March 2012

Door swings wide open for young pitchers after Livan is released.

When Spring Training first started, it was generally understood — especially after Brett Myers was moved to the bullpen — that barring a complete Grapefruit League meltdown, Livan Hernandez would be in the Astros’ rotation to start the season.

That was before a couple things happened. One, a bunch of young starting pitching candidates put together a nice showing throughout the exhibition season, and two, they all pretty much outpitched Hernandez.

I wouldn’t categorize Livan’s spring as disastrous, but a 5.63 ERA over 16 innings and two unimpressive starts toward the end isn’t going to merit a spot in the rotation on a team that has made it very public it’s getting younger, less expensive and building for the future.

So the final two spots in the rotation are available for three candidates: front-runners Kyle Weiland and Jordan Lyles, and Lucas Harrell, who impressed with five strong innings against the Marlins on Wednesday. Manager Brad Mills mentioned Henry Sosa should be part of the rotation conversation as well.

Is eliminating Hernandez from the equation risky? Absolutely. He may be older and doesn’t throw as hard as the others, but his track record — good for around 200 innings most years and not one stint on the disabled list — is a pretty significant security blanket for a team that has so many unproven, young pitchers in its rotation. The hope is that everyone can pitch 160-200 innings. There are no guarantees that will happen, however, which could create issues
for the bullpen.

That said, it’ll be interesting, and hopefully enjoyable, watching the young pitching develop. Lyles hasn’t had a terrific spring but there’s more upside to a 21-year-old who throws hard and is still learning how to pitch at this level. This is also the year we’ll likely find out if Bud Norris will be the rotation anchor so many predicted he would be years ago when he was coming through the system. If so, he can be a nice complement to Opening Day starter Wandy Rodriguez at the top of the rotation.

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Norris had a good showing in his final Florida appearance Friday night at Osceola County Stadium. He allowed one run on four hits over six innings against a Braves split-squad team and reported no lingering issues from an elbow/triceps strain that slowed him briefly last week.

“I’m glad they gave me the extra two days to get to 100 percent,” he said.

It’s likely Norris will throw a few innings during the Astros’ exhibition game with the White Sox on Tuesday.

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It’s my professional obligation every February to bring you photos of Truck Day, the annual baseball rite of passage that involves getting really excited about an 18-wheeler being loaded at Minute Maid Park with everything from seeds and gum to jerseys and interesting baseball undergarments.

Fans dig this stuff, because it of course means something much more than just a bunch of burly, sweaty guys spending the better part of eight hours loading stuff onto a truck. Truck Day signals the beginning of a new season and foreshadows six glorious weeks of Spring Training.

Full disclosure: I prefer reverse Truck Day, which is, by definition, the day the crew loads everything back onto the truck and sends it on its merry way to Houston.

The sight of this truck, an in-the-way monstrosity that sits in front of the complex for a full day, makes people positively giddy. (Sometimes there’s even hugging involved. Not because we’re all one big happy family 24/7, but because we’re all universally thrilled with the idea of coming home and prefer for it to happen sooner than later.) So please indulge me as I post the obligatory truck photos from the loading process today. The finish line is visible, and we’re almost there. I can assure you, everyone here cannot wait to get home and get the real stuff started.

Training room supplies! If that doesn't get the Opening Day adrenaline flowing, I don't know what will.

Loaded and ready...almost.

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Quick links:

Dave Raymond and Chris Snyder help answer the question, “Who are these guys?!?!?”

Opening Day festivities detailed here

Opening Day ticket information detailed here

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The Astros will host two tailgating events in 2012. More to come?

The idea of tailgating around Minute Maid Park and the Dynamo’s new stadium has been a hot topic in Houston lately, and on Wednesday, the Astros responded with a plan.

Owner and Chairman Jim Crane announced that the Astros will host two special tailgating events during the club’s 2012 season to enhance the game experience for fans and learn more about the potential of hosting future tailgates around Minute Maid Park.

An event hosted primarily for young adults is planned for Saturday, June 2, and will take place in Parking Lot C on Texas Avenue. The Astros will set up a tented area and provide food and beverage. Fans are also welcome to bring their own food and beverage.

