Results tagged ‘ Bill Brown ’

Triggerettes, Earthmen, epic homers and soul-crushing losses: Brownie’s new book covers all the bases.

I always said if I could hop on a time machine and live through whatever era of Astros baseball I wanted, I’d definitely plant myself around the 1986 team. It had everything — personality, fun, a little intellect sprinkled in here and there, and, most importantly, those zany guys won 96 games. What could be better?

But after reading through Bill Brown’s new book chronicling five decades of Houston baseball, I’m thinking I’d like to try out 1964-ish, just before the Colt .45s moved out of their smoking hot, skeeter-infested outdoor stadium and into their new air-conditioned domed wonder.

It’s not that I’m anxious to witness outdoor baseball in Houston in August. Goodness no. I just think it would be fun to be a Triggerette.

Tiggerettes were, as best as I can tell, neatly dressed and presumably perfectly coifed young women who guided patrons to their seats. They fit in with a full-blown Wild West vibe that was working at Colt Stadium back in those days, when parking attendants wore orange Stetsons and workers in The Fast Draw Club dressed in old-style saloon attire.

Had I made it through a sweltering summer at the old ballpark, I probably would have had a good chance to make the cut and move with the team to the Astrodome. But I would have had to change my title from Triggerette to Space-ette, a small price to pay considering the Stetson-wearing parking attendants were renamed Space Finders, and if you wanted to be part of the grounds crew, you had to answer to “Earthman.”

You have to love how different things were back then. The notion that an entire baseball team would dress in matching blue suits and pose on the steps of their team plane HOLDING GUNS (guns!) sounds absurd in today’s age, of course. But that’s part of why history is so fascinating. It takes us back to a time that was, more or less, completely foreign to anything that has to do with everyday life as we currently know it.

Brown’s book, “Deep in the Heart: Blazing a Trail from Expansion to the World Series,” was a labor of love he started years ago, and with the assistance of co-author and Astros employee Mike Acosta, the longtime Astros broadcaster has produced a fabulous 192-page pictorial look back at Houston’s 50-plus years of baseball history.

The book will be ready for sale on March 31 — Opening Night — at Minute Maid Park. The cost will be $39.95.

How long and hard did Brownie work on this book? He pretty much summed it up with this comment to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart:

“If there were such a thing as a woman being pregnant for three years and being relieved when she finally has a baby, it’s somewhat akin to that.”

What took this book so long to complete is probably what makes it so good: it seems that Brownie talked to every living figure who significantly contributed to Astros history. As you thumb through, you’ll find descriptions of every epic moment in history, told by the very people who were directly involved.

I loved Billy Hatcher describing his 14th-inning home run in Game of the NLCS as “probably the closest thing I’ll ever do to get to heaven.” Brad Ausmus gave some great insight into the 18-inning Division Series clincher in ’05, which ended with a Chris Burke home run into the Crawford Boxes. Larry Dierker, a gifted writer in his own right, is quoted multiple times throughout the book — fitting, given how much he has been a part of every decade of the franchise’s history.

Brownie was kind enough to send along a few pages so we can give you a sneak peek of “Deep in the Heart.” For die-hard fans (and newbies too), this will make a great keepsake.

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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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Astros notes: Bud, C.J., Astroline, College Classic and an appearance by the ’86 Astros.

We still have a month or so before Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean your Astros have gone into hibernation until it’s time to head to Florida. In fact, this week will feature two appearances by Astros players, one online and one in person.

Starting pitcher Bud Norris will participate in an online chat with fans on Wednesday, Jan. 11 beginning at 6 p.m. CT. The chat, which will last approximately 30 minutes, can be accessed here. You must be a registered member in order to ask a question.

On Thursday, third baseman Chris Johnson will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline, beginning at 7 p.m. The show airs live on 740 KTRH and Astros.com and will take place at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown. C.J. is planning to bring some autographed items to hand out as well to the folks in attendance at the venue.

