Results tagged ‘ Brad Ausmus ’
A couple of weeks before Constellation Field in Sugar Land burst onto the scene as the venue for the most recent Roger Clemens unretirement, I took a drive down there with a buddy to watch a different Astros alum pitch.
Jason Lane, who caught the final out that clinched the National League pennant in St. Louis in 2005 and played six seasons — as an outfielder — for the Astros from 2002-07, has resurfaced in pro ball as left-handed pitcher for the Independent League Skeeters. With a month left in their season, Lane has emerged as the club’s most productive starter, so much that he was named the Atlantic League’s pitcher of the month in July.
Lane’s decision to try his hand at pitching was purely coincidental. He was playing for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A club in Las Vegas last year and was asked to pitch an inning in a blowout game against the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A team from Reno.
Kevin Towers, the D-backs general manager, was in the stands that night. Towers watched Lane throw one scoreless inning and instructed his scouts to “get the gun on that lefty.” Later, the GM tracked down Lane near the underground batting cages.
“I didn’t know that was you out there,” Towers said. (The two had met briefly in 2007, when Towers, then the Padres’ GM, traded for Lane with about a week left in the season.)
Towers invited Lane to big league Spring Training this year, as a pitcher. Lane was assigned to the D-backs Triple-A team but was released after a couple of months.
Enter Gary Gaetti, the hitting coach for the Astros from 2004-06 and now the Skeeters’ manager. He and Lane had spoken briefly during the offseason and when Gaetti found out Lane was available, he reached out and asked Lane if he wanted to join the team as a starting pitcher.
Lane has made 13 appearances for the Skeeters, 12 as a starter, and has compiled a 3.03 ERA. He’s walked 13 and struck out 58 over 77 1/3 innings.
He’s never pitched in the big leagues, but he came close, once. Had the 18-inning affair between the Astros and Braves in the Game 4 of the Division Series in 2005 stretched to 19, Lane, who pitched in college, was up next.
He would have come in relief of Clemens, who pitched the 16th, 17th and 18th innings.
“(Pitching coach Jim) Hickey told me, ‘Roger’s going to go as long as he can,’ and that I was next in line,” Lane said. “He told me to start playing catch with the ballboy. I was just trying to process what might come.”
That moment never did come, thanks to a game-winning solo homer by Chris Burke.
Still, Lane is hoping that close call doesn’t represent his last opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.
“I remember my first inning in big league camp — the first warmup pitch was the hardest,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘just get it to the catcher.’ Now, I feel more relaxed on the mound than at the plate.”
Lane resurrecting his career as a pitcher isn’t the strangest story involving an Astros alum this year. Even Clemens’ fourth unretirement at age 50 (which many believe is a precursor to him pitching for the Astros this season) doesn’t take top billing in the category of, “You’re kidding, right?”
No, friends, that honor goes to former second baseman Jeff Kent. If you’re like 98 percent of society that thought Kent was probably the least likely retired ballplayer who would agree to appear on reality TV, you were wrong, wrong, wrong.
The full lineup has yet to be revealed, but we do know of one other participant other than Kent who has committed: actress Lisa Welchel. My money’s on Kent having no idea who she is. It’s probably also safe to assume he’s not familiar with Tootie’s rollerskates or Mrs. Garrett’s high, shrill voice, and has spent no time wondering how a group of seemingly intelligent teenagers spent like eight years in high school.
Welchel played snooty beauty Blair Warner on the hit ’80s TV show “The Facts of Life.” Back then, she (or, at least the character she played) spent a lot of time admiring herself in the mirror and sparring with Jo Polniaczek, the rebellious teen with a sharp tongue and a big heart. Now in her late 40s, Welchel — wife, mother, motivational speaker — appears to be ready to roll up her sleeves and eat bugs next to a five-time Major League All-Star.
Check your local listings.
Speaking of Astros alums…lest we not forget one Brad Ausmus, who was in town recently to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Flashback Friday.