On the previous day, Friday, June 1, a tailgate will be offered for teens (ages 13-18) and will be non-alcoholic. The Astros will again provide food and beverage and the fans are welcome to bring their own, as well.

For both events, the Astros will provide more details to follow.

“We listened to the fans and a majority was in favor of tailgating for Astros games,” said Crane. “However, there are fans who have voiced concerns so we want to learn throughout the process. Following the season, we will make a decision on how tailgating will be handled moving forward.”

The decision to host Astros’ tailgates this season coincides with several fan-friendly initiatives announced by Crane earlier this year including a reduction in ticket pricing at various levels and a new policy allowing fans to bring food and water into Minute Maid Park.

Opening Day festivities include appearances by Bagwell, Cruuuuuz, military jets and Clydesdales. Play ball!

The 2012 season will be all about reflecting on a fantastic 50-year history of baseball in Houston, while looking ahead to a new era, complete with a new owner, new front office leadership and long-term plan to win.

Tributes to former players and great moments will be celebrated all season. Consider Opening Day a preview of things to come, with four iconic figures slated to join in on the pageantry during Opening Day pregame ceremonies.

Jeff Bagwell, Larry Dierker, Jimmy Wynn and Jose Cruz will appear on the field during the ceremony, representing nearly every era of Astros baseball. (Craig Biggio will be unable to attend due to a prior commitment.)

Jeff Bagwell

To begin the pregame ceremonies, a giant United States flag and Texas state flag will be carried onto the field. Eight Budweiser Clydesdale horses will also be on the field during the ceremony.

Opening Day will also feature a flyover by military jets (weather permitting) immediately following the national anthem.

Additionally, 20,000 fans arriving at Minute Maid Park will receive a 2012 schedule magnet courtesy of United Airlines.

Jim Crane

Other Opening Day details:

The day will begin with the 11th Annual Opening Day Street Festival (11:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m.), which takes place at KBR Plaza on Crawford St. This year’s festival once again has no admission charge and will have a fun, upbeat atmosphere that will include live music performed by the Houston cover band The Slags, interactive games, food, drink and prizes. Astros mascot Junction Jack and cousins Jesse and Julie will also be in attendance to help the fans get pumped up for the season.

Popular country music artist Clay Walker, a native of Beaumont, TX, will sing the national anthem at Minute Maid Park and will return during the game to sing “God Bless America” and then “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch. The Astros ROOT, ROOT, ROOT campaign is based on the popular “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” song, and Walker will be the first to lead the fans in singing it during an Astros game.

The Astros will also use Opening Day as a way to help the community by hosting a blood drive in partnership with Aramark and the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center from noon to 7:00 p.m. in the Union Station building at Minute Maid Park. Individuals who donate blood or attempt to donate blood will receive an Astros t-shirt and will be entered into a drawing for tickets to a future Astros game. Donors do not need to possess a game ticket to donate blood, but will need a game ticket to attend the Opening Day game.

Information on purchasing Opening Day tickets or tickets to any Astros home game can be found at astros.com or by calling 713-259-8500.

OPENING DAY SCHEDULE – FRIDAY, APRIL 6
11:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.: 11th Annual Opening Day Street Festival at KBR Plaza
4:00 p.m.: Gates open to Minute Maid Park
5:35 p.m.: Pregame field ceremonies begin
6:05 p.m.: Colorado Rockies at Houston Astros

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Astros notes: Wandy, Bogusevic, Astroline, and a couple of dancing Astros.

News, notes, photos and videos from Astros Spring Training Wednesday:

* There wasn’t a ton of intrigue surrounding the Opening Day announcement, considering Wandy Rodriguez was more or less on pace all spring to pitch on April 6. Still, manager Brad Mills made it official before the workout started Wednesday, naming Rodriguez, the longest tenured current Astro, as the Opening Day pitcher.

Left-handed Opening Day starters are a rarity for the Astros. In fact, Wandy is the first lefty to receive the honor since 1974, when Dave Roberts took the mound for the Astros’ opener.

* Brian Bogusevic struggled through much of Spring Training, but this week, he’s had a much better showing at the plate. His spot on the 25-man roster was never in jeopardy — everyone is anxious to see what he can do over a full season, now that he’s a couple of years removed from converting from a pitcher to an outfielder — but still, you could sense some frustration on his part as he worked to get his timing down at the plate.

