Results tagged ‘ Ed Wade ’

Astros, Budweiser support military families

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By Rachel Frey

Ginger Gilbert heard a knock on her door on November 27, 2006, that changed her life. She was notified that her husband, Major Troy Gilbert, had crashed his F-16 while supporting ground combat operations northwest of Baghdad.  Just a few days later, his death was confirmed. He left behind not only his wife, but also five children under the age of nine.

Many people came together to support her family and help them achieve the dreams she and Troy had for their children. Folds of Honor helped support the family by providing post-secondary educational scholarships to all of their children.

With so many deserving families like the Gilberts, the Astros and Budweiser have announced a new partnership to benefit Folds of Honor. At a press conference on Tuesday, June 7, Silver Eagle Distributors President and CEO John Nau, Astros Chairman and CEO Drayton McLane, Astros General Manager Ed Wade, along with Ginger Gilbert unveiled the “Here’s to the Heroes” program.

From Memorial Day through July 10, Budweiser cans and cases will feature patriotic packaging and a portion of each sale will be donated by Budweiser to Folds of Honor. Silver Eagle Distributors will match this amount. Additionally, $100 will be donated by Budweiser for each home run hit in Minute Maid Park. Silver Eagle Distributors will donate $100 for each Astros home run. Also, be on the lookout on Flag Day, June 14, because Budweiser will visit area bars and restaurants to share Folds of Honor’s mission and treat consumers to a Budweiser.

“Each dollar donated is a separate thank you note to a family,” Ginger said.

The Astros have a long history of involvement with active and retired military. Once a month, “Astros on the Home Front” welcomes several military families with deployed loved ones to batting practice and the game. At each Sunday home game, the “Home Sweet Home” program, which is sponsored by Budweiser, welcomes a small group of active, recently returned military personnel to watch a game in a suite. An Astros player meets each group, and the groups are introduced to the crowd just before “God Bless America” is sung in the seventh inning. Drayton recalled the team’s visits to Walter Reed Hospital to visit the wounded soldiers each time they play the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

“We can never get desensitized to the fact that it’s not only about the individual — it’s about the family they left behind,” Ed said. “It’s up to us to not just say ‘It’s a tragedy,’ It’s up to us to step up and do what we can to help.”

Rachel Frey is the Social Media and Broadcasting Intern for the Houston Astros. She studies Public Relations at The University of Texas at Austin, where she spends most of her time attending Texas Football & Baseball games. Connect with Rachel on her Twitter account: @RachelFrey or on her MLBlog, A Temporary Perspective.

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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Wednesday roundup: running, running and more running.

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

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

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

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Quotable:

Mills, on if the rotation order is set:

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

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

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

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

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

Next up: Bud Norris.

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Today’s photo gallery:

Bunting practice: Jason Bourgeois…

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…and Michael Bourn…

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…and J.B. Shuck.

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Chris Johnson, all smiles while warming up.

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Bill Hall

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J.A. Happ, Brett Myers

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

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Pence and Lee in the cages earlier in the morning.

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Ed Wade, Brad Mills

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Pitchers throw live batting practice, hitters a little flummoxed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Infielders stand by while pitchers practice faking pickoff throws to second

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

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

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

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Happy to be here: Carlos Lee…

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…and Hunter Pence

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The day before report day: players arriving in droves.

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

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

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

And here we go…

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

Astroline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Winter Meetings: some wheeling, some dealing, and a whole lot of lobby trolling.

Fortunately, there’s a giant Christmas tree in the hotel lobby here at the Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, or I might think it was already Spring Training time again. After all, there was a very familiar feel to the ride from the airport — a long drive on Beeline Expressway (including two tolls), an even longer drive in I-4, and at long last, a full view of chain restaurants, t-shirts shops and outlet stores as far as the eye can see.

Orlando. It’s never met a convention it wasn’t willing to host, which is probably why the Winter Meetings end up here every few years. The weather is decent, it’s a convenient plane ride from most East coast cities, and it has first-rate facilities for any size convention known to mankind. We were reminded of this on the cab ride over when dispatch sent out an APB to all drivers: “WE HAVE SEVEN THOUSAND PEOPLE COMING OUT OF THE CONVENTION CENTER RIGHT NOW! WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK! YES, I SAID SEVEN THOUSAND! AND THEY ALL WANT TO GO TO DINNER. NOW!!!!”

I was happy that we were instead headed to the Dolphin hotel at the Walt Disney Resort and NOT the Convention Center, although this hotel isn’t exactly barren either. Welcome to the 2010 Winter Meetings, where nearly every member of every front office of every team, plus hundreds of reporters and dozens of agents are sandwiched into one confined area for a four-day baseball free-for-all. Participants fall into three categories: front offices who are looking to wheel, deal, or stand pat; media, searching for trade and free agent rumors, true (sometimes) or not true (most of the time); and agents, who are often the providers of the tidbits that eventually make their way through the information highway of the Winter Meetings — a.k.a. the hotel lobby.

