Results tagged ‘ Brad Mills ’

Astros are on MLB Network, and Bagwell’s on Twitter (Tuesday only).

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As a self-admitted MLB Network junkie, it sure has been a long month without my favorite cable sports station.

The place I rent down here has the bare minimum when it comes to cable programming, so I’m a little limited. After three (three!) Disney channels, TNT, E! and ESPN, the pickings are slim. Sadly, I’m experiencing pangs and withdrawal symptoms without MLB Network — and Bravo, too, come to think of it. Now, not only am I without nightly baseball talk, I also have no way of getting my daily dose of the fantastic train wrecks that are the “Real Housewives.”

Anyhoo, I happy to see Greg Amsinger and his crew at our spring complex early Monday morning, shooting b-roll and stocking up on interviews with about a dozen Astros. While I won’t be able to actually watch Tuesday night’s “30 clubs, 30 days” special featuring your Astros, it was, I suppose, gratifying enough watching the crew gather the content.

A full hour, beginning Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT, will be dedicated to all things Astros. They talked to every prominent player while they were here shooting, and they will also dedicate an entire segment solely to the farm system and the talent that we may see in the big leagues in the not-so-distant future.

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“It’s for the hardcore baseball fan,” Amsinger said. “It gives a little bit of everything, not just the guys at the big league level.”

Hopefully you’ll watch, enjoy, and give me a proverbial scouting report. For a full schedule of “30 clubs, 30 days,” click here.
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Question from e-mailer Ben:

I was wondering if you could tell me the following distances (miles/hours to get to certain camps.) Most notably Nationals, Braves, Phillies and Yankees.

Answer from your friendly neighborhood blogger:

The Astros travel anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours for Spring Training road trips, which is why the Braves (30 minutes) and not the Red Sox (three hours) are the official Preferred Opponent of Your Spring Training Houston Astros.

Here’s a photo of the entire Grapefruit League schedule, bus-ride version. To calculate the time it takes to get to the road destination, simply subtract the time the bus leaves from 10 a.m., which is the standard arrival time for a 1 p.m. game (4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, 3 for a 6 p.m. game. You get the drift).

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So, if the Astros are traveling to Lakeland to play the Tigers, that trip is an hour, so the bus will leave from the ballpark at 9 a.m.

I don’t know the exact mileage, but you can find that easy enough on Google maps. Enter “Kissimmee” and the road city and it will include how many miles it takes, in addition to directions.

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Why is this man smiling?

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I can’t tell you yet, but you’ll find out soon enough when we reveal our #TwitterTuesday question on, well, Tuesday.

Jeff Bagwell is the topic of this week’s Google-free trivia question and we’ll tweet that question exactly at noon CT. The first correct answer wins two free tickets to any Astros game this season with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season.

The exercise is simple — I tweet the question, you tweet your guesses back to me. When we receive the first correct answer, we’ll run a video of Bags giving his answer. Soon after that, we’ll also type it out on Twitter, for those who might not be able to access the video.

(Bagwell is here until Friday, by the way.)

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The Oklahoma City RedHawks have announced that tickets for the March 29 exhibition game against the Astros will go on sale to the general public beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday (March 15).

Remaining availability is limited, and seats are expected to sell quickly. For the Astros-RedHawks exhibition, Club seats are $20, Field and Bleacher seats are $16, Third Base Terrace seats are $12 and Lawn seating is $10. First pitch on March 29 is scheduled for
6:30 p.m., with gates opening at 5:00 p.m., the same time Astros batting practice is scheduled to begin.

Tickets are available for purchase by phone at (405) 218-1000, online at http://www.okcredhawks.com, or by visiting the RedHawks ticket office on Mickey Mantle Drive in Bricktown.

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Wednesday roundup: running, running and more running.

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Wednesday’s workouts were slightly shorter than normal because the pitchers, who have been either throwing bullpens or live batting practice every day, were given a day of rest. Instead, manager Brad Mills went heavy on the conditioning drills at the end of the session, which mixed up the routine a little bit and kept things interesting.

