Results tagged ‘ Hunter Pence ’

You, too, can take pictures just like this one.

 

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One of the new promotions the Astros are offering this year is the “Pre-game Field Pass,” which in layman’s terms means gaining access to the area right behind the Astros cage while the team goes through its daily stretching and batting practice.

For $75, you’ll watch one hour of batting practice up close, from a VIP viewing area behind home plate. It’s prime positioning for pictures as the Astros players get ready for the game.

It’s pretty much the same vantage point as I have on a daily basis, which has produced pictures like these:

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Pre-game field passes are offered for every home night game — the team normally does not take BP before day games — and must be purchased online. Check it out here.

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New feature: “homemade” videos!

Eventually, videos from the day-to-day happenings of your Astros will be featured regularly on my Footnotes landing page. Right now, the process is taking a while. Once we figure out exactly how to edit, upload and post the videos (and by we, I mean, well, me), the video section will be a constant flow of activity.

Slowly but surely, however, the All-Star videos are being rolled out. We’ve posted two, and most of the content was generated by Hunter Pence, who took my camera pretty much everywhere he went during his two-day jaunt to St. Louis.

In the first video, titled “Pence Media Day,” Hunter conducts interviews with some of his favorite opponents, including Ted Lilly (“Do you know what it’s like to face you?”), Orlando Hudson (“Now that you’ve moved from Arizona to L.A., do you do any surfing?”) and his own teammate, fellow All-Star Miguel Tejada. You’ll notice Tejada promises he’ll get a RallyHawk if the Astros make it to the postseason this year.

We still laugh about the second video, titled “All-Star Workout.” In addition to some batting practice shots, there’s also footage of Pence’s bizarre encounter with Bobby Knight, and, inadvertently, Tony La Russa. Earlier that day, Knight struck up a conversation with Pence but was cut off when La Russa sort of interrupted and ushered Knight into his office. What you see in this video is both semi-apologizing to Pence, who just shrugged, laughed and said, “This is something I won’t forget — Bobby Knight and Tony La Russa arguing over where to talk to me.”

I’m working on three more All-Star videos that will hopefully be posted soon. In the meantime, enjoy the first two.

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As part of their on-going celebration of 10 seasons at Minute Maid Park, the Astros are posting memories from some of the decade’s most notable figures on their blog. Today, we have former manager Phil Garner’s favorite memory, which involves Roger Clemens and the epic 18-inning game that clinched the Division Series in 2005.

And that leads us to the latest installment of “Who’s in Dennis’s Chair?” Why it’s none other than Scrap Iron, who stopped by the clubhouse a few days ago to say hi to the old gang.

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The final installment of Hunterpalooza. What a couple of days.

Sure, the All-Star Game doesn’t affect the regular-season standings, and it’s not the end of the world, obviously, to lose. But that doesn’t mean the players don’t care. They’re competitors by nature, and they care a lot. And the National League team was plenty disappointed when it lost to the American League, again.

The sting of the loss probably wore off quicker than a loss during the regular season. And once players started talking to the media about the pomp and circumstance, the visit from President Obama, the hype and the fun and mingling with fellow Major Leaguers, the mood lightened.

But there was disappointment — from Ryan Howard, for falling short of delivering the big hit in the eighth inning; from Heath Bell, for giving up the winning run; and from Hunter Pence, for watching his NL team lose, and for not playing in the game.

The bigger letdown for Pence was the loss. He wanted to play, but he put that second while itemizing the priorities.

“I still felt like I was part of the team,” he said. “It was great meeting all of the personalities and legendary players and legendary managers.  It’s disappointing, but it gives me a reason to fight even harder next year and get a chance to play.

“It was a great experience. It wasn’t everything I hoped, because I wanted to play and I wanted to win. But it was definitely a great experience.”

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Earlier that day, Pence and Miguel Tejada participated in the All-Star Red Carpet event, which involved all of the ballplayers piling on to trucks with their families and traveling parade-style from the headquarter hotel to Busch Stadium.

