One of the best days of the season, in my humble opinion, is the day that Major League Baseball celebrates Mother’s Day.
Not only is it fun to watch players wear pink wristbands and shoelaces and swing pink bats, it’s all for a great cause, raising millions for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Again this year, Major League Baseball and Susan G. Komen for the Cure are scouring the country looking for Honorary Bat Girl candidates to represent their home town teams this Mother’s Day.
If your life has been personally affected by this terrible disease, please consider submitting a 900-word-or-less essay and photo to be the Astros’ Honorary Bat Girl. The deadline is April 14.
Mother’s Day is on May 8, which will be a road game for the Astros, but Major League Baseball will select another date to honor the winner.
Here is a sample entry, submitted by Karissa Ma, the contest winner in 2009. When diagnosed with breast cancer on March 2, 2005, at age 30, Ma, who had undergone six surgeries, watched virtually every Astros game in the pennant-winning ’05 season. And, despite feeling ill and losing all of her hair as a result of the chemotherapy treatments, she attended all of the Astros’ postseason home games that season.
“During the 2005 season, they were not only my favorite team, but also an escape from the hospitals and doctors,” Ma wrote. “On Opening Day 2005, I attended the game having just been released two days prior from my first mastectomy and still had my drains attached. My husband thought I was crazy, but to me, this was a way to bring some normalcy to our lives.
“Every Friday night we had ‘date night’ at MD Anderson [Cancer Center]. This was my weekly chemo treatment, but we also watched our Astros and again, it helped us cope.
“While I am still receiving treatment, I am unable to be a mom. However, I know in my heart I will be able to celebrate Mother’s Day soon. Until that day, I share Mother’s Day with the Astros, watching them with their pink bats. Every day I bat against breast cancer by my countless hours of volunteering with the Komen Foundation and speaking to young women about it.”
A tip of the cap goes to @mcLeod_jd, who had the only correct answer of the more than 250 guesses that poured in for #TwitterTuesday.
The question — who is Michael Bourn’s favorite actress? Answer: Sanaa Lathan.
I suppose I was in the majority in that I had never heard of Sanaa, nor had I heard of any of her movies, even after Bourn rattled them off. But that’s what I liked about this question — it had a stronger degree of difficulty than the previous two weeks, which kept the contest going for more than four or five minutes.
As a reminder, we ask a Google-free question on Twitter every Tuesday at noon CT sharp. The first to tweet the correct answer to me wins two free tickets to any game this season, with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series in July and the last homestand in September.
The incorrect guesses are often more entertaining than the actual answer. For example, along with about 175 guesses that Halle Berry is Bourn’s favorite actress, I received two votes for Debra Winger and one each for Snooki, Betty White and Rudy from the Cosby Show.
A few news and notes from a relatively quiet day at the Kissimmee Complex:
* Jason Castro began physical therapy in Houston on Monday at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center. After undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus, Castro is effectively out for the year, with a small chance of a September return.
* FS Houston will air two Astros games: March 18 at the Marlins, and March 19 vs. the Cardinals. Additionally, four games will be on MLB Network: tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Mets, March 15 at Baltimore, March 27 vs. Detroit and March 30 vs. the Red Sox (at Minute Maid Park).
* Clint Barmes will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline Wednesday at the ESPN Club on the Boardwalk at Disney. The show starts at 8 ET/7 CT and can be heard on 740 KTRH and Astros.com. I’ll be asking for some questions through Twitter when the show gets closer, so if you have a question for the Astros shortstop, send it my way: http://www.twitter.com/alysonfooter
* The Oklahoma City RedHawks have announced that tickets for the March 29 exhibition game against the Astros will go on sale to the general public beginning at 9 a.m. on Tuesday March 15.
Remaining availability is limited, and seats are expected to sell quickly. For the Astros-RedHawks exhibition, Club seats are $20, Field and Bleacher seats are $16, Third Base Terrace seats are $12 and Lawn seating is $10.
First pitch on March 29 is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., with gates opening at 5:00 p.m., the same time Astros batting practice is scheduled to begin. Tickets are available for purchase by phone at (405) 218-1000, online at http://www.okcredhawks.com, or by visiting the RedHawks ticket office on Mickey Mantle Drive in Bricktown.
And we end with a few early-morning batting practice images:
It all started last week, when I asked fans to tweet their non-baseball questions for Chris Johnson for our weekly feature, “Focus Friday.”