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The Houston College Classic will take place at Minute Maid Park March 2-4. Details and ticket information will be released soon, but in the meantime, here is the schedule and participating colleges:

Friday, March 2, 2012
Noon           Texas Tech at Arkansas
3:30 p.m.  Tennessee at Houston
7:00 p.m.  Texas at Rice

Saturday, March 3, 2012
Noon            Arkansas at Houston
3:30 p.m.    Texas at Tennessee
7:00 p.m.    Texas Tech at Rice

Sunday, March 4, 2012
11:00 a.m.    Arkansas at Texas
2:30 p.m.      Houston at Texas Tech
6:00 p.m.      Rice at Tennessee

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Tickets are still available for the 2012 Houston Baseball Dinner Benefiting Grand Slam For Youth Baseball’s Scholarship Program, which will include a special celebration of the Astros’ 50th Anniversary.

2012 will mark the 27th season of the popular dinner, which will take place on Friday, February 10 at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Americas Hotel in downtown Houston.  The event is sponsored by the Astros In Action Foundation and Minute Maid, with proceeds benefiting the Grand Slam For Youth Baseball Scholarship Program.

In addition to honoring the top players from the 2011 ballclub, this year’s dinner will include a special 50th Anniversary tribute featuring Astros Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton and a long list of former Astros team MVPs, including Bob Watson, J.R. Richard, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Jose Cruz, Enos Cabell, Bob Aspromonte and more.  Phil Garner, manager of the 2005 NL Champion Astros, will also be in attendance. Members of the 2011 Astros scheduled to attend include J.D. Martinez (Rookie of the Year), Wandy Rodriguez (Pitcher of the Year) and Jason Bourgeois (Darryl Kile Award) and manager Brad Mills.  Former Astros Hunter Pence (2011 MVP) and Lance Berkman (Houston Area Player of the Year) will also be recognized at the event, but are unable to attend.

Additionally, longtime Astros television broadcaster Bill Brown will receive the Fred Hartman Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Baseball. 2011 marked Brown’s 25th season as the Astros play-by-play TV voice.

As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration, a special VIP reception will be held prior to the dinner, at 6 p.m., and will feature several of the former MVPs and current Astros players. A limited amount of MVP tables for 10 that will include tickets to the dinner and the VIP reception will be available for purchase for $2,500.

Dinner attendees will also have the opportunity to bid on several attractive items at a silent auction, with those proceeds also going to the GSFYB Scholarship Program.

 Tickets for the dinner are priced at $100 each or at $1,000 for a table of 10, and can be purchased online at www.astros.com/baseballdinner or by calling Jo Russell at 713-789-0626. General information on the dinner is available at www.gsfyb.org, via email at info@gsfyb.org or by calling 713-259-8686.

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Speaking of former Astros stars, a large number of members of the 1986 Astros will be appearing at Reliant Arena for the TRISTAR Houston Collector’s Show Jan. 20-22.

Among the familiar faces slated to appear: Nolan Ryan, Kevin Bass, Alan Ashby, Phil Garner, Jose Cruz, Danny Darwin, Hal Lanier, Mike Scott, Glenn Davis, Billy Hatcher, Bill Doran, Jim Deshaies, Dickie Thon, Terry Puhl and Bob Knepper.

TRISTAR also offers the opportunity to attend a VIP reception for the ’86 Astros reunion.

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Shooting stars, rainbow sleeves, blue and gold: “Flashback Fridays” will feature slick jerseys from the past.

Jose Cruz, Craig Biggio

History and nostalgia will be front and center for the Houston Astros in 2012, so it’s only fitting that four of their most famous players from yesteryear were on hand Thursday to ring in the club’s 50th anniversary celebration.

A large gathering of Houston media watched and listened as Jimmy Wynn (1963-73), Larry Dierker (1964-76), Jose Cruz (1975-87) and Craig Biggio (1988-2007) shared their memories of their favorite moments during their tenure with the franchise.

Not surprisingly, the 2005 World Series was mentioned more than once. Biggio’s 3,000th hit in June of 2007 ranked high on many lists as well.

“We were the first Texas team to go to the World Series,” Biggio said. “That was something to be proud of. And the 3,000 hit night — it was a magical night.”

Popular television announcers Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies hosted the question and answer session with the Astros icons in the FiveSeven Grille, which was decorated with images of the 50th anniversary logo and the jerseys from the past. Deshaies also interviewed several key Astros figures who were sitting in the crowd, including president of baseball operations Tal Smith, Spanish broadcaster Rene Cardenas, former radio announcer Gene Elston and current radio announcer Milo Hamilton.

