Results tagged ‘ Brett Wallace ’

Astros CAREavan wrapup, in pictures.

The Houston Astros 2012 CAREavan wrapped up another successful winter road trip with stops last Friday in Katy, Texas. The Astros CAREavan completed its annual tour making 47 stops in 13 cities over eight days, traveling more than 3,500 miles. More than 35 Astros players, alumni, coaches and front office staff participated in CAREavan.

The Houston Astros 2012 CAREavan hit the road on February 1, with three full days of visits throughout central and south Texas.  The team made two-day trips to Austin (Feb. 1-2), Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen (Feb. 1-2) and San Antonio (Feb. 2-3), and spent a day in Corpus Christi and Victoria (Feb. 3). Highlights included conducting several youth baseball clinics, visiting with military and pediatric patients at hospitals and serving fans lunch at Chick-fil-A.

During the CAREavan’s second week, the Astros traveled to Oklahoma City (Feb. 6) and visited with military personnel at Tinker Air Force Base, patients at Mercy Hospital and Oklahoma City RedHawks season ticket holders and sponsors.  The week also included five, single-day trips in Houston, Sugar Land, Spring, Cypress and Katy.  The local tours visited numerous schools for reading activities and Fielder’s Choice assemblies, conducted youth baseball clinics and made daily stops at Academy Sports + Outdoors stores for free autograph sessions.

The CAREavan experience, in pictures:

Austin: Dave Raymond, Jordan Lyles, J.B. Shuck, Kyle Weiland, Doug Brocail at Cedar Park Middle School.

Austin: Ronald McDonald House.

Brownsville: Fernando Rodriguez, Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes at Lucio Middle School.

Brownsville: Chick-fil-A

San Antonio: Brett Dolan, J.A. Happ, Angel Sanchez, Jarred Cosart, Humberto Quintero, Larry Dierker at RBI San Antonio.

San Antonio Military Medical Center

Corpus Christi: Jim Crane signs an autograph for a young fan at the Hooks' luncheon.

Victoria: Shane Reynolds givis pitching tips at a Baseball and Softball clinic.

Oklahoma City: David Carpenter and Milo Hamilton.

Meeting with the Oklahoma City RedHawks fan base.

Houston: Bud Norris serves drive-thru customers at Chick-Fil-A.

Houston: Astros front office members and players participated in a "Careers in Baseball" seminar at Carver High School.

Sugar Land: Bud Norris, David Carpenter, Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace visit babies and new parents at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.

Sugar Land: Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace sign autographs at Academy Sports + Outdoors.

Spring: Brad Mills, Jason Bourgeois, J.D. Martinez, Brian Bogusevic, Jose Cruz at AVANCE-Southwest School.

Hanging with the kids at AVANCE.

Cypress: Jed Lowrie at a CAREavan Baseball and Softball Clinic.

Cypress: bilingual storytime with bilingual GM Jeff Luhnow.

Katy: Bill Brown, Jose Cruz and current Astros players participate in an assembly at Brookwood Community.

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Sunday roundup: The Matt Downs conundrum, Astros sign more draft picks and photos from Social Media Night.

We had another rip-roaring good time Saturday night in the Budweiser Patio for our latest installment of Social Media Night, presented by Ford Focus.

It’s nice to see a blend of returning patrons and new fans at these events and it’s of course even nicer to see everyone having a great time. Last year, we had two Social Media Nights, but we decided to make it a monthly thing this season. The program includes a ballpark tour, batting practice viewing, t-shirt, dinner, dessert, ticket in the Budweiser Patio and an opportunity to win prizes through Twitter trivia.

The highlight is always the visit by the Astros player who helps hand out the prizes. Hunter Pence was the guest for our April event, followed by Chris Johnson in May. On Saturday, Brett Wallace joined us and helped distribute 12 autographed baseballs and two autographed J.D and Brownie bobbleheads.
Great times all around, as you’ll see from our slideshow (and the next event is July 16):

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Matt Downs is averaging a home run every 13.7 at-bats, a pretty impressive statistic when you consider he’s only had 82 at-bats this year. His six longballs, amazingly, rank second on the club.

That brings us to the next logical question: should he be starting more games? Brad Mills and his coaching staff appear to be leaning toward trying to get his bat in the lineup with more frequency. But that also brings forth a pretty common conundrum.

