Results tagged ‘ Astros ’
Taking early batting practice is pretty standard when a team is on the road, but normally, only a handful of players are present for the drill. Early BP, during which a team reserves the field prior to the home team taking it over for their daily practice, is normally designed for bench players looking to get some extra swings in, or regular players trying to work through some soreness or a slump, or young players looking for some extra time in the cage.
According to manager Brad Mills, attendance was a lot higher for early BP on Friday in Pittsburgh, enough for three hitting groups. That can partly be attributed to the weather — it was one of those picture-perfect sunny days, around 70 degrees with no humidity. Pittsburgh isn’t exactly a destination spot for ballplayers (although I’ve always said it’s a very underrated city, and great for baseball), so most were probably ready to head to the ballpark early, anyway. Players also like to get some extra swings in after an offday, which could also explain the crowd this time.
One of the participants was J.D. Martinez, who you’ve probably noticed was dropped in the order a few days ago and then omitted from the lineup more recently. Martinez carried an 0-for-21 streak to Pittsburgh and wasn’t in the starting lineup for Friday’s opener.
Mills said reinserting Martinez into the lineup is “coming up pretty quick,” after he gives the outfielder a chance to clear his head.
“I think he’s getting to where he needs to be,” Mills said.
Meanwhile, Mills tried something new with the lineup, sliding Jose Altuve into the three-hole for the first time and moving Jed Lowrie back up to two.
Until Friday, there were four players who had batted third this season: Martinez (23 games), Lowrie (five games), Travis Buck (two games) and Brian Bogusevic (one game).
“There are a lot of things I like about it,” Mills said of the Lowrie-Altuve tandem. “I talked to Jed and Altuve about it and they were all in.”
Mills also hinted he may keep them there for the remainder of this series.
Brett Myers refers to the bullpen corps as “The Regulators” and often heaps praise on his ‘pen mates after the Astros nail down close wins. How do I know this? Why, I follow Myers on Twitter, of course.
Myers, who goes by the Twitter handle @TheOutlaw39, is one of several players who signed up at some point this season. Another newcomer is reliever Wilton Lopez, who can be found in Twitterland at @lopezwilton59.
Altuve will sign autographs (free of charge) at the Team Store at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, May 19 from 1 to 2 p.m. CT. Autographs are not guaranteed, so the Astros encourage you get there early. We will send out several reminders leading up to the event.
An Astros player will sign autographs at no charge on Saturday per month at the Team Store throughout the season.
Finally, we went with a smile-and-be-happy theme to today’s photo album. Batting practice, at beautiful PNC Park:
I fully admit it. Exactly one year ago, I had no idea who Jose Altuve was.
Other than a couple of mentions by friends who follow the Minor League system pretty closely — “Seriously, there’s this little guy, an infielder, who’s playing Single-A and hitting like .400,” they’d tell me — Altuve’s meteoric ascent through the Astros’ Minor League system in 2011 barely grabbed my attention. There was all of that excitement on the Major League level to worry about, after all.
But the more I heard about Altuve, the more I learned about him, and the more I started paying attention. It became pretty obvious, fairly quickly, this was a kid not to be ignored. Altuve was intriguing not only because he seemed to reach base every at-bat, but because of how tall he was — or, more accurately, wasn’t. Altuve was listed at 5-foot-7. He’s really 5-foot-5.
Understandably, really short guys hitting for a really high average creates quite a spectacle.
Altuve was promoted to Corpus in the middle of the season, and I took a drive down to meet him and some other top prospects. One of the first things I said to Altuve was, “Let’s get this out of the way. I know everyone wants to talk to you about your height. Humor me for a few minutes and then we’ll move on to your hitting.”
The thing that struck me about Altuve, even more than his intelligence and firm grasp of the English language, was his poise, and how unfazed he was by his physical stature. He’s been reminded hundreds of times that he’s short. His answer is something like this, “Look, I know I’m short. I’ve known myself my whole life. I know what I look like. You’re not telling me anything new.”
He first tried out for the Astros as a 16-year-old in Venezuela, and the Astros sent him home, telling him — yep, you guessed it — that he was too small to have a legitimate shot at playing in the big leagues. But Altuve persisted, and eventually, it was enough for the Astros to take a serious look at him. That was six years ago.
Altuve played in the Futures Game during All-Star Week last July. If the first month of the season is any indication, it’s very possible he could represent the Astros in Kansas City at the All-Star Game this year. Only seven players have appeared in the Futures Game one year and the All-Star Game the following season: Adam Dunn, Neftali Feliz, Jason Heyward, Francisco Liriano, Evan Longoria, Ben Sheets and Geovany Soto. Could Altuve be No. 8?
Entering Monday’s game, he was leading all Major League second basemen with a .352 batting average. His 15 multi-hit games were tops in the National League, and he was tied for third in with 38 hits.