I’ll say this about Carlos Lee: he provides plenty of comic relief during these workouts. The conditioning drills were pretty rigorous on Wednesday and involved a lot more than simply jogging from point A to point B. In the middle of outfield sprints, Carlos dropped to the ground, laid on his back, legs and arms spread, and feigned passing out. I think I heard him yell “Trainer!” more than once. The best part was watching everyone ignore him, followed by his teammates simply jumping over him as they finished their sprints. Funny stuff.

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Pitchers will resume throwing live BP on Thursday, and the Astros will play an Intrasquad game Sunday on Field 1 at 11 a.m. The game will be open to the public.

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Quotable:

Mills, on if the rotation order is set:

“No, no, not at all yet. We come up and read in the paper some clubs are already announcing their rotation for the season. This is just our club I’m talking about, but if we start to make those plans now, we don’t know what’s going to happen as far as injuries, how guys throw the ball, how guys do things.

“We’re going to utilize this time to the best of our ability to kind of let guys get in shape and do the things they need to do to be ready. There’s enough first time through that we can kind of map things through later.”

Infielder Bill Hall (who arrived to camp Wednesday after the birth of his daughter Sydni):

“As expected, I’ve been anticipating this for a long time. Once that new year turns over, everybody starts thinking baseball. Watching Baseball Network for the past month and a half, I’ve been mentally ready with anticipation. I’m excited. Obviously, being around a group of guys with so much talent, a lot of youth. I kind of had this kind clubhouse in Milwaukee, so I feel like I’ll fit in just fine. And I’m excited about what this team can do.”

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Throughout the spring season, we’ll be posting one-on-one, getting-to-know you interviews (hosted by yours truly) on Astros.com. Our first one, with third baseman Chris Johnson, is up and running, and you can find it here.

Next up: Bud Norris.

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Today’s photo gallery:

Bunting practice: Jason Bourgeois…

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…and Michael Bourn…

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…and J.B. Shuck.

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Chris Johnson, all smiles while warming up.

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Bill Hall

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J.A. Happ, Brett Myers

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Jason Michaels, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee during batting practice.

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Pence and Lee in the cages earlier in the morning.

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Ed Wade, Brad Mills

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Pitchers throw live batting practice, hitters a little flummoxed

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The first day that pitchers throw to hitters during a live batting practice session is always a little entertaining (if you’re a pitcher), a little befuddling (if you’re a hitter) and not at all telling as to how these guys will perform in another five weeks (if you’re the manager).

Pitchers have a four-day head start on position players, and while that might not seem like a long time, it is. Pitchers have had a head start, getting their arms loose, throwing bullpens and slowly getting back into a (very preliminary) rhythm. Hitters, no matter how well-conditioned they are when they show up to camp and how much they’ve been hitting in the cages over the winter, are nowhere near where they will be in a few more weeks in terms of timing and simply shaking off the rust.

Fifteen pitchers threw live BP: LHPs Fernando Abad (pictured above), J.A. Happ, Sergio Escalona, Wandy Rodriguez, Wesley Wright; and RHPs Jeff Fulchino, Arcenio Leon, Wilton Lopez, Jordan Lyles, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Lance Pendleton, Aneury Rodriguez, Fernando Rodriguez Jr. and Henry Villar.

The Astros will have similar workouts throughout the week, and next Sunday, in anticipation of the first Grapefruit League game the next day, will play an Intrasquad game. These usually run 5 1/2 innings and will likely be the first time the team plays on the main field at Osceola County Stadium.
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Did you know? Hitting coach Mike Barnett was Michael Jordan’s hitting coach at AA Birmingham in 1994. Barnett recalled how focused Jordan was, no matter what the task at hand: “That type of competitiveness, that type of work ethic, he was just a joy to work with every day.”
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Quotable:

General Manager Ed Wade, on what has surprised him about camp:

“I just think the whole tone and tenor has been very, very positive. I think part of it flows from the staff and the attention to detail as regard to the schedule, and Millsie preaching energy to the staff during the eight o’clock meeting before they ever go out onto the field to interact with the players.  Let’s keep the energy up. I think a lot of it flows from the approach they’ve taken. It hasn’t been a case of any particular player standing out. It’s a case of the guys collectively looking like they understand why they’re here and having fun in the process.”
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The final Houston version of Astroline will take place Wednesday at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown, beginning at 7 p.m. CT. Our old buddy Phil Garner will join Milo Hamilton for the full hour and they welcome your calls (713-212-5874). The show is open to the public and will air on the club’s flagship station, 740 KTRH. The show will also be streamed live on astros.com and will be available in the archives on the site soon after the broadcast.