It was a cross between a motorcade (it involved famous people), homecoming (there was waving) and Mardi Gras (players threw beads to fans).

I positioned myself inside the waiting area, where players lined up before heading out to the masses. Here’s Hunter and his mom, Gail:

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The Pence clan, minus dad Howard…Hunter’s brother, Howie, his wife Allison, daughter Hayley, son Striker, Hunter and Gail.

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Miguel Tejada and his family — wife Alejandra, son Miguel and daughter Alexa – soon join the Pence clan.

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The families pile on to the truck and soon, they were off.

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Couple of non-Astros shots: left, Prince Fielder, right, Trevor Hoffman.

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Ryan Howard with his son.

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Nope, not a burglar…it’s the NL starting pitcher, phenom Tim Lincecum.

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And finally, it was time for batting practice…

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Pence and Justin Upton run to the outfield for the NL team photo.

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Miguel Tejada chats with FOXsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal.

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Batting practice isn’t just a time to watch ballplayers. There are plenty of interesting people on the sidelines as well…here’s Bob Costas…

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…and LL Cool J…

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…and two guys I assumed were responsible for the safety of LL Cool J. They do a heck of a job. I know it detered me from going anywhere near LL. (or is it Mr. Cool J?)

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And finally, anthem singer and St. Louis native Sheryl Crow.

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Hunterpalooza, Part 2.

 

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What a day. An exhiliarating, exhausting, exciting, activity-filled day that consisted of, in no particular order:

1. Taking pictures of Hunter.

2. Shooting video of Hunter (please bear with me on that one. The videos have been safely saved on my computer. That’s the easy part. Editing them and posting on my blog? Well, let’s just say that’s not the easy part. They’ll be posted ASAP. Soon. I promise).

3. Giving Hunter the camcorder so he can shoot the All-Star experience from his vantage point.

4. Taking pictures, shooting videos and following Hunter, while avoiding being stepped on by ESPN crew, which was also shadowing him (By far the biggest challenge of the day).

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Hunter had a full day, as you can imagine. The beauty part of the big Major League Baseball events — All-Star Game, World Series, Hall of Fame inductions — is that you never know what you’re going to see, or, more accurately, who you’re going to see.

The one thing I’ve learned is that famous people like being around other famous people. Apparently, Cards skipper (and NL coach) Tony La Russa and legendary college hoops coach Bobby Knight are buddies. Pence happened to walk by Knight near La Russa’s office before batting practice Monday, and the two struck up a conversation.

“You’re from the Dallas area, aren’t you?” Knight asked Pence.

“Yes, sir, I am,” Pence answered.

“The first time I saw you, I couldn’t believe you weren’t a basketball player,” Knight said.

The two continued to talk, until La Russa cut short the conversation and ushered Knight into his office. Later, Knight laughed and apologized to Pence for being so abrupt, and La Russa also said something about it in a semi-joking manner, which sounded to  me like he felt kind of bad for interrupting the conversation.

Pence, in typical Pence fashion, shrugged his shoulders and laughed it off.

“That’s something I won’t forget, I can tell you that,” he said. “La Russa and Bobby Knight arguing over where to talk to me.”

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Shortest team meeting in history: Monday, in the National League clubhouse. NL manager Charlie Manuel walks into the clubhouse and says, “listen up, gang, just a few words…batting practice is in a few minutes, and we’ll have a quick meeting before tomorrow’s game.” Meeting over. Great stuff. I mean, really, what do you say to a roomful of players you are normally trying to beat over the course of a season? What are you going to go over? Signs? Probably not. Rules? There are none during the All-Star Game. Better to keep it short.

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My Aha! moment…
Ever looked at someone and thought, I know I’ve seen that person before. I know that person. Who the heck is that person? Who? Who?