This may be coincidental, but it should be noted Carlos Lee sat down with Bogusevic a few days ago and spent 45 minutes with him talking hitting. That was right around the time Bogusevic started having more success during games. So you never know.

* MLB Network was in town for two days filming footage for the Astros segment of its 30 Clubs in 30 Days series. The show will air at 7 CT/8 ET Wednesday night.

* At the exact same time, general manager Jeff Luhnow will be Milo Hamilton’s guest for the final Astroline of the offseason. The show will air on 740 KTRH and Astros.com. If you have questions for the GM, please tweet them to me.

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From the photo vault, we take a peek at early morning workouts at Osceola County Stadium as Spring Training — the Florida portion, at least — winds down. The final Grapefruit League game will take place on Sunday in Lakeland.

Jason Castro goes through catching drills with instructor Matt Sinatro.

More catching drills with...catchers, of course.

Infield practice: Chris Johnson

Infield practice: Carlos Lee

Infield practice: Jed Lowrie

Pitchers fielding practice: Brett Myers

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Today’s featured video gives a behind-the-scenes look at the Astros practicing fundamentals: pickoffs, rundowns, hitting the cutoff man, an on. We also spied on a couple of infielders getting their groove on during batting practice.

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In-game tidbits: Cosart impresses, Schafer nears return, and a few pregame photos.

Asked for his impression of top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart on Sunday, manager Brad Mills used one word: “Electric.”

Sunday’s game, a split-squad affair with the Pirates in Kissimmee, presented Cosart with his first real opportunity to impress the Astros’ skipper. The 21-year-old righty was slated to throw the final four innings and he nearly made it: Over 3 1/3 innings, Cosart allowed seven hits, four runs, one walk and five strikeouts. He struck out the side in his first frame and consistently hit 96 mph with his fastball, reaching 98 a couple of times.

Mills didn’t want to take any chances after Cosart started to labor through his final inning and ended the right-hander’s day after his 64th pitch. Mills sensed Cosart was still pretty amped up to be making his first appearance in a Major League spring game and thought it best to not let things get out of hand and risk injury.

Cosart was one of the marquee names, along with first baseman Jonathan Singleton, in the Hunter Pence trade. He’s been ranked as the Astros’ No. 2 prospect by Baseball America. He’s likely ticketed for Double-A Corpus Christi to start the season.

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Jordan Schafer was originally planning to play in the Astros’ game on Monday in Viera, but he’s been bumped back a day. Schafer sprained his wrist about a week ago and is still slowly working his way back. Tentatively, he’ll play two or three innings when the Astros host the Tigers on Tuesday.

(UPDATE, 3:45 ET): Mills tells reporters Schafer will not play Tuesday. Also, Bud Norris will be given two extra days of rest to ensure his elbow is OK. Norris will now start Friday at home vs. the Braves).

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General manager Jeff Luhnow will appear on the final Astroline of the 2011-12 offseason, joining Milo Hamilton at the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/7 CT.

The show can be heard on 740 am KTRH and Astros.com.

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One week from today, the Astros will be on their way to Corpus to play the Hooks in an exhibition game (April 2), and then will head to Houston to get ready for Opening Day (April 6).

In the meantime, there’s still business to finish up in Florida. Enjoy these images from batting practice in Viera Monday morning:

Jose Altuve

Chris Johnson, Scott Moore.

Hitting coach Mike Barnett, JD Martinez.

Radio announcer Dave Raymond interviews Houston Chronicle beat writer Zachary Levine for the pregame show on 790 KBME.

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Second base riddle: Altuve? Or DeShields? Or Paredes? (Answer: all three.)

The decision to move Jimmy Paredes back to second base, the position he’s played more than any other since his professional career began, has little to do with Jose Altuve, or Delino DeShields, or anyone occupying his old position at third base, for that matter.

Ballplayers are evaluated, discussed, scrutinized and sometimes moved around from the moment they join an organization. General manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff kept a close eye on Paredes, acquired a couple of years ago from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade, and decided the athletic infielder should move back to second base.