Altuve will probably continue to have his detractors who will look at the stat sheet, size him up and say, “He can’t keep this up.” No big deal. He’s heard that before.
He just thinks back to the conversation he had with the Astros scout who decided to take a chance on him at that tryout six years ago. “Just do what you know how to do,” Altuve was told.
“This,” Altuve answered, gesturing to the field, “is what I know how to do.”
And now he’s found a home in Houston.
The Houston Astros Pink in the Park Brunch and Bazaar — an annual event that douses Minute Maid Park in pink hues as far as the eye can see — raised $145,000 for The Methodist Cancer Center on Friday.
Most of the Astros players and coaching staff attended the brunch, which was designed to raise awareness for breast cancer and research. This was the third year in a row the Astros have hosted the event.
The luncheon featured a panel discussion that included input from Dr. Angel Rodriguez, director of the Methodist Triple Negative Breast Cancer Clinic, Roberta Schwartz, a breast cancer survivor and executive vice president at The Methodist Hospital, Maryanne McCormack, a breast cancer survivor and founder of Visible Changes Hair Salon and Sara Lyon, whose mother, Joan, is a breast cancer survivor. Sara is married to Astros reliever Brandon Lyon.
In addition to the team, several members of the Astros’ staff attended the event, including owner Jim Crane, General Manager Jeff Luhnow, President and CEO George Postolos and Vice President of Marketing/Strategy Kathleen Clark. Broadcasters Jim Deshaies, Dave Raymond, Brett Dolan and Francisco Romero were also in attendance. Astros in Action Foundation board member and honorary chair Shawn Taylor delivered introductory remarks to the crowd.
The Astros and the Methodist Cancer Center are providing pink-themed items to 10,000 fans at each of three early May games to promote breast cancer awareness. The pink promotions include a pink belted tote bag (May 4), a pink Yoga mat (May 6) and a pink pashmina scarf (May 7).
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about ballplayers over the years, it’s they’re unwaveringly loyal to two groups: their moms, and their dogs.
Dog Day at Minute Maid Park is this Sunday, May 6, and you can bet you’ll see Bailey Brutus Norris, Rollie Castro, Harley Johnson and Sophia May Buck in attendance. They might linger around the Astros dugout a while, but for good reason: their owners (fathers?) play for your Astros, and they’re more than a little excited for this doggone fun promotion.
Rollie Castro, named after the Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, is a rambunctious little guy who covered a lot of territory in the outfield at Minute Maid Park once the leash came off. Bailey Norris is still learning how to fetch — he’s got the running-after-the-ball part down pat, but once he gets to the ball, he just keeps running. They’re working on it.
As for Harley Johnson and Sophia May Buck, drooling and snorting appear to be their top two favorite activities, followed by drinking water, finding shade and fighting over a pink frisbee.
What a week.
Dog Day on Sunday will begin with the Pooch Parade around the field, which gives owners and their dogs an opportunity to flaunt their Sunday best while being captured on the giant scoreboard. (Pooch poopie picker-uppers will follow in the back, just in case.)
Dog Day offers two price packages. The $40 Dog Day Bullpen Box Package includes two Bullpen Box tickets — one for the owner, one for the pup, with access into the “Barking ROom Only” section in Conoco Alley. The tickets also include entrance to the Dog Zone at KBR Plaza and the Pooch Parade.
The $20 dog Standing Room Only ticket includes SRO tickets for you and your dog, plus access to the “Barking Room Only” area in Conoco Alley, the Dog Zone in KBR Plaza and the Pooch Parade.
To order tickets, click here. And when you’re parading around the warning track, be sure to look for your Astros players and their pups. Woof!
Another Flashback Friday is on the horizon, and a calendar flip from April to May means it’s time to roll out a new throwback jersey.
This Friday (May 4), the Astros will wear the shooting star jersey the team wore in the 1960s, after the name changed from Colt .45s to the Astros and the team moved into the brand new Astrodome.
Rusty Staub, one of the original members of the 1965 Astros, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Friday’s game. He will also sign autographs from 6-6:30 p.m. CT. Autograph vouchers (with proceeds going to the Astros In Action Foundation), can be purchased here.
In advance of your Astros playing dress-up on Friday with their cool throwback uniforms, we’re giving you a sneak peek at the jerseys, via popular television broadcasters Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies:
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
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
Exactly 10 years ago, rumblings of a possible Major League Baseball players strike were prevalent in every city, as fans braced themselves for what looked to be an inevitable shutdown. The disputed topics centered around the predictable (money), the hot-button (steroid testing) and the absurd (the owner of the Minnesota Twins thinking he could actually get away with doing away with his team).
Unlike 1994, when the union and the owners were so far apart and negotiations were so contentious that a strike was inevitable, this time, in 2002, players were overwhelmingly against a shutdown (although they’ll probably deny it to this day). This was a different time than in ’94: not even a year had passed since the tragic events on Sept. 11, 2001, the economy was in the proverbial toilet, a war was brewing and people were, in general, frazzled.