The lobby is where most rumors start. They circulate around, and when valid, make it to the web. The addition of Twitter to the process has added an entirely new element to lobby trolling at the Winter Meetings, because now reporters don’t have to run back to their computers to break a story. Heck, no one even has to talk to each other anymore. They can just take out their handheld device of choice and within a few minutes send the competition into a tizzy. It’s truly a fascinating scene, especially when a high-powered agent or high-profile general manager just happens to be strolling through the lobby. (This is, of course, not the way it actually works. No one just randomly strolls to where a couple hundred reporters are hanging out unless they want to be seen and/or have something to say).

Ed Wade’s entire front office staff is here, along with manager Brad Mills. Wade will address the media at the end of each business day, so be sure to check back for updates on that front. We’ll also be tweeting throughout the Winter Meetings and hopefully bring you a little closer to what goes on at this four-day offseason convention.

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On another note, Hunter Pence and Cincinnati pitcher Mike Leake are engaged in a hash tag war, all for the sake of charity. Fans are encouraged to tweet either #GoAstros or #GoReds, depending on your allegiance. If #GoAstros wins, Leake will donate $1,000 to the Sunshine Kids, and if #GoReds wins, Pence will donate $1,000 to the SPCA in Cincinnati.

The contest goes until midnight Monday and if you follow Pence on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed he’s pretty fired up about this contest. So if you have a moment, please tweet #GoAstros and make the day of your friendly right fielder.

Gold Glove voters often get it right (Bourn). But not every time.

Michael Bourn was a deserving winner of his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award, and given his nearly flawless play in center field for two years running, few, if any, will question that his selection was legit.

But the yearly announcement of Gold Glove Award winners also brings up the yearly argument that certain players got hosed, and that the voting system is flawed. This appears to be one of the few areas of conversation that, seemingly, fans and writers actually agree upon.

I’ve read many columns this week that suggest Gold Glove voting is unfair, broken, inaccurate…pick whatever word you want, the fact is, many believe the system doesn’t work. I tend to agree with this. Voting on defense is extremely difficult, for two reasons: you need to play close attention to each individual player over a long period of time to truly grasp how capable a defender he is, and, more importantly, the numbers you see on a stat sheet regarding defense mean very little. And therein lies the problem.

It drives me absolutely crazy when an infielder’s low error total is used as a barometer for defensive excellence. “So-and-so has made the fewest errors of all NL shortstops and leads the league with a .991 fielding percentage.” In some cases, you can interpret this as “So-and-so has no range and therefore, every ball that is hit five feet to the left or right of him sneaks by for a base hit. Therefore, so-and-so’s fielding percentage is nearly perfect!”

It’s absurd. An older infielder who has limited abilities at his position, and therefore gets to half as many balls as someone 10 years younger, gets the high fielding percentage, while that lightning-fast youngster who gobbles everything hit within two time zones of where he’s standing and makes the occasional bad throw to first gets the shaft because the stat sheet says in plain view that his fielding percentage is *only* .975.

This is the main issue when it comes to voting for Gold Gloves. The sticking point really lies with the infielders more than anyone else. An outfielder’s ability is pretty transparent — he’s either fast, or he’s not. He either takes good routes to balls, or he doesn’t. He can either catch a fly ball, or he can’t. With infielders, it’s different. The balls come at them faster and there are many different types of errors to make — bobbles, bad throws, balls rolling through the legs, etc. Range is hugely important, and when an infielder’s range starts to leave him, it’s obvious.

But range is not something you can read on a stat sheet, and stat sheets are often the only thing the voters — managers and coaches — are using to determine who is deserving of Gold Gloves.

This isn’t a knock on the voters, although I don’t believe they’re all putting in a full effort to make good selections. I’ve been around a bunch of coaching staffs over the years and I’d say 60 percent really put some thought into voting and 40 percent did not. If that’s anything close to a barometer for the rest of the teams, there’s a problem.

To aid the voting process, managers and coaches are given statistical packets full of defensive stats for every player in the league to reference. The problem is, they’re only getting half the story, and if they’re basing it solely on whoever made the fewest errors…well, that’s an issue.

I believe Gold Glove voting can involve the managers and coaches, but it shouldn’t be limited to only them. Perhaps the writers should become involved, but to be honest, the first people I’d add to the voter pool are the broadcasters. Announcers are watching and scrutinizing and talking about every single play made during a game. And they remember what they saw and described. As a reporter, I remember several instances where I’d call Dave Raymond while writing my game story because I couldn’t remember a certain play but I knew he’d recall it instantly.

