen. Phil Garner. Luis Gonzalez. Biggio. Jeff Bagwell. Past players from every decade. Former Astros who were now opponents. Everyone managed to stop by Dennis’s office, because, simply, Dennis’ office was the place to be.

It wasn’t just players who liked to visit. In 2000, the year the Astros’ new ballpark opened, George W. Bush, who at that time was preparing for his presidential campaign, walked into the clubhouse, threw his arm around Dennis’ shoulder, and proclaimed, “This is my running mate!” within earshot of the large contingent of reporters.

Right on cue, Dennis responded, “We’ll show them how to get this country straightened out.” One particular reporter who apparently lacked a sense of humor rushed up to the pair and said, “I just want you to know you can’t have two people on the ticket from the same state.” Without hesitation, Liborio chortled, “That’s all right. I’m from Massachusetts!”

Former President Bush visited the Astros in Arlington in 2009, reuniting with several Astros staffers, including Liborio, whom he met a decade earlier.

Clubhouse and equipment managers are more than just support staff workers. They’re the eyes and ears of the inner-workings of the team. Everyone and everything that enters and leaves the clubhouse goes through the clubhouse managers, and discretion is one of the biggest components of their game. A ballplayer relies heavily on his equipment/clubhouse manager, which is why the ties that bind them together during a player’s career usually carry on for decades, long after the uniform comes off for good.

Take Dennis and Nolan Ryan, for instance. For decades, they traveled together to Las Vegas every offseason for the rodeo. The first night of their very first trip, Dennis walked into the lobby of the hotel wearing a 10-gallon hat, cowboy boots and a pair of jeans with a huge western belt buckle. “Here comes the Boston Cowboy,” Nolan said in his thick southern drawl. “Nolan, I’ve heard of the Boston Strangler,” Dennis responded, “But never the Boston Cowboy.”

It was during one of those Vegas trips many years later when Dennis’ longtime sweetie, Geraldine, blurted out, “Darn it, Dennis, when are you ever going to marry me?” In typical “Diamond Denny” fashion, he answered, “How about now?” And the two went through a drive-thru and tied the knot, Vegas-style.

A few weeks later, a box weighing no less than 70 pounds arrived to the clubhouse. “What the…?” Dennis said. Inside was a jumbo-sized steel ball and chain, courtesy of Gonzo, with a note that said, “It’s about time.”

Liborio and former manager Phil Garner celebrate the NL pennant in 2005

Liborio started his baseball career in Wally Pipp fashion in 1969, when he was 14 years old. He’d hang out near the Red Sox’ clubhouse at Fenway for no particular reason, except to watch the players come in and out. He became such a fixture there that finally, the Red Sox clubhouse manager decided to put him to work. One of the clubhouse kids was out sick with mono, and Dennis filled in by taking the uniforms to the dry cleaners. He ended up staying on four years.

In 1977, the manager of the Dodgers’ clubhouse called Dennis and asked him to work for him. Dennis was the Dodgers’ assistant equipment manager until November of 1979, when the Astros came calling. Traveling secretary Donald Davidson and Assistant GM Gerry Hunsicker called Dennis’ boss and said, “We have an opening. Do you know anybody?” And just like that, Dennis was in his way to Houston to run the Astros’ clubhouse.

Dennis has been with the Astros for all nine playoff appearances and was with them when they clinched the first, and only, pennant in 2005. He’s watched more than 5,000 Astros games. During his tenure, Houston’s record was 2,596-2,471.

“Dennis is truly one of my best friends,” Biggio said. “Behind every great, successful team, there is a great clubhouse man. That’s what Dennis was for us. For me, he’s been an awesome human being and did an unbelievable job. He will be missed.”

More quotes from notable Astros:

“Dennis is one of a kind. Of the countless people I’ve met in the game, he is among my favorites. It just won’t be the same without him in that clubhouse. As players, he was our team ‘Mom’ … not afraid to give you grief, but always had your back.” — Jim Deshaies, current Astros TV analyst and Astros pitcher from 1985-91

“Dennis Liborio is an Astros institution. His many years of faithful service to the organization are greatly appreciated by the players he has helped during his tenure. Thank you, Dennis, for all you have done for me and so many others. The clubhouse won’t be the same without you.” — Lance Berkman, Astros 1B-OF from 1999-2010

“I felt like Dennis was one of the top equipment and clubhouse managers that I ever worked with. He always had a real passion for the game and was truly committed to the organization.  I hope he enjoys his retirement.” — Nolan Ryan, Astros pitcher from 1980-87 and current Texas Rangers president

“Dennis was wonderful to us. There was never a dull moment in that clubhouse, no matter how bad you were going. He was so much fun to be with, but was always so on top of everything. We appreciated him because he honestly cared about us. I miss him more than anyone I was with in Houston.” — Bill Doran, Astros infielder from 1982-90