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Fortunately, I figured this one out within about an hour. When you’re at one of these events, there’s a list of criteria that helps to narrow down the field pretty quickly. For example:

1. He’s in the home clubhouse, receiving a tour from La Russa. This means he’s someone established, and probably famous.

2. He doesn’t look quite comfortable with his surroundings. He appears to be really impressed with the clubhouse scene. That eliminates the possibility that he’s a former Major League player.

3. Yet while he doesn’t look comfortable, he carries himself with a lot of authority. He’s confident. Clearly, he’s quite accomplished in his particular field of expertise.

Ah-ha! It’s none other than Capt. C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who made an emergency landing in the Hudson River and saved 155 lives.

And now, for the rest of the pictures from Hunterpalooza, Part 2:

Padres reliever Heath Bell and Pence, hamming it up for the camera.  

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Pence takes swings in the cage during the NL team’s batting practice.

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Everywhere Hunter turned, there were more cameras in his face. I am partial to this particular crew, because it belongs to the MLB Network. Best national baseball programming on the air, by a landslide.

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Prince Fielder takes BP.

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Batting practice is always a madhouse during the big events. Here’s ESPN’s Peter Gammons, getting ready for a live shot near the visitors dugout.

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Two NL Central stars, Pence and Ryan Braun, hang out before BP.

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Bobby Knight and Capt. Sullenberger. Really, how often do you see pairings like this one?

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Barry Larkin and the MLB Network crew do their show from the sidelines, near the home dugout.

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American League manager Joe Maddon.

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Pence chats with NL skipper Charlie Manuel during BP.

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Miguel Tejada, during BP.

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Hall of Famer and Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith.

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Pence takes in the scene as the NL team files onto the field.

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Pence and Heath Bell sign autographs…video rolling,  of course.

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Hunterpalooza, Part 1.

 

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Hunter Pence vowed to enjoy every moment of his first All-Star experience, and with only a half-day in the books, it’s clear he’s having a ball.

Heck, he even enjoyed the hour-long media session, the one activity on the schedule that most players would probably rather just skip. Not Pence. Not only did he grant interviews, he even conducted a few himself, grabbing my handy camcorder and working the room, asking questions of some of his favorite players: Ted Lilly, Brad Hawpe, Orlando Hudson…and, of course, teammate Miguel Tejada.

We’ll have more on that later. In the meantime, here is the first batch of pictures, accompanied by a play-by-play account of Hunterpalooza, Part I.

11:35 a.m. CT:
All-Stars filed in the interview room and found their booths, marked by a nameplate with their team’s logo. Pence, not one to sit still for very long, used the final minutes before the doors opened to reporters to mingle with his National League teammates. Here he is chatting with Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

 

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11:45 CT:
The doors open, the media pours in, and Pence grabs my video camera and goes to work. His first interview is with Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe.

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Pence moves on to Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson, who says to Pence, “Every now and then you go deep, and I say, “OK, that was a two or three-run shot. And now, I’ve got to get him back.”

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Noon CT:
Pence finally makes his way back to his seat, where he’s interviewed by a handful of reporters, including the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Justice (left) and MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince.

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12:15 CT:
Pence really wanted to interview Cubs lefty Ted Lilly. When the media crush finally disippated, Pence asked the burning question everyone wants to know: “Do you know what it’s like to face you? Do you have any idea how not fair that is?” Lilly: “I think I’m a little more nervous facing you than you are facing me.” (I didn’t believe him.)

 

Tejada was in a booth not far from Pence. Asked about what Tejada brings to a team, Pence answered: “Miggy’s the show. He’s always entertaining. I’m learning a lot from him. We say he has a sixth tool — when it’s clutch time, he’s one of the great players. He’ll fire you up. When Miggy says it, he has a way of firing you up. I love the way he leads. I look up to him.”

 

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As you can imagine, Albert Pujols, one of the biggest stars in the game no matter where the All-Star Game is held, is obviously a huge story this week. It couldn’t have worked out any better for the Cardinals — the year they host the All-Star Game, their marquee player is the starting first baseman, and he’s also participating in the Home Run Derby. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was named the starting catcher.

