April 2012

The stars come out to celebrate the Astros/Colt .45s big birthday.

Two former Colt .45s: Jimmy Wynn and Bob Aspromonte

It’s probably a good thing that the Colt .45s changed their name to the Astros after three years, if only because “Aspro the Colt” just doesn’t have the same cool ring to it as “Aspro the Astro.”

Bob Aspromonte, an original Colt .45 and an original Astro, was in uniform as the starting third baseman 50 years ago when Major League Baseball was born in Houston. It’s only fitting that he was the guest of honor for a slew of activities on Tuesday, the exact 50th anniversary of the first game the Colt .45s played as a National League franchise.

Aspromonte headlined the introduction of the Astros new Walk of Fame, recently installed on the sidewalk of Texas Ave. near Crawford St. The original inductees include Aspromonte, all of the Astros retired numbers (Jim Umbricht, Don Wilson, Jose Cruz, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Larry Dierker, Jimmy Wynn, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio), plus broadcasters Gene Elston and Milo Hamilton.

Aspromonte was voted by a panel of experts as the best Houston player of the 1960s. The Astros will unveil the best player from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s on a month-by-month basis beginning in May and their names to the Walk of Fame.

Video from the Walk of Fame induction:

Photo album:

Aspromonte, Dierker, Cruuuuuuz

Aspromonte spoke glowingly of the Astrodome, which opened in 1965. It was obviously a gigantic step up from the old Colt Stadium, where Aspro played the first three years of his Houston baseball career.

Cruz next to his Walk of Fame plaque

Group shot: front: Elston, Wynn. Back: Cruz, Aspromonte, Dierker, Hamilton.

Aspromonte's Walk of Fame plaque

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Houston franchise, the Astros wore the Colt .45s jerseys during their game with the Braves. The club also honored several living members of that inaugural team that began a new era of baseball on April 10, 1962: Carl Warwick, Hal Smith, Al Spangler, Bob Bruce and Aspromonte. Also introduced: Rick Cagney, one of the original bat boys for the 1962 team; Elston, the first broadcaster for the ’45s, and Rene Cardenas, who broadcast both Colt .45s and Astros games in Spanish.

Warwick, Smith, Spangler, Bruce, Aspromonte, Cagney

Cardenas

Brad Mills greets Aspromonte and the Colt .45s alumni before the ceremonial first pitch.

Aspromonte throws the pitch. It was indeed a strike.

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Upon entering the clubhouse earlier in the day, players were sized for their Colt .45s cap that they were to wear during the game (they’ll wear the same uniforms on April 20 on the first official Flashback Friday). They also were given a sneak peek at the stirrups the Colt .45s wore 50 years ago.

I’m sure these strirrups were innovative and super-hip in the 1960s, but today, they’re a little funky. Judging from the players’ continued willingness to keep wearing the high socks, though, you have to assume funky can still be a good thing, even today.

Lucas Harrell was digging his stirrups.

Jose Altuve

Junction Jack

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Astros lineup 4/10 vs. Braves. Roof open. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT. Gates open at 5:35.

Straight from the clubhouse: an inside peek at tonight’s uniforms

They’re hanging in the lockers and ready for wear…happy anniversary, Houston Baseball! See you at the game.

You think the caps are funny...wait 'til you see the strirrups! (pictures: J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve)

 

Astros lineup 4/9 vs. Braves. First pitch 7:05 CT. Roof open.

Astros to unveil their Walk of Fame on Tuesday. First up: Bob Aspromonte.

Original Colt .45s: Bob Lillis (left), Bob Aspromonte, Joey Amalfitano and Al Spangler, 1962.

The Astros are celebrating their 50th anniversary all season, but this Tuesday is especially significant, given it’s the exact anniversary — 50 years to the day — of the very first Major League Baseball game played in Houston.

On April 10, 1962, the Colt .45s took the field at Colt Stadium against the Chicago Cubs and won handily, 11-2. A budding star on that team, Bob Aspromonte, was 3-for-4 in that game. He ended up as a fixture at third base for Houston for seven seasons, and to this day is probably the one player most associated with the original Colt .45s.

It’s only fitting that one of the first players to represent Major League Baseball in Houston will be the first honoree in a season-long celebration of the club’s anniversary. Aspromonte will be everywhere on Tuesday, beginning with the new Astros Walk of Fame, located on the sidewalk on Texas Ave. outside of Minute Maid Park.