And that’s where he’ll play in the Minor Leagues. The general belief is Paredes will eventually be a mainstay in the Majors. The goal is to get the most out of him in the role he’s best suited for. That role, according to the club’s talent evaluators, is not third base.

When the decision was announced, questions immediately popped up regarding the futures of Altuve and DeShields. It made some wonder if moving Paredes is a direct reflection on the Astros’ confidence, or lack thereof, in Altuve’s abilities.

The answer is pretty simple, really. Decisions regarding Paredes have to do with Paredes, and only Paredes. This isn’t about Altuve or DeShields or any other middle infielders in the organization.

Baseball is unlike the other sports. There are many layers to an organization. Most players who are drafted — save for the very few Stephen Strasburg-like prodigies — won’t reach a big league field for three years, minimum. That’s why the Minor Leagues exist. They are designed to turn young, raw ballplayers into Major League contributors.

Hundreds of players comprise a Minor League system. Around four percent are actually prospects that will make it to the big leagues. Even fewer will last more than a couple of years.

The best organizations have talented players at every position throughout the system. They don’t look at their All-Star shortstop on the Major League level and shrug and say, “Well, looks like we don’t need any other good shortstops in our system.” A dozen roadblocks can mess up even the best plan. Injury. Inconsistency. Free agency. A can’t-miss prospect who gets to the big leagues and blows out his arm. Or finds out he can’t hit a Major League curveball.

Take the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain, for example. He was a sure-fire, can’t-miss star. Except, of course, that he’s not. First there was the elbow surgery. Now we hear that he has a possible career-ending ankle injury, born from a trampoline mishap.

More than a decade ago, Tim Redding blew through the Astros’ Minor League system with such force that most considered him a better pitcher than Roy Oswalt.

The only problem with that theory was that it was wrong. As it turned out, Redding lacked two things: maturity, and the ability to make adjustments when no Major League hitters were swinging at his 0-2 pitch. Or his 1-2 pitch. Or 2-2 and 3-2.

Staff ace? Not so much. Master of the 100-pitch-count-after-four-innings? Most definitely.

That’s why baseball teams are layered in such a way that gives them Plans B, C and even, in some cases, D and E. There are eight levels in the Minor Leagues. Prospects who go through the system endure a steady climb to the big leagues, some quicker than others. There are no guarantees the player who shows an enormous skill set in Rookie Ball will still have that going for him when he moves up to Double-A.

Altuve has less than a half-season of experience as a Major League second baseman. He shows great potential and will be at second base on Opening Day on April 6. Is he destined for a 10-year career? Is he a future All-Star?

DeShields was a first-round draft pick a couple of years ago and was converted from an outfielder to a second baseman. The Astros like his athleticism and speed and believe he has a future as a big league infielder. Does he?

The answer to both questions is a resounding…maybe. But who out there really knows, with 100 percent certainty?

Baseball organizations — the good ones — are about depth. Having too many good players in a system at one position is a good problem to have. Depth gives teams flexibility. It allows them have a strong Major League team that is built with home-grown players, while giving them trading chips when there’s a need in another area. It also allows teams to replenish the roster with talent when a player prices himself out of payroll parameters.

In certain circumstances, of course, adjustments have to be made. Lance Berkman became an outfielder around the same time Jeff Bagwell signed a long-term contract extension. Jonathan Singleton was clearly going nowhere as a first baseman in Philadelphia’s system, given its recent commitment to Ryan Howard through 2017. And that’s one of the reasons the Astros were able to trade for him.

Why were the Phillies able to land Hunter Pence in a blockbuster trade last year? Simple: they had the surplus of prospects to offer up. They had a solid farm system that was contributing in two ways: it produced Major League talent capable of getting to the World Series, with even more players available as trade bait to make the product at the very top that much more powerful.

If an organization has one good shortstop, or one good catcher, or one good second baseman, and no options coming through the Minor Leagues, well, that’s where you start to see “100” and “losses” used together in a sentence.

Depth is the single most important component of a healthy organization. Baseball teams cannot survive without it. So don’t fret over the Paredes/Altuve/DeShields conundrum. Be glad it’s here.

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Speaking of prospects, several Astros staff members and players involved with the 2011 Arizona Fall League championship team received rings for winning the AFL Championship.