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Family time: Pence’s entire family is here to enjoy the experience. Here he is holding his nephew, Striker.

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Hunter and his dad, Howard.

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1:10 CT
After a chaotic walk to the ballpark — ESPN crews were also following Pence around, which attracted the attention of the fans on the streets, which in turn turned the casual stroll into something more Elvis-like — we arrived to the home clubhouse, headquarters for the National League team.

Holding his BP jersey:

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Astros celebrate firefighters.

 

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LaTroy Hawkins arrived to Fire station No. 22 as more than just a local baseball celebrity ready to shake hands and pose for pictures. This station was filled with firefighters trained specifically to control hazardous materials — “HazMat” — and Hawkins was awed by how much danger they put themselves in day after day in order to do their jobs.

So Hawkins stepped into their shoes, quite literally, to receive just a small taste of it. He tried on the gear — a chemical suit weighing no less than 40 pounds. He also asked plenty of questions, and he walked away with a renewed appreciation for what real heroes do for their communities.

“You’ve got to appreciate what these guys do,” Hawkins said. “Police officers, firefighters, everyone in the community. We (baseball players) make too much money. They don’t make enough money. They put their hand print on the community. We just play baseball.”

The Astros spend the morning Friday honoring Houston firefighters with their new Adopt-A-Firehouse initiative. Nine players visited their “adopted” fire houses — the house that corresponded with their uniform numbers.

The participants were: Pudge Rodriguez, Hawkins, Doug Brocail, Chris Sampson, Miguel Tejada, Hunter Pence, Cecil Cooper, Russ Ortiz and Geoff Blum.

“We owe a lot to the firefighters,” Pence said. “They sacrifice a lot for us. It’s good to be here and the Astros really appreciate what they’re doing.”

Pence poses with two young fans:

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And also with the good people of Fire Station No. 9:

 

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Blum poses with Fire Station No. 27:

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Pence cracked everyone up with a flex of the bicep…

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During Friday’s game, all players wore a special Houston Fire Department baseball cap. The game-worn caps will then be autographed by the players and made available through an auction to benefit the Firefighters Protection Fund.  A portion of the ticket prices for Friday’s game were donated back to the fund.

The Astros also hosted a pregame ceremony recognizing Captain James Harlow and Firefighter Damion Hobbs, who perished in the line of duty this spring while fighting a residential fire in southeast Houston. Members of the Harlow and Hobbs family threw out ceremonial first pitches.

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Meanwhile, back in the clubhouse, Brian McTaggart gets the skinny on all things controversial…

Geoff Blum addresses the fans booing him during Thursday’s game. Asked about the irony of driving in the winning run one day later, Blum said, “It’s interesting. This game will find you in the weirdest places. Last night was interesting, then I got a chance to redeem myself and I took advantage of it.”

Russ Ortiz is summoned to the principal’s – I mean, Coop’s office.

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Pences cell phone, suspended games and astronauts. Discuss.

 

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Hunter Pence’s cell phone is, as they say, blowing up. He’s received about as many calls and text messages regarding his first All-Star selection as when he was first called up in 2007.

I asked him if any congratulatory messages stood out more than the others. He pinpointed two, the first of which occurred in the batting cages at AT&T Park in San Francisco early Sunday morning. Teammate Darin Estad pretty much pummelled Pence with a big bear hug when he found out the news. That meant a lot to Hunter, as did the message he received from former teammate Ty Wigginton, offering his congrats.

Erstad and “Wiggy” are two players Pence respects tremendously and looks up to, and Pence went as far to say Wigginton is probably the smartest baseball player he’s ever been around. “He doesn’t miss anything, and he remembers every detail from every game,” Pence said, adding that Wigginton is “all heart.”

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The Astros and Nationals will complete the May 5 game that was suspended due to rain this Thursday, beginning at 6:05 p.m. CT. We’ve gone over a lot of the ground rules already, but it can’t hurt to revisit. Plus, we have some more tidbits regarding the rules and regulations for that game.