It’s like baseball’s version of the chicken and egg theory. Do you play Downs more, which will take away a hugely valuable weapon in the late innings? Or do you keep him on the bench as your most valuable pinch-hitter, eliminating the opportunity to give your hottest bat three or four plate appearances during a game?

Downs is valuable in that he can play all over the infield and appears to really like those late-game situations when he can push the Astros ahead with an extra-base hit. But it’s dangerous to assume a bench player will automatically thrive if given more playing time. Sometimes he’s best left to do what he’s always done really well. When it comes to Downs, I’m guessing the coaching staff is still figuring out how and where he best fits.

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The Astros signed two more draft picks on Saturday, bringing the tally of signees to 31 of the 50 players selected. Right-hander Steven Martin (37th) and catcher Kevin Gonzalez (36th round), both products of Texas A&M, finished the paperwork on the fifth floor of Union Station before Saturday’s game and posed for this photo:

The Astros have signed eight of their top 10 selections and 20 of their top 25. They’ve also signed six non-drafted free agents.
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This date in Astros history, June 26, 1988:

Catcher Craig Biggio makes his Major League debut in a 6-0 win versus the Giants. Biggio walks in the fourth inning and scores the game’s final run after stealing second. Starter Jim Deshaies and reliever Larry Andersen combine to blank the Giants on seven hits. Biggio will get his first hit three days later against Dodgers ace Orel Hershiser, that year’s Cy Young Award winner.

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Brett Wallace, Part Deux.

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Over the winter, it was widely believed within the inner workings of the Astros front office that Brett Wallace would have few problems securing the starting first base job during his time at Spring Training this year. However, in an industry where there are few guarantees, it would have been unwise to anoint him as the sure-fire favorite over Carlos Lee before the team had even arrived to Kissimmee to get ready for the season.

That said, after spending a little bit of time with Wallace during the offseason at Astroline and various community activities, I gained an understanding of his demeanor and guessed that he wasn’t going to have a problem dealing with what was waiting for him — daily speculation as to whether he was doing enough to win the job outright.

I don’t know him that well yet, but it’s clear that Wallace is a take-it-as-it-comes kind of player, who sees what’s in front of him with clarity, takes it at face value and deals with it in a level-headed manner. If he’s felt any pressure or stress this spring, he’s hid it well.

As we’ve discussed in past blogs, the first base job wasn’t as much his to win as it was his to lose. And yes, there’s a difference.

Competition for a position during Spring Training means two prominent players are going to get relatively equal playing time at that position and at the end, one will be declared the winner.

Wallace was the primary first baseman throughout the spring, with Lee playing all but two of his games in left. Lee, who showed last year that he can play a pretty decent first base, was strictly a Plan B in case Wallace had a terrible spring.

Wallace has had a great spring, but there still seems to be some confusion as to his standing on this team. I read a report on Fox Sports’ web site this morning that I found curious: “The Astros are at their payroll limit, but would like to add a left-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Jason Michaels if they go with Carlos Lee over Brett Wallace at first base, which is hardly a sure thing.”

That was an accurate statement, two months ago. But no longer. If the Astros are responsible for putting the best team on the field, then I fail to see how Lee at first, Michaels in left and Wallace in Triple-A is a better combination than Wallace at first, Lee in left and Michaels as the first guy off the bench in a late-inning pinch-hitting situation.

What am I missing?

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A few weeks ago, Baseball America came out with a listing of how much teams have spent on International signings and the Astros were, according to this report, the third-highest spenders in 2010, behind the Mariners and Yankees.

According to the list, the Astros, who opened a new Dominican Academy last May, spent $5.13 million on International signings. Around $2.5 million went to their most heralded signing, 16-year-old outfielder Ariel Ovando (who is now 17).

While Ed Wade pointed out that the amount a team spends isn’t as important as the quality of the players it is spending on, it’s still nice to see the Astros near the top of this list. When Wade took over, he made two hugely important hires — first, Assistant General
Manager of Scouting Bobby Heck, and later, Felix Francisco, the club’s  Director of Latin American Scouting. Geographically, the scouting efforts were expanded, as were the spending parameters.

“We talk a lot about the impact that Bobby Heck and our free agent scouts have made through the domestic draft, but of equal importance is the work that Felix Francisco has done internationally,” Wade said. “Since coming over from the San Diego Padres, Felix has enhanced our Latin American presence a hundredfold.  It’s not about spending the third-most money or handing out the highest bonuses.  It’s about making smart baseball decisions and always working for the betterment of the Astros.  Felix is smart, aggressive and loyal, not
to mention extremely valuable.”