There is a twist to this Wednesday’s show: Astroline and Buffalo Wild Wings will be hosting a silent auction benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project, a fundraiser geared toward raising awareness and enlisting the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members. Participants can purchase a $10 ticket, which entitles them to six traditional or eight boneless wings and a beverage. In addition, these guests will receive a ticket to participate in a raffle of one autographed item. The silent auction, which will contain many Astros autographed items, will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. CT.
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On to the photos…

Michael Bourn grunted (in admiration) on more than one occasion while facing Abad.

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Infielders stand by while pitchers practice faking pickoff throws to second

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This conditioning exercise involves players bending their knees and flapping their arms. In a group, it looks like they’re trying to fly away.

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J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez during morning pickoff drills.

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Mills chats with players at the end of the workout, when players are stretching following conditioning drills.

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Happy to be here: Carlos Lee…

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…and Hunter Pence

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The day before report day: players arriving in droves.

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Although report day isn’t until Wednesday, the home clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday had plenty of traffic as pitchers and catchers — and several position players, too — trickled in for the start of Spring Training.

This year’s camp will be a big one, possibly the biggest one ever. It’s the most players in one Spring Training that I can remember, but seeing I haven’t been here that long (comparatively speaking), I asked around. A few members of the clubhouse staff have been here since 1980-ish, and they can’t remember a camp ever having as many as 63 players. So there we have it. The biggest camp, ever.
 
Most of these early days are filled with meetings, meetings and more meetings. Ed Wade, Brad Mills and their coaching and operations staffs have been in lockdown upstairs in a conference room near the Astros’ offices for most of the morning the last two days, going over, and critiquing, every player on the roster.

Meanwhile, the equipment room in the clubhouse is an overpopulated place, as is the case this time every spring. Players drop by to pick up all of the items that were packed away on the truck in Houston — shoes, jerseys, pants, undegarments, sleeves, t-shirts, belts, shower shoes, jackets, sweatshirts, socks, helmets…and on and on and on.

And here we go…

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(Above: Chris Johnson, Brian Bogusevic)
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Other stuff:

Astroline

Former pitcher Shane Reynolds will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline this Wednesday at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown from 7 to 8 p.m. CT. The following week, former manager Phil Garner will join Milo for the final Houston airing before the show moves to Florida.

Mills will appear on the first show at the Disney Boardwalk on March 2.
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“We Are Your Astros”

The Astros recently revealed their 2011 advertising campaign tagline: “We Are Your Astros.” The campaign features iconic Bayou City landmarks that reflect the team’s close connection with the community.

The imagery features action photos of Astros stars alongside well-known locations from around the city that most Houstonians will recognize. These landmarks include: the downtown skyline, the Sam Houston statue at Hermann Park, Houston City Hall and Rocket Park at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. 

Other Houston-area landmarks included in the campaign are the Texas Medical Center, Hines Water Wall, San Jacinto Monument and Battleship Texas. These images are bathed in orange and Astros red hues of a morning sunrise, symbolizing the 2011 club’s fresh, young roster, and were created by the design team at Lee Queao Creative.

The campaign will be executed on several Houston-area billboards in addition to graphics both in and around Minute Maid Park including wallscapes facing the U.S. 59 Freeway, column wraps and light pole banners.  The artwork will also be included in television commercials, print ads, collateral materials and animations on the ballpark’s new high-definition video boards.

The campaign will extend to surrounding Texas cities, including San Antonio and Austin, and feature familiar locations from those communities. Here’s what you’re going to see around town, starting next week:

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Winter Meetings, media-style. (Somewhere in this mess of cameras sits a big league manager.)

Once you’ve attended a few Winter Meetings, you get used to the hordes of media, the long days and the overflowing crowds of reporters that spill out of every nook and cranny of the hotel. From the lobby scene, to the gigantic media workroom that houses hundreds of reporters and serves as a stage for press conferences, to the hallways packed with dozens of regional and national television outlets, everywhere you look, there’s a reporter or 10 lurking, talking amongst themselves, talking with scouts, talking with GMs…all trying to find out the scoop. And tweeting, of course.