First, the bare basics: Fans with tickets to the regularly-scheduled 7:05 p.m. game Thursday will also be admitted to the suspended game continuation. No separate tickets will be sold. Gates will open at 5 p.m.

The regularly scheduled game will start at 7:05 p.m., unless the suspended game ends after 6:45 p.m. In that case, there will be a 20-minute break between games.

The game will resume just as it was when originally suspended on May 5 in a 10-10 tie. It will resume in the bottom of the 11th inning, with the Nationals at-bat with one out and a runner on first base (Elijah Dukes). LaTroy Hawkins was the pitcher on the mound, and he is allowed to continue his outing if the Astros see fit.

And here’s some more fun stuff…

* All position players and pitchers who were used and removed from the game on May 5 will not be eligible to return to the contest. For the Astros, those players include Carlos Lee and Jason Michaels, as well as pitchers Roy Oswalt, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak and Geoff Geary.

* Players who are currently on the roster, but were not when the game was originally suspended, are eligible to play in the suspended game. Players who were in the lineup when play suspended, but are not currently on the active roster, must be subbed for in the same position and batting order.

Interestingly, this will be the first time the Astros host a suspended game since July 23, 1999. The Astros and Padres finished their June 13 game, which was suspended when Larry Dierker suffered a grand mal seizure in the home dugout at the Astrodome. That game was halted in the middle of the eighth inning with the Astros leading, 4-1, and they eventually won it.

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As we continue the final homestand leading up to the All-Star break, here’s a quick rundown of the ticket specials the Astros are offering this week:

Kids Free All Summer (purchase one full-price adult ticket in the View Deck I, View Deck II or Mezzanine and receive two free tickets in the same price level for kids 14 and under)

 Tuesday, July 7: Double Play Tuesdays (Two Outfield Deck Tickets for only $2 — bring in two labels from any 2 – 32 oz. POWERade bottles to the Minute Maid Park Box Office)

 Wednesday, July 8: Price Matters (View Deck II ticket, Hot dog, Soda, Chips — all for $10.)

Hunter’s Lodge (Field Box seat and Pence t-shirt for $30)

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Bud Light Young Professionals night

Bayou Bash Sunday
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From the photo vault:

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Astronaut Mike Massimino threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday’s game, and here he is outside of Dennis’s office, receiving a personalized Astros jersey while chatting it up with Craig Biggio (remember what I said about Dennis’s office being the epicenter of the Astros’ universe?).

Massimino is a veteran of two space flights, most recently the Shuttle Mission STS-125, a 12-day mission to the Hubble telescope. In total, Massimino has logged almost 600 hours of space flight time and has performed over 30 hours of spacewalks.

The Astros presented Massimino with a banner signed by the entire front office and all of the players, the same banner that went up with Massimino on the last space mission.

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Hunter Pence, All-Star.

Hunter Pence received more than a few hugs and handshakes from his teammates as word filtered through the clubhouse Sunday morning that the Astros star outfielder had just been named to his first All-Star team.

Pence played it cool as he talked to reporters about the selection, saying it was a huge honor while pointing out that there were a lot of players also deserving of the recognition.

But Pence, who along with Miguel Tejada will represent the Astros in St. Louis, can only mask his unbridled enthusiasm for so long. As we boarded the plane Sunday, Jim Deshaies congratulated Pence again, and asked how Pence had reacted to the news. Pence said, “This has been the best day of my life. I can’t even explain it.” He went on to say how exciting it was to call his family members and tell them first, and that he had no plans for the All-Star break other than to just “chill, relax.”

Pence seems truly overwhelmed by the All-Star nod, which he was not at all expecting. It’s refreshing to see someone with so much appreciation for the game of baseball, and so humbled by the All-Star selection.

Hopefully Pence isn’t looking to chill or relax when he gets to St. Louis, because almost every minute of his day will be occupied. He’s going to have an absolute blast.