Here’s the Baseball America list of the top 10 International spenders:

1. Mariners, $6.47 million
2. Yankees, $5.27 million
3. Astros, $5.13 million
4. Pirates, $5.00 million
5. Athletics, $4.73 million
6. Blue Jays, $4.18 million
7. Cubs, $4.16 million
8. Rangers, $3.57 million
9. Braves, $3.28 million
10. Padres, $2.75 million

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On a much, much lighter note, I stumbled across this hilarious blog post from our friends in St. Louis. The post served as a tip of the cap to Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold, who noticed some glaring inaccuracies in Topps’ Photoshopped version of Lance Berkman’s “new” Cardinals baseball card. Then it escalated into something much more hilarious.

I initially found the post mildly amusing, until I got to the beer vendor part. I haven’t stopped laughing since. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
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And now for a pictorial wrap up of the weekend that was:

Craig Biggio

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Biggio, Cheo Cruz

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Carlos Lee

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Chris Johnson

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Puma

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Astros notes: FanFest, Myers, Bourn…and your Opening Day first baseman.

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The Astros have announced details about this year’s FanFest, which will take place April 9 and 10 in conjunction with Opening Weekend at Minute Maid Park. The events will take place primarily on the main concourse and will include autograph sessions, Talkin’ Baseball seminars with broadcasters and staff, silent auctions and the popular annual Garage Sale.

Admission is free each day with the purchase of a game ticket. The game on April 9 begins at 6:05 p.m. CT and at 1:05 p.m. CT on April 10.

Proceeds from the autograph sessions, Garage Sale and Mystery Grab Bags will benefit the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park. Additionally, in-stadium and online auction proceeds will benefit relief efforts in Japan.

The list of, and schedule for, former and current players who will sign autographs will be announced in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, here are the basics:

Saturday, April 9:

* FanFest begins at noon, with gates opening at 11 a.m. This day will feature four autograph sessions, two from noon to 12:50 p.m. and two from 1 p.m. to 1:50.

* Each session will include autographs from four current players for a donation of $20 per session. Alumni will also sign.

* Other activities: Garage Sale, Mystery Grab Bags and auctions and face painters, clowns and other free activities for kids.

Sunday, April 10:

* Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Astros alumni players will sign autographs (current players sign on Saturday only).

* Other activities: Garage Sale, Mystery Grab Bags and auctions and face painters, clowns and other free activities for kids.

Tickets to the April 9 and 10 games are on sale now with prices starting as low as $7 for adults and $1 for kids ages 3-14.  Game tickets are available online at http://www.astros.com, at the Minute Maid Park Box Office on Texas Avenue or by phone toll free at 877-9ASTROS (877-927-8767).

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Myers to start Opening Day

The news that Brett Myers will pitch the first game of the regular season came as a shock to exactly no one, but it was still nice to hear Brad Mills make it official before the game in Jupiter on Friday.

Logic would dictate that Mills will have his rotation set up in a righty-lefty-right-lefty format, which would probably mean pitchers one through four would be Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ. But that doesn’t mean that’s how the rotation will look in another two weeks.

Mills hesitated to reveal how the pitchers will line up, probably because Wandy has been sidelined with shoulder tendinitis. However, Wandy has been cleared to start Tuesday’s game, and if you count out the days following that start, assuming he’ll be pitching on normal rest, that would put him on schedule to start April 1. Since that day is taken by Myers, it would make sense if Wandy pitched the next game.

Stay tuned.

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Other notables:

* Angel Sanchez’s back is still bothering him and he did not play on Friday.

* Michael Bourn, who has been hampered this week by a sinus condition, was back in the leadoff spot on Friday. Mills said before the game they’d be keeping an eye on him: “With this heat, it would be easy for him to get run down.” Bourn was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored against the Marlins.

* One Killer B leaves, another arrives. Jeff Bagwell left Kissimmee on Friday but plans to return the final week of Spring Training. Meanwhile, Craig Biggio is here for the weekend. Both are special assistants to the GM.

* Congrats to Jason Michaels and his wife, Pamela, on the birth of their son, Logan James. Little “LMike” arrived on St. Patty’s Day, weighing in at a robust eight pounds, seven ounces and measuring 20 inches.

