Results tagged ‘ Brad Arnsberg ’

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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A day in the life of a high draft pick. Just call him “Folty.”

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This is how Mike Foltynewicz ended his day at Minute Maid Park. But before he could get to this point, he had a flurry of activities waiting for him, including signing his name a few dozen times, thus officially signaling the beginning his Astros career.

Foltynewicz (pronounced Fol-ten-EH-vich), the Astros’ second pick in the first round and the 19th pick overall in this year’s Draft, will head to Greeneville on Saturday to join the club’s Rookie League team.

He spent Friday afternoon at Minute Maid Park with his parents, Gary and Cindy, plowing through several steps every high draft pick goes through once a contract is agreed upon.

The 18-year-old was poised and calm as he went from station to station and met a slew of people, from front office staffers to Astros players to pitching coach Brad Arnsberg to manager Brad Mills. As he toured the clubhouse, Foltynewicz looked impressed but not overwhelmed and appeared to be unfazed by his surroundings as he warmed up in the outfield with Arnsberg in anticipation of throwing his first professional bullpen session.

A pictorial look of Foltynewicz’s day at the yard:

First order of business, of course, was signing on the dotted line. Signing a professional baseball contract is sort of like closing on a house — dozens and dozens of papers to sign.  

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Scouting director/Asst GM Bobby Heck and Foltynewicz sort of look like they’re taking their SAT’s here.

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Before the official press conference, Mike posed for some pictures for his parents’ collection.

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Then it was off to the clubhouse for a tour. Heck showed Mike every part of the lockerroom except for the training room. “You don’t need to even think about going in there,” Heck said. (The training room, obviously, is mostly occupied by guys nursing aches and pains and injuries).

Here Foltynewicz is meeting Mills for the first time.

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Next up, press conference. The kid looked at ease as he answered questions from about a dozen members of the media. Heck is to the right.

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Pround parents Gary and Cindy watch from the front row.

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After the formal part of the presser, reporters like to get one-on-one interviews for a more personal touch.

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Now that the hard part was over, it was time to suit up and head to the field. Mike threw a short side session in the bullpen, where Arnsberg and Mills could get a close up look at him. Here he is stretching and conversing with Arnsberg.

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Last stop…the bullpen. Next stop: Greeneville.

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Yankee Stadium: As good as advertised.

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Television announcer Bill Brown summed it up nicely when I asked him what he thought of the new Yankee Stadium before Friday’s game:

“The concourses are wide, the field looks great, the access is wonderful. For $1.3 billion, it should be.”

And it is. The ballpark is gorgeous, worth every penny, whether you’re looking at it from a fan’s perspective or from a player’s perspective behind the scenes. Upon first glance, it reminds you a lot of the old Yankee Stadium, only (obviously) more modern. The white facades that were such a part of the old place have been resurrected in the new. And since it’s less than two years old, it’s still sparkling clean.

Enjoy the images, as well as the video we captured from the new ballpark

Blum, Keppinger, Pence

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The famous Lou Gehrig speech…this picture hangs near one of the main entrances at Yankee Stadium.

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The view from the visitors dugout.

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Jason Michaels, Jeff Keppinger.

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Carlos Lee.

 

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Roy Oswalt, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. And Chris Sampson.

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An outside view of the entrance at Yankee Stadium.

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A shot of the press box. You’ll notice Astros writers Brian McTaggart and Bernardo Fallas.

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It’s slightly ironic that the Astros are making their first trip to the Yankees’ new stadium this weekend, considering their first and only trip to the old one was this same weekend seven years ago.

Friday marked the seven-year anniversary of the six-pitcher no-hitter the Astros completed against the Yankees. The game that was historical on many levels and hysterical on still more, considering before it had even ended, speculation that George Steinbrenner was going to fire the hitting coach had already circulated around the press box and on the radio airwaves. Only in New York.

Three things stand out to me about that night more than any other:
1) Jeff Kent did not know it was a no-hitter until Billy Wagner told him once the last out was made. Kent, not exactly Mr. Congeniality to begin with, looked at Wags with an expression that was a combination of surprise, confusion and disapproval. Why in the world would Wagner pound his glove and then raise his fist in the air after closing out one of hundreds of games he’d appeared in by now? Kent: “What the heck are you doing?” Wags: “Dude. We just no-hit the Yankees.” Kent, breaking into huge grin: “Really?”

