Richard Hidalgo hasn’t played in the big leagues in quite some time, but he has always been a regular presence and active player at Winter Ball in his native Venezuela.
During the Astros’ television broadcast Monday night, Hidalgo told FS Houston’s Patti Smith that he will likely retire this year and start coaching baseball in Venezuela. If he ever decides to pursue a coaching career in the United States (a notion that isn’t out of the question, considering he makes his year-round home in Orlando, Fla.), I hope he gives the Astros a call, or vice versa.
Hidalgo was a fan favorite when he played in Houston, but that was nothing compared to how popular he was inside the clubhouse. Hidalgo was a great teammate, a hard worker and a kind person. Everyone loved “Doggie,” and when he was traded to the Mets in the middle of the 2004 season, a forlorn Gerry Hunsicker, then the GM, mentioned that he whenever Hidalgo retired, he would be the first to try to bring him back into the coaching ranks.
Hidalgo was a regular presence at the Astros’ Venezuelan Academy in the late 1990s and early 2000s on his own volition. He wasn’t asked or paid by the Astros to spend time with the young prospects; he simply was there because he enjoyed passing his knowledge down to the younger generation.
Hidalgo was a matinee idol in Venezuela during his years with the Astros, but in all of his years here, he never changed. He was, and is, a heck of guy. It was great to catch up with him at Minute Maid Park, and here’s hoping we’ll see him again in the future.
There are records for everything, and there is a record in the Astros’ books for the most games a player reaches base safely to start a season. The record is held by Denis Menke, who reached base safely in the first 25 games he played in 1969.
Jordan Schafer, with his base hit that broke up R.A. Dickey’s no-hit bid in the sixth inning Monday, has now reached safely in 23 games. That ties him with Ricky Gutierrez (1998) for second place.
A couple of other cool stats we came across before the game:
* The Astros have greatly improved in plate discipline from last year. In 2011, the Astros ranked 30th (last) with a 2.5 walks-per-game ratio. This year, through Sunday’s game, they were drawing 3.6 walks per game, good for seventh-best in the Majors. The difference of 1.1 walk improvement is the second- best in the big leagues, behind only the Indians (2.0).
* After going 3-for-5 on Sunday in Cincinnati, Jose Altuve’s .373 batting average ranks among the best ever by any Astro through 22 team games. All-time:
Derek Bell, 1998, .402
Billy Hatcher, 1987, .391
Joe Morgan, 1966, .375
Cesar Cedeno, 1972, .375
Jose Altuve, 2012, .373
An up-to-the-minute list of Astros players on Twitter:
@cjastros23 Chris Johnson
@brianbogusevic Brian Bogusevic
@budnorris20 Bud Norris
@downstown16 Matt Downs
@JordanSchafer Jordan Schafer
@jordanlyles41 Jordan Lyles
@JDMartinez14 J.D Martinez
@J_Castro15 Jason Castro
@lucasharrell34 Lucas Harrell
@Carlos45Lee Carlos Lee
@realweswright Wesley Wright
@theoutlaw39 Brett Myers
@lopezwilton59 Wilton Lopez
@jluhnow GM Jeff Luhnow
@astrosanalysis Astros baseball operations
@astrosradio Brett Dolan, Radio announcer
@daveraymond4 radio announcer Dave Raymond
@hind_snatcher12 catching coordinator Danny Sheaffer (links to his foundation, Blitsworldwide.org)
@FRomeroAstros Francisco Romero, Spanish radio announcer
@losastros Astros de Houston
The Corpus Christi Hooks were deemed by Baseball America as the eighth-best Minor League team heading into the 2012 season, and after just about three weeks of games, several players are helping justify that prediction.
The Corpus roster is comprised of many high Draft picks from the last few years and a lot of players whom the Astros acquired in Trade Deadline deals in the last two years. Let’s start with the most buzz-worthy of that group.
If you’re going to pay attention to only one Minor League player, make sure it’s Jon Singleton (above), the Astros’ No. 1 prospect and arguably the most intriguing piece the Astros received in the Hunter Pence trade.
During a nine-game hitting streak, Singleton is hitting 15-34 (.441) with three doubles, one triple, three homers, eight runs scored and nine RBIs. He has hits in 17 of his last 18 games and is 27-for-65 over those 18 games. For the season, Singleton is hitting .375 (27-for-72).
Kevin Chapman, whom the Astros acquired from Kansas City in the trade that sent Jason Bourgeois and Humberto Quintero during Spring Training, has allowed two earned runs over 11 innings (1.64 ERA) for the Hooks this season, spanning eight relief appearances. He has held opponents scoreless in his last four appearances, striking out six over 4 1/3 appearances.
Austin Wates (third-round pick, 2010) ended a seven-game hitting streak Friday night against Frisco, but is hitting .329 this season. He has 11 hits in his past eight games with one double, six runs scored and two RBIs. Heading into Friday’s game, he was hitting .353 vs. right-handed pitchers and .333 vs. lefties.
* Brandon Barnes, the Astros’ sixth-round pick in the ’05 Draft, is hitting .365 (27-for-74) over 19 games. He has 14 doubles, four homers and 19 RBS.
* Jake Goebbert is hitting .306 (19-for-62) with five doubles, one triple, two homers and 13 RBIs.
* Jarred Cosart, another top prospect acquired in the Pence trade, is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA over three starts. He’s allowed five earned runs over 13 1/3 innings with nine walks and 13 strikeouts.
