Results tagged ‘ Bobby Meacham ’

Astros give contract extensions to five coaches and hope to make it six. Your move, Bags.

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In the 13 years I’ve been around the Houston Astros, I cannot remember a coach ever getting a contract that extended beyond a one-year deal. I checked with a couple of people who have been here a lot longer than me — Bill Brown and Greg Lucas, to name two — and they, too, could not recall any instances from the past where a coach was granted a multi-year deal.

Even Ed Wade, who has hired plenty of managers and coaches over the years as the general manager for the Phillies and Astros, can’t remember an entire coaching staff being offered two-year contract extensions at one time. In other words, multi-year deals for coaches are saved for a very select group and don’t happen very often. That the Astros handed out five such extensions in one day speaks volumes about the job the staff has done this year and the continuity the club is creating as it attempts to separate itself from a playoff drought that is now going on five years.

Five extensions were awarded, but the Astros are hoping to add a sixth. The decision rests solely with Jeff Bagwell, who was offered the same two-year extension as his colleagues but is still undecided on whether he wants to continue as the hitting coach. He’s still torn between the job and his family, and while he has enjoyed his time in his current role, I’d still put his odds of returning next year at no greater than 50-50.

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Wade is hoping Bagwell takes the extension but understands there’s a chance he won’t. When Bagwell took the job in July, he gave no false pretenses — this was absolutely an interim position, a trial period of sorts where Bagwell would find out if a) he was good at the job and b) wanted to make this a more permanent gig.

“You have to be all in,” Wade said. “This isn’t a job where you can dabble.”

And that’s the sticking point. Either Bagwell commits a minimum of 7 1/2 months (8 1/2 if the Astros make the playoffs) of his calendar year to the Astros, or he commits 12 months to his kids, ages nine and seven. He won’t let this linger through the winter, and I would expect a decision to come within a couple weeks of the season’s end.

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I was sincerely glad to hear that the rest of the coaches were given such generous extensions. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you might recall me talking a few weeks ago about what an eye-opening experience it’s been to watch this group work this year. It’s not that the Astros haven’t had good coaches in the past — they have — and maybe it’s because I’m simply paying more attention to this group this year, but I can’t remember a staff that was quite this on the ball and dedicated, both with their time and their knowledge.

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After the coaching shakeup last winter, I said that the Astros took the field 162 times in 2009 and rarely were they the most prepared team on the field.

This season has been a complete 180. The Astros certainly didn’t win every game — heck, they didn’t even win most of their games. But as far as scouring scouting reports and spray charts, watching video and being completely prepared for any and all scenarios that might come down the pike during a game, these coaches were always two steps ahead. Good for them.

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The extensions of the coaches naturally prompts the question, “What about Brad Mills?” Mills is signed through 2011 with an option for ’12, and I would look for the option to be picked up soon after the season ends. Wade said he’ll sit down with Mills and discuss the manager’s “situation,” but this is all a formality. There is no way Mills will have to start next season waiting for the option to be picked up, and it wouldn’t shock me if he was extended far beyond ’12 in the very near future. Said Wade: “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve hired my last manager.” (And no, that doesn’t mean Wade is going anywhere, save the snarky responses.)

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Keeping the coaching staff intact through ’12 at the very minimum is all part of the grand plan to create continuity, which contributes to an organizational flow that affects every level, from the big leagues to the lowest levels of the Minors. Mills’ first order of business as soon as the season ends is to go to Florida to watch the Astros prospects in Instructional League, in an effort to familiarize himself with the younger talent coming through the system.

It’s important for Mills to be able to manage the 25 players he has at any given time on the big league level, but it’s also extremely helpful to be familiar with the kids coming up through the system. Soon, he’ll have those players in Spring Training, including many who will be sent to Minor League camp but will eventually appear at the big league level. This all goes back to continuity — having one group of leaders, all on the same proverbial page, teaching one overall organizational philosophy.

When Fred Nelson, the new farm director, and Dick Scott, the club’s Minor League Field Coordinator, search for the club’s next Triple-A and Double-A managers, they will stress the importance (especially at the Triple-A level) of creating the same atmosphere in the Minors so that the transition to the big leagues will be as seamless as possible.

Winning teams are built from the ground up, and the Astros certainly appear to be preparing for long-term health, from top to bottom. In April and May, the Astros appeared to be years away from being legitimate contenders. Their second-half turnaround suggests that a winning season could happen sooner than we thought. Creating stability at the very top, in the leadership positions, is a good place to set the foundation.

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Enough preaching. Picture time:

This clipboard that hangs on the cage during batting practice and spells out who’s hitting in what group and who is the designated BP pitcher.    