Moving on to another former All-Star — three-timer Roy Oswalt. He hasn’t had the greatest year but he’s been as dependable as any pitcher in the league lately. Including his eight-inning, three-hit performance against the Giants Sunday — not a “must-win” by any stretch but still a “much-needed win” — Oswalt has had three extremely effecxtive outings, allowing three runs over a combined 23 innings.

Sunday pictures:

Pence chats with MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart about his All-Star nod:

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Tags then moves onto the sharply dressed Miguel Tejada, six-time All-Star:

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A shot of the dugout, from my seat in the press box:

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Puma bats in the ninth: 

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LaTroy Hawkins warms up as Oswalt wraps up his stellar eight-inning performance:

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After the win…a shot from the tunnel that connects the dugout with the clubhouse. That’s Puma and bench coach Ed Romero.

 

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Hunter Pence…I think I surprised him.

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Hitting coach Sean Berry and assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones.

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Catcher Humberto Quintero.

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Congratulations, Pudge.

Congratulations to Pudge Rodriguez, the proud owner of the all-time games caught record, which he set when Wednesday’s game in Texas became official in the middle of the fifth inning.

A few of the Astros veterans bought Pudge a bottle of Cristal champagne on behalf of the entire team, and a subdued but appropriate celebration took place following the game. Even though the Astros lost — and it was one of those bad losses — the players had enough class to realize a momentous occasion should not be pushed aside because of one bad night.

All of the players autographed the bottle of Cristal, and in turn, each player received his own bottle of Korbel champagne. Pudge signed every bottle, “Ivan Rodriguez, No. 12, 2,227th game.” Very nice touch, and a big night for one very classy 19-year veteran.

The moment that the record was set kind of came and went without much hooplah. Let’s face it, when you’re setting a record that first requires 4 1/2 innings to be played, and you’re on the road, and you’re not Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995, it’s difficult to get hyped up about the exact moment it happens, because it comes and goes with the blink of an eye.

Still, the Rangers and their fans were classy from beginning to end. Pudge received a standing ovation as he made his first plate appearance, and the Rangers ran a video tribute during the third inning to commemorate both his career and his record-setting day. They showed pictures of the catchers he has passed, including Hall of Famer Gary Carter (fourth place), Bob Boone (third) and Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk (second).

I snuck down to the photo well by the Astros’ dugout to capture the very moment that Pudge became the record holder. Here are a few:

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To be honest, the pregame hooplah was much more fun to document than the record-setting moment. I asked Pudge ahead of time if he minded me following him around as he prepared for the game; fortunately, he had no issues with it, so here we go…

Pudge signed a couple dozen autographs for teammates and coaches who wanted to obtain their own piece of history. Here he is signing a lineup card for bench coach Ed Romero.

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You can see the “2,227 games” at the bottom, commemorating the occasion.

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This is the lineup card from the night before, when Pudge tied Carlton Fisk.

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Pudge has a quiet moment at his locker, prior to the clubhouse opening to the media at 3:35 p.m. The quiet moments soon would end.

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Another quiet moment (with the exception of me standing there pointing a camera at him every time he turned around. Fortunately he was a good sport about it).

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This would normally be just another ordinary picture of the media crush surrounding a player, if not for the big dude in the back taping the interview — that’s none other than closer Jose Valverde, complete with tape recorder and scowl a lot of reporters wear when interviewing players.

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Pudge hadn’t realized Valverde was part of the “media” until he finished the interviews.

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He was still laughing about it as he finished an interview with FS Houston’s Greg Lucas.

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Pudge came out to sign autographs for fans and discovered a line of a few hundred people waiting for him.

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Here’s Hunter Pence having some fun with the man of the hour.

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<p>And the non-Pudge version of Wednesday’s fun: </p>
<p>Lots of autograph signing…Jim Deshaies</p>
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Jason Michaels

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Kaz Matsui takes in the scene before BP.

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Keppinger and Pence chat at the cage.

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Wednesday’s starter, Russ Ortiz.

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Pence was saying something funny to me but I can’t remember what it was.

