Results tagged ‘ Brad Mills ’

Touching base with Bobby Meacham.

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

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

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

This week, we spotlight first base coach Bobby Meacham.

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

0311_meach.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

0311_mills_meach_ped.jpg

Meacham, pictured above with Brad Mills and Al Pedrique 

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

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

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

 

0307_feliz_meach.jpg

Meacham pictured above with Pedro Feliz, right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0301_oswalt.jpg

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.

________________

Arnie on Astroline

0316_arnie.jpg

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.

________________

0316_mills_francona.jpg

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.

0316_johnsons_at_third.jpg

“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:

0316_johnson_lineup_card.jpg

_________________

Touching base with Al Pedrique.

Every Friday through Spring Training, we’re running 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 to the two returnees.

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

We started with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, followed by hitting coach Sean Berry. 

 This week, we spotlight bench coach Al Pedrique.

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

_______________

0305_pedrique.jpg

It really all starts in Little League.

The objective, when tutoring eight and 10 year olds, is to keep things interesting, and hold the players’ interest.

In the big leagues, the object of the game is, obviously, winning. But some things never change, and in the early days of Spring Training, coaches make sure to avoid one simple emotion: boredom.

The best way to make morning workouts tedious is to drag the station-to-station drills to a slow crawl. That can often be the case in spring camps, but this year, the Astros’ coaching staff, with the help of bench coach Al Pedrique, has worked hard to make sure to avoid monotony.

How? It’s simple: keep things moving. Get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. Fundamentals — pickoffs, rundowns, hitting the cutoff man, plays at the plate, covering bases, throwing to the right base, and on and on and on — are hugely important over the course of a season. But practicing involves lot of, by definition, going through the motions.

This year, workouts ran like the proverbial well-oiled machine. That’s due in large part to Pedrique, who’s in charge of crafting the entire six-week Spring Training schedule, all the while working side-by-side with new skipper Brad Mills.

“You have to keep things interesting,” Pedrique said. “You don’t want to keep players on the field for more than two hours, or they’ll just start going through the motions. They get bored.”

Pedrique, like the entire coaching staff, starts his workday long before the sun comes up, and he won’t leave the ballpark until late in the afternoon. He works extensively with the players on the field, but in the hours beforehand, he has to make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be.

“We have to make sure guys know when they’re traveling, when they’re not traveling,” Pedrique said. “The guys that stay back, they have to know what the program is for the day. A lot of the guys would like to go home early, but still, even when they’re not making the trip, we’ve got something they need to go through, whether it’s a PFP (pitchers fielding practice), throwing the side, hitting and bunting. We’re pretty busy the whole day.”

This is Pedrique’s first year as bench coach, but he has an extensive resume within the Astros’ organization. He first joined the club in 2004, when he began a three-year run as a special assistant to the GM. In 2006, he took over all Latin American operations, including the overseeing of the franchise’s academies as well as the player development and scouting efforts.

He began the 2009 season as the Astros’ Minor League field coordinator but ended it as their third base coach after Dave Clark took over as interim manager in September.

Pedrique also interviewed for the managerial position that eventually went to Mills. The two have spent ample time together this spring, getting to know each other as they prepare to become a one-two dugout punch once the regular season begins.

The getting-to-know-you stage began soon after Mills was hired. They traveled to the Arizona Fall League and participated in several staff meetings as the groundwork was laid for 2010.

“We started going over Spring Training, his ideas and suggestions,” Pedrique said of his new field boss. “For the most part it’s a combo, teamwork, and so far, we feel like we accomplished a lot.”

Mills spent six years as Terry Francona’s bench coach in Boston, so he’s more than familiar with what Pedrique has on his plate this spring. Pedrique spent half of 2004 as Arizona’s manager, so he’s quite well-versed on what Mills is going through now.

0308_pedrique_mills.jpg

 “We’re trying to get to know each other right now, to get his thoughts and ideas, how he likes to run the game, how he likes to manage, the moves that he likes to make now with the double switch,” Pedrique said of his new field boss. “Basically, I’m trying to keep my eye on the little things, because I know he has a lot of stuff on his mind. He’s thinking two, three days ahead, so I’m sometimes behind him.

