Results tagged ‘ Chris Johnson ’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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:
Barmes, holding the various forms of origami given to us by one talented kid:
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:
More presents from the kids:
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:
We’ve been to dozens of caravans, school visits, class assemblies and other community events over the years. When we left North Shore Middle School Thursday afternoon, we all agreed that this one was one of the best we’ve ever attended.
The traveling party — Chris Johnson, Brian Bogusevic, Bill Hall, Jim Deshaies and Larry Dierker — were greeted by what seemed to be the entire student body as soon as we arrived to the school. They were lined up from the street all the way through inside of the hallways, loudly applauding as the band played and the cheerleaders, well, cheered.
The assembly was loud, raucous, enthusiastic and very well-behaved. The kids were clearly having a good time, as were the Astros, as you’ll see from the pictures below.
Following the “formal” part of the program, during which select students engaged in a question and answer session with the players, the entertainment began in earnest. The cheerleaders and dance team performed, the entire assembly joined together for a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” followed by — what else? — a round of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” a staple at Astros game at Minute Maid Park.
Then came the hula hoop contest. This was probably designed to be a competition among the kids only, but the Astros players, led by a very enthusiastic Johnson, quickly jumped in and took a couple of turns with the hoops. CJ was actually pretty good at it. Hall and Bogusevic? Well, let’s just say they get an “A” for effort.
Then we were off to Johnson Space Center, where astronaut Clayton Anderson gave us a tour of a space vehicle mockup facility. We were basically given a tutorial about how astronaunts live during space missions and exist in the very cramped quarters sans gravity for months at a time.
The group was joined by fifth graders from Bauerschlag Elementary. The Astros players were duly impressed when one particularly astute student asked Anderson, “Don’t you suffer from bone deterioration when you’re up in space for so many days?”
Bill Hall raised his hand and observed, “You guys are the smartest kids I’ve ever met.”
The players were invited to step into the sleep capsules, where astronauts catch their zzz’s. Not much room for tossing and turning.
The caravan continues Friday, when the Astros visit Brookwood Community Center, Katy Elementary School and Academy Sports + Outdoors at 23155 I-10 West (77450) from 3 to 4 p.m. Astros on deck: Hall, Hunter Pence, Bobby Meacham, Jimmy Wynn and Dave Raymond.
The Astros and the Houston Athletic Committee are now offering the opportunity to purchase tickets to the annual Baseball Dinner on Astros.com.
The Baseball Dinner, presented by Minute Maid, is traditionally held late in the winter every year, serving as an unofficial end to the offseason and as a warm-up to Spring Training and a brand new season.
The banquet, which will be held Jan. 14 at the Hilton Americas Convention Center Hotel, recognizes the best of the best from the 2010 season, and this year’s honorees include:
Hunter Pence, Most Valuable Player;
Brett Myers, Pitcher of the Year;
Chris Johnson, Rookie of the Year;
Geoff Blum, recipient of the Darryl Kile “Good Guy” award;
Barry Waters, Astros traveling secretary, recipient of the Fred Hartman Long and Meritorious Service award;
Carl Crawford, Houston Area Major League Player of the Year.
Additionally, several local folks will be recognized: Mike Rutledge of Kyle Chapman Baseball, Anthony Rendon of Rice University, Rick Lynch of Tomball High School, the Greater Houston area’s top 16 high school seniors and the Pearland Little-League All-Stars team.
The evening will conclude with a live auction featuring a Hunter Pence-themed auction package which includes: four (4) Diamond Level seats for a 2011 Astros regular season home game, dinner in the Diamond Club, in-game recognition and a first pitch, breakfast with Hunter Pence at Buffalo Grille and more. The opening bid starts at $2,500.
Individual tickets are $75, with tables of 10 available for $750. To order tickets, click here.
The Astros have their eyes fixated firmly on finishing the season at the .500 mark, a goal that seemed impossible just two months ago when they were in danger of being the first team in club history to lose 100 games.