2) Octavio Dotel recorded four strikeouts during his inning of work, after one batter had reached on a wild pitch.

3) That night, Brad Lidge schooled some of his teammates on the historical meaning of what had just transpired. Lidge, a history buff, already knew plenty of obscure stats that put the no-hitter in perspective. The next day, he arrived with five or six more facts about the no-hitter that no one knew before. The guy was a walking encyclopedia. 

That brings us to the cool tidbit of the day, courtesy of media relations All-Star Sally Gunter: Two of the six Astros pitchers to contribute to the no-hitter seven seasons ago were in attendance at Friday’s game. Roy Oswalt was in the Astros dugout while former Astro Pete Munro (a native New Yorker) watched the game from the stands.

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Back to 2010…random tidbits from the pregame session with Brad Mills:

Carlos Lee will likely DH during Saturday’s game. A lot of you asked, rightfully, why Jason Michaels wasn’t playing left with Lee, with his shaky defense, isn’t DH-ing. Mills said Lee really wanted to play in left for at least the opener but would definitely DH for at least one game this series.

Matt Lindstrom had back spasms was unavailable to pitch during Thursday’s game in Denver. He felt better the next day in New York, but he was again deemed unable to pitch that night (which didn’t matter, since there was no save situation).

Consider Lindstrom day-to-day. Each day, Mills will check with him after he loosens up and throws during batting practice, and his availability will be decided before the game.

Radio announcer Milo Hamilton doesn’t travel with the team, but he makes exceptions when the Astros play in a  new ballpark that he’s never visited. Milo’s broadcast of the Astros-Yankees game on Friday marked the 58th different ballpark he’s called a game from.

Astros baseball 101: Cramming for a new season.

After Brad Mills was hired to be the Astros’ new manager last October, he had just a few months to acquaint himself with a brand new organization, one he had barely crossed paths with during the previous six years that he spent with the Red Sox. Other than one series in Houston a couple of years ago, the Astros were a team pretty foreign to the Red Sox. The two teams hadn’t as much as faced each other in a Spring Training game.

Mills’ first order of business was to get to know his new club top to bottom, inside and out. To do so, he watched somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 to 130 Astros games from the 2009 season, all from his home computer.

Accessing his MLB.tv account, Mills woke up early every morning, as he always does, and got to work. He has a big screen TV hooked up to his computer, and he watched around three games a day, each taking around an hour and a half (since he was watching sans commercials).

The objective?

“To see exactly what was happening,” Mills said. “If I didn’t want to watch a particular player, I would look at streaks they had. Maybe they lost five or six in a row, or won five or six. Why did they win or lose five or six in a row? What exactly was happening? When they won, was the pitching all that much better for those streaks, or did they have some guys coming through swinging the bats more? Did they run a little more?”

And when the Astros lost a bunch, Mills also wanted to know why. Errors? Or something else?

Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg had a similar task when he was hired away from the Blue Jays soon after Mills was named manager. Arnsberg didn’t watch every game, but the team sent him a hard drive containing every appearance by Astros pitchers last year so that he could familiarize himself with their deliveries before Spring Training started.

“You’re trying to learn 27 new names and learn them as quickly as I can,” Arnsberg said. “I read all their bios and I knew about their pasts, but it was mostly about watching deliveries. I jotted down some notes and maybe things that if there were problems, I could try to help them right out of the chute rather than having to wait two or three weeks into Spring Training before I could approach them. I was just trying to get ahead of the game.”

Spring Training is almost over, and while none of us have any idea how the season will play out, there is one thing I am certain of: this team will be ready to play every single time it steps onto the field. You might think I’m just stating the obvious — after all, aren’t teams always ready to play? The answer is, simply, no.

Last year, I wrote that the Astros played 162 games in 2009 and rarely were they the most prepared of the two teams to take the field. From the stands, baseball can look like a pretty simple game. But there is a ton of preparation required, and it starts with the manager and his coaching staff.