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Links worth clicking:

* When you have a chance please read this delightful piece from Jerry Crasnick about Astros pitchers and their coach. It perfectly captures Brad Arnsberg and his relationship with his pitchers.

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* Heading into Spring Training, first base wasn’t Brett Wallace’s job to win as much as it was his to lose. He was penciled in as the starting first baseman when he arrived to Kissimmee, but with less than two weeks remaining before Opening Day, you can chuck the pencil and mark it in red ink.

From the feedback I received from readers throughout the spring season, there seemed to be a feeling that Wallace was competing with Carlos Lee for the first base job. That was not the case. Lee showed he could play a pretty good first base last season and was considered a Plan B for that position — but only if Wallace showed he wasn’t ready for the full-time job.

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Wallace would have had to have a monumentally terrible spring for that to happen. Instead, he’s had a fantastic go of it, hitting .364 through Friday’s game in Jupiter (where he went 2-for-4). He’s got it all but wrapped up.  

MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez has a nice write up on Wallace here.

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Food and buses. Such is life in the big leagues.

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Caravans involve plenty of visits to hospitals, schools and military bases, but the time in between stops involves two things: riding on a bus, and eating.

All things being equal, I think the traveling party can agree the “party bus” we’re on during this tour through Central Texas is the way to go. We’re definitely not as exciting as a bachelor or wedding party, but I can see where this environment would be conducive to such events. Plenty of room, lots of TVs, a bathroom and a refrigerator to keep the bottled water cold.

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We’ve been given some fantastic recommendations for restaurants as well. On Tuesday, we had lunch at Salt Lick Barbecue near the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, and today, we had lunch at Threadgills — another fine southern-style establishment with a huge home-cookin’ menu.

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Getting up early, driving a couple of hours a day, eating too much…come to think of it, this is good practice for Spring Training.

Kids and military heroes. This is why we caravan.

Caravans traditionally are designed to reach out to fans in and around the Houston area, to get people excited about the season and introduce them to a few players who they might see in uniform in the coming months.

But so often, caravan visits engage people who have no idea who these players are, who have never been to a baseball game and don’t have many opportunities to watch them on TV.

Those are the visits that are often the most meaningful, as the Astros traveling party quickly discovered Tuesday evening when they stopped by the Helping Hand Home for Children in Austin. 

Armed with 24 large pizzas and four two-liters of Sprite, the caravaners — Chris Johnson, Clint Barmes, Brett Wallace and Bill Brown – walked into a room filled with enthusiastic kids who, on the outside, looked like your typical four to 13-year-olds: chatty, wide-eyed, curious.

These kids are anything but typical, however. They come from homes where they were severely abused, or neglected, or both. They were taken out of their homes by the court system and in some cases, the parental rights were completely terminated. In other cases, there’s hope for a reunion with a family member, or a foster family.

But for now — months, or sometimes, years — their place of residence is the Helping Hand Home for Children. And on Tuesday, they partied in style, with four choices of pizza not only provided by the Astros, but served by them as well. As far as I could tell, the players didn’t mess up a single order.

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Following dinner, it was playtime. Johnson engaged a bunch of kids in an intense round of Operation, while Wallace went toe-to-toe with a friendly seven-year-old in a game of Jenga. I sat down next to Wallace to watch the game, and the kid looks at Brett, looks at me, and says, “Are you his mother?”

ANYHOO…

We were asked not to take any pictures of the kids, for privacy/safety reasons. So we had to get a little creative:

CJ, playing Operator with the kids:

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Barmes, holding the various forms of origami given to us by one talented kid:

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Another youngster asked if he could take a picture with my camera, and as it turns out, it’s one of the few I could use for this blog:

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More presents from the kids:

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Earlier in the day, we visited Camp Mabry personnel at the Texas Military Forces Museum. The Astros had a meet and greet with Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard, Texas State Guard and Army and Marine Reserves:

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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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On Carl Crawford, the 2011 infield, and our own Emmy winning TV star.

It’s never too early for a little Hot Stove chatter…

Let’s get this one out of the way now: Carl Crawford is from Houston, he’s only 29, and he can do a lot of things really well — hit for average, hit for power, play tremendous defense…plus, he’s fast (as kids, he and childhood buddy Michael Bourn were pretty much considered the fastest runners in Houston and used to go toe-to-toe, literally, for bragging rights.) In a nutshell, Crawford is that five-tool player worthy of a nice, fat contract and appears to be the most attractive free agent about to hit the market this winter.