Ausmus created a bit of a stir when the TV cameras panned on him in the GM booth exchanging pleasantries with Jeff Luhnow. With Brad Mills seemingly on his last legs as the Astros’ manager, it was only natural that Ausmus’ cameo appearance lit up the message boards and blogs.
In truth, the booth meeting wasn’t an interview, and as far as we know, the club hasn’t contacted Ausmus about the open managerial position. For now, the only managing gig Ausmus has on his plate is for the Israeli team that he hopes will qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
“I have been asked that many times,” he said. “I’m not looking at this as a stepping stone. This is just something that realistically allowed me to still spend time at home and not have to travel a lot. The tournament itself is probably a week and a half long, including the workout days. The time commitment is relatively minimal compared a Major League Baseball season. It still keeps me involved in baseball and allows me to try something different.”
The qualifying round will take place in Jupiter, Fla. in September. Retired Major Leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler will serve as player-coaches, but Ausmus has no plans to join them on the field.
“I don’t need people to see me hit again,” he said.
The Astros’ 18-inning win over the Braves in Game 4 of the NLDS in 2005 still comes up in conversation from time to time, and what people remember best about that game, of course, is the Chris Burke home run that won it almost six hours after the affair started.
Fans might also remember Roger Clemens pitching three brilliant innings of relief. Or that Lance Berkman was lifted for a pinch-runner eight innings earlier. Or that Brandon Backe started the game and wasn’t terribly effective.
But the one key moment that sometimes gets pushed to the side, considering how significant Burke’s home run was, is that the Astros were minutes away from losing that game, if not for one improbable swing of the bat. The two teams were pretty much headed back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 — until they weren’t, thanks to Brad Ausmus.
The game only continued because Ausmus picked a really, really good time to be very un-Ausmus-like and hit a home run with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the game at 6.
The umpires also picked a really good time to show a complete understanding about the ground rules and the zig-zaggy yellow lines in the outfield that indicated what was a home run and what wasn’t. This was before instant replay, but when the ball smacked against the left-center wall, just above the zig and to the right of the zag, the umpire immediately started twirling his index finger in the air, indicating a home run.
Ausmus will be one of 13 former players who will visit Minute Maid Park this season as a ceremonial first-pitch honoree. His Game 4 heroics are not the reason why, of course. “Officer Brad” was a mainstay behind the plate for 10 of 12 seasons from 1997-2008, missing only two years when he was traded to the Tigers (and subsequently traded back after it became apparent the Mitch Meluskey experiment was a disaster).
Ausmus was Steady Eddie behind the plate, wearing several hats in addition to the one with the Astros star on it. He was a security blanket for the pitchers, an encyclopedia of knowledge while dissecting the tendencies and habits of every hitter in the league, and a no-nonsense field operator who was in complete control at all times. His pitchers knew that, as did whoever was running things from the dugout. His batting average was, well, average, but his value to the team was immeasurable.
On Tuesday, the Astros released complete list of first-pitch pitchers who will appear on “Flashback Fridays.” The team will wear throwback uniforms and celebrate Houston’s fabulous 50-year history every Friday home game in 2012, and the return of former players will only add to the nostalgia that is sure to take over Minute Maid Park throughout the season.
The first ceremonial pitch is on April 10, the actual anniversary of the first Major League game played in Houston. Bob Aspromonte, arguably the most well-known of the original Colt .45s, will have the first pitch honors that day. The rest of the best:
April 10 vs. ATL Bob Aspromonte; 1960s- Colt .45s
April 20 vs. STL Larry Dierker; 1960s-Astros
May 4 vs. LAD Rusty Staub; 1960s-Colt .45s
May 18 vs. TEX Nolan Ryan; 1980s
June 1 vs. CIN J.R. Richard; 1970s
June 22 vs. CLE Joe Morgan; 1960s-Astros
July 6 vs. MIL Jose Cruz; 1970s
July 27 vs. PIT Mike Scott; 1980s
Aug. 10 vs. MIL Jeff Bagwell; 1990s
Aug. 17 vs. ARI Brad Ausmus; 1990s
Aug. 31 vs. CIN Shane Reynolds; 1990s
Sept. 14 vs. PHI Jeff Kent; 2000s
Sept. 21 vs. PIT Craig Biggio; 2000s
Each player will throw a customized Rawlings baseball that features a 24-karat gold leather cover with the Astros 50th anniversary logo.