I also think some consideration should be given to players becoming involved in voting. Not all of the players, but perhaps those who appear on the All-Star ballot. First basemen vote for the best first basemen, second basemen for the best second basemen, and on and on. The only rule is, you can’t vote for yourself.

And let’s not forget the pool of experts that comprise The Fielding Bible committee. Let’s face it — there are a lot of qualified people that can help pick the best of the best defenders. So why aren’t we using them?

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Fortunately, we don’t have any such controversy in Houston. Bourn is just really, really good. As Ed Wade said, “You see the ball leave the bat, and you say, ‘No way that one gets caught,’ and then Michael runs it down. Some guys make plays look tougher than they are. Michael makes the impossible catch look routine.”

Some snippets from Bourn’s conference call with the media:

On if he feels that it’s easier to win Gold Gloves once you’ve won one:

“I didn’t expect it. I think you still have to earn it. The first time is the hardest time, but every time you get it, it’s an honor. It can never get old.”

On what it takes, besides speed, to be a Gold Glove center fielder:

“The routes you run. The better routes you take, the easier it is to get to the ball, the less you have to dive. That’s the biggest thing. Jumps are important, too.”

(Bourn also said he gave his parents his Gold Glove Award last year, but this year, he’s keeping it for himself.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mark your calendars

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

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

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

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One more note about that new video board…

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

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

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

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

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Parties, parties, parties

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

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

***Astros Alumni

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

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

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

***”The Greatest Save” Banquet

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

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

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

***Knuckle Ball

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

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

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

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

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

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Wishing luck to Puma and Roy, sort of. And Minute Maid gets a facelift.

Random thoughts as I rejoin the living after seven glorious days of doing absolutely nothing (other than catching up on sleep, watching the playoffs and enjoying dinner with Milo)…

1. Reds vs. Phils: Rooting for the Reds, for Roy, for the underdog, for Lidge. Yes, I’m conflicted. And exhausted.

A lot of you have asked who I was going to pull for in the Reds-Phillies division series and I honestly had no idea how I was going to feel until I actually sat down to watch the games. After a while, it became pretty clear I was pulling for Cincinnati, with the exception of Game 2, which Roy Oswalt started last Friday in Philly.

I parked myself on a stool my favorite Mexican restaurant and hoped for the best for Oswalt, but I also groaned along with the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area every time the Reds bumbled and fumbled and gave the game away to the Phillies (whom I was not rooting for, only because they’ve been there many, many times in the last few years and won it all in 2008.)

I guess you could say I suffered from multiple personality disorder through the duration of the Reds and Phillies series. Mad when Roy gave up a run, and mad when the Phillies scored. It reminded me of the 2003 World Series — I couldn’t root for the Yankees, because, well, you just don’t do that. But I really didn’t want Marlins fans, who drew about 7,000 per game for most of the season, to get a taste of World Series victory either. So I pouted the entire week and called it a wash.

Now, about Puma’s Yankees. I truly want Lance Berkman to get a hit every time he comes to the plate, but I just cannot, and will not, root for his team. Again, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel once I actually sat down to watch the Twins-Yankees series. It didn’t take long for me to realize which way I was leaning. I was completely disgusted when the series ended without the Twins getting one stinking win. I turned the TV off and tossed the remote control, so clearly, Puma’s presence on this Yankees club didn’t do much to sway me.

Because I like the underdog and root for parity in baseball, I am not rooting for a Yankees-Phillies World Series. We just watched that last year. As far as what I’ll do if it comes down to Oswalt vs. Berkman in a Game 7 situation, I’d do what any good FOR (Friend of Roy) or FOP (Friend of Puma) would do — hide under the bed and hope it ends quickly.

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2. Call Weezie. We’re movin’ on up.

So you’ve probably heard by now that the plans for Minute Maid Park renovations for 2011 include moving the press box up a level. In truth, this is hardly shocking news, considering we always knew we were on borrowed time in our current digs. The press box at Minute Maid Park provides the best vantage point you’ll find in any of the 30 ballparks, and quite frankly, it’s a view that would be an attractive draw for fans who pay to come to the games, not reporters who get paid to be there.

So we’re moving up a level, where the broadcasters live. That will require reporters and your friendly neighborhood blogger to climb an extra 15 steps per game to get there. No disrespect to my esteemed colleagues, but a little uphill exercise is probably not going to kill us, and over the course of 81 games, it might even prove beneficial. (It reminds me of one of my favorite athlete-scribe exchanges. Slumping superstar, to portly reporter: “Maybe next time, you should mix in a salad.” Portly reporter: “Maybe next time, you should mix in an RBI.”)  

