March 2012

Ultimately, roster trimming is good for many players who are “sent out.”

The Astros’ Spring Training roster has been trimmed by 14 players in the last week, from 63 to 49. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Brad Mills still have some whittling down to do, considering that between now and Opening Day a little more than three weeks from now, 24 more players are going to have to be removed from Major League roster consideration.

It’s likely that the team will break the Florida version of Spring Training camp with around 30 players. They’ll travel to Corpus Christi for an exhibition game and will have two more to play at home — against the White Sox — before the slate is wiped clean and the real games begin April 6. They’ll need some extra bodies to get them through those final three exhibitions, which justifies bringing along some extra helping hands before finalizing the 25-man Opening Day roster.

We casually refer to roster trimming as “cuts,” but that’s probably not the most accurate term to use. Most of the players who have been sent to Minor League camp so far are considered to be a part of the Astros’ future. Realistically and somewhat ironically, it wouldn’t be fair to their development to keep them in big league camp.

Starting pitchers are pitching more innings by now, and there are only so many games and innings to be dispersed among a group of 63. The Minor League players also have a season to get ready for, and they can’t do that if they’re sitting on the bench, waiting for an inning here and an inning there. Especially the starting pitchers — they need to get stretched out as well.

So that’s why Paul Clemens — he of the 0.00 ERA over five innings in two spring games — was sent to Minor League camp this week, along with several others, like Jonathan Singleton, Delino DeShields, Jonathan Villar and George Springer. Many big pieces of the puzzle will now prepare for their seasons in Minor League camp, where playing time and innings are plentiful.

But don’t forget these guys. You’ll see them again.

_____________

Even though the Major League clubhouse has cleared out a bit, innings are still an issue as the front office and coaching staff sort out who will comprise the starting rotation. There are still more than five viable candidates, which is why some have to pitch in Minor League games or simulated sessions in order to stay on schedule. Jordan Lyles, a fifth starter candidate, started the club’s Triple-A game against the Nationals’ Triple-A team at the same time the Astros were hosting the Blue Jays on Thursday.

Lyles’ line: five innings, two hits, no runs, one walk and seven strikeouts.

“I’m excited,” Lyles said. “It’s going to be fun from here on out.”

_____________

Programming note: Due to scheduling conflicts, Friday’s game will be broadcast on KTRH on tape delay. It will air at 8 p.m. CT that night.
_____________

By this time of the spring, I’ve watched morning workouts on the backfields of the Osceola County Stadium complex more than two dozen times, and quite frankly, the routine can become a tad mundane after a while.

Don’t get me wrong, no one day in baseball is like the next, but after 17 sessions of pitchers’ fielding practice and 48 rounds of batting practice, well, you’ll understand that from time to time, the eyelids get a little droopy.

But it’s nothing that a little flip-cam action can’t remedy. You never know what you’re going to capture if you just stand there and let the sights and sounds of Spring Training take over.

In today’s video corner, we joke around a little bit with Wandy Rodriguez and note some of Carlos Lee’s keen observations as he watches his teammates hit from behind the cage:

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

TV/Radio bonanza: Brett, Dave, Brownie, J.D., Milo and a bunch of programming notes. The band’s back together.

Today, we start with the transcript from Tuesday’s chat session with our intrepid skipper, Brad Mills

Q: How will such new young talented players adjust together in such short time? in other words, how important is finding a good rhythm?

Brad Mills: Early on, we addressed the need for a cohesive bond and a lot of times with these young players, they do just that. This particular group has bought into that way of thinking and they’ve done a very good job of coming together so far. We think they definitely will continue.

Q: What was the determining factor in naming Myers the closer? Experience? Stats? Desire?

Mills: All of the above, really. We had to make sure that he was as excited about it as we were. When he said he was excited, that was probably the most determining factor. There’s been so many successful closers that have been starters in the past that have turned into really good closers. It helps that he has already been a closer and did well with it.

Q: How fired up is Bud Norris this year? What have been your thoughts on his pitching?

Mills: He’s throwing the ball really well. He has concentrated on a lot of his secondary pitches so far and is developing them quicker than maybe even expected.

Q: Will we see any major rotations or changes in the outfield or infield coming soon?

Mills: There’s going to be changes in the rotation, with Myers leaving and then needing a fifth starter. The infield, we’re going to have a few changes, but nothing drastic yet. The competition we’ve had this spring has really opened our eyes to a lot of good things that have happened to our organization over the past year.

Q: what did you see (on Tuesday) that you liked?

Mills: Livan (Hernandez) stood out. He threw the ball absolutely outstanding. I’m knocking on wood that our defense continues to be very solid. And anytime you hit a walkoff home run, like Brian Bixler did, that’s pretty significant.

Q: Are coaches decisions or a managers decision based on stats solely? Do you ever use your gut?