A lot of you have asked what the odds are that the Astros will be the team to sign him to that nice, fat contract. I put the odds at slim to none.

The numbers I’m hearing bandied about from industry insiders is six years at $120 million or seven at $140 million. Yes, there will be a team out there goofy enough to shell out that kind of cash. I cannot envision it’ll be the Astros.

The payroll is not yet set, but it’s going to be somewhat lower than the $93 million it was when the season started, and higher than the $50-some million it was when the season ended. The Astros will be able to retain all of the arbitration-eligible players they want to bring back, and they’ll have some wiggle room to fill in gaps (fifth starter, utility infielder, bullpen, etc.). But to sign Crawford means allotting what could be as much as one-quarter of the entire payroll to one player. That’s a bad blueprint, regardless of how great of a player Crawford is.

Plus, you know how I feel about signing Type A free agents, which will cost the team its first-round draft pick. Losing first-rounders is part of what contributed to the dip in Minor League talent over the last decade, and while the farm system is slowly replenishing itself, the Astros are not yet to the point where they should be sacrificing those precious picks.

(Update 10/20: I had that wrong…totally forgot about the rule that protects teams that finish in bottom half of standings from losing their first-rounder. Sorry about that…that being said, it won’t have any bearing on the Astros not being in on the bidding for Crawford.)

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To-do list

So what are the priorities this offseason? The Astros will be looking for fifth starter candidates (Felipe Paulino and Jordan Lyles are two internal options), a utility infielder and possibly a left-handed hitting outfielder who could platoon with Jason Michaels in left field.

Left field might be open, should Carlos Lee move to first base. That could change if Brett Wallace wins the first base job outright during Spring Training, sending Carlos back to left. These are scenarios that will sort themselves out next spring, but look for the Astros to search for some backup outfield help (Brian Bogusevic is an internal candidate to fill that role).

The Astros will also look at second base and shortstop and decide if they want to stick with Jeff Keppinger and Tommy Manzella, respectively. Keppinger had a terrific year, producing the most consistent numbers of any position player on the roster. He’s also under club control for two more seasons, which makes him an attractive piece to keep around. Manzella, and Angel Sanchez, are less of a sure thing.

Manzella needs to hit a little more to really establish himself at this level, and Sanchez, as good as he was offensively, may not be the answer from a defensive standpoint. His range was decent, but his arm strength is somewhat of an issue.

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Applause, applause

Big congratulations to FS Houston’s Patti Smith, Max Mejia and Marshall Hooker, each of whom took home a Lone Star Emmy under the category of “Sports — One-time Special” for their “Spotlight” show about Miguel Tejada in 2009.

Our own Jim Deshaies also won an Emmy in the “On Camera Talent” for, well, be an outstanding on-air analyst.

The eighth annual Lone Star Emmys took place Sunday night in Dallas. Kudos to all of the winners…

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Terribly tragic news from out Latin American operation: Astros Venezuelan Scout Luimac Quero passed away in the early morning hours on Sunday from a heart attack at the age of 26. He is survived by his wife Klineidy Leon, who is three months pregnant, and his one year old daughter, Megan Quero. Deep condolences to his family.

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From the photo vault…

Here we have an image of one of the first photo shoots for the Astros pet calendar, probably taken about four years ago. My only question is, what were they feeding that cat?!?! (The kitty cat, not the Puma.)

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On Brett Wallace, Hunter Pence, and the racing presidents.

Random thoughts and observations as the schedule whittles down to single-digits:

Why is Brett Wallace sitting?

I’ve heard from quite a few of you who are concerned with Brett Wallace’s playing time — or, lack thereof — as Carlos Lee continues to get the lion’s share of starts at first base.

Manager Brad Mills is doing his best to put the young first baseman in situations where he can be successful, but he’s also cognizant of Wallace’s 42 strikeouts in 125 at-bats spanning over 46 games since he was called up by the Astros after the trade deadline.

There’s a delicate line between letting a kid play every day to get his feet wet, no matter what, and putting a struggling young hitter out there day after day and possibly, for lack of a better term, “burying” him. This is not a situation where Mills is benching Wallace, and Wallace hasn’t done anything to fall out of favor with his manager. As we discussed in the last blog, Lee is likely to receive some serious consideration to play first base in ’11, and therefore, he is a viable option there as this season winds down as well.