It would be great to finish at .500, of course, but even if they fall short, they can be proud of a 79 or 80 win season, too, because it will still symbolize how far they’ve come in a very short amount of time.
About halfway through this season, I remember feeling a little panicked — not because of where they were headed in 2010 (we all sensed this could be a somewhat lean year) — but because of what it meant for ’11. I recall talking with some Astros fans after an Astroline show during the offseason and telling them 2011 looks pretty good. I figured with the core of hitters in the middle of the order, coupled with some young pitching coming through the system, next year could be, at the very least, interesting.
Then came the struggles — by Lance Berkman, by Carlos Lee, and at times, by Hunter Pence — and I said, “Uh oh.” The blueprint for ’11, at the time, was predicated on these three being what they had always been. Problem was, Berkman and Lee were hitting some 50 points below their career averages and showed no signs of pulling out of it. The offensive talent coming through the system is not as strong as the pitching, and I feared the club could find itself in a helpless situation as it put together the team for 2011.
Times have changed dramatically. Chris Johnson has had a fantastic rookie season, answered every challenge as he was moved from seventh to sixth to fifth in the order, and appears to be primed for a full season next year as the starting third baseman. Lee has performed better at first base than I think anyone expected, and he seems to even hit better during games when he’s playing over there. Brett Wallace, while still working to put it all together, has shown great potential as a hitter and is also a lot more defensively savvy than had been indicated when he was traded here.
Michael Bourn has had his share of struggles offensively but has also had long stretches of extreme productivity, and he has to be considered one of the top center fielders in the league. Pence has been red-hot in the second half, and Jeff Keppinger is the perfect No. 2 hitter — rarely strikes out, makes contact and keeps things moving.
The overall lack of power still concerns me and I do worry about Lee’s ability to spread his production over a full season, considering how much he struggled for the better part of four months. A lot will have to go right next year, which is the case every year. But a strong pitching staff and a reshaped lineup tells me the Astros could be in for some interesting times next year.
What I really like about this team is not only the infusion of youth, but also that these guys are going through these early stages of their careers together. A lot of the players with the Astros now went through the Minor Leagues together and having each other to lean on now, at this level, is a very good thing.
I recall in 2004 writing a feature on the Astros playoff team and noting that around 70 percent of the Opening Day starting lineup had either been drafted and developed by the Astros (Ensberg, Biggio, Berkman, Oswalt, etc.) or had come from outside of the organization but had never played a Major League game for anyone but the Astros (Everett, Bagwell). Drafting and developing your own talent is the lifeline of every organization, but it also creates a closeness and camaraderie that makes a team a cohesive, unselfish group moving forward.
Heading to the offseason, there are a few things to keep in mind as we watch the front office put together next year’s team. The question I get more than any other is if the Astros are going to make any splashy trades for veteran players or sign any big free agents. Please keep in mind that trading for veteran talent requires giving up Minor League players, and the only players other teams are interested in are the absolute top prospects and no one else. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions — that the Astros could trade for a big impact player in exchange for a bunch of players not considered “prospects.” Please keep in mind it’s not about quantity when you make a trade, it’s about quality. And the Astros, for all of the work they’ve done in reshaping the farm system, are still in no position to get rid of top talent. When a team has a surplus of top prospects, they can use some of those players as trade chips. The Astros aren’t there yet, and when it comes to dangling the Jordan Lyles of the world this winter, it’s in the best interests of this club to just say no.
On the Minor League front, the Astros are hoping Oklahoma City picks them to be the parent club of their Triple-A team in 2011. Two teams that are in search of a new home are eyeing Oklahoma City — the Astros and the Blue Jays. A decision is expected in the not-so-distant future.
The Astros were one of several teams who watched Barret Loux, Arizona’s former No. 1 draft pick, throw an extended bullpen session at Texas A&M recently. You can read the details in McTaggart’s notebook here.