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When you see players gathered in the dugout before BP talking amongst themselves, there’s a pretty good chance they’re talking about fantasy football. The more animated players are usually the ones faring the best in the standings.

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Catching up with Brian Esposito, Jason Castro.

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Humberto Quintero, Michael Bourn.

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From the photo vault

We take you back to 2001, when the Astros clinched the NL Central division on the final day of the season in St. Louis.

First up: Octavio Dotel and Jose Cruz, with Moises Alou peeking over in the background.

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Also, that same night…third baseman Chris Truby and shortstop Adam Everett, both in the very, very, very early stages of their careers.

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Touching base with Bobby Meacham.

Every Friday through Spring Training, we’re running a feature called “Touching Base” in an effort to let the fans get to know the Major League coaching staff, from the four newcomers to the two returnees.

We hope this gives you insight to what coaches do every day. Their duties extend far beyond what you see them do on a field once the game starts.

We started with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, followed by hitting coach Sean Berry and bench coach Al Pedrique.

This week, we spotlight first base coach Bobby Meacham.

(Check out our one-on-one video interview with Meacham here.)

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Base coaches generally go unnoticed by the viewing public over a course of a season, partly because what they do while in the public spotlight appears to be pretty basic. 

They stand at their posts and play a necessary role in directing traffic, but that’s hardly the only duties they have as members of a Major League coaching staff. Their duties extend far beyond what we see them do on the field. It’s just that most of it is executed behind the scenes.

Yes, a first base coach has the basic responsibilities that we see every day — he reminds the runner how many outs are in the inning when he reaches base and gives the warning signal when a pickoff attempt is about to be made — but what else does he do?

Try keeping track of Astros first base coach Bobby Meacham for a few days. He’s everywhere. He’s constantly on the go, teaching, advising and reminding the players that bunting and smart baserunning can make or break a team over the course of a season.

He calls bunting “kind of a lost art in baseball these days,” but doesn’t believe it has to be that way. The former Yankees infielder was asked to bunt plenty of times during his six seasons in the big leagues, and he understands how detrimental a lack of ability in that area can be if not properly executed.

“Billy Martin, my manager, always said, ‘If you’re going to make so many outs, I want you to make productive outs,” Meacham said. “Making outs that moves runners, making outs that sacrifice, suicide squeezes…they’ll produce runs somewhere.”

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Meacham, pictured above with Brad Mills and Al Pedrique 

On the defensive side, Meacham is in charge of the infielders. Taking ground balls, practicing double plays and working on backhand moves all fall under his window. He’s also in charge of properly aligning the infielders — in other words, make sure the players are standing where the hitter is most likely to hit the ball. Sounds simple enough, but that exercise requires tons of preparation in studying spray charts, having a general knowledge of the opposing team’s hitters and understanding the infielder’s defensive strengths and weaknesses.

Simply put, it’s Meacham’s responsibility to always be thinking one step ahead of his players.

“These guys are professional, they want to do better,” Meacham said. “They don’t care about the criticism as much as they want to know what we think about it and how they can get better. To teach different things like positioning is important for the infielders. That goes along with the spray charts that we kind of know where players might hit the ball. All of that might add up to less runs here and there that will hopefully help us win ballgames.”

 

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Meacham pictured above with Pedro Feliz, right

Meacham was primarily a shortstop during a Major League career that spanned from 1983-88. Four years after his playing career was finished, he managed in the Royals farm system with the Class A Eugene club before moving to the Rockies’ organization for one season as a coach for the Triple-A team in Colorado Springs.

He then moved on to the Pirates organization, where he coached and managed in the Minor Leagues for the next eight seasons. He managed at Double-A Carolina from 1994-95, was a roving baserunning coach in 1996 and was the Pirates’ roving infield instructor from 1997-01. He managed in the Angels organization at Class A Rancho Cucamonga for three seasons from 2002-04 and was the Rockies’ roving infield instructor. He coached in the big leagues for three seasons, in 2006 (Marlins), ’07 (Padres) and Yankees (’08).

That’s quite an extensive resume, but perhaps no coaching job was more important than the 1993 gig with the Triple-A Rockies. That year, he coached under Brad Mills, who managed that club from 1993-96.

Meacham was hired by the Astros last Oct. 30, less than a week after Mills was introduced as the Astros’ new skipper.

“I knew Brad was interviewing for the Houston job,” Meacham said. “We talked over the years and stayed in touch.

“We have similar philosophies and we talk about the game all the time. Our families exchange Christmas cards and we kept abreast of what’s going on in the game. That came in handy for him when he needed a coach that he could trust and thinks kind of like he does. It worked out well for both of us.”