Add to that a couple of hundred job seekers, and it becomes unfailingly clear that if you have anything to do with the baseball industry (or are trying like heck to get someone to hire you), you’re at the Winter Meetings.

Throughout the experience, I carried my handy flip camera everywhere I went, hoping to capture some of the atmosphere, from a behind-the-scenes standpoint. It’s easy to take get used to the frenzied pace of the meetings when you’ve been to a dozen or so of them, but it’s important to not lose sight of what a scene it truly is: organized craziness.

We attempted to capture some of it here. Hope you like it.

Some of what you’ll see in the video:

Brad Mills chatting up the media.

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Terry Francona and Peter Gammons on Boston-based NESN.

A very relaxed, retired Lou Piniella talks with reporters after press conference honoring four outgoing managers.

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Yankees skipper Joe Girardi waiting for his media session…

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…set to begin as soon as Tony La Russa was finished with his.

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Day One of Winter Meetings: gathering the troops, sizing up the market, and catching up with Brad Mills.

Ed Wade gathered his staff of about 15 in his suite at 2 p.m. ET on Monday to go over the very basic items every GM discusses this time of year: club needs, free agents that might be a fit, and teams that might work well as a potential trade partner.

A dry erase board sits in the middle of the room, with lists: of teams, of players that might interest them, of Astros players that might be considered trade bait. You’d be surprised how many names float out there. One thing I learned 10 years ago when I sat in on one of Gerry Hunsicker’s meetings with his scouts: few, if any, players on the roster get through the week without being mentioned at least once.

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(Dry erase board in Ed’s suite — the safe-for-public-consumption model)

The Winter Meetings are certainly a time to wheel and deal, but it’s also a time for evaluation and exploration. It also should be noted that 95 percent — and sometimes 99 or 100 percent — of things discussed never come to fruition. It’s how the business of baseball works. When you narrow the field down to two categories: a) free agents you can afford and b) teams that have someone you want, and you in turn have someone they want, well, it should come as no surprise that most of the time, nothing happens.

Obviously, I can’t get into specifics as to who and what was discussed during Wade’s meeting with his staff. But one thing did stand out to me: the Astros truly do not know who will get the majority of the playing time at first base in 2011. They hope Brett Wallace flat-out wins the job during Spring Training, but they also realize Carlos Lee may end up over there for much of the season. It will probably be the most interesting story line when we get to Kissimmee in February.

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Each member of Wade’s staff is assigned a few teams, with the directive to communicate with those front offices to see if there is a match. Most of that information-gathering takes place in the hotel lobby, where they talk with their counterparts, feel out the situation and bring back to the suite for more discussions with Wade.

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Although they garner the most attention, trades and free agent signings are not the only activities at the Winter Meetings. Athletic trainers from all 30 clubs gather for their own meetings, as do public relations staffs and traveling secretaries. Every manager also attends the Winter Meetings and meets with the media for 30 minute sessions, scattered over the first two days.

Brad Mills, walking well after undergoing knee replacement surgery in early November (and becoming a grandfather for the second time), met with reporters in the middle of the afternoon on Monday. It’s not that we need a reminder of how respected he is in baseball, but walking through the hotel with him was sort of like walking with a rock star. He was stopped every five minutes by managers, GMs, reporters…all wanting to shake his hand, wish him well, and most significantly, congratulate him on the Astros’ second-half turnaround in 2010. Even though Mills was a “rookie” manager this year, events like the Winter Meetings serve as a nice reminder that he’s been around the game a long, long time — three decades, in fact.

Here are some tidbits from his back-and-forth with reporters:

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Q. How do you view the first base situation between Carlos and Brett?  Seems like it’s Brett’s job but Carlos will be there in the ready if he can’t do it.

MILLS:  Yeah, that’s probably a pretty good way to say it, but at the same time, here in December, to say that this guy is going to be at this position and this guy is going to be at that position, where we might have a few question marks, might be a little bit difficult.  And whether we are going to say, Carlos is going to play first base or Brett is going to play base or whatever; let’s let these guys go play a little bit, and let’s continue to work both places for Carlos and Brett to be ready.