“When I got to Houston in 1990, we had a young team those first few years and Dennis was a father figure to a lot of us. He really took care of us. We had so much fun sitting in his office, listening to him holding court and telling great stories. He was incredible to us. Over the years, our families built a strong bond and even shared season tickets for the Aeros games since Dennis loved hockey so much.” — Luis Gonzalez, Astros outfielder from 1990-95

“Dennis will be greatly missed. He brought me to Houston with him and is the reason I am here today. I love the guy and appreciate everything he has done for me and for the Astros.” — Barry Waters, Astros longtime Traveling Secretary who also worked with Liborio in the Dodgers clubhouse prior to coming to Houston in November of 1979

Visiting clubhouse manager Steve Perry, Liborio, Waters and clubhouse manager Carl Schneider celebrate the pennant in '05.

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Astros notes: Bud, C.J., Astroline, College Classic and an appearance by the ’86 Astros.

We still have a month or so before Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean your Astros have gone into hibernation until it’s time to head to Florida. In fact, this week will feature two appearances by Astros players, one online and one in person.

Starting pitcher Bud Norris will participate in an online chat with fans on Wednesday, Jan. 11 beginning at 6 p.m. CT. The chat, which will last approximately 30 minutes, can be accessed here. You must be a registered member in order to ask a question.

On Thursday, third baseman Chris Johnson will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline, beginning at 7 p.m. The show airs live on 740 KTRH and Astros.com and will take place at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown. C.J. is planning to bring some autographed items to hand out as well to the folks in attendance at the venue.

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The Houston College Classic will take place at Minute Maid Park March 2-4. Details and ticket information will be released soon, but in the meantime, here is the schedule and participating colleges:

Friday, March 2, 2012
Noon           Texas Tech at Arkansas
3:30 p.m.  Tennessee at Houston
7:00 p.m.  Texas at Rice

Saturday, March 3, 2012
Noon            Arkansas at Houston
3:30 p.m.    Texas at Tennessee
7:00 p.m.    Texas Tech at Rice

Sunday, March 4, 2012
11:00 a.m.    Arkansas at Texas
2:30 p.m.      Houston at Texas Tech
6:00 p.m.      Rice at Tennessee

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Tickets are still available for the 2012 Houston Baseball Dinner Benefiting Grand Slam For Youth Baseball’s Scholarship Program, which will include a special celebration of the Astros’ 50th Anniversary.

2012 will mark the 27th season of the popular dinner, which will take place on Friday, February 10 at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Americas Hotel in downtown Houston.  The event is sponsored by the Astros In Action Foundation and Minute Maid, with proceeds benefiting the Grand Slam For Youth Baseball Scholarship Program.

In addition to honoring the top players from the 2011 ballclub, this year’s dinner will include a special 50th Anniversary tribute featuring Astros Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton and a long list of former Astros team MVPs, including Bob Watson, J.R. Richard, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Jose Cruz, Enos Cabell, Bob Aspromonte and more.  Phil Garner, manager of the 2005 NL Champion Astros, will also be in attendance. Members of the 2011 Astros scheduled to attend include J.D. Martinez (Rookie of the Year), Wandy Rodriguez (Pitcher of the Year) and Jason Bourgeois (Darryl Kile Award) and manager Brad Mills.  Former Astros Hunter Pence (2011 MVP) and Lance Berkman (Houston Area Player of the Year) will also be recognized at the event, but are unable to attend.

Additionally, longtime Astros television broadcaster Bill Brown will receive the Fred Hartman Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Baseball. 2011 marked Brown’s 25th season as the Astros play-by-play TV voice.

As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration, a special VIP reception will be held prior to the dinner, at 6 p.m., and will feature several of the former MVPs and current Astros players. A limited amount of MVP tables for 10 that will include tickets to the dinner and the VIP reception will be available for purchase for $2,500.

Dinner attendees will also have the opportunity to bid on several attractive items at a silent auction, with those proceeds also going to the GSFYB Scholarship Program.

 Tickets for the dinner are priced at $100 each or at $1,000 for a table of 10, and can be purchased online at www.astros.com/baseballdinner or by calling Jo Russell at 713-789-0626. General information on the dinner is available at www.gsfyb.org, via email at info@gsfyb.org or by calling 713-259-8686.

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Speaking of former Astros stars, a large number of members of the 1986 Astros will be appearing at Reliant Arena for the TRISTAR Houston Collector’s Show Jan. 20-22.

Among the familiar faces slated to appear: Nolan Ryan, Kevin Bass, Alan Ashby, Phil Garner, Jose Cruz, Danny Darwin, Hal Lanier, Mike Scott, Glenn Davis, Billy Hatcher, Bill Doran, Jim Deshaies, Dickie Thon, Terry Puhl and Bob Knepper.