Mills: I always use my gut, but ignoring stats is ignorant. You have to use everything.

Q: What is the daily routine of a ball player at Spring Training?

Mills: The days are long once we start playing games. Players are usually at the ballpark by 7 in the morning. They have a routine of hitters hitting in the cage, they have their time slots between 7 and 9. Others have early work on the field starting at 8:30. The coaches meeting is at 8 and then we go through a full workout up until lunch. We take lunch and then play a game. That is a full day.

Q: What is the team spirit like after a 6-4 start (after Tuesday’s win)?

Mills: It’s very good right now after the last two wins. Last night’s win and today were both outstanding games, very close games that we won at the end. Anytime we have those types of games it brings a little team bonding. The one thing about this group is they’ve handled themselves extremely well all spring. The effort in doing the things we can control has been very good. That’s been one of the things we’ve emphasized the most.

Q: Are you finding younger picthers recover quicker or about the same?

Mills: Mostly, the same. The one thing veteran pitchers know is how to go about their workload so they are able to recover in a timely manner.

Q: What will these players need to accomplish to make it to the playoffs?

Mills: We have to continue to improve. They’ve shown good progression so far in a short time and we’ll have to continue to do that. There’s a lot of talent here and given those capabilities, that is our objective.

_______________

TV/Radio notes:

* Popular television broadcasters Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies, who not long ago were enshrined into the fictitious MLB bobblehead Hall of Fame, are en route to Florida and will be with the Astros for a full week. They will be in town, of course, to broadcast the Astros’ game on FS Houston on March 20, but they are also going to be given a little time on the radio as well. From what I understand, J.D. will join Dave Raymond in the booth on Saturday when the team plays the Yankees in Tampa, and Brownie will pair with Brett Dolan on Friday for the Astros’ visit to Orlando to play the Braves.

(FYI, bobblehead HOF worthiness is based solely on how much the bobblehead actually resembles the actual person. On a sliding scale, with a score of one being the lowest (a la Jeff Bagwell, class of 2003) and 10 being the highest (Richard Hidalgo, ’01), the Brownie and J.D. bobble given out last June has to be a solid 9.5.)

Anyhoo, it’ll be great to have the old gang together again, especially considering my Astros OneLiners twitter account has been a little barren, to say the least, without J.D.’s, well, J.D.-isms.

* I’m also hearing Craig Biggio is on his way to Kissimmee on Thursday for his annual Spring Training visit. Word is he will be in town through Sunday.

* Former broadcaster/pitcher/manager and current all-around great guy Larry Dierker flew to Florida with owner Jim Crane and a few friends and Astros executives on Tuesday and joined the contingent in Jupiter. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 10 years since the last time Dierker was a regular part of Spring Training, as the Astros’ manager. While I’m sure there’s plenty about being on the field that Dierker misses, Spring Training isn’t high on that list.

As a manager, the early mornings, the long bus trips and the seemingly never-ending slate of Spring Training games wore on him. He quite liked this time of the year when he was an active player, however. As a starting pitcher, he only had to participate in Grapefruit League games every four or five days, and when he was in the game long enough to be considered a veteran, he really had it easy, because he pretty much dictated which road trips he would be on.

“I’d tell the pitching coach where I wanted to go, and I really only had to take one long trip all spring,” Dierker laughed.

Dierker chats with Brett Dolan, as Dolan tries to shield himself from the relentless sun during BP in Jupiter on Wednesday.

_______________

Other notables:

*To add catching depth to the system, the Astros signed Landon Powell, who not long ago was released by the Oakland A’s. Powell signed a Minor League deal and will be in big league camp. While it’s unlikely he’d make the team — a healthy Jason Castro and solid backup Chris Snyder appear to be the favorites to break camp with the club — Powell gives the team a possible plan B. Humberto Quintero is still in the mix as well, obviously, but his back issues leave some uncertainty there. Powell simply gives the Astros more options should they need to dip into the system for catching help.

* The Astros will host the Blue Jays on Thursday at Osceola County Stadium at 1:05 p.m. ET, noon CT. Left-hander Zach Duke will start for the Astros, who will face Toronto righty Dustin McGowan. The game will be broadcast on KBME 790 am.

* David Carpenter will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline tonight (Wednesday) at 8 p.m. ET, 7 CT. The show will air live from the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk and will air on 740 KTRH and Astros.com.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

Keep an eye on Kyle Weiland.

Brett Myers’ move to the bullpen opened up a lot of innings, some 200 or more, that need to be accounted for by someone else this season. Livan Hernandez will take care some of that, of course, but opportunity is wide open for another pitcher — presumably, one of the Astros up-and-comers — to grab one of the spots in a rotation that has at least one opening.