Many players voiced a similar sentiment: “If we strike now, we’re done. The fans aren’t coming back.”
The Astros were, at that time, contenders every year. They had won the division in 2001 and were talented enough in ’02 to remain competitive and take the division race down to the wire. There were plenty of young players on that team, but there was a strong veteran presence as well. Many of those veteran players were against a union strike. They wanted to keep playing, realizing the number of years remaining for them to get to the postseason, and win the World Series, were dwindling.
Jeff Bagwell, in particular, was one of those players. He had a few years remaining on his contract, but recent shoulder surgery made his future, and his longevity in the game, a lot less certain. He had already begun the process of passing the leadership baton to the next generation. “Our time is getting shorter,” he said. “This is Richard and Lance’s team now.”
By “Richard” and “Lance,” Bagwell was referring to Richard Hidalgo and Lance Berkman, two rising young stars who were drafted and developed by the Astros and considered to be the future of the organization. Bagwell and Craig Biggio mentioned, often, that the team was in very good hands because of those two players.
Hidalgo’s career, obviously, didn’t pan out the way Berkman’s has. Nonetheless, “Doggie” was a popular figure in Houston back then. He debuted with the team when it was still playing in the Astrodome, and he holds the distinction of scoring the first Astros run at the new downtown ballpark, via the first Astros home run hit in ballpark history.
Hidalgo will be in Houston when the next homestand begins, sparking an impromptu special edition Alumni First Pitch. On Monday, April 30, Hidalgo will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Astros-Mets game (coincidentally, the Astros traded Hidalgo to the Mets in the middle of 2004). Instead of “Flashback Friday,” we’ll call this one “Memory Monday.”
Can’t wait to see “Doggie” again. Woof!
As is the case with just about everything in life, nothing stays the same forever.
Times change. Trends change. Hairstyles, clothing, music (and the devices by which we listen to that music) all change.
Baseball has changed as well, even if the differences aren’t as glaring as the contrast between bell bottoms and leisure suits in the 1970s and parachute pants and sky-high bangs in the ’80s. Baseball has changed in more subtle ways, due in large part to the escalation of salaries paid to players these days.
Pitchers arms are worth, essentially, millions. Like any other valuable asset, the rightsholders to those arms are protective of their commodity. In turn, the rightsholders — also known as Major League organizations — often treat those arms with kid gloves, careful to not overuse or abuse the investment.
A couple of generations ago, on the other hand, pitching was viewed not so much as a science as it was a responsibility. Starting pitchers, quite simply, were supposed to finish what they started. Specialized relief pitchers — lefty specialists, setup men, setup men to the setup men — were largely unheard of. If you pitched the first inning, you were also expected to pitch the ninth. It didn’t always work out that way, of course — it’s not like bullpens are a new thing — but there was a sense of pride with a starting pitcher, and a sense of failure when he wasn’t still on the mound for the last out.
Larry Dierker debuted as a Houston Colt .45 on Sept. 22, 1964, his 18th birthday. He was done as a pitcher by age 30, largely due to the wear and tear on a right arm that endured 2,333 Major League innings.
Dierker retired in 1977 after a brief stint with the St. Louis Cardinals. When he left the Astros, he held a record that still stands today: 106 complete games. It’s likely a record that may never be broken. That’s not because the Astros will never have another pitcher who could show that kind of endurance. It’s just that those pitchers won’t be allowed to finish that many games. Their arms are too expensive. Why take the risk?
Pedro Martinez, arguably the most dominant pitcher of his generation, recorded 46 complete games during his stellar 18-year career. Greg Maddux, also in a class of his own through the 1990s, recorded 109 complete games — over 23 years. By contrast, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, whose career lasted 21 years from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, recorded a whopping 382 complete games, well over half of his 665 career starts.
Dierker wasn’t in the same class as Spahn, of course, but they came from the same old-school style of pitching: you start what you finish, or you didn’t do your job.
The one season Dierker spent with the Cardinals was the only time he spent away from the Astros. After retirement, he worked for the ticket office for a spell. Then he moved up to the broadcast booth, where he spent nearly two decades as an announcer. He was hired to manage the Astros in 1997, and after that five-year run ended, he slowly worked his way back into the fold as a good will ambassador for the team. All of the alumni functions that have taken place over the last decade are largely due to his leadership.
Dierker threw out the first pitch before the game on Friday, a day when the Astros wore the same Colt .45s uniforms Dierker sported during his debut all of those years ago. Many former players will be honored throughout the 50th anniversary celebration this year, but no one has given more time, knowledge and loyalty to this organization than Dierker.
It’s always nice to see “Sluggo” at the ballpark. Enjoy the images of his first pitch, along with other highlights from the day that was: