Results tagged ‘ Astros ’

Flashback Friday preview: climbing mountains with Astros legends.

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.

Next up: the shooting star jerseys (center) from the 1960s.

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

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Social Media Night in Budweiser Patio: food, prizes, baseball, and more food.

Did you know that Bud Norris’s ideal vacation is a Caribbean cruise, and the one road city he prefers over all others is Chicago? Any idea which Astro holds the record for the most career walkoff home runs? Ever heard which Astro in the mid-80s used to stuff fried chicken into his coat pockets before the team boarded charter flights?

Answers to these burning questions, and eight more, were revealed during our first Social Media Night of the 2012 season on Saturday in the Budweiser Patio. Between the appearance by Cudly Studly Budly, the Texas burger topped with brisket and bacon, the pints of Blue Bell ice cream and the major TV time provided by FS Houston’s Patti Smith, this Social Media Night party appeared to be well-received by all in attendance.

We’ll have three more Social Media Nights this year: June 2, July 28 and Sept. 15. Tickets are $45 and include the following: batting practice viewing from just behind the Astros dugout, a ticket to the game in the Budweiser Patio behind center field, an opportunity to win prizes (and meet an Astros player) during Twitter Trivia, dinner, a t-shirt and dessert.

You can purchase tickets to any or all games now.  We will announce the player appearance two weeks in advance of each date. In the meantime, enjoy the photo gallery from a fun night on the Budweiser Patio (P.S.: Charley Kerfeld stuffed fried chicken into his coat, and Jose Cruz owns the career walkoff home run record with six):

Ninth inning rally caps...

...topped only by the ninth inning Rally Baby.

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Bonus celebrity first pitch: another Astros alum drops by Minute Maid Park next week.

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.”

The link to purchase tickets for that game can be found here.

Can’t wait to see “Doggie” again. Woof!

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In Dierker’s day, there was no pageantry for throwing a complete game. It was part of the job.

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.

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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:

Dierker, during an introduction by PA announcer Bob Ford.

Dierker throws the ceremonial first pitch to manager Brad Mills.

Batting practice: a relaxed Carlos Lee watches from behind the cage.

Jordan Schafer records a promo video for the Astros, wearing a boa and playing some sort of accordion device. (Yes, really.)

The Astros celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, their first day back after a week-long road trip. They honored Hall of Famer and Houston resident Monte Irvin during the ceremony.

Donning the Colt .45s uniform, J.D. Martinez signs autographs before the game.

As was the case the first time they wore the retro uniforms on April 10, the Astros were digging the stirrups. Lucas Harrell proudly sported his both days.

In honor of Jackie Robinson Day, kids ran on the field when the players took their positions. Here's Chris Johnson making a new friend.

And Chris Snyder, doing the same behind the plate.

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Saturday notes: Social Media Night, Astros Twitter handles and some good eatin’ at Marlins Park.

Social Media Nights have become a staple at Minute Maid Park since we first introduced them in 2010, and with nearly half the team now regularly tweeting, it’s only fitting that we keep the tradition going this year.

One of our most active tweeters, pitcher Bud Norris (@budnorris20), will be the featured guest for our first Social Media Night, set for this Saturday (April 21). The event takes place in the Budweiser Patio behind center field and includes batting practice viewing, dinner, a game ticket, a t-shirt and the opportunity to win prizes through Twitter trivia. The prizes will be signed by Norris, and he will present them, in person, to the winners.

(NOTE: You must be on Twitter to participate in the trivia contest.)


Tickets for Social Media Night cost $45. The program begins at 3 p.m., in advance of the 6:05 game time. We’ll meet in the lobby of Union Station and the group will be escorted to the seats just behind the Astros dugout, where you’ll watch the Astros take batting practice. At 5 p.m., we’ll gather at the Budweiser Patio, and soon after, the Twitter trivia contest will begin. We’ll ask a question over the mic, and the first person to tweet me the correct answer will win a signed baseball.

Dinner (we’ll vote on what to serve in the next few days) will be served close to gametime. Everyone will receive a Social Media Night t-shirt, which includes the Twitter handles of all participating Astros.

You can order tickets here. Hope to see you Saturday!