The players: Jay Austin, Jason Castro, Jake Goebbert, Kody Hinze, Dallas Keuchel, Jason Stoffel, Josh Zeid and athletic trainer Eric Montague.

Photos from the ceremony:

Left to right: Dallas Keuchel, Jay Austin, Jason Stoffel, Josh Zeid, Steve Cobb (from the AFL), Jake Goebbert, Kody Hinze and athletic trainer Eric Montague.

MVPs: Jordan Scott, Austin Wates, Matt Duffy, Yonathan Mejia and
Emilio King

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After two years of trading veterans, Astros move up in Baseball America rankings.

In today’s Internet age, the only thing you need in order to express yourself freely and without filter is a computer and a pulse.

It’s likely that no other industry matches sports when it comes to the number of people who have an opinion and who accept the free invitations to express those views to the world. That can cause some confusion as to what’s fact and fiction, or who’s legit and who’s bogus.

In baseball, one publication that has maintained its reputation as the No. 1 source for information regarding baseball, especially from a scouting and organizational standpoint, is Baseball America. While plenty of horn-tooters out there profess to have a grand knowledge of the inner workings of an organization, Baseball America garners the most respect, especially when it comes to talent rankings.

The last few years have been tough for Astros fans, considering BA has ranked the Astros at the bottom, or very near it, for several years. After the slew of trades they’ve made in the last couple of years — especially the deals involving Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn last year — there was hope the Astros would move up.

That is, indeed, the case. In the recent organizational talent rankings released by BA this week, the Astros are now ranked 18th, having moved up eight spots from No. 26 a year ago. Prior to that, the Astros’ spot at the bottom barely budged at all:

2010: 30th
2009: 30th
2008: 29th

Here’s the Astros blurb from Baseball America that followed its No. 18 ranking:

IMPACT TALENT: The Astros climb out of the bottom third of our rankings for the first time since 2002. 1B Jonathan Singleton is the best hitter, RHP Jarred Cosart the highest-upside pitcher and OF George Springer the most gifted athlete to come through the system in a while.

DEPTH: Houston has drafted worse than any club over the last decade, so most of its best prospects arrived in trades. Singleton, Cosart and OF Domingo Santana came from the Phillies for Hunter Pence; SS Jonathan Villar from Philadelphia for Roy Oswalt; and RHP Paul Clemens and LHP Brett Oberholtzer from the Braves for Michael Bourn.

2012 ROOKIES: OF J.B. Shuck could emerge as the Astros’ center fielder out of spring training. RHPs Juan Abreu and Rhiner Cruz and SS/2B Marwin Gonzalez—the latter two were major league Rule 5 draft picks in December—also could make the Opening Day roster.

The full rankings:

1. Texas Rangers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. San Diego Padres
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Toronto Blue Jays
6. Seattle Mariners
7. Oakland Athletics
8. Tampa Bay Rays
9. Boston Red Sox
10. St. Louis Cardinals
11. Pittsburgh Pirates
12. Washington Nationals
13. New York Yankees
14. Chicago Cubs
15. Atlanta Braves
16. Cincinnati Reds
17. Colorado Rockies
18. Houston Astros
19. Los Angeles Angels
20. Minnesota Twins
21. Baltimore Orioles
22. San Francisco Giants
23. Detroit Tigers
24. Los Angeles Dodgers
25. New York Mets
26. Milwaukee Brewers
27. Philadelphia Phillies
28. Miami Marlins
29. Cleveland Indians
30. Chicago White Sox

Additionally, Singleton was dubbed the second-best first base prospect of all 30 teams, behind San Diego’s Yonder Alonso. BA’s take: “Scouts are high on Singleton’s hitting mechanics, and it’s only a matter of time before his raw power starts showing up more in game situations.”

Delino DeShields was ranked the 10th-best second base prospect (“The 2010 first-rounder’s youth was apparent during full-season debut a year ago, as the 18-year-old batted .220 and struck out once per game. On the plus side, DeShields showed plus speed and gap power while learning to play the keystone”), and Jonathan Villar the eighth-base shortstop prospect (“Can field the position with the best of them, but will he hit enough?”)