Assuming Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez, Hernandez and J.A. Happ take up the first four spots, one job remains. Jordan Lyles, who made 15 starts for the Astros in 2011, would have to be considered a front-runner to win the job. But keep an eye on a few others, including Kyle Weiland, who is quietly putting together an impressive Spring Training.

Weiland, who was traded to the Astros from the Red Sox during the offseason, threw four no-hit innings against the Yankees Monday night in Tampa. Add that to the four scoreless innings he combined for in his first two spring appearances, and that equals a nearly perfect spring so far: eight innings, three hits, no runs, two walks, four strikeouts.

Spring Training games should, and will, be viewed with the understanding that while it’s largely the only way by which we can judge players at this point, it’s not the sole indicator of how that might translate to the regular season. That said, Spring Training is also designed to give players a chance to force their way onto a team. Weiland, who is going to continue to be groomed as a starting pitcher as he develops through the Astros’ system, wasn’t labeled as a sure-fire contender to win a big league job when camp began. But he wasn’t definitively ticketed for Triple-A, either.

Rather, Weiland was considered one of those “interesting” types to keep an eye on. If three weeks ago I had to bet large amounts of my salary on where Weiland would end up after Spring Training, I would have said Oklahoma City. Now, I’m not so sure.

If the Astros are looking for someone to pull away from the pack, they may have to look no further than the pitcher who handled the Yankees with a tidy 49 pitches Monday night in Tampa.

Weiland, on his outing:

__________

Other notes:

* To make up for Sunday’s rainout, Wandy threw four simulated innings in the batting cage as soon as the game was called. The next morning, Norris and Aneury Rodriguez also threw four-inning simulated games. Norris was pitching on his normal four days of rest. The simulated games are in an effort to give “starts” to all potential starting pitchers this spring, and obviously, they have more than five who need innings.

* Brad Mills said he is trying to schedule a “B” game to make up for the innings lost by the rainout Sunday. While Spring Training games look casual and not terribly intense, there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes during the exhibition season. The schedules are mapped out by the coaching staff days in advance, and everyone — especially pitchers — have a regimen they need to stick to. Rainouts are a bummer for the fans, but they create even more headaches for a manager and staff trying to make sure 60-some players are all getting their work in. It looks easy from the outside. It’s not.

* Owner Jim Crane flew to Tampa with several board members to watch the Astros play the Yankees. It was Crane’s first Spring Training game, but presumably, it won’t be his last. He looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself:

Other pregame sights from George M. Steinbrenner Field:

Brian Bogusevic

GM Jeff Luhnow and Brad Mills

Hall of Famer Goose Gossage is with the Yankees during Spring Training as a "guest instructor." He signs a lot of autographs in this role.

J.B. Shuck takes a round of BP...

...and chats with radio announcer Dave Raymond.

Hitting coach Mike Barnett and Jimmy Paredes discuss hitting, while Brett Wallace takes a few swings.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

 

Bearcats vs. Longhorns in first round. It’s on.

I’m undecided if it’s my worst nightmare or a dream come true that my Cincinnati Bearcats are meeting the Texas Longhorns in the first round of the NCAA tournament. There is one thing, however, I do know for sure: this recent development is not going to do anything for my New Year’s resolution to stop rolling my eyes so much.

It’s been barely 18 hours since the brackets were announced, and already, I’ve had three text message exchanges and a couple of rounds of tweets that end with, “Whatever, Richie.”

Yes, Richie, as in my friend Richard Justice, a columnist for MLB.com and an unapologetic UT loyalist. Richie loves him some Longhorns and likes to explain as much, in detail, to anyone who will listen. (For the record, I’m not one of those people.)

Apparently, UT has a good-looking campus, a strong curriculum and a powerhouse athletic department. That’s according to anyone who attended the school, including its biggest champion, Richard Justice, who has an odd and slightly dysfunctional fixation with Mack Brown and gets all teary-eyed when he hears the first three notes of UT’s fight song. He also gets quite defensive about his school, quite frankly, which I find somewhat endearing and a little strange for a guy at his advanced age.

Me? I’m not as overly sensitive about my alma mater. Attempts by friends and colleagues to needle me about the Bearcats leave most disappointed. (Them: “Nice football team you’ve got there.” Me: “During my four years of undergrad, they won six games. People used to say, ‘Wait, you guys have a football team?'” Them: “Ha ha, your basketball coach got fired.” Me: “Huggins? Shoulda canned him five years ago.” Them: “Your basketball team had a zero percent graduation rate.” Me: “So? They went to the Final Four my junior year. What did I care if they didn’t go to class? I had fun.”)

You get the drift. I’m loyal to my school but not irrationally so, and I can even look back at the 2010 Sugar Bowl and take pride in the fact that the Bearcats were Tebowed, before Tebowed was even an adjective and a verb. That’s something, no?