Focus was stressed more this spring than any other I can remember. Mental and physical mistakes on the basepaths were addressed. Same goes for fielding deficiencies. And the players were reminded, constantly, that there is work to be done and that’s where the focus needs to be.

During one of Mills’ recent preworkout chats with the team, he said he understood camp was coming to a close and that players have families to tend to, living arrangements to be made and other elements that can, understandably, be distracting this time of year. But he commended them on maintaining their focus, working hard all spring and asked that they continue to do so.

And the players appear to be responding, favorably.

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Oswalt and Opening Day go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

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Judging from my conversations with people who closely follow the Astros, I clearly was one of the few who thought Wandy Rodriguez might be awarded the Opening Day start this year.

I was basing this solely on conclusions I drew from past years. When I got here in 1997, Shane Reynolds was in the midst of what would be a five-year stretch of consecutive Opening Day starts. He made his first in 1996 and his last in 2000, after which he was unseated by a young Scott Elarton.

The decision to start Elarton in ’01 was based solely on his performance in 2000. He won 17 games in a terrible season for the team, while Reynolds pitched only about a half-season until back problems shut him down.

That call by Larry Dierker made perfect sense, assuming he was awarding the Opening Day start to the pitcher who most deserved it, based on the prior season.

In ’02, Wade Miller got the Opening Day nod. Again, Miller’s ’01 season was better than any of his rotation mates by a large margin. He was 16-8 with a 3.40 ERA and proved himself a workhorse, piling up 212 innings.

That was the last time someone not named Roy Oswalt started on Opening Day for the Astros. Oswalt will pitch his club-record eighth opener on April 5, and I admit, there’s something that just feels right about that.

But a couple of months ago when we were still deep in the offseason, I just assumed Rodriguez would be in line to start the opener. Every Opening Day starter over the 13 years I’ve been around this team got that start based on his performance the prior year, so why not this time?  Wandy led the team with 14 wins and had an ERA of 3.02 and was named the club’s Pitcher of the Year. Roy was sidelined for a spell with back problems and compiled just eight wins (a number that could partially be explained by the record-setting 16 no-decisions he received.)

I figured the only thing that might prevent Wandy from receiving the Opening Day start was the fact that he’s left-handed, and managers generally like to put their lefties in between right-handers instead of have them at the top of the rotation.

Turns out, Wandy will fall in line after Oswalt, but not necessarily because of the lefty-righty theory. Simply put, Oswalt has been the ace of this staff for nearly a decade and that means a lot to the organization. It specifically carries a lot of weight with manager Brad Mills, and as long as Oswalt showed he was healthy this spring and stayed on schedule without any setbacks, Mills had no doubt about who would start Opening Day.

(Watch Mills and Oswalt discuss Opening Day here.) 

When Mills reset the rotation after the off day earlier this week, he flip-flopped Roy and Wandy so that Roy would be on schedule to start April 5.

I like the decision. It’ll be Oswalt vs. Tim Lincecum on Opening Day, and anything else just wouldn’t have felt right. I just wonder why it took me longer than everyone else to realize it.

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Images from a busy day in Kissimmee on Saturday (it’s always slightly chaotic when the Yankees come to town):

Coach Biggio hits fungos during morning drills:

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Carlos Lee,Pedro Feliz during batting practice.

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Felipe Paulino and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

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Oswalt and Berkman during the anthem.

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View from above…record crowd for Astros vs. Yankees.

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Random notes on Opening Day, Astroline, old friends, fathers and sons.

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People in baseball like to use the cliche “it ain’t brain surgery,” along with “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” and “that’s baseball” and other well-worn phrases that often make me wish there was a banned cliche list, sort of like the banned substance list that has become a staple in our game.

Anyhoo, “it ain’t brain surgery” is wholly appropriate when breaking down the Opening Day starter pitching conundrum, or lack thereof. After Monday’s offday on Monday, manager Brad Mills reset the rotation so that Roy Oswalt would start the first game back against the Red Sox on Tuesday.

Counting the days and assuming Oswalt will receive his normal four days of rest from here on out, he would be on schedule to start April 5, which just so happens to be Opening Day.

