Results tagged ‘ Geoff Blum ’

For the first time, Baseball Dinner tickets are now available online

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.

 

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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Walk up music: bubblegum pop, with a huge helping of cheese.

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.”

(Watch Pence and friends break it down in this home video)

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:

Pitcher Intros:
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

Batter Intros:
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

Much more than just a home. A better life.

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Geoff Blum arrived right on time Thursday morning, driving up to a neighborhood filled with modest homes that at first glance, might not stand out to the average passerby. But there’s something special about this area. Many of the homes were built not by corporate construction companies hired by flashy builders, but rather, by people who simply care enough to want to help those who need it.

Habitat for Humanity builds homes for those who need them, but cannot afford them on their own. It began nearly 34 years ago and to date, more than 300,000 families have benefitted from, in Habitat’s words, “the world leader in addressing the issues of poverty housing.”

As part of their Play Green campaign, the Astros have become heavily involved with Habitat. That was evident Thursday morning, when several dozen Astros front office workers teamed up with FS Houston to help build yet another home that will soon be ready for a deserving family.

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Blum and Astros announcer Bill Brown were the “celebrity builders,” but both were quick to note the true work was being done over a much more extensive period of time, long after they were gone.

“Watching volunteers who are doing the actual work is what I think strikes home to people who maybe haven’t been involved in this type of venture before,” ‘Brownie’ said. “There are so many volunteers that give their time. They come out here all day, not just for a few minutes like we do. They put up a home in what, seven days? That’s incredible.”

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The home sits in a 126-home Houston Habitat for Humanity subdivision and features many environmentally sound elements that fall in line with the “green” theme that has become so prevalent to American life.

“I had no idea how involved it was,” Blum said. “The houses are green, everything they’re doing in the attics to cut down on the heat getting in the house, cut down their A/C bills, making their own sustainable energy efficient buildings, is pretty impressive. They’re well-built homes. That’s exciting.”

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The family members who will live in this house was not present, but their neighbor, Luz Flores, stood on her porch and marveled at the kindness of the volunteers — both from the Astros and from Habitat — who put in their time simply for the sake of helping others.

Upon meeting Blum, Flores, herself a beneficiary of a Habitat home, grew emotional as she talked about the life she and her children have been afforded because of Habitat.

Flores is a single mom of an 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter. Her income would have never allowed for her to buy a home, and she figured she’d be a renter for the rest of her life. Until Habitat came along.

“There wouldn’t have been another way if Houston Habitat hadn’t helped us,” she said tearfully. “I tried before and there was no way. With my income by myself, there was no way.”

“And this,” she added, gesturing to her home, “Is mine now.”

The Flores family moved into its home Jan. 1, and life for the children changed in ways Luz never could have imagined. Her kids ride bikes around the neighborhood. Her daughter is building a garden. They have friends who come over to visit, to study, or simply to hang out.

These are things most take for granted, but for the Flores kids, this is all new.

“There are always kids in my house,” Flores said. “I love that. For 11 years, my son never had the opportunity to bring somebody home. Now, (his friends) live down the street.”

Flores laughed when she recalled a conversation she had with her kids about their bedrooms.

“My kids have always said, ‘Mom, I want to have this, Mom, I want to paint my room.’ I never had the opportunity because it wasn’t ours. Now I’m like, ‘You can do whatever you want to your room. You can paint it black if you want. You can paint it any color you want.'”

Luz had Blum’s complete attention as she thanked him, and everyone involved with Habitat, for making this happen.

“You’re sharing your time, you’re sharing your life,” she said. “You’re sharing that feeling of giving. It doesn’t matter who you are. It means a lot to me for them to be here, as well as the other volunteers. They don’t have to be here. They want to be here.

“You’re making a difference. Not just for that family. You’re making a difference for me, and that neighbor, and that neighbor over there. We’re all growing together.”

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And her words struck Blum, along with everyone who was listening in on the conversation.