Aspromonte will be the first member to officially be inducted to the Walk of Fame. Television announcer Bill Brown will host the induction ceremony, which begins at 3:30 CT and is open to the public. Two of Aspro the Astro’s teammates with the Colt .45s, Larry Dierker and Jimmy Wynn, are also scheduled to be a part of the ceremony, as are Jose Cruz and former Colt .45s/Astros broadcaster Gene Elston.

(The inaugural 2012 Walk of Fame induction class will include all retired-number players as well as Elston and Milo Hamilton. Each month during the 2012 season, a new member will be inducted into the Walk of Fame. They will be honored in order of the decade they played in.)

That night, the Astros will wear the original Colt .45s jersey, which includes the pistol on the front, for the 7:05 p.m. game vs. the Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park. Aspromonte will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Tuesday is the only flashback event that will not take place on a Friday. Beginning on April 20, all of the nostalgic events will take place on “Flashback Fridays.” Here is the rundown of the rest of the former players scheduled to throw out ceremonial first pitches:

April 20 vs. LAD    Larry Dierker
May 4 vs. STL        Rusty Staub
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

Fans can purchase a special Flashback Friday 14-game flex plan that guarantees a seat for 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.

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A no-doubt future Hall of Famer will be in Houston in the next few days, and the Astros will give him a respectful salute on Monday before the series opener with the Braves.

Chipper Jones, an 18-year Major League veteran who has played his entire career with the Braves, announced during Spring Training that he will retire following the 2012 season. It’s not often that a player is able to pick when he retires and go out, as they say, on his own terms. It’s even more rare that a player will announce his retirement early enough to give teams time to honor him during his final tour through the league.

More often, you’ll see a player hang on until he simply receives no more contract offers, and then retire because there’s really no other option. Other times, a player will wait until the end of the season to announce that he is finished.

Craig Biggio was one of the few who announced his retirement months in advance of the end of the season. Chipper is another, and this week, he’ll be in Houston with the Braves (albeit on the disabled list).

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t like Chipper much. Hey, I get it. I never liked the guy either, for no other reason than he was really, really good, and he played for a Braves club that consistently demolished my teams both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

Oh, how I once hated the Braves. They were a thorn in the Reds’ side when I still lived in Cincinnati in the mid-90s, and they became an even bigger problem for the Astros when I arrived onto the scene in the latter part of that decade.

Eventually I outgrew my disgust (well, most of it), probably because in 2004 and 2005 the Astros finally figured out a way to bounce them from the playoffs, instead of the other way around, as was the case in 1997. And 1999. And 2001.

As it turns out, there’s plenty to admire about Chipper’s career. His 454 home runs rank third all-time among switch-hitters, behind only Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray. His .304 career batting average is second among all switch-hitters, behind Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch. He is the only switch-hitter in Major League history with more than 300 home runs and a career batting average above .300.

Chipper is a seven-time All-Star and played in 11 postseasons, including three World Series. He was part of the Braves team that won it all in 1995.

He will eventually be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and on Monday, the Astros will salute his fabulous career. The presentation will take place around 10 minutes before the games starts on Monday.

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Astros lineup 4/8 vs. Rockies. Roof closed. Game time: 1:05 p.m CT

Astros lineup April 7 vs. Rockies. Roof open. First pitch 6:05 CT

Astros Opening Day celebrates the past and looks ahead to the future. The day in pictures.

Owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow

Opening Day is special, and you instantly can feel the vibe. It’s festive, it’s fun and everyone’s in a good mood. And, least importantly, it’s the one game of the year where people get all gussied up.

On Opening Day, just about everyone who covers baseball, or broadcasts baseball, or signs free agents, or helps design bobbleheads, or sits in a suite with other like-minded very important people, is dressed to the nines. The men look a little like secret service agents (without the ear buds and scowls worn by the real secret service agents who are there to protect Minute Maid Park regulars George and Barbara Bush).

Opening Day means something. The ballpark is the place to be. Even if it’s just one game of 162 played every year, what Opening Day symbolizes is recognized, and respected.

That doesn’t mean Opening Day is some stuffy cocktail party. No, quite the contrary. Opening Day is a big party, and that was never more apparent than in the nearly seven hours leading up to first pitch, when the streets surrounding Minute Maid Park were closed off and transformed into the annual rite of passage known as Street Fest.

The festival on the streets by the ballpark (hence the name Street Fest) included a little bit of everything — bands, food, beverages, fans and appearances by significant members of the team, both from the front office and the uniformed staff.

Street Fest started early and ended late and featured visits from some of the most recognizable members of the team. Two groups of Astros dropped by for two separate pep rallies.