We’re all geared up for our second Social Media event, which will take place Sunday in the Budweiser Patio. You can read the details and purchase tickets by clicking here, but I wanted to show some of the items we’re giving away during our Twitter trivia contest (in addition to the baseballs signed by Johnson, who will be out there from noon to 12:15 to hand them out).
Signed Biggio bronze bust (that’s him in the background, after I hit him up for the autograph)
Bourn signed bobblehead
Throwback cap, signed by Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.
Pence signed bobblehead
I get a lot of questions from fans about former players, about where they are now, and what they’re doing these days. For the most part, I have to Google their names, and if they’re not in baseball, I have no idea what they’re doing now. But no one elicits more “where are they now” inquiries than popular former second baseman Bill Doran. Turns out, Doran is working in the Reds’ organization as their Assistant Field Coordinator of Instruction and he’s with the Major League club during this trip to Houston.
Here’s a picture of him taken Friday during batting practice, talking with another popular former second baseman. (Sorry it’s a bit blurry. I need a new camera.)
And finally…from the photo vault:
I stumbled upon this funny picture, taken during one of our annual offseason caravan trips to Temple (I think this was 2008). Pence and Chris Sampson always knew how to ham it up for the camera.
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I get this question a lot and I can honestly tell you that he has not made a decision.
I’m assuming Bagwell will be welcomed back by the front office if he does want to continue coaching, but at this point, I’d say the odds of him wanting to return are 50-50. He’s enjoying the experience and is making a difference with both the young and veteran hitters, but the decision will be based on whether he can stand to be away from his kids. Right now, he can’t.
Baseball is not a part-time deal. If you’re in, you’re in for the long haul and you will have little to no time to do anything else for the better part of 7 1/2 months. For a coach, it means arriving to Spring Training around Feb. 12 and once your kids are of school age, you’ll see them only for one week out of the six-plus you’ll be in Florida.
When the season starts, coaches are at the ballpark by early afternoon and don’t leave until around 11 at night. And then there’s the road, obviously, where you barely get to see your family at all.
Coaches coach because they love it. For many, baseball is all they know. Most coaches and managers are retired players and can’t imagine doing anything else for as long as they want to work. With the exception of a few current coaches who made bazillions as players, most have to work, and therefore, the sacrifices they make in their personal lives is just part of it. It’s understood and it’s accepted.
For Bagwell, it’s different. He likes being involved with the game and had been looking to do more with the organization when the hitting coach job became available. But he doesn’t need the money and he’s been happy in retirement. His kids are nine and seven and do not remember him being away when he was still an active player. You don’t just miss some of your kids’ activities when you’re in baseball. You miss ALL of them.
I remember talking with Chris Johnson during Spring Training, the day that his dad, Ron, was going to be coaching third base for the Red Sox during Boston’s visit to Kissimmee. I asked Chris if he was looking forward to being on the field with his dad and he said something to the tune of, “This is only the third time he’s seen me play baseball since I was in high school, so, yea.”
I would imagine Bagwell won’t have made his decision by the time the season ends. I expect him to mull it over for a while, but he’ll have to let the team know in somewhat of a timely fashion so they can start looking for a replacement if he decides not to return. So when you ask “Is Bagwell coming back next year,” we’re being completely honest when we say we don’t know. We don’t know, and Bags doesn’t either. Stay tuned.
Speaking of Bags, it’s always a hoot to see him and Larry Andersen reminisce about the Houston-Boston swap that is now known as the second-worst trade in Red Sox history, behind only the one that sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees. By eavesdropping on the conversation this morning, I was reminded that this Aug. 31 will be the 20-year anniversary of the trade that sent Andersen, then a veteran reliever, to the Red Sox for Bagwell, a little-known Double-A third baseman.
(I think my favorite part of the story is Peter Gammons‘ reaction — after the Red Sox PR people passed around the press release announcing the trade, a disgusted Gammons ripped it into shreds and walked home in a huff).