One of our more loyal followers, @MissSadieK, asked of our third baseman: “Will you ever become a member of our Twitter family?” CJ said he didn’t know much about “The Twitter,” or how to set it up, but he would give a try if someone would show him how to do it.
Done. After batting practice in Viera on Monday, we got him all squared away, first with his Twitter name, @cjastros23, and next with his first tweet: “As promised I am now a member of the twitter family! Spring training game time at Nationals! Let’s get to work!”
As you’ve probably gathered from the stories and blogs you’ve read, Johnson is a lot of fun, a total hoot, and I would imagine he’ll provide a lot of entertainment (and hopefully some baseball insight too) through his tweets. He’s also a die-hard Duke fan and is very happy to have a new communication tool through which to express himself throughout tournament season.
Johnson is the third current Astro to join the Twitterverse. Hunter Pence (@HunterPence9) and Ryan Rowland-Smith (@hyphen18) are the other two. Hopefully you’ll give all three a follow.
It was supposed to be little more than a fun few minutes of catching passes from a Major League ballplayer, but right from the get-go, this flag football game carried with it a little something extra.
Addressing “teams” comprised of boys approximately 10-12 years old, Hunter Pence was fully engrossed in this flag football scrimmage. He huddled. Called plays. Talked strategy. If the kids were at all awestruck by being in the presence of a big leaguer, that quickly faded when the competitive juices kicked in and winning was on the line.
“It was beautiful offensive coordination,” Pence quipped, assessing his play calling. “I had a lot of great talent to work with. Those kids were amazing. I had a lot of fun. It brings me back to the old days as a kid.”
The flag football game was part of a flurry of activities Pence participated in during his visit to Disney on Friday, as part of the ESPN The Weekend festivities. Pence started in the Fun Zone, where he mingled with fans, signed autographs and, finally, choreographed a well-organized football game.
“That was the most intense flag football scrimmage I’ve ever been a part of,” Pence said. “The kids were actually sharp, paying attention, making great plays. That’s what this is all about — hanging with the young guys.”
Pence also sat on a panel of baseball players and experts during a special presentation of “Baseball Tonight,” staged in front of a live audience. The entire BBTN crew was there — Karl Ravech, Tim Kurkjian, Bobby Valentine, John Kruk and Nomar Garciaparra, in addition to Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista and Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee.
ESPN Deportes held a similar panel discussion on Saturday, with participating from Carlos Lee as well as retired Yankee Bernie Williams.
A full video of Friday’s activities can be found here. Here are some photos for further illustration…
Backstage at Baseball Tonight…Pence, Bautista, Lee
And on stage.
As I watched Cameron Diaz make her way to the front row of seats near the visitors dugout during the Astros-Yankees game on Sunday, I couldn’t help but wonder if she enjoyed that snail-like crawl down Hwy. 192, or if she stopped by the Firehouse Subs at the corner of 192 and John Young Parkway for a quick bite before the game like the rest of us.
The Astros’ spring home was packed to the gills on Sunday, and loosely calculated, the breakdown was as followed: 69.999 percent Yankees fans, 29.999 percent Astros fans, 0.002 percent Hollywood actresses (Diaz, who is famously dating Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, and Amanda Aardsma, girlfriend of Astros pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith).
Mix in a Hall of Fame legend (Yogi Berra) and there were clearly enough distractions to keep people occupied, just in case an exhibition game featuring 25 mph winds and a few Spring Training-ish home runs weren’t enough to hold their attention.
I snuck down to the concourse to try to snap a quick picture of Diaz, but needless to say, between the people trying to take pictures of her, the people trying to take pictures of the Yankees and the security gently asking us to “KEEP THE AISLE CLEAR PLEASE!”, I
didn’t have much luck. So her she is from the side. Sorry, best I could do.
Welcome to FocusFriday, our weekly Spring Training feature that invites fans to tweet non-baseball, human interest questions for various Astros players.
Last week, we featured Hunter Pence, and this week’s subject is Chris Johnson. If you’re curious about his hobbies outside of baseball, favorite place to eat in Houston or who he’s picking to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, read on. You can also watch the video here.
@finalfour: Do you follow college basketball and who do you think will win the NCAA tournament?
CJ: Duke will win. I follow college basketball a lot. I love it. Duke’s my favorite team . They had a tough blow with Kyrie Irving going down but I think we’ll be able to hang in there and get to the Final Four and win it again for the repeat. They will win the National Championship.