Unsurprisingly, the second crowd, on hand for the appearance by Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez and Bud Norris at 4:30-ish, was slightly more spirited and, shall we say, less inhibited than the fans who moseyed over to the stage for the 12:30 show with Jeff Luhnow, Brad Mills and Larry Dierker. Hey, certain libations just flow more freely in the late afternoon hours.

Pep rallies were just one element of the Opening Day celebration. Pregame ceremonies included trotting Budweiser Clydesdales, an anthem-singing country music star (Clay Walker), ceremonial first pitches by those who contributed to the Astros’ storied history (Jimmy Wynn, Dierker and Jose Cruz) and those who are ready to usher in a brand new era of Astros baseball, including owner Jim Crane and his many board members.

Crane’s afternoon began with a lengthy visit to batting practice and brief remarks to the team assembled in the locker room a couple of hours before first pitch.

We have lots of pictures and videos to share from the day. We’ll start with Crane’s remarks to the team:

Highlights:

“Congrats on making the team. I know for a lot of you guys it’s your first time making the team, your first Opening Day. Have some fun.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here. We’re going to try to do things right and try to make this a fun place to be. This should be a fun team to be on so anything we can help you with, you’re part of my family now.

“One thing you’ve got to remember — those people outside (in the stands) pay the bills. We put up the money to buy the team, and we need to engage the fans, stay close to the fans. We need to be nice to the fans. We’ve worked hard at that. I’m going to ask a lot of you throughout the season when you’ve got the time. We won’t take away from your work.”

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The dugout scene before the game always includes plenty of hugs and handshakes among teammates. This is the one game of the year where the sense of brotherhood is front and center. Although the camaraderie doesn’t dim through the season, you don’t see a lot of outward affection between teammates from day to day. That’s mainly saved for the opener.

Enjoy the photos from an eventful day at Minute Maid Park:

Pep rally: Dave Raymond, Bud Norris, Brett Dolan

Pep rally: broadcasters with J.D. Martinez

Batting practice: Brad Mills has his daily meeting with the media. Most days, the contingent is a little smaller.

BP: Strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman with Jose Altuve.

BP: two great players from our history, Art Howe and Enos Cabell.

BP: the TV gang -- Steve Sparks, Kevin Eschenfelder, Jim Deshaies.

BP: Kyle Weiland.

BP: J.D. Martinez.

Pregame ceremony: Jeff Luhnow and the Clydesdales.

Pregame ceremony: Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Jose Cruz.

First pitch: Jim Crane and several board members.

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Astros Opening Day lineup, April 6. Roof open. First pitch 6:05 CT. Root! Root! Root!

Sprucing up Minute Maid Park in anticipation of Opening Day.

The Astros held a workout for the 40th time (or somewhere in that neighborhood) in a row on Thursday, but this one carried special significance, because it was the last one before Opening Day.

Not that the Astros will stop working out, practicing and going through the drills and routine that keeps them sharp throughout the year. But for the better part of seven weeks they’ve been working out on the field together in preparation for a season that seemingly, at least to some of us, was never going to get here.

It was a picture-perfect day in Houston on Thursday — low humidity, lots of sun, a mild breeze — and the same is expected for Opening Day. As the players ran around the field, support staff and stadium workers spent the afternoon sprucing up the place for what should be a sellout crowd on Friday. Here are the images from the last quiet day we’ll experience at Minute Maid Park for a while:

(P.S. Gates will open at 4 p.m. on Friday. The first pitch will be at 6:05 p.m. Pregame introductions will begin around 5:30, so be sure to get there early.)

Video:

Photo gallery:

On the main concourse level...banners everywhere.

Painting the Opening Day logo on the field, behind home plate.

Jason Castro watches practice minutes before taking BP.

Martinez during BP

Two interesting items as we get ready to delve into the season:

1. The Astros are the second-youngest team in the big leagues. The average age of their 25-man roster is 27.82 years, behind only the Royals, whose average age is 27.42.

On that note, Baseball America recently tabbed the club’s Double-A Corpus Christi team as the eighth-best team  in Minor League Baseball. The explanation:

“It has been a long time since the Astros could assemble enough talent to fill a roster like this, but last year’s trades have helped make up for the organization’s minor league talent deficiency. 1B Jonathan Singleton (No. 34) and RHP Jarred Cosart (No. 50) both came over in last summer’s Hunter Pence trade. Fellow Phillies’ pickups SS Jonathan Villar ahd RHP Josh Zeid are joined by ex-Brave LHP Brett Oberholtzer on what may be the Astros’ most talented minor league club in a decade.”

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