I appreciate Bagwell and Andersen reminiscing long enough for us to do what we do best — sneak up on people when they’re not looking, snap candid photos and be a perennial annoying presence in the clubhouse on a semi-regular basis:
On that note, enjoy these images from a productive week at Citizens Bank Park:
Two Jasons, Bourgeois and Castro.
Castro and his class clown teammate, Chris Johnson.
Press box view of the Phillies gorgeous ballpark.
Fun Astros fans
I kid, I kid.
But this image of Lance Berkman imitating Jeff Bagwell while taking batting practice on Thursday did make me laugh, for two reasons: 1) it was pretty much a spot-on imitation; and 2) It was good comic relief for me after sifting through a few dozen messages from fans who were concerned that Bagwell couldn’t possibly be a good hitting coach because all he was going to do is make everyone adopt that bizarre, unconventional squatty stance that worked for him many moons ago.
The Bagwell squat isn’t making a resurgence, thankfully, but it’s good to see the old first baseman back in uniform. Bagwell stood behind the cage on Thursday and watched batting practice, chatted with the players and pulled a few to the side for one-on-one talks. In other words, it was a pretty typical day in the life of a hitting coach, but one that drew a bit more attention considering where Bags fits into the history of this franchise.
A quick note on retired numbers: A former player whose number is retired but who comes back to the organization as uniformed personnel is permitted to wear his number. Jose Cruz wore No. 25 when he returned to coach, and Bagwell will wear his No. 5.
It was a pretty lively, loose group that worked out at PNC Park on Thursday. About half the players met the team in Pittsburgh from wherever they spent their All-Star break, and everyone made it on time — except for Carlos Lee. Citing flight problems out of Panama, Lee missed the workout. Michael Bourn was also not in attendance, but that was arranged by the club. Bourn spent three days at the All-Star Game and was given Thursday off to rest.
Lee’s absence is considered “unexcused,” although the workout was not mandatory. As Chronicle beat writer Bernardo Fallas tweeted Thursday night, “GM Ed Wade said he was disappointed…Needless to say, the absence, which we’ll deem unexcused, threatens Carlos Lee’s role as starter for Fri.’s series opener vs. Bucs.”
From the workout:
Geoff Blum, Tommy Manzella.
Warm-ups can often look like dancing when captured with a still camera.
Sun-kissed skin so hot it would melt a popsicle.
Milkshakes that bring all the boys to the yard.
Walk-up music so off-the-charts cheesy that if you’re not a 14 year old high school girl, you might wonder what’s gotten into the Astros hitters.
Being cool is so 2009. The name of the game these days is bubblegum pop music, and the hokier, the better. And if the song is just cheesy enough, an Astros hitter might just pick it as his walk up music when it’s his turn to bat.
At least that’s what Hunter Pence is hoping. He recently changed his walk-up music to “California Gurls” by Katy Perry. Now, being a child of the 80s who dropped out of the pop music scene sometime around 1994, I had never heard the song, and the only reason I know who Katy Perry is is because she’s engaged to that funny guy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
So I checked out “California Gurls” on iTunes and now I understand — after hearing that whole “melt a popsicle” chorus — what Pence was talking about when he described his recent taste in music as, “As cheese as we can get. And it doesn’t get any cheesier than that.”
Teeny-bopper pop music is making a comeback, at least in certain annals of Major League Baseball. Pence suspects the trend began when Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki chose Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A” as his walkup music not long ago. At first, it prompted some raised eyebrows and a little confusion around the league. After the initial reaction, however, it just made people laugh. And it presumably kept things loose among the Rockies’ players, which is what Pence is going for.
Pence isn’t the only one who’s jumped on the bandwagon. He dared Geoff Blum to follow suit, and Blum, not one to shy away from a challenge, readily accepted.
That’s why you’re most likely to hear La Roux’s “Bulletproof” when he bats.
“It’s got a pretty cheesy beat to it, and some goofy lyrics,” Blum said. “It seems to be kind of catchy, and we won some games with it and that kind of helps.”