“For the most part, I just make sure to pay attention to details. Remind him, ‘this is the fourth inning, the fifth inning, how many at-bats somebody’s going to get, when to pinch-run for somebody.’ Just kind of keep his mind fresh.”

Just the facts: Al Pedrique
Born
: Valencia, VZ
Resides: Tucson, AZ
Age: 49
Drafted: Signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1978.
Major League debut: April 14, 1987
Final game: June 21, 1989
First year as a Minor League manager was 1995.
Was a coach for the World Team in the 2003 MLB All-Star Futures Game.
Something you might not know: He managed Roy Oswalt in 1999, with the Astros’ Class A affiliate in Michigan. 

Best seats in the house.

Spring Training is a great time to hang out at the ballpark and catch some rays, but the best part has to be the vantage point the fans have to the players.

Spring ballparks are tiny, seating somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 to 10,000 fans. During the regular season, thousands are relegated to the upper decks — nosebleeds, if you will — but during Spring Training, there is not a single bad seat in the house.

My favorite area is located right behind the bullpen. Not only do fans have the opportunity to engage in conversation with the relievers, but they can watch the starting pitcher warm up less from than 10 feet away.

As I watched Wandy Rodriguez warm up today, I was struck by how close he was to the fans seated just behind the ‘pen. That’s a perspective you can’t get at any other time other than Spring Training, and for the fans, that’s a real treat.

_________

0310_blog_astroline.jpg

The ESPN Club on Disney’s Boardwalk was hopping Wednesday, and for good reason. Lance Berkman draws a crowd no matter where he goes, and that was definitely the case this time as the fans enjoyed an hour of Puma perspective. We even picked up some fabulous Puma One Liners…even when Lance isn’t trying to be funny, he just is.

He answered a full slate of questions, some of which I’ll post now (in case you missed it):

On his conversations with opponents while manning first base:

Albert Pujols and I talk a little bit over there. Mainly, he’s like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you hitting?’ Albert’s a great guy, that’s how he is.”

On if he’d ever adopt the Hunter Pence high-sock look:

“I’ve done that before, to just mix it up a little bit. Especially if you don’t hit the ball well with the low pants, you go with the high pants. But it takes a lot of effort to wear high pants. You have to have an extra pair of socks. It’s a high maintenance look and I’m pretty low maintenance.”

On Brad Mills:
“Brad’s done a great job, especially for a guy who’s a first year manager. He’s really been impressive. I think all the guys like him and respect him. He brings a winning pedigree to the clubhouse. You can’t find anyone who says anything bad about him. It’s a great hire for the organization. Even if we run into a little adversity this year, I don’t think he’s going to be any different. I have a lot of respect for him and have enjoyed being around him in this camp.”

On young players to look out for:
“You kind of know the guys we have who are knocking on the door. Bud Norris, he’s got to continue in his development as a Major League starter for us to be successful this year. Our two young catchers (Jason Castro, J.R. Towles), I’m impressed with both of them. Chris Johnson, the young third baseman — he’s been put on back burner because we signed Pedro Feliz, but he’s got a lot of ability. He’s a great defender and has been swinging the bat well.”

On Feliz:
“He’s a great guy in the clubhouse, a great defender. He plays third base about as well as anyone in the game. It frees up (Geoff) Blum to move around and play where he needs to play and come off the bench.”

___________

Not a great outcome score-wise on Wednesday, but it was a bright, sunny, warm day, which makes for great photo opps. Enjoy the sights…

Wandy has one final conversation with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg before taking the mound.

0310_blog_wandy_arnie.jpg

Mills chats with a couple of players while walking off the field after the game.

0310_blog_mills.jpg

Quintero, Paulino and Norris have a laugh before morning stretching.

0310_quin_paul_norris.jpg

Pence takes some hacks in the cage.

0310_pence_cage2.jpg

Pence and Puma.

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter  

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com

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.)

0305_sean_casual.jpg

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.”