This group of players combined for 49 All-Star Game appearances, 15 Silver Slugger Awards, 12 Gold Glove Awards, four MVP Awards, two Hall of Fame inductions, one Rookie of the Year Award and one Cy Young Award. The 13 combined for over 18,000 hits and nearly 2,000 home runs. The five pitchers – Dierker, Reynolds, Richard, Ryan and Scott – have over 800 wins and more than 11,000 strikeouts.
The first pitch participants are scheduled to appear at Minute Maid Park in the month during which their playing days are being honored. The appearances of Staub, Ryan and Morgan are scheduled out of order to accommodate their individual travel schedule.
“Flashback Fridays” highlights the rich tradition of the Astros’ former uniforms, some of the most recognizable and iconic in baseball history. In April, the Astros will celebrate the 1960s by wearing the original Colt .45s jersey. The 1960s shooting star jersey, the first Astros jersey ever worn, will be donned in May. The club will celebrate the 1970s and wear the rainbow jerseys in June, the 1980s shoulder rainbow jerseys in July and the 1990s blue and gold star uniforms in August.
Fans can purchase a special Flashback Friday 14-game flex plan, presented by Papa John’s, that guarantees a seat for Opening Day and 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.
Meanwhile, enjoy some nostalgic photos of several first pitch honorees:
It’s a tradition that is only in its second year, but the Astros have started a good thing by dedicating two full days to honoring our local heroes.
On Friday, Astros players visited local fire stations to thank firefighters for their service to the Houston community. The players “adopted” the firehouse that corresponds with their uniform numbers — Jeff Keppinger visited Fire Station No. 8 downtown, while Bud Norris visited No. 20, Brad Mills No. 2 and Jason Michaels No. 4.
The firehouse was presented with an autographed, framed jersey and an autograph and photo session with the Astros figure that visited. In two years, the Astros Adopt-A-Firehouse program has had 13 players visit local firehouses.
Images from all four firehouses:
On Saturday, the Astros will remember the ninth anniversary of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 by honoring firefighters, police, first responders and military personnel during a pregame ceremony titled “Heroes Take The Field.”
Congratulations to the Tri-City ValleyCats, who shut out Batavia, 1-0 on Thursday to advance to the New York Penn League Championship game for the third time in seven seasons. Jake Buchanan threw seven shutout innings to pick up the win, while closer Mike Ness earned the two-inning save.
Tri-City will host the Brooklyn Cyclones on Saturday in the first of a three-game series.
Interesting quotes from Dodgers manager Joe Torre before Friday’s game. Talking with KRIV’s Mark Berman, Torre noted the Astros’ sweeping roster changes and commended the team for taking the risk in retooling right in the middle of the season:
“I think it’s taken a lot of courage for them to do this. I admire what they’re doing. It’s sort of like that kid in class. You’re always admiring that kid who asked the question that you were afraid to ask. It’s something I think has to be done.”
“The mortal sin is the fact that you don’t try. You’re gonna make mistakes because the only way you are going to find out if what you’re doing is working is to get them out there in between the lines and work it.”
“You have to exercise some patience in hoping you can be a part of watching them grow and I’m talking about the fans here, and the fans that were here (Thursday) seem very enthusiastic with the club they are watching on the field.”
From the photo vault…
In honor of our old friend and current Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus being in town this weekend, I present to you one of my favorite pictures from a Fan Fest many moons ago.
Players were paired up for the photo booth session, and I always felt a little sorry for the poor chap who was stuck with Ausmus, because, well, his services weren’t really needed. Invariably, a large portion of the female fan base would point to Ausmus and politely say to the other player, “Thanks, but I want the picture with just him.”
Eric Bruntlett, as you can see here, didn’t take it personally and spent most of his hour in the photo booth leaning out of the shot.