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Kids, signs and baseball…a terrific combination, every time.

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Puma looks very puma-like as he stretches before taking BP.

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And on Saturday, Pence rests. Injuries mounting. And Boooooone eyes September comeback.

Manager Cecil Cooper decided to rest a “scuffling” Hunter Pence on Saturday, hoping the break would get the right fielder back on track. Pence was hitless in his last 11 at-bats and was 0-for-4 in the opener at Chase Field on Friday. Darin Erstad received the start in Pence’s place.

The remaining lineup changes on Saturday were made due to injury. Jeff Keppinger has a tight back and was deemed unavailable for at least one game, while Geoff Blum’s hamstring injury reappeared during Friday’s game, forcing an early exit which will likely lead to multiple games missed in the near future.

If the hamstring doesn’t feel better in the next couple of days, Blum said he’s not opposed to going on the disabled list. He’d rather spend two full weeks making sure the injury is gone for good rather than play a week, miss a week, play a week, etc. That determination will be made sooner than later, I suspect.

(Update: two more injury issues popped up during Saturday’s game — right shoulder fatigue for Chris Sampson and a left leg cramp for Carlos Lee. Lee is day to day, and Coop said Sampson’s isn’t an injury as much as his arm is simply tired. He has been somewhat overused and Coop compared it to Doug Brocail’s situation in the first half last year. Look for Sampson’s work load to ease up a bit).

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Jose Valverde forgot about the early start time on Saturday, so he arrived to the clubhouse a tad later than the other players. Cooper waited for him before making the roster move official, just to make sure Valverde was indeed ready to come off the disabled list.

Valverde walked into Coop’s office and said, “I’m fine.” Cooper said, “Jog in place.” Valverde ran around Cooper’s office (it took about two seconds, considering the office is small and it was filled at the time with several reporters and broadcasters). Upon completion of that drill, Cooper informed his closer he was officially back in the “GP.” GP stands for “general population.”

(Update, 10:55 p.m. CT: Valverde recorded one out in the eighth. Hawkins closed out game in the ninth).

Wesley Wright was sent back to Round Rock to make room for Valverde. That didn’t come as a huge surprise, considering the Astros are still committed to giving Wright a bigger workload that might eventually translate into him becoming a starter.

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When he first announced his pending open-heart surgery during Spring Training, Aaron Boooooooooone sounded doubtful that he would play baseball again this year. But a little over two months into the season, Boooooooone has increased his level of optimism. The 36-year-old infielder hasn’t ruled out a September comeback, assuming he stays on scheduled with his workouts and rehabs.

Boone envisions working out regularly with the Astros in July and possibly spending the month of August rehabbing in the Minor Leagues. That would leave open the possibility of playing in September, when rosters expand to 40 and adding him would not necessitate sending someone down.

If the Astros happen to be in a playoff race by then, the presence of an Aaron Boone would be huge. He’s a veteran, he’s had some huge moments in the postseason and he’s a good teammate. Sounds like a feel-good comeback story in the making…

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From the Ask Alyson files:

What should we, fans, make of Jiovanni Mier’s comment about Miguel Tejada? And, what does this first pick mean for Tommy Manzella? I know Mier won’t be ready for the Majors right away, but my understanding is that Manzella is (was?) supposed to be our future shorstop — Renauds

For those who missed it, Mier told reporters the night he was drafted that a scout told him the team was looking to “get rid of Tejada” and they were looking for shortstops.

Everyday beat reporters had little use for the comment, mainly because an 18-year-old kid who is three years from the big leagues, minimum, has nothing to do with Tejada, who is hardly likely to still be around in 2012 when this kid might be knocking on the door. Plus, we don’t know the context of the quote — which scout actually said it, and if that was what he actually said.

Mier never should have said what he said, but give me a break. I’m not counting on Tejada being here next year, let alone in three years. In the talk radio circuit, Mier’s comment was a good way to kill a couple of hours. There’s no doubt that Mier shouldn’t have said what he said, but let’s put it in perspective. The Astros drafted four shortstops in the early rounds and it had nothing to do with Tejada and everything to do with building depth at the up-the-middle positions in the organization.