“To see the excitement in her eyes and have her talk about her kids the way she did, about them having their own rooms and being in a community with a bunch of other kids that they’re going to hang around for another 10, 15 years, it’s pretty special,” Blum said.

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Feeeeeeeeeel the hits. Seeeeeeeeeee the ball.

The Astros’ clubhouse prior to their game on Wednesday reminded me less of a big league locker room and more of those swanky, dimly-lit nightclubs I avoided like the plague in my 20s.

As soon as batting practice ended, the players retreated to the clubhouse, where the lights were lowered and the stereo was pumped up…to Enya, that new-age group from the 1990s that no sane Major League player would want to listen to. Unless, of course, that Major League team was trying to end a horrific losing streak and find some sort of life in their slumbering bats.

The song “Orinoco Flow” probably doesn’t ring a bell, but it’s mistakenly referred to as “Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away.” This video will probably jog the memory.

Were the Astros looking for homers? Nah. Clutch base hits? Not so much.

“Think passed ball with Bournie on third,” Geoff Blum bellowed. “Balk. Error. Negatives are positives.”

Turns out, it was a clutch hit that won the game, but from an unlikely suspect — homerless Carlos Lee, who belted a two-run walkoff shot to the Crawford Boxes that gave the Astros a 4-2 victory.

Following four songs by Enya, during which time I felt myself nodding off (and not just because of the allergy medicine I pumped myself with before arriving to work), the tunes changed over to Metallica and then Alabama. But something tells me we’ll be hearing Enya again on Thursday. I’m hoping for Johnny Cash.

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Turning back the clock again, sort of.

The live organist who played during the Turn Back the Clock Day last month was such a big hit  that the Astros have decided to make it a regular Sunday feature.

They’ll use the same Vintage Hammond Organ that they used during Turn Back the Clock Night, and the organist for the remainder of the season will be Jim Connors. Jim played in the Dome from 1984-1987 and was a referral from Brian Granquist, who played on the Turn Back the Clock Day.

Jim was Brian’s predecessor back in the day.

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Calling all college students

When I was in college, I was recommended by my journalism professor for an internship with the Reds, and as excited as I was to apply, I was slightly disheartened that I couldn’t get past the switchboard ladies to actually speak to someone who was making the decisions.

Back then, of course, there was no internet. These days, the process is a lot easier and the opportunities have improved 100-fold.

The Astros employ dozens of interns every year and are currently filling openings for their fall internships. Those who participate in this hands-on experience will be more prepared for a career in sports. Trust me, it’s the single best way to break into the business.

For more information on the program, including the scholarship and steps to apply, please visit www.astros.com/internships.

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Have you hugged your recycle bin today?

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Earth Day has been around for 40 years, but being truly environmentally observant is a relatively new phenomenon for most of us. “Going Green,” of course, is a hip, somewhat new trend, one that the Astros embraced a few years ago and continue to observe today.

The Astros wore green caps during their game with the Marlins, but the true Earth Day celebration began several hours earlier when Geoff Blum, popular television announcers Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown and crews from both the Astros and FS Houston teamed with second graders from Foerster Elementary School to plant seeds in a nearby garden.

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Blum, Brownie

The morning was spent working several garden beds at the Westbury Community Garden, adding soil and fertilizer and planting seeds that will become fruits and vegetables. Those items will eventually be distributed to Westbury residents and surrounding communities.

After raking several pounds of soil with Brownie and ribbing J.D. for wearing the wrong kind of shoes, Blum got down and dirty, planting seeds alongside the kids while simultaneously posing for photos and signing autographs.

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Deshaies

“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of it,” Blum said. “You go to some of these communities and you think it’s pretty much hopeless, and then all of a sudden, there’s this gorgeous oasis of fruits and vegetables and things and the kids are out here having a blast.
 
“They’re realizing the importance of what growing food is. The fact that these kids get to plant the seeds, watch them grow and then harvest everything that they’ve grown, and get to enjoy it, eat it, give it back to a food bank and things like that, that’s pretty impressive.”