0228_sean_berry.jpg

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.”

0304_sean_berry2.jpg

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pregame dugout scene: Michael Bourn, Jason Michaels 

0304_pregame_bourn.jpg

First base coach Bobby Meacham and Geoff Blum.

0304_pregame_meach_blum.jpg

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

0304_pregame_bags_sign.jpg

Jose Cruz and Kazuo Matsui chat before the game.

0304_pregame_matsui_cruz.jpg

Hunter Pence, during the anthem.

0304_pregame_pence.jpg

A win is a win is a win…

0304_postgame_highfivces.jpg

0304_postgame_scoreboard.jpg

 

 

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

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

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

0303_lineup.jpg

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

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

______________

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

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

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

0303_bags_pence.jpg

_______________

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

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

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

______________

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

______________

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

 Puma, Blum, Sean Berry.

0303_puma_blum_berry.jpg

Pedro Feliz

0303_feliz.jpg

Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt

0303_wandy_roy.jpg

Bagwell

0303_bags.jpg

Bagwell with minor league field coordinator Dick Scott.

0303_bags_scott.jpg

 

 

It’s like the first day of school, only better.

 0220_mills_up_close.jpg

Pitchers and catchers began slowly trickling into the Astros’ spring complex as far back as last week, but Saturday was the big day — everyone had to be accounted for, in uniform and ready for the first official workout of 2010.

It really is, in some ways, reminiscent of the first day of school: you see some people you know, a few who you don’t, and it’s always nice to reconnect with those who you haven’t seen in many months.

Astros pitchers and catchers took physicals, unpacked their lockers and spent 2 1/2 hours on the backfields Saturday morning to begin the 41-day process to get ready for the regular season. New bullpen coach Jamie Quirk began to get acquainted with the catchers, new pitching coach Brad Arnsberg met his full staff for the first time and first base coach Bobby Meacham gave several tutorials about the importance of successfully bunting.

Manager Brad Mills (pictured above) looked at ease through the process, although I have to assume he was (understandably) feeling a little jittery. While addressing the media, he worked hard to deflect the attention away from himself and toward the business on the field, but seeing he’s a first-year manager taking over a team that desperately needed a clean start, Mills had no choice but to talk briefly about what appears to be his least favorite topic — himself.

Asked when it finally hit him that he was solely in charge of this club, Mills, who spent the last six seasons as Boston’s bench coach, admitted he felt it when he arrived to Kissimmee more than a week ago.

“The first day, I felt it, that’s when it set in,” Mills said. “When I got down here, they gave me a tour of the facility, we had five or six players already here…and that’s when it first hit me.”

A look at Day One, through the camera lens:

Mills, with Oswalt standing to his right, addresses one group of pitchers.

0220_oswalt_mills.jpg

Mills conducts his daily meeting (the first of two, actually) with the media on the field, while the team stretches. This beats sitting in a stuffy office.  

0220_mills_media.jpg

Three members of the Spring Training coaching staff: Jose Cruuuuz, Eric Young, Dave Clark.

0220_cruz_young_clark.jpg

Oswalt looks pretty relaxed at the beginning of Spring Training. Wondering how he’ll feel after the 500th “how’s your back?” question.  

0220_mills_oswalt_smile.jpg

Wandy Rodriguez insisted he had no hard feelings about losing his arbitration hearing a few days ago. “It’s reasonable,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s about the team trying to make its case and me making my case.” Wandy added that his goal is to work hard, do well this year and receive a multi-year deal next year.

0220_wandy.jpg

Brad Arnsberg and Brad Mills talk to the pitchers.  

0220_arnsberg_mills_pitchers.jpg

Running wind sprints following the work out.

0220_group_run.jpg

Bud Norris, Brett Myers, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak. 

0220_norris_myers_sampson.jpg

Jamie Quirk and the catchers.

0220_quirk_catchers.jpg

Ed Wade and Ricky Bennett. Wade was recently given a two-year contract extension through 2012. Bennett and asst. GMs Dave Gottfried and Bobby Heck were extended through 2011.