Larry Dierker, Jim Deshaies

In addition to Biggio’s 3,000th hit and the Astros’ World Series, Hamilton cited the 2003 club’s six-pitcher no-hitter at Yankee Stadium as a highlight of his career.

“It had never been done before and I don’t think it will ever happen again,” Hamilton said.

The Astros also outlined their plans for the big golden anniversary celebration in 2012, which we blogged about here earlier in the day. Judging from the response I’ve received, I’d say the one element that has fans excited about the 50th anniversary celebration in 2012 more than any other is the “Flashback Fridays” plan, where every Friday home game, the Astros will wear a throwback jersey that represents a certain era in the Houston franchise.

That includes the 1964 Houston Colt .45s jersey, which, to the best of the club’s knowledge, has never been worn since that season 47 years ago. Also on the docket are the shooting star jersey from the first season in the Astrodome in 1965, the rainbow jersey the teams wore from 1975-86, the rainbow sleeve from 1987-93, the blue and gold jersey from 1994-99 and the current pinstripe jersey the club wears today.


More snippits from Thursday’s presser:

Drayton McLane cited the Astros’ press conference in 1996 announcing that they had a new manager as one of his favorite moments. It wasn’t so much that the Astros had hired a new manager as much as it was who their new manager was — Larry Dierker.

“Everyone was surprised,” McLane said. Turning to Dierker, McLane said, “Larry, did it surprise you?”

“Well,” Dierker deadpanned. “I knew what was going on by then.”

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McLane recalled the night in ’96 that he and several members of his inner circle were waiting to hear if the stadium referendum had passed.

“We were up late at the Westin Hotel in the Galleria,” he said. “At 12 at night, we were losing. At 2:30 in the morning, we won.”
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Brownie asked Biggio how long he thinks his career would have lasted if Biggio had remained at catcher instead of moving to second base.

“How many years did I catch? Four?” Biggio asked rhetorically. “So, maybe five.”
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Cruz was asked about the signature Cruuuuuuuuuuuz moniker given to him by the late J. Fred Duckett, the Astros’ public address announcer back in the day.

“The first time I heard it, I thought they were booing me,” Cruz said. “I was playing well. I thought, ‘What are they doing?'”
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Dierker credited the success the Astros had during his run as skipper from 1997-01 more to the makeup of the team than to his managerial maneuvering.

“We had such great talent on those teams,” Dierker said. “It didn’t matter what moves I made. We were going to win with that talent.”

Dierker offered a bit of advice to today’s Astros fans.

“Don’t judge a manager on his win-loss record. Judge a manager on what he gets out of the talent he has. Is Joe Girardi the best manager in the game? He’s the manager of the Yankees. Anyone can manage the Yankees and win.”

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Deshaies: “What was it like to work in Colt Stadium back in the day?”

Cardenas: “It was hot.”

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More from Cardenas: “I remember when Larry Dierker came to the ball club — he was a wonderful player and a wonderful person. I looked at this kid from California and said, ‘how did the Dodgers not sign him?’ We were lucky to have him.”
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Video corner:

Dierker, on past rebuilding projects and the Astros’ current reloading plan

Biggio, on spending his entire career with the Astros and who was influential on him in the early years
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And finally…the Astros will be previewing their 50th anniversary celebration this weekend with three promotional giveaway items bearing the special logo.

Friday: Commemorative Cap

Saturday: Fleece Blanket

Sunday: T-shirt

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TV-radio notes: J.D. to moonlight as sideline reporter eye candy.

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After more than a month of Spring Training, it’s always nice to get some fresh, new faces around camp…especially when those fresh, new faces belong to Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies.

Many moons ago, Brownie and J.D. attended Spring Training for the entire month, like the radio announcers. But in the last several years, their time in Florida has instead centered around the few days before and after the Astros’ Spring Training television broadcasts.

FS Houston usually swings through town to show a game or three on TV, and Brownie and J.D. are here now, preparing for two regionally televised games on Friday in Jupiter against the Marlins and Saturday at home against the Cardinals.

Brownie and J.D. will be in the booth together Friday, but because Saturday’s game will be delivered to both the Houston and St. Louis markets, they’re going with one broadcaster from each team: Brownie, and Cards announcer Al Hrabosky.

Where does that leave J.D.?

“I’m going to be the Tony Siragusa guy,” J.D. said, referring to the retired NFL defensive tackle who is now a sideline analyst for football games shown on the Fox Network. “The sideline guy, hanging out, not contributing a whole lot. But it gives the fans a chance to see the games.”