So while I’ve always had a realistic, calm and at times sedate view of my alma mater that most cannot identify with, I do still love my Bearcats. I might not stay up nights studying the names of every student who’s ever graced the campus as Richard is known to do with his ‘Horns, but I can rattle off some rather famous UC alums who have made this graduate pret-tay, pret-tay, pret-tay proud to be a Bearcat:

Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis.
Basketball Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.
Texans linebacker and master tweeter Connor Barwin.
Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax (who attended UC on a basketball scholarship).
Retired NBA star Nick Van Exel.
A couple of beauty contest winners.
Some guy who was a really popular soap opera actor in the 1950s.

UT and UC will meet in the very first round of the tournament. The turn of events has left me feeling giddy, and bold.

So I challenged Richard to a friendly wager. We don’t have a lot of time on this, of course, seeing one of those teams won’t make it through the weekend. We had to act quickly, and after some back and forth, we’ve settled on something that will be just painful and humiliating enough for the loser without crossing any inappropriate lines (Richard’s request, not mine).

The loser has to wear a t-shirt from the winner’s school, and sing the fight song of that school, live, on the air, during one of Richard’s shows on 1560 The Game. Photos and, hopefully, audio, will be tweeted and blogged so that everyone can watch and listen to Richard the loser wallow in defeat in front of a large, and viral, audience.

Meanwhile, when I return from Florida in a few weeks, I will dive into my closet and search for a nice, comfy UC t-shirt that will bring out the color of Richard’s eyes. The t-shirt section of my closet, which has piled quite high after moves from two dorm rooms to four college apartments to two Houston apartments and finally, my house, is in chronological order: 93 Astros t-shirts, sitting on top of 12 or so UC t-shirts, sitting on top of a bunch of old t-shirts I borrowed from friends in high school and never returned.

So it’s on. Never mind that I don’t know any of the words of UC’s fight song. I’ll Google it.

No, I don’t have it memorized.

Whatever, Richie.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

Notes and photos from Astros camp, plus a blast-from-the-past image, 50th anniversary-style

Notes for today’s game in Dunedin between the Astros and the Blue Jays:

* Left-hander Zach Duke will make his first start of the spring today (Saturday). His last appearance occurred on March 5 vs. the Braves, during which he tossed three innings of relief, allowing one run on three hits with two walks and no strikeouts.

* In the Astros four wins this spring, the starting pitchers have posted a 1.75 ERA, allowing seven earned runs over 36 innings.

* Who’s hot this spring? Outfielder J.D. Martinez, who has eight RBIs and a .364 batting average with a .909 slugging percentage. His eight RBIs are tops in the Grapefruit League. All four of his hits have gone for extra bases — three doubles, one home run. Catcher Chris Snyder has two home runs in three games played and a 1.286 slugging percentage. Outfielder J.B. Shuck is hitting .444 (4-for-9) and Jordan Schafer is hitting .417 (5-for-12).

* In addition to Duke, other pitchers expected to appear in Saturday’s game are right-hander Jordan Lyles, left-hander Fernando Abad, right-hander Lance Pendleton and right-hander Jorge De Leon.

* The game will be broadcast on KTRH 740, with announcers Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond calling the action.

For today’s photo gallery, we include a few leftovers from the past couple of days…

Jose Altuve leans against the cage and watches his teammates hit during batting practice.

Altuve and Carlos Lee have a laugh during BP.

Jason Castro and Brian Bogusevic compare notes before a round of hitting.

Third base candidates gather for baserunning drills during BP.

Early morning warmups.

And we end with a Spring Training photo, 50th anniversary-style:

Here we have J.R. Richard and Jose Cruuuuuuuuz, who was undoubtedly hamming it up for the camera (which he has been known to do, even today)…

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

Decision rendered: Astros to wear original Colt .45s jersey

Thanks to everyone who posted comments on this blog, and who voiced opinions through other avenues as the club weighed the option of keeping the Colt .45s jersey in its original form when the Astros wear it on “Flashback Fridays.” 

The verdict: the jersey will look as it did 50 years ago, pistol and all. The official release from the club:

Houston Astros Owner and Chairman Jim Crane announced today that the Astros will wear replicas of their original Colt .45s jersey during the April 10 and April 20 games at Minute Maid Park.

The jersey, worn when the ballclub was named the Colt .45s in its first three years of existence (1962-64), included a pistol below the name “Colts” across the chest of the uniform.  This week, the Astros heard from thousands of fans who were passionate and virtually unanimous in their support of the authentic Colt .45s jersey.

“We made this decision for a number of reasons,” said Crane. “We listened to our fans, who were almost unanimously in favor of wearing the original jersey. We wanted to honor all of our past uniforms during this special 50th anniversary season, and we felt it was important to be true to the tradition of the franchise.”