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Patti Smith interviews the kids

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An hour south of Westbury, another significant celebration took place when the Astros In Action Foundation and Minute Maid dedicated the newly-refurbished Columbo Field and Buccaneer Field in Galveston.

Drayton McLane, Ed Wade, Grand Slam for Youth Baseball Ambassadors Michael Bourn, and Hunter Pence and former player Jimmy Wynn took part in the ceremony, while broadcaster Milo Hamilton served as emcee.

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Hurricane Ike significantly damaged these two fields and Grand Slam for Youth Baseball, a partnership between the Astros and Minute Maid, restored them to full operation.

Island Little League’s Columbo Field received field turf reconditioning and repairs, infield reconditioning, a dugout-to-dugout warning track, re-worked batting cages and a new electronic scoreboard. 

Galveston West-Isle Little League’s Buccaneer Field received the same repairs plus the replacement of the original on-field concrete walkway with warning track material.

These fields were the eighth and ninth to be refurbished by the Astros and Minute Maid through Grand Slam for Youth Baseball – a community outreach effort that seeks to foster self-confidence, involvement, teamwork and fun among area children.

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Blum face-plants, Puma heals, Lloyd Dobler sings.

During batting practice Friday, I got to talking to Geoff Blum about what he was like as a kid, and it came as no surprise to me that even at an early age, he kept things loose and light-hearted while participating in organized sports. As a young baseball player, Blum usually found ways to keep it real, all the while cracking up his teammates, and, mostly likely, himself.

No one has been better for this Astros team during these trying times than Blum (although Cory Sullivan is definitely a close second). Realizing the worst thing a team can do right now is take itself too seriously — which usually results in over-thinking yourself right out of contention — Blum seems to always know the right time to try something goofy and stupid (in a good way) to keep things loose.

Blum’s most recent crowd-pleasing caper was probably something you have to see in person to really appreciate it, but here goes:

Pretending he wanted to lend a helping hand to the batting practice pitcher, Blum jogged up to the mound with a bag of BP balls, tripped himself (on purpose), face planted on the ground and sent a dozen baseballs flying in every direction.

He’s done this twice, the last occurring Friday morning during BP at Wrigley Field. Thinking Blum actually did trip over his own feet, the Bleacher Bums in left field let out a big roar, as did a group of six-year-old Cubs fans who were on the field to get autographs. Good stuff.
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Puma update

Lance Berkman will begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Saturday in Round Rock, the first of two expected appearances by the Big Puma this weekend. If all goes well in the first game, he’ll play again on Sunday.

Monday is a scheduled off day for the Astros, and although no one is saying it out loud, the hope is that Puma will be ready for activation from the DL when the team opens an extended homestand on Tuesday.

Puma’s injury took longer to heal than expected due to a series of setbacks, so it’s understandable why the team wants to play it conservatively. “Let’s take it a day at a time,” Mills said. “Please.”

MLB.com talked exclusively with Berkman, which you can read about here.

Also on the rehab front, Sammy Gervacio will begin a rehab assignment in Round Rock on Monday. He’s slated to pitch Monday and Wednesday.
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PumaOneLiners

Hopefully by now you’re following our Twitter account solely dedicated to one-liners from Astros players, coaches and broadcasters (the latest J.D.-ism: “The Astros were like Larry King: 0-for-8.”)

I’m always on the lookout for witticisms from people in and around the game, and thanks to Facebook, I found another one. You might remember Norm Miller, who played for the Astros from 1965-73 as part of a 10-year big league career. These days, he’s an author, having just released a book titled “To all my fans…Norm Who?”, and he’s also jumped on the Facebook bandwagon. As a result, I’ve heard from him quite a bit during the Astros dismal start to the season.

“I played on a team that lost 8 in a row so we flooded the field and couldn’t play for two days,” he posted. “Came back and lost number 9. Then we ran black cats out on the field, lost 10 in a row. Then we drank more beer and won. Go figure.”