“Does Tony Siragusa eat when he’s on the air?” Brownie wondered.

“My hunch is that he’s got something squirreled away,” J.D. said of the 340 pound Siragusa. “That’s what I’ll do. I’ll be the guy eating hot dogs in the stands. They can get a shot of me every now and then and I’ll have a different food product every half inning.”

So on Saturday, look for hits from Hunter Pence, strikeouts from Wilton Lopez and a little mustard in J.D.’s well-trimmed goatee.

Watch our full interview with Brownie and J.D. here.

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Speaking of our television broadcasters, did you know 2011 is Brownie’s Silver Anniversary? It’s his 25th year as the Astros primary play-by-play voice on television. This season also marks the 15th for Brownie and J.D. as a team.

On that note, Milo Hamilton, the legendary elder statesman on the radio side, will host the second to last Astroline tonight (Wednesday) at 8 ET/7 CT at the ESPN Club on the Disney Boardwalk. His guest will be Nelson Figueroa.

You can listen to the show on 740 KTRH and Astros.com. You can also tweet me questions and comments if you have any…

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Camp tidbits:

* Wandy Rodriguez, sidelined with some mild shoulder tendinitis, will throw a side session on Friday and will be re-evaluated before being scheduled for his next start. He is not expected to miss another turn in the rotation, although Brad Mills did not want to reveal the target date he and his staff have for Wandy just yet.

* Angel Sanchez was unavailable for Wednesday’s game after tweaking his back on Tuesday in Sarasota.

* The Astros will enjoy their one and only scheduled off day Thursday before resuming the Grapefruit League schedule on Friday in Jupiter. Lefty J.A. Happ will start that game, while the Marlins will counter with right-hander Ricky Nolasco.

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The Astros hosted a special guest during their morning routine on Wednesday: 16-year-old Matt Myers, who plays baseball at Seminole High School in Sanford, FL. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in January. His visit was coordinated by third base coach Dave Clark, who introduced Myers and his family to most of the Astros Spring Training contingent. Myers also threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game.

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In case you missed our #TwitterTuesday contest, our winner was @MigM_, who guessed correctly that Jeff Bagwell’s first car was a Mercury Capri (and it was orange. Bags admitted he thought he looked pretty cool in it, but looking back realizes he definitely did not).

Here’s Bagwell’s video confession.

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On to the photos…

Bagwell

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Bagwell, Jamie Quirk, Jason Michaels

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Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee

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Clint Barmes, Bill Hall

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J.D. signs autographs

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Michaels, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee

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Do spring records foreshadow regular season success? Most of the time — no.

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

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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?

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Food and buses. Such is life in the big leagues.

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Caravans involve plenty of visits to hospitals, schools and military bases, but the time in between stops involves two things: riding on a bus, and eating.

All things being equal, I think the traveling party can agree the “party bus” we’re on during this tour through Central Texas is the way to go. We’re definitely not as exciting as a bachelor or wedding party, but I can see where this environment would be conducive to such events. Plenty of room, lots of TVs, a bathroom and a refrigerator to keep the bottled water cold.

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We’ve been given some fantastic recommendations for restaurants as well. On Tuesday, we had lunch at Salt Lick Barbecue near the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, and today, we had lunch at Threadgills — another fine southern-style establishment with a huge home-cookin’ menu.

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Getting up early, driving a couple of hours a day, eating too much…come to think of it, this is good practice for Spring Training.

Kids and military heroes. This is why we caravan.

Caravans traditionally are designed to reach out to fans in and around the Houston area, to get people excited about the season and introduce them to a few players who they might see in uniform in the coming months.

But so often, caravan visits engage people who have no idea who these players are, who have never been to a baseball game and don’t have many opportunities to watch them on TV.

Those are the visits that are often the most meaningful, as the Astros traveling party quickly discovered Tuesday evening when they stopped by the Helping Hand Home for Children in Austin. 

Armed with 24 large pizzas and four two-liters of Sprite, the caravaners — Chris Johnson, Clint Barmes, Brett Wallace and Bill Brown – walked into a room filled with enthusiastic kids who, on the outside, looked like your typical four to 13-year-olds: chatty, wide-eyed, curious.