@FreeDrinkPhx: What were your favorite cartoons/kids shows and do you still watch cartoons/kids shows?
CJ: I’m going to have to say Saved by the Bell was my favorite kids show growing up. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like the show Saved by the Bell. And what kid when he was younger didn’t want to be like Zack Morris? I know I did.
@zackmaddox21: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of baseball?
CJ: I’m kind of a movie guy. I like going to see movies. Anything relaxing, anything indoors, just because we’re outside so much.
(What was the last movie you saw?)
Last movie I saw…I just rented Due Date. It was OK, pretty good.
@allphilla Are you a video-gamer, and if so, what do you play?
CJ: I play video games a little bit. I like Call of Duty. It’s the only game I play — Call of Duty or Madden. I’m not very good because I don’t really play a lot but I’m a pretty good gamer.
@EckmanBrandon: What is your favorite place to eat in the Houston area?
CJ: Vic and Anthony’s. It was the first place I ever went to when I got called up to Houston and the crab cakes are outstanding.
@MissSadieK: Will you ever become a member of the Twitter family?
CJ: I don’t really know much about the Twitter or how to set it up. I’m not a big-time computer guy but I do have an iPhone, so I guess that could make it easy. If I can get somebody to show me how to do it. I’m kind of nervous that I won’t get a lot of friends on there. I could probably give it a shot.
(I think the Social Media Director for the Astros could probably help you set it up…)
CJ: OK, then, I will get a Twitter account. I will tweet.
@Evie: We know you like Entourage, but what is your guilty pop culture pleasure?
CJ: I’m a pretty big Justin Bieber fan. I’ve got the fever. His songs are great. I listen to them on my iPod before the games, try to get pumped up. I haven’t been to his concerts yet. He hasn’t come through Houston yet, I don’t think, but when he does, I’m going to jump all over it. I just hope we don’t have a game, because then I’d miss the game.
Got this question from one of our more loyal Twitter followers, @Jaylen1182: What would you tell the fringe fans to have them not write this team off before the season starts based on Spring Training starts?
That issue has always been an interesting topic of conversation during Spring Training, because on one hand, you want your team to win as many games as possible, no matter what season it is. On the other hand, there may be nothing less telling than a team’s Grapefruit League win-loss record, mainly because most of the players who start the games are long gone by the time they’re over.
The first week of exhibition games could very well feature 50-60 players between the two teams. The starters get their two at-bats, play their three or four innings and are showered, dressed and gone several innings before the game actually ends. As the month wears on, players stay in longer and by the end, the box score looks similar to something you’d see on Opening Day. But for a good three weeks, players are shuffled in and out, and looking for any kind of trend or continuity is simply wasted time.
I’ve never cared about the final results as much as I scrutinize the individual performances of players who are either expected to make the team or are right there on the bubble and could make the team, depending on how they fare during Spring Training. I check the starting pitcher’s line, then look at how many hits the regular position players recorded, and finally, how the handful of relievers projected to comprise this year’s bullpen performed.
If the regular players were in the game for, say, five innings and after the fifth the Astros are ahead 5-2, but end up losing 7-5 because of a bunch of miscues that happened after their exit, am I worried? Not really.
On my way to the ballpark this morning, I started to think back to past springs and tried to remember what the final records were before some of the Astros’ best and worst regular seasons. Of course, I had no recollection, so I checked the media guide.
The 1998 team, which won a club record 102 regular-season games, recorded a very comparable 17-10-2 mark during Spring Training. But check this out: the 1986 Astros were 9-18-1 during Spring Training — and went on to win the NL West division. The 1991 Astros,
comprised of hugely talented but young, raw and not-yet-ready-to-win players who recorded the most losses in club history with 97, were a sparkling 17-10 during Spring Training.
The 1980 Astros, a playoff team, were 8-11 in spring. The 2000 Astros — a big, huge flop at 72-90, cruised through a 19-12 Grapefruit season.
Other notable years:
1999: Reg. season: 97-65 Spring Training: 14-15
2004: Reg. season: 92-70 Spring Training: 14-14-1
2005: Reg. season: 89-73 Spring Training 13-14
2007: Reg. season: 73-89 Spring Training: 18-11-1
Enough of that. Let’s get to the fun stuff. Who needs to talk about on-field performance when clay molds of Brownie and J.D. bobbleheads are currently cookin’ in the oven and almost ready for paint?