Just the facts: Bobby Meacham
Born
: Los Angeles, CA
Resides: Littleton, CO
Age: 49
Drafted: Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1981.
Major League debut: June 30, 1983
Final game: July 10, 1988
Something you might not know: Attended San Diego State University, where he was a teammate of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and Padres manager Bud Black. Meacham and Gwynn were in the same draft class.

Random spring notes: Paulino, Wright and Ensberg. Yes, that Ensberg.

Somewhere along the way, we sort of lost track of Wesley Wright, who has been quietly going about his spring business out of the spotlight. That might be simply because reporters haven’t gotten around to writing about him yet — after all, there are about 45 days of spring features to write and still just under a month until Opening Day.

But Sunday morning before batting practice, manager Brad Mills talked a little about Wright. So let’s talk a little bit about him here, now.

Wright spent the last two seasons as a left-handed specialist but might be tested as a starter this spring. Mills said Wright will likely start a game coming up, possibly on one of the split-squad days that requires two starting pitchers instead of one. The Astros have split-squads scheduled for March 13, 16 and 21, so don’t be surprised to see Wright start one of those games.

“I’ll hold off making a lot of comments until we see how it goes,” Mills said. “But he’s definitely going to get his innings.”

At this point, I’m not considering Wright as a true contender for one of the five rotation spots coming out of Spring Training, but the Astros are definitely keeping their minds open while trying to figure out where Wright is best suited.

When the team got him from the Rule 5 draft a couple of years ago, I received many questions as to whether Wright could eventually be converted to a starter. I was told he was staying in the ‘pen because that’s where the club had the biggest need. But now, I think we can all agree the starting depth is thin, and there’s nothing wrong with at least considering Wright to fill the club’s needs there too. Wright had a nice showing as a starter during Winter Ball, so there’s probably no harm in testing him out this month.

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Meanwhile, Felipe Paulino, a sure-fire candidate for the starting rotation, will be getting his innings this spring, but not necessarily at the beginning of games. One standard practice during Spring training is for teams to “piggyback” two starting pitchers in the same game. You’ll see this quite often, because most teams have more than five candidates trying to make their rotation. Piggybacking allows for everyone to still pitch on regular rest.

Paulino and Wandy Rodriguez will both pitch Wednesday, and each is slated to go three innings. Rodriguez will go first, followed by Paulino, and a handful of relievers will absorb the final three innings.

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As a reporter, there were times that I enjoyed covering Morgan Ensberg and times that he made me want to pull my hair out.

Don’t get me wrong — Ensberg was everything a reporter would want in a player: talkative, intelligent, insightful, reflective. But there was one topic that would make Morgan clam up, and at times, it was simply infuriating.

I tried my best to write about things the fans wanted to know about, and from 2006 through ’07, fans wanted to know about Ensberg’s ever-changing batting stance. It was becoming increasingly obvious to just about the entire viewing public that the third baseman was struggling with looking, and feeling, comfortable at the plate.

So I asked. And asked. And asked again. Either he changed the subject, talked around it or was so vague that by the end of the conversation, I was more confused than when I first approached him. After a while, I gave up. It didn’t take a genius (thankfully) to figure out the guy simply didn’t want to talk about it.

But now, as a retired player, Ensberg is no longer avoiding the topic. He has started a blog — morganensberg.wordpress.com — and he’s touching on many interesting topics, many of which he didn’t want to discuss during his playing career. The blog is titled “Morgan Ensberg’s Baseball IQ,” which he hopes gives “solid fundamentally based strategy and teaching” insight into the game. “Each week I will teach you something about the game,” Ensberg writes. “Either at the professional or amateur level.”

I’m already fascinated by his insight. In explaining why communication is the key to success in baseball, he first quotes former Houston bench coach Jackie Moore: “Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.” Ensberg then goes on to say this:

“Trust me on this one. I changed my batting stance more times than I can remember and it was because I didn’t know what I was doing.

“In order to be great you have to be willing to fail. If you are afraid to fail then you won’t learn and you will have regrets.  The military says that if you don’t know what to do then take action.

“I didn’t take action. I was afraid to fail. I learned though and will be better next time.”

Ensberg has been retired from the game for about a year and he’s hoping to begin a career in broadcasting. When he was with the Astros, I always felt he would be successful with whatever he decided to do in his post-playing career, whether it was politics or coaching or broadcasting. As much as I liked him as a player, I had 100 times more respect for him as a person. That’s why I was delighted to see he started a blog.

In his most recent entry, he talks about how it ripped his heart in half to be booed by the Houston fans: “As a result, I no longer concentrated on the game and instead concentrated on not getting booed.”

Check it out. Interesting stuff.

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From batting practice at Disney Sunday:

Puma and Pence chat with MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

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Pence works in the cage.