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Ausmus, Bagwell, Biggio, Kent among A-listers headed back to Minute Maid Park in ’12.

Two players who you'll see throwing out ceremonial first pitches this year: Brad Ausmus and Jose Cruuuuuuuuuz.

The Astros’ 18-inning win over the Braves in Game 4 of the NLDS in 2005 still comes up in conversation from time to time, and what people remember best about that game, of course, is the Chris Burke home run that won it almost six hours after the affair started.

Fans might also remember Roger Clemens pitching three brilliant innings of relief. Or that Lance Berkman was lifted for a pinch-runner eight innings earlier. Or that Brandon Backe started the game and wasn’t terribly effective.

But the one key moment that sometimes gets pushed to the side, considering how significant Burke’s home run was, is that the Astros were minutes away from losing that game, if not for one improbable swing of the bat. The two teams were pretty much headed back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 — until they weren’t, thanks to Brad Ausmus.

The game only continued because Ausmus picked a really, really good time to be very un-Ausmus-like and hit a home run with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the game at 6.

The umpires also picked a really good time to show a complete understanding about the ground rules and the zig-zaggy yellow lines in the outfield that indicated what was a home run and what wasn’t. This was before instant replay, but when the ball smacked against the left-center wall, just above the zig and to the right of the zag, the umpire immediately started twirling his index finger in the air, indicating a home run.

Ausmus will be one of 13 former players who will visit Minute Maid Park this season as a ceremonial first-pitch honoree. His Game 4 heroics are not the reason why, of course. “Officer Brad” was a mainstay behind the plate for 10 of 12 seasons from 1997-2008, missing only two years when he was traded to the Tigers (and subsequently traded back after it became apparent the Mitch Meluskey experiment was a disaster).

Ausmus was Steady Eddie behind the plate, wearing several hats in addition to the one with the Astros star on it. He was a security blanket for the pitchers, an encyclopedia of knowledge while dissecting the tendencies and habits of every hitter in the league, and a no-nonsense field operator who was in complete control at all times. His pitchers knew that, as did whoever was running things from the dugout. His batting average was, well, average, but his value to the team was immeasurable.

On Tuesday, the Astros released complete list of first-pitch pitchers who will appear on “Flashback Fridays.” The team will wear throwback uniforms and celebrate Houston’s fabulous 50-year history every Friday home game in 2012, and the return of former players will only add to the nostalgia that is sure to take over Minute Maid Park throughout the season.

The first ceremonial pitch is on April 10, the actual anniversary of the first Major League game played in Houston. Bob Aspromonte, arguably the most well-known of the original Colt .45s, will have the first pitch honors that day. The rest of the best:

April 10 vs. ATL Bob Aspromonte; 1960s- Colt .45s
April 20 vs. STL Larry Dierker; 1960s-Astros
May 4 vs. LAD Rusty Staub; 1960s-Colt .45s
May 18 vs. TEX Nolan Ryan; 1980s
June 1 vs. CIN J.R. Richard; 1970s
June 22 vs. CLE Joe Morgan; 1960s-Astros
July 6 vs. MIL Jose Cruz; 1970s
July 27 vs. PIT Mike Scott; 1980s
Aug. 10 vs. MIL Jeff Bagwell; 1990s
Aug. 17 vs. ARI Brad Ausmus; 1990s
Aug. 31 vs. CIN Shane Reynolds; 1990s
Sept. 14 vs. PHI Jeff Kent; 2000s
Sept. 21 vs. PIT Craig Biggio; 2000s

Each player will throw a customized Rawlings baseball that features a 24-karat gold leather cover with the Astros 50th anniversary logo.

This group of players combined for 49 All-Star Game appearances, 15 Silver Slugger Awards, 12 Gold Glove Awards, four MVP Awards, two Hall of Fame inductions, one Rookie of the Year Award and one Cy Young Award. The 13 combined for over 18,000 hits and nearly 2,000 home runs. The five pitchers – Dierker, Reynolds, Richard, Ryan and Scott – have over 800 wins and more than 11,000 strikeouts.

The first pitch participants are scheduled to appear at Minute Maid Park in the month during which their playing days are being honored. The appearances of Staub, Ryan and Morgan are scheduled out of order to accommodate their individual travel schedule.