0220_wade_bennett.jpg

Wade and Drayton talk with the media about Wade’s extension.

0220_wade_dray.jpg

JR Towles signs autographs after the workout.

0220_towles.jpg

 Pre-workout laugh: Mills, Meacham, Al Pedrique.
0220_mills_meacham_pedrique.jpg

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter  

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com

Catching up after a busy week, while getting ready for another one.

Some observations after Week One of caravan season…

1. I think you’re going to really like Brad Mills. He smart, passionate about baseball and while he’s technically a “rookie” manager, he has plenty of leadership experience, having managed 11 years in the Minor Leagues and coached 11 years in the big leagues. He spent the last six years as Terry Francona’s bench coach and earned two World Series rings in the process. I believe that counts for something — a lot, actually.

Mills feels very strongly that there is a correct way to conduct yourself when you are a Major League ballplayer. He believes in the importance of the veteran players passing along that knowledge to the young players, and he also believes in every player taking the field with absolutely no confusion about what is expected. 

I swore I wasn’t going to make any sweeping proclamations about someone taking over a high position with the organization, based on some of my past observations over the last eight-plus years that I now have deemed cringe-worthy (“So-and-so’s GREAT! Capable! Approachable!” Only to find out that well, no, that wasn’t the case. At all.) But I spent a full week around Mills, first in Temple and then in Houston, where we had plenty of time to chat during the long drives to and from about a dozen caravan stops. And I have to say, with no hesitation, Mills clearly gets it.

I walked away from the caravan week with a strong feeling that the clubhouse culture is going to change dramatically soon after Spring Training begins. Toward the end of 2009, there was a feeling of defeat that I have never, ever seen from a Houston club, even in the down years. I don’t know Mills that well yet, but I just cannot envision him putting up with any sort of defeatist attitude from the players.

Plus, he’s a warm-weather kind of guy. He called Francona, who lives year-round in Boston, yesterday to let him know “It’s 75 degrees here and there is not a cloud in the sky.” Just wait until he manages 81 home games without a single rain delay. he’ll feel like he hit the lotto.

2. Of all of the recipients of the Darryl Kile Award over the years, Brian Moehler just might fit the description better than anyone. The award goes to someone who, among other things, is a great teammate who puts the team before any personal agenda.

On our way to a caravan stop on Wednesday, Moehler brought up what a fantastic signing Brett Myers is and how much it improved the Astros chances to be competitive in 2010.

Now, Myers just might have knocked Moehler out of the starting rotation mix and bump him to the ‘pen. That is of little concern to Moehler. The only thing that matters to him is winning, and Myers increases the Astros’ chances to do just that. If it means taking a lesser role on the team, then, in Moehler’s view, so be it.

3. Pitchers and catchers work out in less than a month. The first full-squad workout will take place a few days after that. Here’s what intrigues me the most:

* Jason Castro’s chances to make the team as the front-line catcher right out of the chute. I’m sensing that the club would like for it to happen, but is hesitant to put that much pressure on the kid. Someone brought up a good point — Castro needs to concentrate on his work behind the plate, handling a pitching staff, learning opposing hitters, etc…yet, his odds to make the club will largely depend on how well he hits in March. Is that fair?

* Roy Oswalt’s back: He’s changed up his conditioning routine, cutting back on running and concentrating more on core-strengthening. He said he’ll be ready when the bell rings, but keep in mind that for a player, that bell rings on Opening Day, not the Grapefruit League opener. So don’t expect miracles on March 4.

* Who gets the Opening Day start. If Opening Day honors go to the starting pitcher who had the best year in the previous season, then Wandy Rodriguez getting the ball is a no-brainer. But I’ve come across a couple of people who think there’s an argument to be made for Oswalt, the team’s unmatched ace almost a full decade. If you were Mills, who would you appoint?

In the meantime, here are some shots from the locally-based caravan stops from the last couple of days, plus the baseball dinner…enjoy.

Craig Biggio mingles with residents of the Brookwood Community.

Bill Brown, Mills, Biggio and Moehler (hidden behind Brownie) begin the presentation at Brookwood.