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A lot of you have asked for a full rundown of Astros players on Twitter. Here you go:

@cjastros23 Chris Johnson
@brianbogusevic Brian Bogusevic
@budnorris20 Bud Norris
@downstown16 Matt Downs
@JordanSchafer Jordan Schafer
@JDMartinez14 J.D Martinez
@J_Castro15 Jason Castro
@lucasharrell34 Lucas Harrell
@Carlos45Lee Carlos Lee
@realweswright Wesley Wright

And a few others who you’re familiar with as well:

@brettwallace29 Brett Wallace
@JB_SHUCK J.B. Shuck
@jordanlyles41 Jordan Lyles

And more:

@jluhnow Jeff Luhnow, General Manager
@astros Astros Twitter
@losastros Astros Spanish Twitter
@Astrosradio Brett Dolan, radio announcer
@FRomeroAstros Francisco Romero, Spanish radio announcer
@daveraymond4 Dave Raymond, Radio announcer
Hind_snatcher12 catching coordinator Danny Sheaffer

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The hospitable folks who run the Miami Marlins culinary operation were kind enough to introduce a few of us to new food items served at Marlins Park this year. By “introduce us,” of course, I really mean “stuff our faces,” and we’re ever so grateful for their hospitality.

I would never post video on the internet of me shoveling food into my mouth, so instead, I solicited help from two friends from the broadcasting side: TV analyst Jim Deshaies and radio announcer Dave Raymond, each of whom have experience with food dribbling on their ties while on camera.

We’re putting the finishing touches on a future blog detailing the new eats at Minute Maid Park, but in the interim, take a look at a few Miami-centric food items that they’ve got cooking at the Marlins games. In a word: delicious.

The Mahi Tacos were unanimously voted by our panel of four as the most delicious item on the menu. Dave called them "stupid good."

The "Steak and Wedge": beef tenderloin, a dash of steak sauce, bleu cheese dressing, caramelized onion. Delish!

J.D. finishing off the Mahi: "I'm trying to pace myself, but I can't. So I'll keep eating."

Me: "Now, what's this called again?" Them: "Uh, Helmet Nachos." Ah. Right. Makes sense.

Lobster rolls, with the coolest baseball toothpicks holding everything together. A great touch for a delicious dish.

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The Marlins new ballpark: a very colorful experience.

One Marlins official probably said it best when he gave his assessment of the new Marlins Park: “We know it wouldn’t work the Northeast or other parts of the country. But it works here.”

I’m trying to find the proper words to describe the brand new home of the Miami Marlins. It’s definitely eye-catching. There’s a lot to take in at once. The lime green walls. The fish tanks behind home plate. The sculpture just to the left of straightaway center that I’ve been referring to on Twitter as the “home run #thingy.”

There’s a lot to like about this place. The ballpark, seating-wise, is cozy, with only 37,000 seats. So there is a more intimate feel here. The trapezoid-shaped scoreboard is funky and interesting, and the fish tanks that you’ve heard so much about? A very cool, Florida-like touch.

I’d like to first watch a game from here with the roof open before I make a final judgment. I’m guessing it’s a lot more scenic with the Miami skyline peeking out beyond the outfield walls.

New ballparks are always nice, because they’re new, and therefore, clean, and light years ahead of whatever rundown place they were playing in before that necessitated a new facility. So from that standpoint, watching, and/or working, a game here is a pleasant experience.

If I had to pinpoint one thing that I find bothersome (other than the #thingy), it’s the color of the outfield walls, simply because the lime green shade really dulls the color of the natural grass on the field. The extra-bright walls and the true blue color of the seats washes out the greenness of the grass. That’s unfortunate, because a well-manicured grass field is one of the best parts of a baseball stadium.

Take a look. What do you think?

Fish tanks behind home plate.

Home run...sculpture.

Scoreboard.

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Now, on to more important things. Our photo of the day (and possibly of the week and maybe even the season), comes to you from the visitors’ dugout at Marlins Park. This was taken a couple of hours before game time, just as the Astros took the field for batting practice.

The writing on the tape at the top doesn’t show up well. It says: “Altuve 27.”

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More info on Colt .45s jerseys on sale to the public, plus thoughts on old ballparks: Charming? Or a “dump”?

Many of you have asked about the availability of the Colt .45s jerseys and caps for purchase. Here’s the skinny:

* Both are available in the Astros Team Store at Minute Maid Park and will be sold throughout the season. Originally the plan was to sell them only in April, but the response has been tremendous, prompting the merchandise folks to extend the availability for the remainder of the season.