As for Manzella, he’ll get his shot next Spring Training. I’d like to see him, or someone defensively sound like him, to get the every day job. But again, Manzella and Mier are not intertwined. Good, deep, well-run organizations have many good prospects at every level, not just one or two. Depth is the name of the game.

Photos from first two days in Phoenix:

Broadcasters Jim Deshaies, Dave Raymond and Bill Brown pass the time in the dugout before batting practice.

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Bet you didn’t know Friday was national “Put your hands on your hips” day. Apparently, these three got the memo.

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Roy Oswalt tells local Fox affiliate that his wrist is fine.

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A familiar sight — Hunter Pence smiling and signing autographs.

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Hey, look who’s standing upright! Actually, this was Jose Valverde one day before being activated from the disabled list.

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Aaron Booooooone warming up with the team on Saturday. He says he’s put most of the weight back on that he lost after the heart surgery.

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Here’s a shot of batting practice, from my seat in the press box.

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Oswalt and Brian Moehler have a quiet conversation during BP.

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A shot from the clubhouse: Hunter Pence and Jeff Keppinger, playing chess. Everyone else watched the Mets-Yankees game.

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Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter.

Pence in the Mag, Brocail, Whataburger, and other good stuff.

For the last two weeks, Hunter Pence has been tied at the hip with ESPN the Magazine as it prepares its annual “Athletes Issue,” due to hit the stands the week of June 22.

The issue is dedicated to sports, of course, but strictly from the players’ point of view. The magazine gave Pence a hand-held video camera to document certain aspects of road trips, in addition to ESPN The Magazine reporters following him around from time to time. There was a large focus of Pence off the field, sort of showing a day in the life of a ballplayer. What are their interests? How do they spend their spare time?

Apparently, Pence has recently taken up playing chess. And in his spare time, he’s been drinking coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. One of his favorite activities on the road is finding top-notch breakfast establishments, so I’m assuming we’ll find out about the tastiest joints in the league after reading this issue.

Some of the focus is on baseball as well. Photographers have been shadowing Pence everywhere for the last couple of days, snapping dozens — maybe hundreds — of shots on the field during batting practice, in the cages and in the clubhouse. So, I thought I’d take pictures of Pence getting his picture taken.

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The television broadcasting crew will be altered slightly on Wednesday and Thursday. Lead play-by-play announcer Bill Brown will be away from the team to tend to family issues, and in his place, radio announcer Dave Raymond will be in the booth with Jim Deshaies on Wednesday, while Brett Dolan will sub for Brownie on Thursday.

(Left, Deshaies, right, Raymond)

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Player appearance alert:
How’s this for a whacky crew? Doug Brocail and Junction Jack, along with the Astros Street team, will appear together at the Whataburger restaurant located

at 3040 Silverlake Village Drive in Pearland on Wednesday. The autograph session will be the first of four Astros player appearances at local restaurants — the others are June 24, July 7 and Aug. 4.
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Here’s a new ticket promotion at the ballpark the might pique your interest. It’s called Hunter’s Lodge, and it involves, you guessed it, Hunter Pence. For $30, you get a full view of Pence from your seat near right field (in section 133 or 134), an original green Hunter Pence t-shirt — with a new design introduced each month — and an automatic entry into a monthly drawing for an Astros gift pack featuring a Pence autographed baseball.

You can read more about it here.

The promotion began Monday and will be available every home game throughout the season.

I had to see for myself so I sat for an inning in the Hunter’s Lodge seats, and of course, while I was down there, I snapped a couple of pictures:

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And finally, some randoms from BP today:

Geoff Blum, happy to be back in the lineup. He’s been ready to play since the Pittsburgh series last weekend, ,so he was anxious to get back in there after missing so much time with a hamstring issue. 

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Pudge Rodriguez in the cage.

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Carlos Lee and friends.

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