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge will be for (Jason) Castro?  Probably be your Opening Day catcher, but he struggled offensively last year.  What would you like to see him doing to stay in the lineup?

MILLS:  I mentioned Brett Wallace, the at bats he was able to get and I think they were crucial, and the same thing with Jason, the at bats that he was able to get last year can do nothing but help him moving forward to get better. He knows he has to make some adjustments.  He worked on making some adjustments last year. Some adjustments worked. Some didn’t. And so that experience moving forward are going to be a situation to where now he has something to fall back and some reference as well.

(Mills also said Jordan Lyles will be in the mix for the fifth starter job, but he’ll have to win it outright. They like his demeanor and makeup and they want to see how he fares against Major League hitters during Spring Training.)

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Brian McTaggart has the full rundown of the first day of the Winter Meetings here. The story also includes video from Mills’ visit with MLB Network. 

And enjoy the rest of the images…

Across the room from Mills, World Series champ Giants manager Bruce Bochy conducted his media session. Understandably, Bochy is a popular interview target this week.  

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Mills on the set with the MLB Network crew.

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Kevin Millar, now a member of the MLB Network staff, and Mills were together with the Red Sox when Boston won the World Series in 2004. So this interview was also a reunion of sorts.

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The media workroom includes a stage and a seating area in case teams have major announcements to make. Here we have the Padres announcing the Adrian Gonzalez trade.

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GMs meet with the media at the end of each business day of the Winter Meetings. Here Wade sits with the mighty Houston media contingent (Zachary Levine and Brian McTaggart).

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Totally unrelated, but other than the one by Rockefeller Center, this is the largest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen. It’s located in the lobby of the Dophin Hotel at the Walt Disney Resort.

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Mish mosh Part II: Stats, scoreboard, Spring Training, photo vault and parties galore

A few interesting year-end notes as we look toward the Hot Stove season:

* At the start of the season, the average age of the Astros starting eight was 31. After the July 31 trade deadline, that average age was 27.

* Rookie Wilton Lopez stranded 32 of 33 inherited runners this season, which was the top percentage in the Majors (97%). Lopez also had a club-best 20-inning scoreless streak, which was third-longest among National League relievers.

* Despite missing the final 13 games due to injury, Michael Bourn became the first player in franchise history to lead the league in steals in back-to-back seasons with 52. Bourn led the NL with 61 steals in 2009.

And one housekeeping note: The Astros outrighted three players to Triple-A Oklahoma City: catcher Brian Esposito and infielders Anderson Hernandez and Wladimir Sutil. The move removes all three players from Houston’s 40-man roster, which now stands at 37.

Esposito and Hernandez can elect to become free agents, while Sutil will be placed on Oklahoma City’s roster.

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Mark your calendars

Who says it’s too early to talk about Spring Training? (Well, me, come to think of it, but that’s neither here nor there.) Ed Wade and Brad Mills have already hammered out the dates that your Astros will begin shaking off the offseason dust and getting back in the swing of things, so to speak.

“Report dates” have become a thing of the past, replaced simply by the first day players need to be on the field and ready to work out. For pitchers and catchers, that day is Feb. 16. Position players will arrive four days later, with the first full-squad workout slated for Feb. 20.

The first Grapefruit League game will be on Feb. 28, when the Astros travel the very short distance to Disney to play the Braves.

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One more note about that new video board…

The recent announcement that the Astros are installing a brand new high def scoreboard and moving the press box up one level to make room for a new club area was, for the most part, well-received by those I heard from. I do want to reiterate the explanation of where the funds are coming from, to assure the few of you who expressed some concern that spending money on the scoreboard would take away from the product on the field.

The money to pay for the renovations will be taken from an Asset Renewal and Replacement Fund, which the Astros, as part of their lease with the Sports Authority, have contributed to since the ballpark opened 10 years ago. As tenants, all repair and maintenance issues are the Astros responsibility, and they’ve put $2.5 million each year into the fund. Think of it as a savings account of sorts, solely there to fund large renovation projects and repairs that are inevitable over the course of time when you’re running a venue of this size.