* Throwback jerseys and caps are available at the Team Store only. They will not be sold online.

* The Colt .45s items are not the only throwbacks being sold. Also available currently are the Shooting Star jerseys and caps and the Rainbow jerseys and caps. The white jersey with the gold star is not yet in the store but will be in the near future.

* The prices vary. Jerseys will start at around $250. The caps will range from $35 to $40.

* Game-worn throwback jerseys/caps will be sold at the Astros Authentics kiosk on the main concourse, behind the home plate area. They will be sold, obviously, after the final game that the team wears the items. The Colt .45s items — sold together as a jersey/cap package – will be sold starting April 21. The prices for those will be higher than non-game worn uniforms. Each item will be authenticated by Major League Baseball. Throwback helmets are also being produced, and those will be sold separately.

* The Astros will wear the same Colt .45s uniforms on April 20 as they wore last week on the big anniversary day. If you missed it the first time, here’s the link for tickets to the next one.

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I had to chuckle a little when I read former Astros outfielder Luke Scott again made headlines with seemingly controversial comments on topics sensitive to certain sections of baseball’s fanbase.

Rather than discussing guns and politics, this time, Scott — now a member of the Rays — had some interesting observations about Fenway Park, the old and famed home of the Boston Red Sox.

Scott doesn’t much care for the ballpark, referring to it as a “dump” with less-than-desirable working conditions.

“As a baseball player, going there to work, it’s a dump,” Scott said to MLB.com. “I mean, it’s old. It does have a great feel and nostalgia, but at the end of the day, I’d rather be at a good facility where I can get my work in. A place where I can go hit the cage, where I have space and it’s a little more comfortable to come to work.

“You’re packed in like sardines there. It’s hard to get your work in. …You have to go to their weight room if you want to lift. From a fan’s perspective, it’s probably pretty cool to go see a game at a historic park. But from a player’s point of view, it’s not a place where you want to go to work.”

While this stuff is music to the ears of reporters always looking for tidbits that will give them an edge over the colleagues they compete with daily, in reality, what Scott said isn’t all that controversial. For one thing, he’s right.

From a fan’s standpoint, the old ballparks are nostalgic and wonderful. But for those who make a living in baseball — the players, managers, coaches, athletic training staffs, reporters, and on and on — old and nostalgic and wonderful usually translates to one word: inconvenient.

That’s not a complaint necessarily. It’s just reality. For example, there is no place in baseball I love more than Wrigley Field. It’s baseball heaven. The scenery. The atmosphere. The neighborhood setting. There’s no Jumbotron, no between-inning gimmicks, no Kiss Cam, no t-shirt tosses. It’s just, plain and simple, baseball, in the most traditional sense.

But working there? Well…

As a visitor, you figure out how to make it work. You climb endless ramps to the very tip-top to get to the press box. (There’s one elevator, somewhere, but it’s far away and no one uses it.) The quarters are cramped. The broadcasts booths are teeny tiny. The press box area is a decent size, but it’s normally packed and you have to listen to radio reporters screaming in-game updates back to their stations every 30 minutes.

If you want to have any chance at all to get to the clubhouse in time for it to open postgame, you have to start the journey before the game is over — at the top of the ninth when your team is losing, and at the bottom if your team is winning. If you don’t get a head start, you will be stuck in ramp traffic for a good 20 minutes and will miss the manager’s session.

Hardships? Nah. It’s still a great place to be. Inconvenient? You bet.

Scott’s word choice — sardines — has been uttered by just about every player who has ever passed through the visiting clubhouses at both Fenway and Wrigley. Mobility does not exist. The weight room is in the home clubhouse. Reporters have to be careful when they’re interviewing players in the far corner, so as to not end up in the bathroom, standing near someone who might be utilizing the facilities.

(When the Astros played at Fenway in 2003, Jimy Williams held a team meeting in the shower area. Truly.)

I know what you’re thinking B-O-O H-O-O. Yea, I hear you. Rough life. Really, it’s not. Any day you’re working at Wrigley, or Fenway, or anywhere in Major League Baseball, it’s a very, very good day. We love it. That’s why we do it.