I would expect to see Wallace at first base for many of the remaining games when the Astros face a right-hander, and he’ll certainly be in the mix when Spring Training begins next February.

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Hunter Pence was back in the lineup Thursday after missing Wednesday’s game with discomfort in his right hip flexor. He showed up to the ballpark early and practiced everything he might have to do in a game — hit, run, steal bases, run down fly balls. Mills said Pence was “100 percent” ready to play and “he probably would have killed me if I didn’t put him in the lineup.”

Michael Bourn, out with an oblique strain, is not expected to bounce back so quickly. He has been sidelined for four days and there is no timetable yet for a return.

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Even with the offday on Monday, the five-man starting rotation will stay on schedule. Mills noted that all of his starters want to continue to pitch and get as many starts as possible before the season ends. Even though the Astros are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, none of the Astros players appear to be in shutdown mode. “They want to keep pitching,” Mills said. “That’s a nice thing to see.”

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The season is almost over, and the Astros have an action-packed weekend series planned against the Cubs that includes quite a few ticket specials.

Here’s a quick rundown:

$5 fan appreciation special (On sale until Oct 3)

As part of Fan Appreciation weekend at Minute Maid Park, you can buy $5 Outfield and View Deck I or II tickets to any remaining game. Available through this link only.

Waive the fees offer

As a thank you for your support during the 2010 season, and for helping the Astros reach 30,000,000 total fans in the history of Minute Maid Park, the Astros will pay your ticket fees to any of the last three games of the year.

Purchase any full-price, individual ticket through this link by Sept. 26 and the Astros will pay the fees.  Click here for details.

Other events on the docket:

Oct 1: Player of the Decade Ceremony

All year, fans voted on line for the player of each decade from the 1960s to the 2000s.  Jimmy Wynn won for the 60s, Jose Cruz for the 70s, Nolan Ryan for the 80s, Jeff Bagwell for the 90s and Craig Biggio the 2000s.  All of them, with the exception of Ryan, will be present for a special pregame ceremony on Friday.

Sat, Oct. 2: Minor League MVP night

The Astros will honor the MVPs from all of their Minor League affiliates before the game on Saturday. Click here.

Sun, Oct. 3: Fan appreciation

As a thank you to the fans for their continued support, prizes will be given away every half inning to fans in attendance at Sunday’s game. For a full rundown of prizes, click here.

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We’re mostly about news, views and all things Astros on this blog, but there’s nothing that says we can’t have a little fun, too. And as much as the games on the field are the focal point of every ballpark experience, there are plenty of addition attractions in and around the venue that are worth noting. 

Big, billowy, inanimate objects racing around the warning track between innings has become something of a new-age phenomenon in the past several years. We have the old staples, such as the sausage race in Milwaukee (always a hoot) and the pierogi race in Pittsburgh (not as famous, but delightful in its own special way). But I have to say that hands down, the best races run are those in Arizona and Washington.

In Arizona, four gigantic foamy larger-than-life versions of Diamondbacks legends — Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson, Mark Grace and Matt Williams — race around the track, looking eerily like their real-life model (but with slighter smoother skin).

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(Above: Johnson, Williams)

But I’m giving the slight edge to the presidents in Washington, because well, there’s just nothing funnier than watching Teddy Roosevelt smoke Abe Lincoln (by cheating and leaving the starting line early), while George Washington and Thomas Jefferson lag 20 paces behind with their oversized gray ponytails flopping in the breeze.

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(Roosevelt)

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(Jefferson)

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(Washington)

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(Lincoln)

The racing presidents page on the Nationals’ web site gives pretty detailed information on each president. For example, Lincoln is noted for his major achievements, including the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment and the Gettysburg Address. But we also learn that his favorite sport is wrestling. Who knew?

So which is better…the Legends, or the Presidents? On one hand, the Legends represent players we’ve seen on television and in some cases, in person, in our lifetimes. Definite plus. On the other hand, the Presidents are identified on the backs of their shirts by name — first name. Ted, George, Abe and Tom. That’s got to count for something.

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And finally, some images from batting practice Thursday:

Jason Bourgeois, Jeff Bagwell

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Michael Bourn, Bourgeois

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Jason Castro

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Carlos Lee

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Hunter Pence

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Learning on the job requires hard work from players and patience from us.