The announcement isn’t official, but, as we’ve already gone over, this ain’t brain surgery. April 5 is shaping up to be a day I’m quite looking forward to, for three reasons:

1) I’ll be watching a game that doesn’t involve the words “Grapefruit” or “split squad” and won’t involve 37 pitching changes (at least let’s hope not);
2) It’ll be a game that actually counts in the National League Central standings;
3) It’ll feature two of the league’s top pitchers: Oswalt, and San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum.

And here’s more good news: there are still tickets available. I think a lot of fans just assume that Opening Day is sold out months in advance, but if you hop on astros.com, I think you’ll find some seats to your liking.

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Arnie on Astroline

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Hopefully by now you’ve caught at least one of the many Brad Arnsberg interviews and videos that have been posted throughout the spring. If you have, you’ve probably noticed the Astros’ new pitching coach is a pretty animated guy. It also takes no time at all to realize he not only has a deep passion for what he does for a living, but he also isn’t afraid to express it.

Arnsberg will talk pitching for a full hour on Wednesday with Milo Hamilton during “Astroline,” the team’s weekly radio show that is winding down another offseason of Hot Stove talk.

The show airs live from the ESPN Club at Disney’s Boardwalk in Orlando at 7 p.m. CT, 8 ET. You can listen on the club’s flagship station, KTRH 740, or streamed live at astros.com. The number to call into the show with questions is 713-212-5874, or you can do it the new-age way and tweet me.

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It was a fun, lively day at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday, partly because a ton of people from Red Sox Nation showed up to watch their make a rare appearance in Kissimmee. You could say that the two clubs are geographically incompatible given the hundreds of miles between Kissimmee and Fort Myers, but a home-and-home series was irresistible to the schedule-makers who noted the obvious Astros-Red Sox ties.

Mills was Terry Francona’s bench coach for six years in Boston before he was hired to be the Astros’ skipper, but the two actually go all the way back to their college days, when they were teammates at the University of Arizona.

Several prominent Red Sox players, including Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, asked specifically to be on the trip, despite the three-hour bus ride, because they wanted to say hello to “Millsie.” And you could tell throughout the morning that Mills was excited to see his old team. He’s a high-energy guy by nature, but I detected a little extra kick in his step on Tuesday (especially after his current team shut out his former team, 3-0.)

Another interesting storyline involved Astros third baseman Chris Johnson and his dad, Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson. Francona, working with only a portion of his Major League staff thanks to a split-squad schedule, assigned the elder Johnson to coach third base in this game, so that he could be next to his son.

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“It’s Spring Training, and we’re trying to get some stuff done,” Francona said. “But there is time to realize the human side, and it’ll be fun to watch.”

Chris Johnson maintained a low-key demeanor about his dad’s visit to Kissimmee, but Ron Johnson was the total opposite. He was bursting with both pride and excitement as he talked about coaching next to his son.

“This morning, I got up around 5:30, and I was the only guy, I guarantee you, that said, “OK! We’re going to Kissimmee today! Three-hour drive! This is great!” Johnson gushed.

Here’s an image of father and son exchanging lineup cards with the umpires:

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Why let rain get in the way of a good time?

Rain-soaked cancellations of Spring Training games usually signal the end of the baseball day for the average fan, but for most ballplayers, there is still work to be done.

Half the Astros squad boarded the buses Thursday morning for Viera, where three hours later the game would ultimately be cancelled due to torrential downpours. Back at the home complex, however, the other half of the team did its best to get its work in, including several pitchers who were scheduled to throw bullpen sessions.

I looked out of the window of the Astros offices around 10 a.m. expecting to see nothing but empty fields, but instead, here’s what I found:

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That’s pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and reliever Chris Sampson, seemingly ignoring the fact that it was raining hard enough that everyone else exited the fields and ran for cover.

Rain might not seem like that big of a deal during Spring Training, and that’s partly true. Once the fields are soaked to the point of flooding and the conditions become dangerous, there is absolutely no reason — other than financial ones — why teams should try to get the games in long after the fields are deemed unplayable.