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First base coach Bobby Meacham and third baseman Pedro Feliz.

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Hanging in the dugout before BP…Berkman, Michaels.

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Astros, Mills pass the first test. Game one in the books.

As nice as Spring Training wins are for the fans, you’re not going to draw a ton of emotion from those in uniform, regardless of the outcome. The spring season is long and there’s a ton of work to do to get ready for Opening Day, and one win won’t make or break a season.

Still, winning is always nice, regardless of whether the games count in the real standings. The Astros pummeled the Nationals on Thursday by a score of 15-5, and manager Brad Mills drew both positives and negatives from the landslide win in Kissimmee.

The offense was fantastic, but the defense struggled. Hunter Pence wowed the crowd with two home runs, a feat that did not go unnoticed by the new skipper.

“Can I put in my order for two homers every day? Is that OK?” Mills said. “He’s been working every day early, before BP, and late. That’s how he does things. It’s not a surprise that he was ready right out of the chute.”

Watch Mills break down the Astros’ win here. And, as always, enjoy the images from gameday at Osceola County Stadium…

Pregame dugout scene: Michael Bourn, Jason Michaels 

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First base coach Bobby Meacham and Geoff Blum.

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 Jeff Bagwell signs an autograph for a young fan before the game.

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Jose Cruz and Kazuo Matsui chat before the game.

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Hunter Pence, during the anthem.

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A win is a win is a win…

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March 3 notes: Bagwell in camp, intrasquad game, Puma update.

The clubhouse was a little livelier than usual Wednesday morning, probably because it was the last day of workouts before the Grapefruit League games begin. It’s not that players get overly excited about Spring Training games — in fact, after about 15 of those they’ll be itching to get finished with the schedule and start playing some “meaningful” baseball. But after nearly two weeks of throwing side sessions, taking batting practice, practicing pickoffs, rundowns, pop flies, plays at the plate and hitting the cutoff man, it’s probably not a stretch to assume the players are ready to mix things up a bit.

Manager Brad Mills posted his lineup for the Astros-Nationals game on Thursday:

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I’ve already had some questions about the decision to catch J.R. Towles and use Jason Castro as the DH, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. Mills said that most of the DH playing time will go to the catchers, which will allow for Humberto Quintero, Towles and Castro to continue to receive at-bats even when they’re not behind the plate. Considering the starting catcher position is wide open this spring, that’s a sound move.

Lance Berkman’s bruised left knee is feeling better, but the first baseman won’t play in Thursday’s game and his status for Friday is still TBD. Mills said he’s waiting to see if Berkman can DH for that game in Lakeland, or if he can play his position. Mills has Towles on the radar to DH, while Quintero will DH during the “B” game in Lakeland. Felipe Paulino, a sixth candidate for a starting position, is slated to start that game.

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The clubhouse wasn’t the only lively place Wednesday morning. The coaches’ locker room was jumping as well, mainly because of the addition of Jeff Bagwell (along with some interesting story-telling by Enos Cabell, parts of which regrettably filtered into the hallway where I was eaves-dropping).

Bagwell will be with the Astros for three days and will return again at the end of March for about a week. He’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and other than going completely out of his mind not being able to work out, he seems to be doing well. He spent most of the morning shaking hands with people with his left hand, to avoid any unnecessary tugging of his right arm which could irritate the shoulder.

To avoid any mishaps, he held a coffee cup in his right hand for most of the morning. Here he is having a coffee toast with Hunter Pence around 9 a.m.:

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The Astros played an intrasquad game Wednesday as a final tuneup before Thursday’s Grapefruit opener. This was mainly for the pitchers, which is why most of the regular position players didn’t play. Instead, several Minor League players and non-starters comprised the rosters for “Meacham’s Mashers” and “Clark’s Crushers,” named after the two coaches who managed this game — first base coach Bobby Meacham and third base coach Dave Clark.

The wind was blowing out at about a 20 mph clip, which might explain why the final score was 16-13 (in favor of Meacham’s Mashers.)

For a behind-the-scenes peek at the Intrasquad “draft,” click here. You’ll find footage of a lot of banter between coaches as Meacham and Clark picked their teams.

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Thanks to the more than 500 of you who have hopped onto our Astros Witticism Twitter account, aptly named PumaOneLiners. As the season goes on, we hope to use that as a landing spot to showcase the more humorous side of baseball players, even though we also plan to use it as a way to communicate postgame quotes once the regular season begins.

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Images from spring training workouts on a cold, windy Wednesday morning:

 Puma, Blum, Sean Berry.

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Pedro Feliz

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Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt

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Bagwell

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Bagwell with minor league field coordinator Dick Scott.

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