As part of the Astros 50th anniversary celebration, the team will wear a different uniform from its past each Friday home game during “Flashback Fridays.” The one exception will be on Opening Day, Friday, April 6, when the club will wear its current uniform. The Astros will wear the Colt .45s uniform for the first time on April 10 vs. Atlanta commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first game in franchise history, which was an 11-2 win over the Chicago Cubs on April 10, 1962. The team will also wear the Colt .45s uniform during the Friday, April 20 game vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Each month, “Flashback Fridays” will feature a different uniform from the team’s past. Several additional promotions recognizing the 50th anniversary are scheduled throughout the 2012 season and a complete listing is available at http://www.astros.com.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

Pistol or no pistol? Astros ponder Colt .45s jersey.

A while back, it came to light that Major League Baseball mandated that the Astros not include the pistol on the Colt .45s jerseys that the team will wear on April 10 and April 20 this season.

MLB later amended that mandate and told the Astros, who are celebrating 50 years of Major League Baseball in Houston this year, the decision will ultimately rest with the club.

The Astros have reached out to many fans on this issue in the past week. A final decision will be rendered on Friday. Here is the release, from the team:

The Houston Astros are celebrating the team’s 50th Anniversary in 2012 and one of the cornerstones of the campaign is the highly anticipated “Flashback Fridays” program. With some of the most recognizable and iconic uniforms in baseball history, the Astros will highlight a different uniform each month with the team wearing that jersey for each Friday night game. Part of the program includes the iconic Colt .45s jersey that the team will wear on Tuesday, April 10 vs. the Atlanta Braves (commemorating the first game in franchise history) and on Friday, April 20 vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Over the past few months, the club has been in discussion with Major League Baseball (MLB) about whether to wear the authentic Colt .45s jersey. The original logo features the Colts name and a pistol. The alternative jersey would only have the Colts name on the front of the jersey. This week, MLB informed the Astros that the decision would be left to the ballclub. The Astros organization continues to value fan input, therefore the Astros have been reaching out to fans the past week to get their opinion on this issue.

Our fans have expressed overwhelming passion and support for the Astros and our rich 50-year tradition. We plan to announce our decision tomorrow, Friday, March 9th.

Dear Diary: photos on Twitter are boring, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

iPhone cameras, flip cams, Twitvids, Twitpics, blogs.

So many ways to bring up close and personal photos to the fans. So many avenues by which to share our special moments with ballplayers. So many methods by which fans can see their favorite personalities in the game, through the camera lenses of those who cover them.

So many ways to irritate the bejeebers out of the general public.

Yes, folks, apparently, we’ve become annoying. Really, really annoying.

Sigh. It wasn’t that long ago — three years, to be exact — when providing instant photos from Spring Training, through the glory of the Internet, was an enigma to be cherished.

Now there appears to be, according to a small but very vocal group of blog-readers and Twitter followers, an over-saturation of photos reporters are sending out to their home fan bases. Instead of bringing the Tweeple closer to the game, according to at least a couple of folks out there, the only thing we’re doing is grating on every last nerve of the very fans we’re trying to appease.

I know what you’re thinking. Media? Annoying? Not possible.

Sometimes, I long for the old days of 2009. Back then, posting photos on blogs was largely a new thing, at least it was for me. The first photo I ever posted was of ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, as he prepared to do a live shot (from the waist up) from the Astros’ ballpark.


The second photo I ever posted was this, and it created a stir that took me a little bit off guard.

The general reaction: “OMG! THIS IS SO COOL! LOOK IT’S BAGWELL AND BERKMAN! I JUST LOVE THEM! PLEASE GIVE US MORE! PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!

(And one other: “Who would have ever thought John Kruk would be the one without the mullet?”)

Anyhoo, as I read the reactions, I thought, hey, we might be on to something.

Three years later, alas, the photo craze has left some crying “Uncle,” or, using the expression I most prefer, “Eyes. Bleeding.”

For example, this guy gives us a play-by-play of insufferable Twitpics, in journal form. And this guy takes a relatively good-natured jab at beat writers and columnists who are, in his estimation, posting really bad Twitpics, whether they’re blurry, nondescript, or just plain boring.

And I’ve been told there is a new wave of whiners who are now protesting the latest three-headed monster: tweeting in-game Spring Training updates.

As I peruse these grievances, I can’t help but think 1) people have way too much time on their hands, or 2) they have way too much time on their hands, and they like to spend that time moaning about bad angles, blurry photos, shadows and other Spring Training hardships.

I, for one, will soldier on. After all, we’re giving the people what they want…well, most of the people. If posting photos on the Internet never existed, I shudder to think what you’d be missing. Such as:

Brett Wallace wiping sweat off his head during batting practice.


Or radio announcer Brett Dolan sporting a gigantic Phillies-issued press pass, which screams, “I forgot my season credential at home.”

This thing they gave Brett is so big, it’s reminiscent of a sign you’d wear in kindergarten after doing something well: “Brett ate all of his vegetables today.”