That doesn’t mean the players just get to go home, however. For all pitchers, staying on schedule is essential. Roy Oswalt, the scheduled starter for the doomed game in Viera, instead returned home on the team bus and threw to Minor Leaguers on one of the backfields. He threw 60 pitches over the equivalant of three innings.

“That was the best we could do today,” Oswalt said. “The last inning was good. The first two, so-so. The last inning, I figured out what I was doing.”

Jeff Fulchino and Tim Byrdak each threw an inning as well. The rest of the work had to be done in the cages after the rain started again.

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Did you know there was a baseball game involving Craig Biggio played at Minute Maid Park on Thursday?

Biggio’s St. Thomas High School baseball team, for whom he’s the head coach, played Galveston O’Connell.

Many thanks to Astros authentication manager Mike Acosta, who sent along these images. Mike surmised this was probably the first time since Biggio’s retirement that he was back on the field at Minute Maid Park, in uniform, for a baseball game.

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Touching base with Sean Berry.

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 — Brad Arnsberg, Bobby Meacham, Al Pedrique and Jamie Quirk — to the two returnees — Sean Berry and Dave Clark.

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. Last week, we featured pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. This week, the spotlight is on hitting coach Sean Berry.

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

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Major League Baseball is mostly played at night, which makes those working within the industry grow accustomed to late hours and not-so-early wakeup calls in the morning.

That is, with the exception of Spring Training. During those six weeks, it’s almost as if there’s a race to see who can get to the clubhouse the earliest. The hours some of these people keep are, to use one of my favorite terms, absurd.

Manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg are both present and accounted for in the home clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium no later than 5:30 a.m. Most of the other coaches are not far behind, but with good reason — their players start filtering in as early as 6:30 a.m., and they’re ready to work.

Take Hunter Pence, for example. He’s there by an ungodly early time of 6:30, and within the hour, he’s ready to hit. That’s where hitting coach Sean Berry enters the picture, and it’ll be hours, and many, many sessions in the cage, before Pence is ready to call it quits for the day.

“There’s a few guys, like the Hunter Pences, that are in here morning, noon and night,” Berry said. “That’s OK. That’s what we’re here for. Hunter and I kid a lot that we have to teach him how to hit every day. We have a lot of fun with it.”

One of the original Killer B’s, Berry was a part of the Astros organization long before he became the hitting coach for the Major League club. He was first the club’s Double-A coach before spending two years as its roving hitting instructor. That past history means he’s probably known Pence longer than anyone currently working in the Astros’ system.

A coach fulfills many duties, but none may be more important than that of security blanket. They’re there to teach, encourage and observe, but they’re also there to make sure their players stay focused, and at the same time, relaxed. If baseball really is more of a mental than a physical game, it’s no wonder players become so attached to their coaches.

“As a hitting coach, you’re there to wipe their tears and help them out as much as we can,” Berry said. “That’s OK. That’s why we’re here.”

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All of the Astros’ coaches received their share of criticism during the Astros’ dismal finish in the standings in 2009, but Berry’s work with Pence and team MVP Michael Bourn should not be overlooked. Berry and third base coach Dave Clark have played an integral role in both Pence and Bourn making tremendous strides in transitioning from swing-happy youngsters into mature hitters who have better pitch recognition and who know when to be aggressive and when to wait for their pitch. This is something that cannot be detected by a stat sheet but is vital to having staying power at this level.

Berry has the added challenge of knowing how far to push his hitters during the spring season. Youngsters still have things to prove. Veterans, on the other hand, simply need to pace themselves and be ready to go in April, rather than worrying about what they do in a mid-March game in Viera.

“For the established players there’s not as much urgency during Spring Training as there is during the season,” Berry said. “For the young players trying to make the team, I have to be aware of which guys we can kind of tinker with a little more and work on a few things.

“There’s a little more relaxed atmosphere somewhat, but we’re trying to get ready to win ballgames, even in Spring Training. We have a new edge this year, and we’re having a lot of fun with it.”

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Just the facts: Sean Berry
Born
: Santa Monica, CA
Resides: Paso Robles, CA
Age: 43 (turns 44 on March 22)
Drafted: First round by the Kansas City Royals in 1986.
Major League debut: September 17, 1990
Final game: July 24, 2000
Began his coaching career in 2003.
Best remembered as
: One of the original “Killer B’s,” along with Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell.
Hobbies: He’s a wine connoisseur and enjoys golfing.
Something you didn’t know: “I’m a pretty good tennis player. Even though I don’t play anymore, I can still wax everybody.”