* Jason Stoffel, acquired from the Giants in the Jeff Keppinger trade last year, has allowed one earned run over 8 1/3 relief innings for a 1.08 ERA. He’s issued one walk and struck out nine.
* Andrew Simunic is hitting .389 with eight RBIs over 13 games.
In addition to throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on Monday, April 30, former Astros outfielder Richard Hidalgo will also sign autographs from 6-6:30 p.m. CT on the main concourse behind home plate.
Hidalgo, who played for the Astros from 1997-2004, will be in Houston next week, and his visit prompted the Astros to add an extra alumni pitch to their season-long celebration of their 50th anniversary. Hidalgo will be the first of two former players to appear at Minute Maid Park during the next homestand. Rusty Staub will be there next Friday, May 4, as part of the Flashback Friday celebration.
Hidalgo’s autograph session will be free to the public. There will be a $25 charge for Staub’s, with all proceeds benefiting the Astros in Action Foundation.
During an Astros road trip to Montreal in 1999, I tagged along with Larry Dierker and Bill Brown for a hike up the locally famous tourist attraction called Mount Royal.
Mount Royal is a mountain, yes, but it has a convenient hiking trail that provides a simple pathway from the bottom to the top that allows you to either jog or walk, depending on your level of fitness.
What you probably can’t tell from your television screen is that Brownie, in his mid-60s, is in the physical shape of a 30-year-old. He’s the model of fitness, a workout fanatic with tree trunks for legs who can hang with men half his age. So Mount Royal, for the then 50-ish Brownie, was a cinch.
I was, at the time, in my mid-20s and still somewhat spry, but I had pretty much decided this trek up the mountain would be done as a walker, not a runner.
And then there was Dierker. He was always an athletic type — tall, lanky, fit — but at this time, only about two months had passed since he had the scary grand mal seizure in the dugout that eventually necessitated complicated brain surgery. Dierker was cleared to go back to work a month after surgery, but the notion of him climbing Mount Royal, this soon after his ordeal, had me a little worried.
Our trio looked something like this: Brownie, happily galloping, semi-full speed, up the steps. Me, walking rigorously, looking behind me every 4.5 seconds to make sure Dierk hadn’t face-planted. And Dierk, carefree as always, keeping up pace, showing no hint of the health episode that thankfully didn’t end catastrophically.
There was a little deli store at the top of the mountain, and after our climb, the three of us stopped for a tuna sandwich. Dierk grinned as he recalled a time, during his broadcasting years decades earlier, when he ran into a former teammate on his way up the mountain. I recently asked Dierk to recount that meeting, because it has to do with a former Astro who will soon be in town to celebrate another Flashback Friday at Minute Maid Park.
“I saw this odd-looking big guy coming down the hill, wearing an orange sweatshirt, blue sweat pants and knee-high yellow socks pulled up over his pants,” Dierk said. “He had a towel around his neck and was holding both ends as he ran.”
It was Rusty Staub, then an outfielder for the Montreal Expos.
“Rusty,” Dierk said. “What the heck are you doing. You might be playing tonight. How can you run up and down this hill and still play?”
“Oh, I didn’t run up.” Staub said. “I just like to loosen up by running down. I took a taxi to the top. I do it all the time.”
That was Staub in a nutshell: eccentric, a little odd, entirely his own man. Dierker remembers Staub as different from the get-go, interested in things other ballplayers didn’t care about, like making business connections and cooking. Dierker also remembers Staub as a stickler for detail, which translated into greatness as a hitter.
“The hitting stats speak for themselves, but they don’t tell you that he had an outfield arm that was just short of Roberto Clemente,” Dierker recalled. “The only thing he couldn’t do was steal bases. He was a barely fast enough to play the outfield.”
The red-headed Staub, nicknamed “Le Grand Orange” in French-speaking Montreal, debuted for the Colt .45s in 1963 at the age of 19. He played six years for the Houston franchise and, like Dierker, was a part of the first team to play for the newly-named Astros in the Astrodome when it opened in 1965. Staub went on to play for the Expos, Mets, Tigers and Rangers and was a six-time All-Star during his 23-year career. He’s considered to be the Expos first bona fide superstar, but for folks around here, he’ll always be remembered for where he started — Houston.
Staub will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday, May 4, the same day the Astros roll out their second throwback uniform. In April, they wore the Colt .45s garb. In May, they’ll don the 1960s shooting star jerseys. Two dates are targeted: May 4 and May 18.
Staub transitioned into philanthropy following his playing career. Today, the Rusty Staub Foundation raises money for the Emergency Food Pantries, which serves families facing a shortage of food in each of the five boroughs of New York City. The pantries distribute more than a million nutritious meals every year.
Staub’s pending appearance at Minute Maid Park should provide another fantastic trip down memory lane as the Astros continue their year-long celebration of 50 years of baseball in Houston. The remaining ceremonial first pitches are as follows:
May 18 vs. TEX: Nolan Ryan
June 1 vs. CIN: J.R. Richard
June 22 vs. CLE: Joe Morgan
July 6 vs. MIL: Jose Cruz
July 27 vs. PIT: Mike Scott
Aug. 10 vs. MIL: Jeff Bagwell
Aug. 17 vs. ARI: Brad Ausmus
Aug. 31 vs. CIN: Shane Reynolds
Sept. 14 vs. PHI: Jeff Kent
Sept. 21 vs. PIT: Craig Biggio