The funds cannot be used for anything other than the physical building. It is Astros’ money that goes into the fund and Astros money that is spent, with the restriction that it’s used for building improvements only.

The Astros cannot, as part of their lease, use that money to, say, buy relief pitching. Hope that clears up any confusion.

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Parties, parties, parties

What’s a girl to do when the final out of the season is made and she’s left with only a long, dreary, boring offseason ahead of her? Put on her party shoes, of course. Another winter brings a flurry of golf tournaments and charity functions, with dozens of current and former sports stars making appearances and supporting some pretty worthy causes.

Houston is a hotbed for such events, considering how many past and present athletes from all major sports make their year-round homes here. That, along with the pleasant fall weather, makes is easy to lure participants, especially for golf tournaments. Read on…

***Astros Alumni

The Astros will host their annual Alumni Golf Tournament at Wildcat Golf Club on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. with an 11 a.m. shotgun start. The luncheon and awards portion of the event will begin at 3:30 p.m.

1013_jd.jpgThe Astros are still recruiting participants, but so far, the tentative list of Astros alumni who are expected to participate includes: Eric Anthony, Alan Ashby, Kevin Bass, Enos Cabell, Bill Dawley, Jim Deshaies (shown above), Larry Dierker, Phil Garner, Bill Heath, Xavier Hernandez, Art Howe, John Hudek, Mike Jackson, Cliff Johnson, James Mouton, Shane Reynolds, Mike Simms, Billy Smith, Carl Warwick, Brian Williams, Woody Williams, Glenn Wilson, Jimmy Wynn and Anthony Young.

For more information or to register for the tournament, click here.

***”The Greatest Save” Banquet

In conjunction with the Alumni Golf Tournament, the KinderVision Foundation is hosting “The Greatest Save” on Monday, Nov. 15 at Minute Maid Park. KinderVision is a national campaign that, with the assistance of law enforcement, provides education and instruction to families on how to protect their children from sexual exploitation, molestation and abduction. Supported by Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, one of the organization’s most visible spokesmen, KinderVision’s catch phrase is “The Greatest Save” — the one they never have to make.

Fingers and other Hall of Famers will be on hand for the event, which will take place in the lobby of Union Station and will be emceed by Astros Hall of Fame radio announcer Milo Hamilton. Packages for the golf tournament and banquet are available, but they’re also offering banquet-only tickets, which start at $100 or $1,000 for a table of 10.

For more information, visit KinderVision’s web site or contact Alicia Nevins at 713-899.9812 or anevins@kindervision.org.

***Knuckle Ball

Minute Maid Park will also serve as the venue for the second annual “Knuckle Ball…A Pitch for Life.” On. Nov. 13, athletes from all over the country will gather in Houston in support of the Joe Niekro Foundation, formed after the former Astros pitcher died from a brain aneurysm in the fall of 2006.

Niekro’s daughter, Natalie, established the foundation, committed to the funding of aneurysm research and treatment.

Last year’s Knuckle Ball raised over $450,000 and they’re hoping to exceed that total this time around. The black-tie evening will include casino gaming, a formal dinner, and auction and the opportunity to mingle with some of baseball’s greatest legends. Drayton McLane is recognized as an honorary chairman, while Joe Niekro’s brother, Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, will serve as the master of ceremonies. Country music singer Chuck Wicks will provide the entertainment.

For more information and to sign up for the event, visit the Joe Niekro Foundation web site.

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And finally, we dip into the photo vault. In honor of the postseason, check out this shot from the clubhouse in St. Louis the night the Astros won the pennant. After most of the media and other forms of riff raff had cleared out, the players could really let loose. And oh, did they. Here we have Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge getting their groove on, while the National League trophy and Brandon Backe admire from the side.

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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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Are the Astros a better team when Carlos Lee plays first base?

During Brad Mills’ daily session with the media on Tuesday, the skipper revealed that he and Ed Wade had talked extensively last winter about moving Carlos Lee to first base and Lance Berkman to left field.

Berkman had volunteered to do so if management felt that would give them the best chance to win, and although they ultimately decided against pulling the switch-a-roo, it does raise an interesting question about what the Astros might have in mind for 2011.

Lee has played a lot at first base lately, more than Brett Wallace, and you have to assume that Lee, at this point, has the edge on Wallace as to who might be playing over there come Opening Day next year.