Touching base with Brad Arnsberg.

Every Friday through Spring Training, we’ll run a feature called “Touching Base.” This is an effort to let the fans get to know the Major League coaching staff, from the four newcomers – Brad Arnsberg, Bobby Meacham, Al Pedrique and Jamie Quirk — to the two returnees — Sean Berry and Dave Clark.

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. First up: pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

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

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Brad Arnsberg’s hiring by the Astros drew somewhat of an uproar — not by Houston fans, but by Toronto fans, who were none too happy to see their pitching coach plucked away by another Major League team.

Arnsberg, who enters his 10th season as a Major League coach, was one of four new coaches hired by the Astros during the past offseason. To the casual Astros fan, the news wasn’t terribly jarring — Arnsberg is an experienced coach with an impressive resume, but beyond that, coaching hires just don’t garner that much attention.

But as the reports slowly trickled out of Toronto, it became obvious the Astros pulled off a steal. Arnsberg’s departure from the Blue Jays, one year before his contract expired, was reportedly somewhat unceremonious, but initially, it surprised the Astros that he was even available. Turns out, it was perfect timing for what the Astros and Arnsberg hope will be a long partnership between a veteran pitching coach and a team that spent last offseason revamping its staff and looking for a new start after four non-playoff seasons.

Toronto media portrayed Arnsberg as loyal and as someone who makes no apologies for backing his pitchers 100 percent of the time, no matter what. Perhaps this didn’t sit well with some of the higher-ups working for his former employers, but don’t bother “Arnie” with such speculation. He’s not a politician. He’s a coach who is protective of his pitchers, who believes in them and who gives them his time and his ear.

“Arnie” likes to talk, but he also is a keen listener. A casual conversation with Brett Myers while walking off the field after a workout one day early in Spring Training turned into an hour-long session. Same goes for the brief stop he made at Roy Oswalt’s locker the next day. Forty-five minutes later, the exchange was still going.

Arnsberg’s Spring Training work day starts at 5 a.m. and ends 11 or 12 hours later. He has charts to study, data to input, schedules to organize. When he was hired, the Astros’ video coordinator, Jim Summers, sent Arnsberg a hard drive of every game the Astros played last year, and he got to work, studying deliveries and pitching motions in a cram session if sorts as he prepared to begin a new Spring Training with a brand new set of students.

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“My early days here, it’s more about putting the name with the face and putting a face with the delivery I’ve seen,” Arnsberg said. “Mostly just get my feet on the ground and get to know the guys and start to build the pitcher-coach-pitcher bond with the group. I try to establish that real family feel early in camp. I try to go out of my way to get all 28, 29 guys into games as early as possible.”

The early days of Spring Training are spent getting back into routines, building up arm strength and retraining the brain to remember the little things — signs, bunt plays…strategic elements that can make or break a team over the course of a season.

“Right now, it’s Baseball 101, baseball awareness,” Arnsberg said. “Jam sessions on the mound. Most guys are rotating through skill work, doing more mind work and trying to stay ahead of the game. Knowing bunt plays, knowing our signs from the catchers as far as pickoffs and pitch-outs. Knowing when our catcher is throwing through to second base rather than coming up and throwing to third. Those kinds of things to stay a step ahead.”

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Arnsberg has put in 27 years in the game as both a pitcher and a coach. He was the Yankees’ first-round Draft pick in 1983 and played six years in the big leagues — two for the Yankees (1986-87), three for the Rangers (1989-91) and one for the Indians (1992).

He began his coaching career in 1994, spending one season as a player-coach with the Wei-Chen Dragons of the Taiwan Professional Baseball League. He then served two years at the pitching coach for the Rangers’ Class A club in Charleston before moving up to Double-A Tulsa for two seasons. Following the ’98 season, he was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where the Redhawks won the Eastern Division title in the Pacific Coast League.