The J.D. and Brownie Bobblehead, presented by Coca-Cola, will be given to the first 10,000 fans on Saturday, June 11 when the Astros host the Braves. Thanks to our marketing folks, we have this sneak peek of the bobblehead in its pre-packaging state. Should be a fun
keepsake. Did I mention you can order tickets for that game here?
Mark it down: position players who are projected to be on the Opening Day 25-man roster are going to leave Florida with 55-65 Spring Training at-bats. This means two things: a) even the projected starters aren’t going to play every day and b) like pitchers, they have to slowly build up their strength throughout the spring season so they can be in acceptable playing shape when the bell rings on April 1.
I’ve already heard from a number of fans who have expressed concern when Chris Johnson and/or Brett Wallace aren’t in the lineup one day after they play. This is all by design, planned out ahead of time, and it absolutely does not mean they’re being benched. Rather, it simply means they’re staying on schedule.
Pretty soon, and throughout the Grapefruit season, you’ll notice a trend with a bunch of the position players expected to be regulars this season. They’ll play three days in a row and have a day off, and their at-bats per game will jump from two to three and eventually, by the end of the month, they’ll make the four plate appearances that are pretty typical during a regular-season nine-inning game.
There’s a difference in being in shape and being in playing shape. No matter how much conditioning a player does during the offseason, there is a period of “baseball soreness” that grabs him in the early stages of spring games. Michael Bourn may be the most well-conditioned athlete on the team, but when he first started working out on the fields at the Astros’ complex, he was sore. Really, really sore. That’s to be expected.
That “baseball soreness” won’t last as long if a player is already in shape when he gets to Spring Training. But there’s no way to prepare during the offseason for the long periods of time players have to spend running and fielding their positions on the hard infield dirt and the grassy outfields. By the end of Spring Training, their legs have readjusted to the elements. But this process does not happen overnight.
Subsequently, manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff map it out so that players can properly progress as the month of March wears on. They also have to find playing time for 63 players on the spring roster. This requires some crafty maneuvering and careful planning. No players play every day during Spring Training, and the Astros aren’t the exception.
Initially, I was unfazed by the number of JBs, JTs, CJs and TJs wearing Houston Astros uniforms this spring. Then I actually started counting the number of people throughout the organization whose nicknames are designated by two letters and I have to wonder if this
would make it into the Big Book of Meaningless Stats and Unconfirmed Records.
By my count, the Astros have five players whose first names are simply initials: T.J. Steele, J.R. Towles, J.B. Shuck, J.D. Martinez and J.A. Happ (although his is pronounced “Jay”). Chris Johnson probably fits into this category too, because everyone pretty much
just calls him C.J.
The front office is also represented, thanks to media relations specialist M.J. Trahan. Don’t forget about the broadcast team either: our very own Jim Deshaies is probably referred to as “Jim” by his wife and, well, that’s about it. The rest of us know him simply as “J.D.“
Our old friend Moises Alou is in town, visiting with his old friend, Jeff Bagwell. Just like old times:
Pics from pregame fun at Lakeland:
Today’s ballplayers are arguably more fit and health-conscious than players of any era that preceded them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a little friendly supervision in the nutrition department every now and again.
The Astros have hired Sports Dietician Consultant Roberta Anding to help players maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the season, which isn’t always such an easy thing once they reach the big league level.
Anding, the Sports Dietician for the Houston Texans and Rice University (where she’s also a professor), met with the entire squad before workouts Tuesday morning and stressed the importance of eating well, staying hydrated and staying away from supplements that could contain, unknowingly, banned substances.
In addition to working in healthier food choices inside the clubhouse, Anding will also work with Continental to come up with better options when the club is flying from city to city. In the past, players were greeted with dozens of food items as soon as they walked onto the plane, from the healthy (bananas, apples, oranges) to the relatively harmless (cheese and crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Lunchables), to the sinful (Snickers bars, Dove ice cream bars, Hershey bars).
Additionally, “appetizers” served before the main meal were often fried and accompanied by creamy sauces.
The Astros aren’t looking to overhaul the entire operation in one fell swoop. Rather, they want to slowly work in healthier choices that players can adapt to seamlessly without feeling like they’re missing anything. Although today’s athletes are well-conditioned and disciplined, temptation is everywhere.