The Astros took on a dramatic new look after they peppered the field with rookies following the trade deadline, and when they started winning a few games as the calendar flipped to August, the Astros — though not contenders — became interesting to watch again.

But young players require patience, and as you can see, waiting out the growing pains can be a frustrating and arduous process.

Rookies are fast, enthusiastic and full of energy. They also can, at times, look lost at the plate, confused on the basepaths and overmatched at their positions defensively. It’s tough to watch, sure. But it’s part of the process. One great game might be followed by two bad ones. The remainder of this season is about learning on the job, and some of the blunders and mental errors that so frustrate the average fan will serve as great teaching tools for manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff.

Mills was a little more agitated than normal after the Astros dropped the opener in Florida on Friday. The final score — 9-0 — suggests this game was a blowout, but for six innings, it wasn’t, and Mills saw many key plays that, had they been properly executed, could have resulted in a much different outcome.

Instead, all the Astros mounted was a pile of missed opportunities, and Mills spent a portion of the pregame period on Saturday talking with various players about how things could have been done differently.

For example: Jason Castro was on second with one out in the sixth inning, and it was J.A. Happ’s job to bunt him over. The only problem was Happ’s bunt rolled toward first base, and Castro was out on a 3-5 fielder’s choice. The bunt should have been toward third.

In the second inning, Brett Wallace’s task was to simply make contact, which would advance Chris Johnson, who had doubled with one out in the inning. Instead, Wallace struck out.

Mills doesn’t use these teaching opportunities to point fingers. This isn’t about calling someone out or needlessly embarrassing a player. But if there are missed chances — missing the cutoff man, throwing to the wrong base, etc. — that are preventing the Astros from getting over that proverbial hump, it’s Mills’ job to address it, talk about it, and plan for a different outcome next time.

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Here and there:

Brian Moehler, in his second attempt to return to the field after a lengthy groin injury, is scheduled to fly to Houston on Sunday and throw a bullpen session on Monday. If that goes well, he will begin a rehab assignment with Round Rock on Tuesday. He’ll have a 60-pitch limit in that start.He’ll then rejoin the Astros in Philadelphia on Thursday and throw another bullpen session in anticipation of a start for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks on Sunday in San Antonio.

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Congratulations to Mills and his wife, Ronda, who celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary on Saturday. We were wondering how Mills, who went into coaching and managing almost as soon as his playing career ended and has been working in baseball for more than 30 years, could have possibly found time to get married in the middle of a season. Most baseball weddings occur in November.

Turns out, Mills got married before the baseball career started — he and Ronda wed right before his senior year of college at the University of Arizona.

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Life can be pretty routine for those running the home and visiting clubhouses at big league ballparks, but the Marlins’ visiting clubhouse staff has found a way to keep things interesting as teams roll in and out of Sun Life Stadium throughout the season.

Hanging on the wall near the entrance are five pictures of the visiting team — “action” shots they take the first day the team is in town, which are then hung up the next day.

I found some of the Astros’ shots mildly amusing, like this one of Wandy Rodriguez and Anderson Hernandez (I guess it was a good thing Wandy wasn’t pitching this game).

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If you’re familiar with Rex Jones, the mustachioed half of the intrepid Astros’ athletic training staff, then you’ll probably like this extreme close up:

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Postgame notes from the Astros’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins Saturday night;

Johnson is hitting .319 in August and .361 against right-handed pitching this month.

Rodriguez tied his season high with 10 strikeouts. It was his sixth career 10-plus strikeout game.

Astros starting pitchers have posted a 2.54 ERA over the last 12 games.

The loss was the Astros 11th in their last 12 games played at the Marlins’ ballpark. They haven’t won a series here since May 9-11 in 2005.   

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And finally, we end with some candid images taken during the few afternoon hours it didn’t rain:

Geoff Blum, pointing out that former pop princess Tiffany indeed performed “I Think We’re Alone Now” (which was playing when this picture was taken) at a mall in the 1980s.  

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Michael Bourn in the cage.

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Carlos Lee grooving to aforementioned Tiffany tune.

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Blum, Mills, Bagwell

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Coach Bagwell.

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Castro, Wallace warm up.

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Astros are on Facebook

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Check out Astros witticisms at PumaOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com 

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