With no camera phone, I’d have no way of bringing you this display, on the elevator doors in the right field corner of the Phillies’ spring ballpark. That’s Brad Lidge, obviously, dropping to his knees just as the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. (Lidge’s exact words before he hit the ground: “We did it. Oh my God.”)


Bud Norris prefers that when you talk to him, you do so while tilting your head a full 90 degrees. Radio announcer Dave Raymond obliged, and the two had a lovely exchange before the Astros-Phillies game on Wednesday.


And lest we forget the standard general-manager-stands-behind-the-cage-chatting-with-a-player Spring Training shot. We’ve probably posted around 20 of these already. What? Too many?


Without the wonder of the Internet, I’d have no way to tell you that Bobby Meacham and Matt Downs laughed really hard about something during batting practice, and that I have no idea what was so funny.


ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark spent a lot of time on the Astros’ side of the field before the game, and this made a lot of people happy, including manager Brad Mills, Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler, and your friendly neighborhood blogger, who was there to capture the moment in all of its glory.

“Look like you’re pondering something really serious and deep,” I instructed Jordan Schafer. Here’s what I got.


“I’m making fun of people who make fun of people who post boring photos on Twitter,” I said to Jose Altuve. “Act boring.” Here’s the best he could do. (How can you not love this kid?)

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

Retro jerseys, bobbleheads, Flashback Fridays: celebrating 50 years in style.

Who doesn't remember the uniforms the Astros were wearing when they clinched their first NL Central title in 1997?

The 50th anniversary of Major League Baseball in Houston will be celebrated this year, and to supplement the good times, most of the promotions, events and giveaways will center around this Golden milestone.

Fridays at Minute Maid Park this year are going to be a very big deal. Tabbed “Flashback Fridays,” these nights will go heavy on nostalgia, from the uniforms the players wear during the game to iconic players from the past who will be on hand to celebrate the club’s history.

The Astros will highlight a different uniform each month, with the team wearing that jersey for each Friday night game. The featured jerseys include:

1960’s Colt .45s (April 10 – commemorating the first game in franchise history and April 20)
1960’s Shooting Star (May 4 and May 18)
1970’s Rainbow (June 1 and June 22)
1980’s Shoulder Rainbow (July 6 and July 27)
1990’s Blue and Gold Star (Aug. 10, Aug. 17 and Aug. 31)


“Flashback Fridays” also feature special ballpark entertainment and fireworks shows themed to each particular decade. In addition, as part of the celebration, Colt .45s and Astros alumni from the past 50 seasons will be invited back to toss out ceremonial first pitches prior to those Friday games.

This year’s bobblehead set will feature Astros “Greatest Moments” from 50 years of baseball in Houston.

The first bobble features Nolan Ryan (May 19) celebrating his record fifth no-hitter in 1981. Craig Biggio (June 22) portrays his unforgettable 3,000th hit in 2007, followed by Cy Young Award winning pitcher Mike Scott (July 7) clinching the National League West Division with a no-hitter in 1986.

Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit will forever be immortalized with this nifty bobblehead.

Nolan Ryan's fifth no-hitter happened in 1981, and 31 short years later, the moment will be captured with this bobblehead.

Rounding out this year’s “Greatest Moments” bobblehead lineup is a pair of home run heroes. In what currently stands as the longest playoff game in Major League history, 2005 National League Division Series hero Chris Burke (July 28) joins the set for his 18th inning walk-off homer in a year that saw the Astros in their first World Series.

Jeff Kent (Sept. 1) joins in similar fashion for his walk-off home run in Game 5 of the 2004 National League Championship Series.

Among the remaining highlights for 2012:

All-Time 25-Man Roster Vote

A panel of 10 experts has voted on the Astros All-Time 25-Man Roster, and throughout the season, Astros fans will have a chance to let their voices be heard as they will cast the 11th vote. Each month throughout the season, a different position will be featured on astros.com and fans can cast their vote on their all-time favorite players.

Oldies but Goodies

“Retro” is in the air as the 50th Anniversary Celebration weaves its way through multiple giveaways this season. Currently scheduled items include a Colt .45s cap (April 10), Colt .45s replica jersey (April 20), 1970’s rainbow style t-shirt (June 1), retro gym bag (June 2), retro lunch bag (June 3), 1960’s blue Astros cap (June 20), 1990’s blue and gold replica jersey (Aug. 10), and a rainbow umbrella (Aug. 12).

Pink in the Park

Pink in the Park week is back in 2012. The week (May 4-9), dedicated to driving awareness for breast cancer research, will kick off with the fourth annual Pink in the Park Brunch and Bazaar, benefiting the Methodist Cancer Center (May 4). The rest of the week will feature pink giveaway items including a Belted Tote Bag (May 4), a Pink Yoga Mat (May 6), and Pink Pashmina Scarf (May 7).