These kids are anything but typical, however. They come from homes where they were severely abused, or neglected, or both. They were taken out of their homes by the court system and in some cases, the parental rights were completely terminated. In other cases, there’s hope for a reunion with a family member, or a foster family.

But for now — months, or sometimes, years — their place of residence is the Helping Hand Home for Children. And on Tuesday, they partied in style, with four choices of pizza not only provided by the Astros, but served by them as well. As far as I could tell, the players didn’t mess up a single order.

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Following dinner, it was playtime. Johnson engaged a bunch of kids in an intense round of Operation, while Wallace went toe-to-toe with a friendly seven-year-old in a game of Jenga. I sat down next to Wallace to watch the game, and the kid looks at Brett, looks at me, and says, “Are you his mother?”

ANYHOO…

We were asked not to take any pictures of the kids, for privacy/safety reasons. So we had to get a little creative:

CJ, playing Operator with the kids:

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Barmes, holding the various forms of origami given to us by one talented kid:

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Another youngster asked if he could take a picture with my camera, and as it turns out, it’s one of the few I could use for this blog:

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More presents from the kids:

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Earlier in the day, we visited Camp Mabry personnel at the Texas Military Forces Museum. The Astros had a meet and greet with Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard, Texas State Guard and Army and Marine Reserves:

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On our TV broadcasters, Astroline and Michael Bourn.

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While I realize there are still a lot of unanswered questions floating around regarding last week’s announcement that the Astros will partner with Comcast beginning in 2012, I do want to clear up one thing: Astros broadcasters, both for radio and television, are employed by the Astros, not the stations that broadcast the games.

I’ve read and heard a lot of concern about Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown, our lovable TV announcers, as to how the new TV deal affects them. Rest assured, it doesn’t. They’re Astros employees and therefore, they go where the Astros go. Same goes for Milo Hamilton, Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond on the radio side.

Regarding your other questions surrounding what the new TV deal means for you and your current cable carrier, please be patient. Most of your questions do not have answers yet. There are a lot of moving parts and eventually, everything will be clear. For now, it’s not, so giving half-baked answers that may or may not accurately apply in ’12 would be irresponsible on my part. Thank you for your patience.

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Speaking of broadcasting, the Astros’ wildly popular offseason radio show, Astroline, will begin its weekly run beginning Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. CT. Aired on 740 KTRH, streamed live on Astros.com and hosted by Hamilton, Astroline will take place at a new location — Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown (510 Gray St.)

We’re still waiting for confirmation on the first guest, but we can tell you that the Houston portion of Astroline will include 13 dates: Nov. 17; Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 29; Jan. 5, 12, 19 and 26; Feb. 2, 9, 16 and 23. The show will then relocate to Florida for Spring Training.

As was the case last year, Twitter will have an active role during Astroline. Fans will be encouraged to tweet their questions to me (twitter.com/alysonfooter) and we’ll read them, and answer them, over the air.

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Next Wednesday, we’ll find out if Michael Bourn won his second National League Gold Glove award. I’m guessing the odds are in his favor, for two reasons: he’s clearly one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and, it’s a lot easier to win it the second, third and fourth times around. The toughest part is getting the player enough national publicity for voters from far-away teams to take notice, but once his name is out there as a top defender, the ensuing awards come at a much more rapid pace.

In the meantime, Bourn was recognized for his defense last week by another pretty reputable entity. The Fielding Bible doesn’t carry the same glitz and glamour as the Gold Glove, but I like it because of how technical it gets when evaluating the candidates.

The Fielding Bible is a book compiled by John Dewan, who has recruited some of the most respected people in the game to analyze every play (literally) a player makes during the season. Detailed information is recorded on each play, such as the location of each batted ball, the speed and the type of hit and determining how each player compares to his peers in making those plays. An example Dewan uses is: How often does Derek Jeter field a softly batted ball located 20 feet to the right of the normal shortstop position, compared to all other Major League shortstops?

Dewan uses the plus/minus system for plays made and missed, as compared to how often they were made and missed by others at the same position. (For the record, Adam Everett turned in the highest score ever, turning in a +43 at shortstop in ’06. That means he made 43 more plays than the average MLB shortstop would make.)