(Speaking from personal experience, sometimes it’s hard to reach for the apples when you’ve got Peanut M&Ms staring you in the face.)
Meanwhile, Anding hopes to add a Smoothie station to the clubhouse kitchen. She also encouraged players to work in a healthy diet with their strength and conditioning routine and to stay hydrated.
“Fruits and vegetables are the water you chew,” she said, adding that dehydration can affect performance by “15 to 20 percent.”
A lot of you have asked how many Major League players are on Twitter. Thanks to @MLB, we can view the entire growing list with one click of the mouse. Here’s the most recently updated verified list, including the Twitter profiles of a couple of Astros players: @HunterPence9 and @hyphen18.
The first Florida-based Astroline will take place on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/7 CT, live from the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk. Hosted by Milo Hamilton, this week’s Astroline show will feature manager Brad Mills. The show can be heard on KTRH 740 and Astros.com.
You can tweet me your questions for the skipper at http://www.twitter.com/alysonfooter.
Astroline will air four times this spring: March 2, 9, 16 and 23.
Speaking of Milo, a few weeks ago, he was inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. In perfect double-play form, he also picked up the Pinky Primrose Long and Meritorious award.
Notables: Fernando Abad was sent home Tuesday morning after the lefty checked in with a temperature of 101. Wesley Wright took his place took his place on the projected list of pitchers scheduled to appear during the home opener with the Braves. …congratulations to @dailyfudgeround for giving the correct answer during the second #TwitterTuesday contest. The question: What was Bill Hall’s favorite musician when he was a kid? Answer: Tupac Shakur. #TwitterTuesday takes place every Tuesday at noon CT throughout the spring and asks a question about a player that cannot be found through an online search. The first person to tweet the correct answer wins two free tickets to any home game this season, with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season. …the Astros will play two games on the road Wednesday — one in Lakeland (Tigers), one in Tampa (Yankees). J.A. Happ will start in Lakeland, Bud Norris in Tampa.
Some pregame images from the home opener:
Hanging on the field, waiting for the anthem…Bogusevic, Johnson…
The Astros opened the Grapefruit season with a (hopefully) forgettable loss to the Braves on Monday, and although the hit totals were similar — 14 for the Astros, 15 for the Braves — the final score indicated that the home team was far more successful in executing once runners were on base.
Braves 13, Astros, 3. Wandy Rodriguez threw six pitches in the first inning and looked great. He threw 37 pitches in the second inning and the Braves piled on. After the game, Wandy admitted nothing was working, especially location and his curveball.
Fortunately, this was one game, and it was a Spring Training game, and Wandy has several more opportunities — at least six — to get himself ready for the regular season. In the meantime, offensively, the Astros had a nice showing. Brett Wallace was 3-for-3 with two runs scored, Carlos Lee was 2-for-3, T.J. Steele was 2-for-2, Tommy Manzella was 2-for-3 and Hunter Pence was 1-for-2.
Brett Myers will start Tuesday’s game, and the following pitchers are also scheduled to appear: Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Fernando Abad, Mark Melancon, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Gustavo Chacin and Patrick Urckfitz.
* The first 2,500 fans to the opener Tuesday will receive a free Astros cap, presented by USSSA.
* Jeff Bagwell arrived to the Kissimmee complex on Monday and plans to be with the team through Thursday.
* A foul ball sailed directly into the Astros’ broadcast booth in the ninth inning Monday, narrowly missing Dave Raymond and Milo Hamilton. According to eye-witness Brett Dolan (@astrosradio), “somehow both lived to tell of it.”
* For the first 13 games this spring, including Monday, the Astros will use the designated hitter rule. On March 10 vs. the Nationals and March 11 at the Nationals, they’ll switch over to National League-style baseball. The Astros will use the DH on March 11 vs. the Red Sox.
Friendly reminder that Google-free, can’t-find-it-on-the-internet, won’t-be-able-to-look-it-up-on-baseballreference.com Twitter Tuesday is almost upon us. At noon CT sharp, I will tweet a trivia question regarding one of the Astros players and the first person to tweet the correct answer wins two free tickets to any game this season, minus Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand.
We shot our first gameday video Monday morning around the cage during batting practice, which you can find here.
We also, as usual, took a bunch of photos. Enjoy the gallery and hopefully we’ll see you at the ballpark Tuesday.