Instant PumaOneLiner.

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Staying with the social networking theme, Chris Sampson has started Tweeting. His first tweet arrived after the Astros finally ended their winning streak:

“Just walked in to Mills’ office to take the gorilla off his back after congratulating him on his first win as Astros manager.”

Follow Sampson here
 
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Postgame comments from Mills after the 7-2 loss to the Cubs:

On leaving Felipe Paulino in during the seventh inning:
“He had (thrown) 86 pitches to start the inning, and he had given up four hits. He was still throwing the ball well, he just lost a little command.”

Mills saw some progress from the hitters:
“There were a lot of balls hit on the button today. Good at-bats by Carlos (Lee). He hit the ball hard. Keppinger continues to swing the bat well. Good at-bats from CJ (Chris Johnson), too.”

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Lloyd, Lloyd all null and void

Since Harry Caray passed away more than a decade ago, the Cubs have continued their long-standing tradition of hosting a celebrity conductor to lead the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch. Over the years, a few big names have been scheduled during the Astros’ series (Jeff Gordon comes to mind), but for the most part, to be frank, the guests have been kind of, well, lame, from an out-of-towner’s perspective.

We enjoyed a dramatic reversal of fortune on Friday, however, when actor John Cusack made an appearance in the broadcast booth to conduct the sing-a-long. I enjoyed exchanging some of the more well-remembered lines from the classic ’80s flick “Say Anything” with a lot of you on Twitter during the game that day (“I gave her my heart. She gave me a pen”) and I admit I got a little camera happy when Cusack, a.k.a as the forlorn but lovable Lloyd Dobler, showed up in the booth.

The best part of this picture is JD peering in the background…
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Other shots from an unseasonably warm and beautiful April afternoon at Wrigley:

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That’s actor/musician Jared Leto. Kind of hard to miss him in a crowd.

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Dealing with a losing streak, then celebrating a win.

It started with Geoff Blum sprinkling little white pills in the bat bags of his teammates.

“Advil,” he said.

That’s what happens when your team adds another loss to the win column, making it eight straight. You go into the clubhouse, remove your uniform, retreat into the training room and grab a Jumbo-sized bottle of ibuprofen.

A few pills here, another couple there. Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but so was this season-opening team-wide tumble. What cures a headache could very well do the same for a collective .223 batting average, no?

The clubhouse scene the next morning was pretty standard — players milling around, players hitting in the cages, players eating breakfast.

Players grooving out to the musical stylings of boy bands NSYNC and Backstreet Boys.

For the first minute or so, there was a station-to-station denial that anyone dared to like the music or know the lyrics — “Who the heck has Justin Timberlake on their iPod?” Jason Michaels: “Me, dude. Greatest hits. If you’re going to do it, go all out.” But before long, heads were bobbing, toes were tapping and Blum was doing that “running man” dance move that was so popular in the early early ’90s.

“How can you not feel it?” he asked, all the while keeping rhythm during “I Want it That Way.”

Minutes later, Cory Sullivan laid his bat on a towel in the middle of the clubhouse, covered it with another towel and said, “The bats need to rest. They’ll be ready by gametime.” Soon, Sullivan’s bats had company — Blum’s bat, Michaels’ bat, Chris Johnson’s, and on and on. I heard later that Humberto Quintero brought all five of his over to join the slumber party.

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No one will ever know if wacky clubhouse hijinks played a role in their reversal of fortune, but the Astros won handily that afternoon, beating the Cardinals 5-1. This win was important, obviously, seeing it was the team’s first win of 2010 and Brad Mills’ first win as a big league manager.

Chris Sampson, who contribute two scoreless innings, walked into Mills’ office, offered congratulations and gestured dramatically as he simulated knocking that proverbial gorilla off Mills’ back.