Anyhoo, in layman’s terms, Bourn being recognized as the best center fielder in baseball by the Fielding Bible doesn’t just mean he made a bunch of plays that drew oohs and ahs by spectators, cable stations and web sites. It means he’s taking good routes to balls, getting good jumps and reading the ball well off the bat. It means he has great instincts, which is something that can improve over time but cannot be taught. He’s making a lot of things look easy that simply are not. All good news for Astros fans.

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And finally, a dip into the photo vault…here we have a very young, fresh-faced Hunter Pence attending batting practice after he was drafted and signed by the Astros in 2004. Other than utilizing a wide array of hair styles over the years, he really hasn’t changed much…

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Much more than just a home. A better life.

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Geoff Blum arrived right on time Thursday morning, driving up to a neighborhood filled with modest homes that at first glance, might not stand out to the average passerby. But there’s something special about this area. Many of the homes were built not by corporate construction companies hired by flashy builders, but rather, by people who simply care enough to want to help those who need it.

Habitat for Humanity builds homes for those who need them, but cannot afford them on their own. It began nearly 34 years ago and to date, more than 300,000 families have benefitted from, in Habitat’s words, “the world leader in addressing the issues of poverty housing.”

As part of their Play Green campaign, the Astros have become heavily involved with Habitat. That was evident Thursday morning, when several dozen Astros front office workers teamed up with FS Houston to help build yet another home that will soon be ready for a deserving family.

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Blum and Astros announcer Bill Brown were the “celebrity builders,” but both were quick to note the true work was being done over a much more extensive period of time, long after they were gone.

“Watching volunteers who are doing the actual work is what I think strikes home to people who maybe haven’t been involved in this type of venture before,” ‘Brownie’ said. “There are so many volunteers that give their time. They come out here all day, not just for a few minutes like we do. They put up a home in what, seven days? That’s incredible.”

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The home sits in a 126-home Houston Habitat for Humanity subdivision and features many environmentally sound elements that fall in line with the “green” theme that has become so prevalent to American life.

“I had no idea how involved it was,” Blum said. “The houses are green, everything they’re doing in the attics to cut down on the heat getting in the house, cut down their A/C bills, making their own sustainable energy efficient buildings, is pretty impressive. They’re well-built homes. That’s exciting.”

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The family members who will live in this house was not present, but their neighbor, Luz Flores, stood on her porch and marveled at the kindness of the volunteers — both from the Astros and from Habitat — who put in their time simply for the sake of helping others.

Upon meeting Blum, Flores, herself a beneficiary of a Habitat home, grew emotional as she talked about the life she and her children have been afforded because of Habitat.

Flores is a single mom of an 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter. Her income would have never allowed for her to buy a home, and she figured she’d be a renter for the rest of her life. Until Habitat came along.

“There wouldn’t have been another way if Houston Habitat hadn’t helped us,” she said tearfully. “I tried before and there was no way. With my income by myself, there was no way.”

“And this,” she added, gesturing to her home, “Is mine now.”

The Flores family moved into its home Jan. 1, and life for the children changed in ways Luz never could have imagined. Her kids ride bikes around the neighborhood. Her daughter is building a garden. They have friends who come over to visit, to study, or simply to hang out.

These are things most take for granted, but for the Flores kids, this is all new.

“There are always kids in my house,” Flores said. “I love that. For 11 years, my son never had the opportunity to bring somebody home. Now, (his friends) live down the street.”

Flores laughed when she recalled a conversation she had with her kids about their bedrooms.

“My kids have always said, ‘Mom, I want to have this, Mom, I want to paint my room.’ I never had the opportunity because it wasn’t ours. Now I’m like, ‘You can do whatever you want to your room. You can paint it black if you want. You can paint it any color you want.'”

Luz had Blum’s complete attention as she thanked him, and everyone involved with Habitat, for making this happen.

“You’re sharing your time, you’re sharing your life,” she said. “You’re sharing that feeling of giving. It doesn’t matter who you are. It means a lot to me for them to be here, as well as the other volunteers. They don’t have to be here. They want to be here.

“You’re making a difference. Not just for that family. You’re making a difference for me, and that neighbor, and that neighbor over there. We’re all growing together.”

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And her words struck Blum, along with everyone who was listening in on the conversation.

“To see the excitement in her eyes and have her talk about her kids the way she did, about them having their own rooms and being in a community with a bunch of other kids that they’re going to hang around for another 10, 15 years, it’s pretty special,” Blum said.

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