0121_brook_stage.jpg

Junction Jack, Moehler and Biggio play an abbreviated game of baseball at Brookwood. I think Moehler struck out Biggio here.

0121_brook_game.jpg

Then it was off to Katy Jr. High…

0121_katy_brownie.jpg

0121_katy_kids.jpg

0121_katy_questions.jpg

0121_katy_crowd.jpg

Later that night, at the baseball banquet…

MVP Michael Bourn, conducting his 1,000th interview of the week (or at least it seemed that way).

0121_bbdinner_Bourn.jpg

Bourn signed a few autographs for some young admirers.

0121_bbdinner_bourn_autographs.jpg

 Rookie of the Year Jeff Fulchino and his wife, Carrie.

0121_bbdinner_funchinos.jpg

Darryl Kile Award recipient Moehler, and his wife, Dee.

0121_bbdinner_moehlers.jpg

Bourn, Wandy, Moehler, listening intently to seating instructions before heading to the main banquet room.

0121_bbdinner_three.jpg

The next day, the caravan resumed with a trip to Methodist Hospital…

0122_meth2.jpg

…Pearland High School..

0122_pearland.jpg

…and a Grand Slam for Youth Baseball Little League sign-up rally.

0122_gsfyb.jpg

 Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter  

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com

Meeting special people on a special day.

Meet Tyran.

This young man was one of many patients the Astros met during their visit to Scott and White Hospital during the final caravan day through Temple, Texas on Wednesday. He was timid at first, but thanks to a very congenial Michael Bourn, it took no time at all for Tyran to relax with our players and enjoy the company.

Tyran’s mother sat back and marveled at how happy Tyran was with the lavish attention everyone — Bourn, J.R. Towles, Brad Mills and bullpen assistant Javier Bracamonte — heaped upon this young man, and it was yet another reminder how little ballplayers have to do to make someone’s day and positively affect a young life.

The players carry autograph cards with them on these caravan trips and hand them out to anyone who wants one, and soon, Tyran had a stack of mementos. It was touching enough just watching the scene unfold, but it was Tyran’s mother’s words at the end of the visit that really moved me.

“I’m his foster parent, and we just got him,” she said. “I haven’t even been able to bring him home yet. I was wondering how I was going to decorate his room when it was time.”

Pointing to the stack of autograph cards, she said, “Now, I know exactly how to decorate his room.”

The compassion people carry with them — they’re truly angels on earth — never ceases to amaze me. Parents come in all forms, as do those who dedicate their lives to caring for people who are dealt a terrible hand in life. The hospital workers at Scott and White who escort us through the hospital every year had a gut-wrenching hour just before we arrived — they lost a young patient to whom they had grown incredibly attached. “We’ve had a terrible day,” one woman said tearfully. “Please bear with us.” Then she gathered herself, put on a smile, and walked us into every patient’s room with the same unbridled enthusiasm.

Yes, we look at baseball players as heroes, but let’s not forget the everyday folks who do absolutely extraordinary things. When you work in sports, you’re reminded of this practically every day. Wednesday was one of those days.

 

Tyran could not take his eyes off Bourn, and I think Mike became pretty attached as well.  

0120_hospital_arms_folded.jpg

 The group with more patients at Scott and White.

0120_group.jpg

A difficult day for those who work at Scott and White. Yet they still made the day special for dozens.

0120_nurses_admin.jpg

A few patients’ rooms were off limits because the kids were too sick, but others were inhabitable only if the guests wore masks and gowns. Here’s Bourn getting suited up. I posted another shot on Twitter.

0120_bourn_gown.jpg

After the hospital visit, we had a major change of pace…lunch at the Temple Lions Club. This is always a raucous hour attended by Drayton McLane and a few dozen locals. An auctioneer raffles off a handful of Astros goodies…signed bats, balls…and a Milo bobblehead!

0120_milo_bobble.jpg

Then it was off to Yoe High School, the alma mater of one Drayton McLane.

After the autograph session following the assembly…it was time to head back to Houston.

0120_yoe_autographs.jpg

Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter  

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 254 other followers