This isn’t so much about Wallace’s performance so far as it’s about the team putting Lee at a position that best helps the ballclub. And I think it’s pretty obvious that Lee is much better at first base than we thought he’d be, and he’s also a much better first baseman than he is a left fielder.

You also have to wonder if playing first base has helped Lee at the plate. Is playing a position where he is involved in nearly every play, which in turn requires non-stop concentration, helping him focus better at the plate? There seems to be long stretches of nothingness while standing in the outfield, and I can see where it would be easy to become distracted or let your mind wander. Maybe the concentration that’s there when Carlos plays first base lingers when he is hitting. It could be the best explanation as to why his bat has come to life after hitting around .240 for the better part of four months.

So if Carlos plays first base next year, where does that leave Wallace? More than likely, it would leave him in Oklahoma City, which on Wednesday will be formally introduced as the Astros’ new Triple-A affiliate.

Wallace is a young player with options on his contract, which means the Astros can send him to the Minor Leagues without penalty. And when you’re a young player, sometimes the numbers game — not statistical numbers, but rather, the numbers that total what a team is paying a veteran player — trumps productivity, or potential for productivity, on the field.

Wallace playing first base at Triple-A gives the Astros depth at the first base position — a plus for the club. It’s probably not what Wallace wants to hear, and we’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves by even trying to look seven months down the road. But it’s an interesting discussion nonetheless.

The other question is, if Carlos plays first, who plays left field? I went back and forth on this topic with a lot of you over Twitter, and many of you suggested Brian Bogusevic. My response? I am all for taking a look at him out there, but I have not seen him play enough to make a concrete judgment on how he’ll perform if he plays, say, 150 games out there. That would be one of the many questions the front office and field staff would have to answer between now and Opening Day next year.

Some suggested Jason Michaels be given a chance to start, but I do not believe that is the answer. It’s easy to look at the nice year Michaels is having and assume he should be an every day player. But I believe Michaels is perfectly suited for what he’s doing right now — starting once or twice a week to stay fresh, and coming off the bench as a late-game pinch-hitter in RBI situations. That’s what he’s here for, and it’s what he does well.

The Astros will have some money to spend — how much is to be determined — and could pursue a free agent outfielder. Or they could take a look at Jason Bourgeois or other outfielders currently in the system. First and foremost, they must decide where they want Lee to play. I still think Wallace is the long-term solution at first base, but there’s nothing that says that long term has to begin in 2011.

If you were a decision-maker, what would you do?

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The Astros made their annual trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center Tuesday morning, and by my count, they batted 1.000 in attendance. The entire team (which, you’ve probably noticed, is pretty expansive this time of year), the coaching staff and the athletic training staff were accounted for, as were Wade, Dave Gottfried and the Grand Poobah himself, owner Drayton McLane.

That there were not as many wounded soldiers to meet this time was a blessing, of course. Those who were there rehabbing were gracious with their time when the Astros approached, and as usual, in terms of lifting spirits, the players left feeling they got more out of the visit than the soldiers.

“They tell you they wish they could go back (to the Middle East),” Mills said. “Because they’re soldiers, and that’s what they do. There’s a sense of gratitude for that.”

We were asked not to take pictures or film video inside the medical center, but I did manage to capture a few images with my iphone before we went in…

Bagwell, McLane (I was fighing the sun on this one)
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And finally, here are some images from batting practice at the Nationals’ (really impressive, fan-friendly) ballpark:

Press box view:  

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Michael Bourn, who will be out at least a couple more days with a strained oblique, hangs out at the cage with hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and tries not to lose his mind with boredom. Not playing appears to be not sitting well with the speedy center fielder.

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Jason Castro

 

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Hunter Pence

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Brett Wallace

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Lots of Astros fans in the stands for the first two games. Here’s a shot of one particularly interesting fan we met Tuesday.

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Jim Deshaies found him interesting, too. I think JD made a ZZ Top reference during the exchange.

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Astros visit firefighters, ValleyCats advance, and an old fave from the photo vault.

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:

Jeff Keppinger
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Brad Mills

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Bud Norris

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Jason Michaels

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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.”

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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.
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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.”

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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.

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