Arnsberg split the 2000 season in two coaching capacities for the Expos, first as bullpen coach and then as pitching coach. He was named pitching coach for the Florida Marlins in 2002 and served in that capacity until May of 2003, when he and manager Jeff Torborg were dismissed.

In 2004, Arnsberg joined the Blue Jays organization as its Triple-A pitching coach and was promoted after that season to the big leagues. He served as Toronto’s pitching coach for six seasons until accepting the job with the Astros last October.

One of his first orders of business is to figure out a reasonable schedule that will allow all 29 pitchers in camp to receive playing time once the Grapefruit League games start next Thursday.

This is no easy task — spring camps are big, and innings are sparse. It’s up to the pitching coach and manager to figure out how and where everyone fits.

“I went to camps when I was younger where I didn’t even see Spring Training innings and I kind of went backward,” he said. “I need to make sure their feet are on the ground and know that they’re wanted and needed.”

Just the facts: Brad Arnsberg
Born
: Seattle, WA
Resides: Arlington, Texas
Age: 46
Drafted: First round by the Yankees in 1983.
Major League debut: September 6, 1986
Final game: April 23, 1992
Began his coaching career in 1994
Hobbies
: Fishing, hunting, motorcycle riding (He owns a Harley).
Something you didn’t know: He loves watching the Winter Olympics. Favorite event? Ice Dancing.

 

Ballplayers acting out (literally).

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Funny skits and “getting to know you” bits that are played on the scoreboards in between innings have become such a part of today’s Major League Baseball experience that it’s easy to take them for granted.

The process to put it all together, however, is no easy task. It takes incredible organization on the part of the ballpark entertainment crew, considering it has dozens of players and staff to involve in the process and has to get a season’s-worth of content filmed over a span of less than two weeks.

The Astros’ Ballpark Entertainment department is currently in the process of filming several features for the 2010 season: “Fact or Fiction,” “A Closer Look,” “Think Tank,” “Little League Memories” and “Guess the Flick.” Between now and the first couple of days of March, the staff will have recorded spots with every player who is either guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster or has a chance to make the club this year.

“Fact or Fiction” involves the player making a statement, and then the crowd has to decide if it’s true or not.

“A Closer Look” focuses on things we might not already know about the player — what was his first job? What sport was he good at growing up besides baseball? What movie star do people think he looks like? The final product will include funny motion graphics to illustrate the answers.

“Think Tank” pairs up teammates, who engage in a Q&A word association.

“Guess the Flick” involves playing a scene from a well-known movie, and inserting the player into the scene.

Brian Moehler, Bud Norris and Jeff Fulchino filmed their segments on Monday, and we snuck into the room to get some raw video footage of our own, to share with you. Moehler was hilarious — he acted out a scene from “Dumb and Dumber” and even though I’ve known him for quite a few years, this is the first time I’ve ever heard him get loud. Check out the video to see for yourself.

Moehler also reveals which celebrity people think he looks like, who his most annoying teammate is (I don’t want to name names, but it rhymes with Plum) and that he went to high school with Molly Ringwald (or did he? That’s for you to decide when you play “Fact or Fiction.”)

The Astros ballpark crew — Kirby Kander, Senior Director of Creative Services, Brock Jessel, Director of Ballpark Entertainment, and Joey Graham, Production Coordinator, recently received two Golden Matrix Awards for the 2009 season, including the Best Overall Video Display Award (Best Show in Baseball). This is the fifth consecutive season they’ve won the award, something no other professional sports team has done. Kander, Jessel and Graham also won the Best Interactive In-game Feature for their Guess the Flick segments.

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Here are some images from Monday’s shoot, plus a few from the second full day of pitchers and catchers workouts at Osceola County Stadium:

Moehler, talking about Brett Favre and Molly Ringwald.

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Norris and Fulchino, being prepped on their video segment.

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Fulchino, Mills, Oswalt, Lindstrom.

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Byrdak, Wandy throw side sessions.

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Catchers lined up, catching the side sessions.

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Oswalt throws side session, with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg watching closely.

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Lots of position players showed up to work out, even though they don’t have to official report until Wednesday. Here we have Michael Bourn…

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Hunter Pence…

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Tommy Manzella.

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