Yesterday, I blogged that the demeanor in the clubhouse is pretty much the same, win or lose, night after night. This is true, but there are exceptions. Thursday was an exception. Mills was hugely relieved, as were the players. The 1983 record is safe, and the burden of a winless season has been lifted.

The music in the clubhouse postgame? “Bye bye bye.”

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The press box at Busch Stadium is way, way up there. It’s ideal if you’re not trying to cover a game or take pictures. But I did want to capture some images of the big win, even if they’re grainy. Enjoy.

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On Blum, Puma and Opening Day.

Geoff Blum’s most valuable contribution to the Astros is his ability to play anywhere in the infield, and that skill will definitely be tested from now until Opening Day, and possibly beyond.

Blum was earmarked to start at first base in case Lance Berkman’s knee wasn’t quite ready for game action when the season opens on April 5, but he also will see some playing time at shortstop this spring while Tommy Manzella is sidelined with a quad strain. Blum’s versatility is no doubt an asset, but unfortunately, he can only play one position at a time. I figured he was probably best suited for first base, but after he made a couple of impressive plays at short against the Cardinals on Monday, I’m starting to rethink it.

Blum has played in 190 games in his career at short, so it’s not as if he doesn’t have experience in that area. Although the bulk of that playing time came earlier in his career, the 36-year-old seems unfazed at the idea of moving around the infield to fill in where needed, if needed, the first week of the season.

Blum is also fantastically self-depricating and always finds a unique way to sum up his day — and sometimes, his career — with a few PumaOneLiners.

Of his performance at short on Monday: “I’d like to say it’s like riding a bike, but I’m way too old to be riding bikes.”

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Speaking of the Puma, manager Brad Mills talked to Berkman around lunchtime on Monday and was pleased to hear that the first baseman’s knee is feeling “a lot better.” I saw Berkman briefly in the morning and he appeared to be walking better, so that’s encouraging. However, the news that he recently he had more fluid drained from his knee is not so encouraging, and while I’m fairly confident that he’ll play the majority of games this season, I have serious doubts that he’ll be ready Opening Day.

No one wants to see Puma start the year on the disabled list, but if he did, he’d only be required to miss four games. Teams can start the DL clock on March 26, and because the Major League Baseball season technically starts Sunday, April 4 and the Astros have an offday after their first three games, Berkman will have served the entire 15-day stint by April 9, which would make him eligible to play in the second game of the Phillies series on April 10.

With that in mind, taking things a little slower with Puma doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

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The Astros are celebrating their 45th anniversary this year, and as was the case in 1965 when they opened the Astrodome, NASA will play a big role in officially opening the new season.

On Opening Day, approximately 40 NASA employees will carry an oversized American flag onto the field, representing all of their colleagues at the Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake. The game’s ceremonial first pitches will be thrown out by members of an upcoming NASA space shuttle mission, recreating the inaugural ceremonial first pitch at the Astrodome in April 1965 thrown by 22 Mercury astronauts.

A group of retired U.S. Navy Seals will parachute into Minute Maid Park and deliver the first pitch baseballs.

The national anthem will be sung by Texas Country Music artist Jack Ingram. A Houston-area native, Ingram has won multiple awards including the 2008 Academy of Country Music Top New Male Vocalist Award.

The first 40,000 fans will receive a 2010 schedule magnet, courtesy of Continental Airlines. Opening Day is not yet sold out.

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Images from a windy Monday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium:

Pregame chuckles: Jeff Keppinger, Chris Johnson, Bobby Meacham

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 Hunter Pence, Blum

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Pence

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Tommy Manzella, Dave Clark

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Sean Berry and Jamie Quirk catch up with St. Louis hitting coach Mark McGwire.

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J.R. Towles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pregame dugout scene: Michael Bourn, Jason Michaels 

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First base coach Bobby Meacham and Geoff Blum.

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

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Jose Cruz and Kazuo Matsui chat before the game.

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Hunter Pence, during the anthem.

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A win is a win is a win…

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