“Flashback Fridays” highlights the rich tradition of the Astros’ former uniforms, some of the most recognizable and iconic in baseball history. In April, the Astros will celebrate the 1960s by wearing the original Colt .45s jersey. The 1960s shooting star jersey, the first Astros jersey ever worn, will be donned in May. The club will celebrate the 1970s and wear the rainbow jerseys in June, the 1980s shoulder rainbow jerseys in July and the 1990s blue and gold star uniforms in August.

Fans can purchase a special Flashback Friday 14-game flex plan, presented by Papa John’s, that guarantees a seat for Opening Day and each Flashback Friday night. This special ticket package also includes a free ticket for a 15th game of their choice.  Plans are available by calling 1-800-ASTROS2 or visiting Astros.com.

In addition to uniforms, “Flashback Fridays” will also feature special ballpark entertainment and fireworks shows themed to each particular decade. Several additional promotions recognizing the 50th anniversary are scheduled throughout the 2012 season, with a complete listing available at www.astros.com.

Meanwhile, enjoy some nostalgic photos of several first pitch honorees:

Jeff Bagwell during 2004 postseason.

Craig Biggio during pregame introductions at the World Series.

Larry Dierker during his uniform number retirement in 2002.

Jeff Kent introduced himself to the Houston fanbase in dramatic fashion, hitting a home run in his first game as an Astro.

Nolan Ryan during a press conference following his 3,509th career strikeout.

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Insider’s peek: photos, billboards are front and center as Astros reveal their Root! Root! Root! campaign.

Emphasizing the Astros’ passion for baseball and the importance of supporting the home team, the Astros rolled out their Root! Root! Root! 2012 marketing campaign on Monday.

Here is an example of the billboards you will see around Houston this season…

…and the wallscapes that will adorn Minute Maid Park:


Root! Root! Root! is based on the classic song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” played in every Major League ballpark during the seventh-inning stretch. Additionally, the Astros have launched a Spanish campaign to accompany the English version, entitled, “¡DALE! ¡DALE! ¡DALE!”

The campaign emphasizes the enthusiasm and passion for baseball shared by the Astros new ownership group led by Jim Crane and also encourages fans and the city to support the home team. The campaign will also reflect the excitement surrounding the 50th anniversary of the ball club and what it means to the fans, the city of Houston and throughout Major League Baseball.

In the upcoming weeks, the Astros will promote the ROOT! ROOT! ROOT! campaign in a variety of ways, including social media, in print, through email campaigns and on billboards, radio, t-shirts, wallscapes, pole banners and columns.

While we’ll refer to the campaign with exclamation points when we’re writing about it (Root! Root! Root!), the billboards and printed material will use periods (Root. Root. Root.). I really like the look of the billboards using the periods — it’s subtle yet bold, and has a definitive meaning that conveys two messages important to the Astros: they have a young team with likable players, and their ballpark, still one of the premier stadiums in baseball, is a great place to take in a game.

To enhance that message, the Astros introduced several fan-friendly gameday initiatives a while back, designed to engender good will with the fan base. These include allowances to bring food and water into the ballpark, and cheaper beer and ticket prices.

I’ve heard from a lot of you on the campaign already. What about the rest of you? Like? Dislike? Somewhere in between?

Discuss.

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Root! Root! Root! Astros to launch 2012 campaign.

The Astros are ready to launch their 2012 marketing campaign, which focuses on a fresh enthusiasm shared by the new ownership group and encourages fans and the city of Houston to support the home team.

Titled Root! Root! Root! and based on the familiar, classic song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the new campaign encompasses an excitement surrounding a brand new baseball season as well as the club’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Major League Baseball in Houston.

The campaign will also launch simultaneously in Spanish entitled ¡DALE! ¡DALE! ¡DALE!

In the upcoming weeks, the Astros will roll out the new Root! Root! Root! campaign in a variety of ways, including print, through email campaigns and on billboards, radio, t-shirts, wallscapes, pole banners and columns.

Full illustrations and details will be posted tomorrow (Monday). Meanwhile, here are several writeups introducing the new campaign that reveal players that will be spotlighted in ads:

MyFoxHouston.com

MLB.com

Chron.com

Stay tuned for more…

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