Chris Johnson jumped into the fray as well, but for him, mixing in a steady diet of cheesy music didn’t require much of an adjustment. He likes that kind of stuff anyway. So when he hears Kellis’s “Milkshake” (‘My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. And their like it’s better than yours,’) as he strides the plate, you can bet he’s focused.
“It’s got a good rhythm and it gets me ready to hit,” he said.
So the cheesier, the better?
“I guess,” he said. “Those are just the songs I like. I have all three of those songs on my iPod. Miley Cyrus is on my iPod. I guess if that makes me a cheese ball…that’s me.”
While plenty of Astros still prefer to hear the standard far of masculine metal-head head-****** tunes, plenty more aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves a little while trying to win a few ballgames.
“The bigger goof you can be, the cooler you are?” Blum asked. “If that’s the case, then we’re going to pretty rad.”
Here’s the somewhat complete list of the walkup music choices of your Astros:
Matt Lindstrom: “Dangerous Waters” by Non-Point
Brett Myers: “Miracle” by Non-Point
Roy Oswalt: “I Stand Alone” by Godsmack
Brian Moehler: “Big Gun” by AC DC
Bud Norris: “Hero” by N.A.S.
Felipe Paulino: “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarten
Wandy Rodriguez: “TNT” by AC DC
Chris Sampson: “Dukes of Hazzard” by Waylon Jennings
Hunter Pence: “California Gurls” by Katy Perry
Chris Johnson: “Milkshake” by Kellis
Geoff Blum: “Bulletproof” by La Roux
Lance Berkman: “Seventeen” by Tim McGraw
Michael Bourn: “Showtime” by Young Jeezy
Carlos Lee: “Noche De Entierro” by Daddy Yankee
Tommy Manzella: “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent
Jason Michaels: “The Big Show” by WWF: The Music
Roy Oswalt: “Whistling Dixie” by Randy Houser
A lot of emphasis is placed on what happens during Spring Training, because with five months of nothingness leading up to report day, it’s the only thing available to us to make observations and judgments.
There’s always anticipation to see who makes the coveted Opening Day roster, but while only 25 players can make that first team, inevitably, as the season progresses, many, many players who are cut during the spring show up in the big leagues at some point.
Three months ago, J.R. Towles beat out Jason Castro for the front-line catching job. But today, Towles is with the Double-A team and Castro is an Astro. As far as debuts go, Castro gets an A-plus.
Castro singled in his very first Major League at-bat and threw out two would-be base stealers, but it’s not just his basic stats that were impressive. It’s how he handled himself amid the hoopla that is unavoidable when a former No. 1 Draft picks shows up in the big leagues for the first time.
The Astros called up three from Round Rock, but taking nothing away from Chris Johnson and Jason Bourgeois, the lion’s share of the media attention was directed toward Castro, the Stanford-educated catcher whom the Astros are hoping can fill a void that has remained empty since the departure of the defensively-savvy Brad Ausmus.
Castro handled the media crush with the ease of a veteran. He spoke with an even tone, answered the questions concisely and calmly and seemed completely comfortable with the attention. He also appeared to be focused when he took the field, and while I’m sure he had quite the adrenaline rush going, he didn’t lose focus.
No one knows how Castro will fare over the long haul and we have to be careful not to put too much emphasis on one game. But singling off one of the best pitchers in the game and throwing two lasers to second base is a pretty good way to start a career.
Images from Tuesday at Minute Maid Park:
Jason Bourgeois will serve as a backup outfielder, in the same capacity as Cory Sullivan. Bourgeois was Round Rock’s most consistent hitter this year.
The good thing about the young prospects being in big league camp during Spring Training is the familiarity they have with the Major League coaching staff. Castro was reunited with bullpen coach Jamie Quirk, who worked with the catchers all spring.
Before Tuesday’s game, manager Brad Mills told Pedro Feliz that Chris Johnson, seen below, will take over the main starting duties at third base.
Hunter Pence chats with Michael Bourn around the cage during batting practice.
A familiar sight: Pence signing autographs.
Bourn and Berkman during BP.
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