TRISTAR also offers the opportunity to attend a VIP reception for the ’86 Astros reunion.

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Bagwell receives 56 percent of Hall of Fame votes, up significantly, but still not enough

Jeff Bagwell received 41.7 percent of the Hall of Fame votes last year, his first year on the ballot, so a nearly 15 percent increase this year, to 56 percent, is encouraging.

Many of you want Bagwell and Craig Biggio to go into the Hall together next year. I am guessing Biggio goes in on his first try, and if so, that means Bagwell will need to make an even bigger jump in 2013 — by 19 percent — in order to garner 75 percent of the votes needed to garner election to the Hall of Fame.

Here is the release from the Hall of Fame, including vote percentages for this year’s candidates:

(NEW YORK, NY) – Barry Larkin, a 12-time All-Star, nine-time Silver Slugger and three-time Gold Glove winning shortstop, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in balloting verified by Ernst & Young.

Larkin, 47, will be inducted into the Hall July 22 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with the late third baseman Ron Santo, who was elected last month by the Golden Era Committee. Also to be honored over Induction Weekend will be Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing and television analyst Tim McCarver, the former major league catcher, with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting.

A total of 573 ballots, including nine blanks, were cast by BBWAA members with 10 or more consecutive years’ service. Players must be named on 75 percent of ballots submitted to be elected. This year, 430 votes were required.

Larkin, who was in his third year of eligibility, received 495 votes, for an 86.4-percent plurality. His vote total reflected a 24.3-percent gain from the 2011 ballot, the largest jump in one year to gain election since 1948 when pitcher Herb Pennock received 77.7 percent of the vote after having tallied 53.4 percent in 1947. Larkin’s jump is the largest for any Hall of Fame election in which at least 400 ballots were cast. The previous highest was the 16.4-percent jump by first baseman Tony Perez from 1999 (60.8) to 2000 (77.2).

Larkin’s election brings to 297 the number of elected Hall members. Of that total, 207 are former major-league players, of which 112 have been through the BBWAA ballot. Larkin is the 24th shortstop elected to the Hall and the 11th by the BBWAA. He is also the 48th Hall of Famer who played his entire career with one club and the third to do so for the Cincinnati Reds, joining catcher Johnny Bench and 19th-century second baseman Bid McPhee.

A Cincinnati native, Larkin played 19 seasons for the Reds and batted .295 with 2,340 hits, including 441 doubles, 76 triples and 198 home runs. He drove in 960 runs, scored 1,329, stole 379 bases and had more walks (939) than strikeouts (817). Larkin became the first shortstop to join the 30-30 club when he had 33 home runs and 36 steals in 1996. He was voted the National League Most Valuable Player in 1995 by the BBWAA and hit .353 in the Reds’ World Series sweep of the Oakland Athletics in 1990.

The only players other than Larkin to gain more than 50 percent of the vote were pitcher Jack Morris with 382 votes (66.7%), first baseman Jeff Bagwell with 321 (56.0%) and reliever Lee Smith with 290 (50.6%).

Players may remain on the ballot for up to 15 years provided they receive five percent of the vote in any year. There were 13 candidates who failed to make the cut this year (30 votes), including 12 of the 13 players who were on the ballot for the first time. The only first-year candidate who received sufficient support to remain was outfielder Bernie Williams with 55 votes (9.6%). Two-time American League MVP Juan Gonzalez got 23 votes (4.0%) and fell off the ballot in his second year of eligibility.

Other holdovers that will remain on the ballot in addition to Morris, Bagwell, Smith and Williams are first basemen Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly and Rafael Palmeiro; outfielders Tim Raines, Dale Murphy and Larry Walker; designated hitter-third baseman Edgar Martinez and shortstop Alan Trammell.

The vote:

Barry Larkin 495 (86.4%), Jack Morris 382 (66.7%), Jeff Bagwell 321 (56.0%), Lee Smith 290 (50.6%), Tim Raines 279 (48.7%), Edgar Martinez 209 (36.5%), Alan Trammell 211 (36.8%), Fred McGriff 137 (23.9%), Larry Walker 131 (22.9%), Mark McGwire 112 (19.5%), Don Mattingly 102 (17.8%), Dale Murphy 83 (14.5%), Rafael Palmeiro 72 (12.6%), Bernie Williams 55 (9.6%), Juan Gonzalez 23 (4.0%), Vinny Castilla 6 (1.0%), Tim Salmon 5 (0.9%), Bill Mueller 4 (0.7%), Brad Radke 2 (0.3%), Javy Lopez 1 (0.2%), Eric Young 1 (0.2%), Jeromy Burnitz 0, Brian Jordan 0, Terry Mulholland 0, Phil Nevin 0, Ruben Sierra 0, Tony Womack 0.

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