But what’s sometimes hard for fans to understand is that this is very much a job. Ballplayers go to the park every day with a list of things they need to do, just like anyone in the working world. And as much appreciation as they have for the old, historic ballparks, and as much as they enjoy the experience once the first pitch is thrown, the work day, as a whole, is challenging. They’re happy to be there, but prefer to be elsewhere.

What you see on TV is, in fact, wonderful. Behind the scenes can be something entirely different.

To illustrate:

If you were a player, would you rather hang out here, at Wrigley...

...or here, in Houston?

Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond are a close-knit duo, especially when they have no choice while calling games from Wrigley.

Brownie and J.D. taped their opening segment while trying not to sit on each other.

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Life on the road sounds glamorous, but when you do this long enough, you learn to appreciate the simple things. My ideal criteria while traveling:

Hotel:
1. A place nearby to get a good cup of coffee in the morning
2. Wireless access that actually works.
3. A short walk to the ballpark.
4. A place nearby that stays open late enough after games to get a beverage tastier and more effective than, say, Mountain Dew.
Ballpark:
1. A convenient path to the press box and clubhouse.
2. Wireless access that actually works.
3. A decent meal in the media dining room that does not include fried foods, old deli meat or things cooked in lard.
4. A spacious press box that allows for a decent amount of space between and McTaggart and yours truly.

That is it. That is why I look forward to the trips to Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and a few other cities that normally wouldn’t seem like destination spots. Great restaurants and hip nightlife? No thanks. I just want to be able to get online and enjoy a hot cup o’ Joe.

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Astros notes: Road tripping in Miami with a slightly altered roster.

The Astros hit the road this week for their first games away from Minute Maid Park with a slightly different look to their roster. As expected, Jed Lowrie, fresh off a successful rehab stint with Triple-A Oklahoma City, has rejoined the Astros and will be in the lineup Friday when the team begins a three-game weekend set with the Miami Marlins at their newly-minted ballpark near South Beach.

To make room for Lowrie on the 25-man roster, Brian Bixler was optioned to Oklahoma City.

You’ll hear a familiar voice on the radio if you listen to the Astros games while they’re in Miami.  Milo Hamilton, who normally announces only home games, is with the club for this leg of the trip. The Marlins ballpark will be No. 59 on his list of Major League stadiums he’s called games from.

Finally, please enjoy this writeup from guest blogger Dairanetta Spain, the Astros’ manager of community affairs. This week, she tackles the Astros Buddies Club, a time-honored tradition that has spanned generations and reached thousands of kids over the years.

Rainbows and Shooting Stars: Astros Buddies Kids Club Goes Retro

By Dairanetta Spain

It’s interesting how often fans mention that Astros alumni Jose “Cheo” Cruz, Jimmy “The Toy Cannon” Wynn, J.R. Richard and many more were their Astros Buddy or how often they share that they were a “Buddy.”

For years, the franchise’s kids club has connected youth to their hometown team since its inception, dating back to the Colt .45s era (then the Six Shooter Club).  Some members have remained close to the team and are current season ticket holders, avid fans and even current Astros employees.

The club has evolved through the years, but a kid’s connection to the club remains the heart and focus. Year after year, Astros Buddies receive their own personalized membership package enclosed with a membership card, their favorite player’s photo card and Astros trinkets, which have varied from season-to-season. Past and present Buddies events range from Photo Day at the Astrodome to the Members-Only autograph party and Buddies Behind-The-Scenes Day.

Among Astros “Flashback Fridays”, Walk of Fame inductions and 50th anniversary giveaways, the retro-themed 2012 Coca-Cola Astros Buddies Kids Club gives members their own piece of Astros history.

The 2012 Buddies club offers two memberships to choose from – the free Rookie membership and the loaded $20 MVP membership – there’s affordable fun for everyone!

In addition to members-only autograph sessions and a kids press conference with players, MVP members receive four free tickets to an Astros home game, a collector’s baseball cap, rainbow jersey drawstring bag, a wall banner, and other cool items, all celebrating the team’s 50th anniversary.

Kids 14 and under can be a part of the club’s 50th anniversary by joining at www.astros.com/buddies

Astros Authentics Manager and former Buddies member Mike Acosta (far left) with Joe Niekro at Photo Day on August 18, 1985.

The original kids club when the Colt .45s started up in 1962 was the Six Shooter Club. Here's the membership card.

Premium items for Buddies Club members.

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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 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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