Anyhoo, back to the press box. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the broadcast level, either to hang out with Brownie and J.D. or to track down Ed Wade, whose booth is also on that level. The view from up there is not only suitable for work purposes, it gives a much broader perspective of the seats, field and dugouts. It’s a great view and still one of the best seats in the house.

Trust me, it could be worse. Much, much, much worse. Try finding some of the press boxes we visit on the road. A few — not all, but a few — are located at the very top, so high that you actually are looking down at the patrons who bought the five dollar nosebleeds. To be honest, I don’t mind those high-up press boxes, but for broadcasters, it’s a nightmare. You lose all sense of depth perception, and every routine pop up to the second baseman looks, upon contact, like it could be a home run. Thankfully, we don’t have that problem in Houston.

These days, press box placement isn’t such a big deal for beat writers anyway. Here’s our dirty little secret: we watch most of the games on the five-second delayed TV broadcasts.

In the old days, beat writers were responsible for an 800 word game story and a few dot-dot-dot notes at the bottom of the game story (known as “gamers.”) In today’s era of the internet, where there are no deadlines or space limitations, covering a game (I speak as a former beat writer for MLB.com) includes 800-900 word notes packages, sidebars if there’s really big news (key player injuries, trades, controversies, etc.), a gamer and a preview for the next day’s game. Add to that tweeting, blogging and surfing our competition’s web sites to see what stories we’re being beaten on, and we are pretty much occupied throughout the duration of the game.

Subsequently, we catch most of the action on one of the five or six TVs that hang in the front of the press box and show the broadcast five seconds after it happens in real time.

It goes something like this: innings one through three, reporter hastily transcribes tape from pregame interviews and writes, non-stop, in an effort to get the notebook filed by the fourth inning. With barely enough time to look up from computer screen, reporter depends on sounds to dictate important moments during the game.

1) Hear crack of bat. 2) Hear crowd react. 3) Look up at TV and find out what happened. 4) Look back down at computer. 5) Keep typing. 6) Hear another crack of bat. 7) Look up in time to watch player run down the baseline. 8) Look up at TV to see what pitch was thrown.

Rinse, repeat.

What does this all mean? It’s simple. Where I’m watching the game isn’t as crucial as the quality of the television broadcast. So the only thing I’m really hoping for is that the Astros chuck the old TVs that were installed when the ballpark opened and replace them with shiny new HD versions in our shiny new press box.

(Years ago I vowed never to write about things the fans don’t care about, and this rambling blurb has already broken that vow. So I’ll end the press box conversation here.)

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Meanwhile, the new scoreboard sounds pretty cool. I’ve had the great fortune of checking out a bunch of the gigantic HD scoreboards in other ballparks like Atlanta and Kansas City, and I’m pretty excited that we’re going to have something similar in our ballpark. The Astros are in need of some upgrades in that area, especially if they can’t even get replacement parts for the old one anymore. The size of the new one appears to be just right — large enough to make an impact, but not too big that it’ll be a distraction.

Here is a rendering of the new scoreboard, and an illustration of how it compares to the size of the old one:

New:

1011_scoreboard.JPG

Old:

1011_old_scoreboard.JPG____________

3. Miscellany:

* We’re still waiting for Jeff Bagwell to make his decision about returning as hitting coach. Even though he’s been offered a two-year contract, if he wanted to come back on a one-year deal only, I sense the team would be OK with that. But I haven’t talked to Bagwell and I don’t know if that’s what it will take for him to return. So we wait. And hope.

* I was really happy to see the Astros extend Brad Mills’ contract by picking up the ’12 option and adding an option year for ’13. That was a mere formality; there was no way the manager was going have less job security than the coaching staff, which is signed through ’12. Wade all but solidified that last month when he said as far as he’s concerned, he’s hired his last manager. Mills did a tremendous job this year and I think we all saw what happened as soon as he was given a younger, less experienced but more enthusiastic club in the second half.

* I was terribly sad to watch Billy Wagner leave with an injury Friday night during the Braves-Giants game. An injury of that severity, at this point of the season, probably means he has thrown his last Major League pitch. Every professional athlete will tell you ending a career with an injury is one of their worst nightmares. Wagner has steadfastly held onto his insistence that he’s really, truly done after this season, and it’ll take something short of a miracle to recover from a pulled side muscle quickly enough to pitch in the World Series, if the Braves make it that far.

Every player wants to go out on his own terms, and Wags came so close to doing so. It’s a shame to see it end like this.

* Our friends in Round Rock are finding ways to keep the ballpark lively during the offseason. If you like live music, wine and/or baseball, click here.

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From the photo vault:

Here we have former starting pitcher Wade Miller, who had just made a play on softly-hit grounder back to the mound. He bends, fields, and throws to ….no one.


0930_wade_mill.jpg 

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