Special Events

The 2012 calendar features many events including fan favorites as well as events specifically geared towards the anniversary celebration. Returning in 2012 is Opening Day Street Fest (April 6), Friday Night Fireworks, Dog Day (May 6 and Sept. 16), Bayou Bash (May 19), Bike to the Ballpark (June 3), Faith and Family Night Concerts (June 23 featuring Third Day and July 28 featuring Mercy Me), and Oktoberfest (Sept. 15).

The Astros are bringing back local members of the 1962 Colt .45s roster for a pregame ceremony and reunion on Tuesday, April 10, 50 years to the day from the first game ever played in franchise history. In addition, the season-long celebration culminates with Legends Weekend (Sept. 21-23) in which all Colt .45s and Astros alumni will be invited to Minute Maid Park to take part in anniversary activities. As a part of the weekend, all available members of the Astros All-Time 25-Man roster will be recognized in a special pregame ceremony.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.astros.com, at the Minute Maid Park box office on Texas Avenue or by phone toll free at 1-877-9ASTROS (1-877-927-8767). Tickets are also available at Ticketmaster retail centers in all Fiesta and select Macy’s, H-E-B, F.Y.E., Wherehouse Music and Ritmo Latino stores during regular store hours.

2012 Astros Promotions and Events:

April 6

Schedule Magnet (United) 20,000 fans; Opening Day Street Fest; Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

April 7

50th Anniversary Patch (Insperity) 10,000 fans

April 8

50th Anniversary Poster (Champion Energy Services) 10,000 fans

April 10

Colt .45s Cap (Conn’s) 10,000 fans; $1 Hot Dog Night (Classic Foods)

April 20    

Colt .45s Replica Jersey (Champion Energy Services) 10,000 fans; Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation); Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System)

April 21

Play Green® Cap (Waste Management) 10,000 fans

April 22    

Grocery Tote Bag (The Methodist Hospital System) 10,000 fans

May 4

Belted Pink Bag (Methodist Cancer Center) 10,000 fans; Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

May 5

Los Astros Cap (Wells Fargo) 10,000 fans; Cinco de Mayo Celebration

May 6

Pink Yoga Mat (Methodist Cancer Center) 10,000 fans; Dog Day at Minute Maid Park

May 7

Pink Pashmina Scarf (Methodist Cancer Center) 10,000 fans

May 17

Drawstring Bags (MLB Network) 10,000 fans

May 18

Lone Star Series T-Shirt (Champion Energy Services) 10,000 fans; University of Texas Night; Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

May 19

Nolan Ryan Bobblehead Fifth No-Hitter (Coca-Cola) 10,000 fans; Bayou Bash; Texas A&M Night

June 1

1970’s Rainbow T-Shirt (The Methodist Hospital System) 10,000 fans; Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

June 2

Retro Gym Bag (Kroger) 10,000 fans

June 3

Retro Lunch Bag (Champion Energy Services) 10,000 fans; Bike to the Ballpark

June 20    

1960’s Retro Cap (Bastion Technologies) 10,000 fans


June 22    

Craig Biggio Bobblehead 3,000th Hit (Coca-Cola) 10,000 fans; Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

June 23

Faith and Family Night

July 6    

Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

July 7    

Mike Scott Bobblehead 1986 No-Hitter (Grand Slam for Youth Baseball) 10,000 fans

July 27

Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

July 28

Chris Burke Bobblehead 18th Inning Walk-Off Home Run (Dahill) 10,000 fans; Faith and Family Night

Aug. 10    

1990’s Blue and Gold Jersey (Coca-Cola) 10,000 fans; Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

Aug. 12    

Umbrella (HEB) 10,000 Fans

Aug. 17    

Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

Aug. 18    

Jeff Bagwell Bobblehead 400th Home Run (Champion Energy Services) 10,000 fans

Aug. 31

Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

Sept. 1

Jeff Kent Bobblehead NLCS Game 5 Walk-Off Home Run (The Methodist Hospital System) 10,000 fans

Sept. 14    

Fleece Blanket (The Methodist Hospital System) 10,000 fans; Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

Sept. 15    

Los Astros T-Shirt (Goya) 10,000 fans; Oktoberfest

Sept. 16    

Dog Day at Minute Maid Park

Sept. 21    

50th Anniversary Legends Weekend; 50th Anniversary Canvas Art (The Methodist Hospital System) 10,000 fans; Flashback Fridays (The Methodist Hospital System); Friday Night Fireworks (Marathon Oil Corporation)

Sept. 22    

50th Anniversary Legends Weekend

Sept. 23    

50th Anniversary Legends Weekend

Sept. 26

Team Poster (Houston Chronicle) All Fans

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

Monday roundup: TV schedules, Astroline and an Astro making a difference in far away places.

With 60-some players and a couple of dozen coaches wearing Astros uniforms at this stage of Spring Training, it would be easy to lump everyone together and categorize them as a somewhat nondescript group of baseball people.

But everyone has a story, and you’d be surprised at what you can find out by striking up a conversation with someone over an early-morning cup of coffee and a bowl of Cheerios.

For several years, catching coordinator Danny Sheaffer (pictured above) has been in uniform in Kissimmee as part of the Spring Training coaching staff, and during the regular season, he can be found following the Minor League teams, working with the catchers in the organization.

But it’s what Sheaffer, who played professionally for 18 years, including eight in the big leagues, does in his spare time that is unique. He focuses his attention on an organization he formed several years ago with two businessmen called Blits Worldwide, a non-profit entity that builds and manufactures water purification units. These units go to third-world countries, including Haiti, Nicaragua, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

Additionally, Blits (Business Leaders Inspired To Serve) Worldwide has partnered with Orbies for Orphans, which aims to meet the needs of the 99 percent of the children around the world that will not be adopted. Orbies focuses on preparing these children for life after they age out of the system through a needs-based biblical curriculum. Blits Worldwide steps in by providing clean water for them.

Approximately 38,000 kids age out of the orphanage system every day, and many — mostly girls — go directly into sex trafficking and other dangerous lifestyles. They’re 14 or 15 years old and merely trying to survive. What they really need is an education and life skills, which Orbies works to provide, with assistance from Blits.

It would be impossible to find a better life for every single orphan. Of the 153 million worldwide, only 250,000 are adopted every year — that’s one percent. Blits and Orbies concentrate on the other 99 percent, even if they have to work on it one orphan at a time.

Photo courtesy of BlitsWorldwide.org

The water cycle is unending, unhealthy and dangerous. Kids drink impure water, go to missionaries of local tribes for pills to kill the parasites, go back home and drink dirty water again and come back for more pills.

Blits Worldwide’s purification units are self-sustaining and solar-powered and have provided clean water for thousands of orphans. But that’s not the only mission. Blits also sponsors a children’s feeding program in Nicaragua, which has about 30 stations with approximately 100 kids at each station who live in a dump in Managua. Blits provides pure water for them, and with available funding, it also helps with food.

Blits is mainly a three-man operation: Sheaffer, and two North Carolina business men, Steve Gaines and Steve Scully. It has been a huge undertaking, but over time, once word got out about their mission, they received support from many like-minded businessmen in several cities.

“What I’ve found is most men between the ages of 40 and 60 feel like they don’t do enough,” Sheaffer said. “They want to do more. I just don’t think there’s a more meaningful purpose than to meet the needs of those who cannot help themselves.”

In addition to Orbies for Orphans, Blits has teamed with Samaritan’s Purse, whose emergency relief programs provide assistance to victims of natural disaster, war, disease, and famine. It offers food, water, and temporary shelter and help people rebuild their lives.

Photo courtesy of BlitsWorldwide.org

Blits Worldwide and Samaritan’s Purse are, together, planning a project that will provide water bottles that will be filled with hygiene kits — toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc. — that Orbies for Orphans will then provide to kids. The bottles serve two purposes: one batch goes directly to orphans with the intent to teach good health habits, and another batch goes to families in the states who are helping the kids, or better yet, looking to adopt. Photos of the kids directly benefiting from the project appear on the bottles.

Sheaffer updates the progress and undertakings of Blits Worldwide through a Twitter account called @hind_snatcher12, and he includes a link to the Blits Worldwide web site.

Other sites to peruse, if you’d like to learn more:

Orbies for Orphans

Samaritan’s Purse
_______________

Thanks to local and national programming, your Astros will be on television quite a few times this month. FS Houston will air two games, and MLB Network will show seven more, most of which will be on tape delay.

FS Houston will air the March 20 game with the Cardinals at Osceola County Stadium and the April 3 game with the White Sox at Minute Maid Park.

The MLB Network schedule is as follows:

Wednesday, March 7 at Phillies, 1 a.m. CT (tape delayed, for you night owls);
Friday, March 16 at Braves, 9 CT (tape delayed)
Saturday, March 17 at Yankees, noon CT (live)
Wednesday, March 21 vs. Cardinals, 8 a.m. CT (tape delayed)
Thursday, March 22 at Mets, Noon CT (Live)
Saturday, March 24 at Pirates, 7 p.m. CT (tape delayed)
Tuesday, April 3 vs. White Sox, 3 a.m. CT (tape delayed)

In other programming news, catcher Chris Snyder will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline Wednesday at 8 ET/7 CT. The show will air live at the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk and can be heard on 740 KTRH and Astros.com.
________________

We will hold four Social Media Nights this season: April 21, June 2, July 28 and Sept. 15. Details about the events and a schedule of player appearances will be released at a later time.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Follow the Astros on Twitter

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 254 other followers