Results tagged ‘ Jeff Bagwell ’
Every year I casually follow Media Day the Tuesday before the Super Bowl and experience the typical combination of amusement and nausea.
Super Bowl Media Day is unlike any other media event in any sport, in that it serves almost no purpose except to create a spectacle. It’s absurd, embarrassing, outrageous – a perfect setting for posers acting as media, but an utter waste of time for the people there who are, you know, actually covering the Super Bowl, for real.
As a baseball reporter, I’ve never been to a Super Bowl Media Day. That’s a tradition I hope continues until I’m dead.
Don’t get me wrong. Media day is fun to follow — online, from my couch, hundreds of miles away from the actual venue. This Sports on Earth account pretty much sums it up – goofy people dressed in ridiculous garb, pretending to be outrageous, because without the shtick, they never would have scored a credential, because in advance of Super Bowl Media Day, they’re not actually, well, media.
It’s a far cry from what you’ll find in an actual press box filled with only accredited reporters who really do cover teams for a living. And I fully acknowledge that there’s nothing terribly intriguing about three rows of follically-challenged middle-age men pounding out the copy on their laptops — at least nothing that would make you want to actually cover it as a news story.
They’ll never be as enticing as the bombshell reporters from Azteca and Telemundo, the pretty Inside Edition-types who were relatively anonymous until they were ogled on national TV by one particular man of a certain age, and anyone else who stands out in the crowd and is given 15 seconds to nab a comment from athletes and coaches who sit on a podium, safely distant from the masses.
I’m guessing the actual football writers – the beat reporters and columnists who actually have been covering the teams playing in the Super Bowl since the beginning of training camp – detest Media Day more than any other of the calendar year.
Can you blame them?
Trying to cover the team you’ve always covered when the rest of the world is now also covering it is at best, difficult. During the regular season, you depend on access and communication and relationships built on the mere fact that you’re there every day, and the athletes are there every day, and you’re talking to each other every day. Even if you may not like each other all the time, there’s enough respect between the two parties that everyone is, for the most part, able to get the job done.
Watching spectacles like Super Bowl Media Day brings back memories, on a lesser scale, of specific times in my baseball writing career when a workday was anything but typical.
The most vivid memory I have of the Astros appearing in the World Series in 2005, for example, wasn’t the actual Series. It was the clubhouse scene in St. Louis after they won the pennant. I have a very clear picture in my head, still, of the sheer joy on Craig Biggio’s face, of players dancing with the NL trophy, of Roger Clemens pouring an entire bottle of champagne over a joyful Andy Pettitte.
The World Series was more of a blur. The experience was short – it lasted four games and ended with the White Sox sweeping and celebrating on the Astros’ home field. But there’s another more significant reason why the memories are kind of fuzzy: after seven straight months of intimately covering this team, suddenly, I was never more distant from it.
The sheer volume of media covering the event makes it impossible to grant reporters the same access you’d get during the regular season. Whereas clubhouses open 3 ½ hours before game time during the regular season, during the playoffs, they’re closed.
Managers and the next day’s starting pitchers are made available prior to batting practice in the controlled environment of the interview room. The system actually works pretty well, all things considered, and from what I’ve gathered over the years, Major League Baseball is probably the most accommodating when it comes to satisfying the needs of the media during the postseason. **
But for the local reporters, it’s kind of a bummer. (Please don’t mistake this for complaining. Reporters report because they love it. Covering baseball is a privilege and we know it. This is designed only to show this side of the business from an angle not normally visible from the outside.) You start to feel less like an individual and more like sheep, herded from point A to point B and hoping you don’t get knocked in the head by a camera guy when Random Superstar Player decides to hold an impromptu Q&A with reporters on the field during batting practice.
(** Astros manager Phil Garner, not surprisingly, went out of his way to make sure the local scribes were taken care of. Throughout the postseasons in 2004 and ’05, he’d host the beat writers for a half hour or so in his office a few hours before game time. We’d enter through the door off the basement corridor and never have to actually walk through the clubhouse. We got what we needed, never broke any MLB rules and were eternally grateful to be covering a manager who got it, on every level, from the little things to the bigger picture.)
In a World Series setting, it’s hard for the everyday beat writers to separate themselves from the masses. I remember standing on the field on the workout day at the White Sox ballpark the day before the series began, and one-shouldered Jeff Bagwell, who 10 minutes earlier was officially announced as the Astros’ designated hitter for Games 1 and 2, emerged from the clubhouse. After regaining my balance following nearly being trampled by a mad rush of reporters making a beeline for Bagwell, I stood in a media crush of around 100 people, staring directly into the armpit of a camera operator. I thought, “There has to be a better way to do this.”
Even if you were lucky enough to run into a player in the dugout before BP, you pretty much had no chance to engage in a private conversation. That’s because media from other parts of the country and the world covering the Series, but had no idea who the players actually were, were on the constant lookout for the opportunity to grab sound bites. Because they couldn’t identify most of the players, they had to wait for someone in the know to make the first move. If any of the local reporters did approach a player, we’d inevitably hear pitter-patter of the oversized feet of camera operators, rushing to follow behind. It got to the point where it was just easier not to talk to the players. ***
It became comical. “How ya doing?” Mike Lamb shouted from the opposite end of the dugout, waving. “Top of the day to you, Mike!” I yelled back, from the other end. “Have a good game!” End of conversation.
(***Not that I can totally blame these “outsiders.” I’ve been in their shoes. When I’m covering the World Series that involves two teams I’m not all that familiar with, it gets a little scary when the players are in a setting where they’re not wearing jerseys with their names on their backs. I still cringe when thinking about the 2003 clubhouse scene when the Marlins won the World Series, and I had an entire conversation with a player who wasn’t who I thought he was. You’d be surprised how similar guys can look when they’re soaked in champagne and wearing the same “World Series Champion” t-shirts. This was before iPhones, where you can quickly Google a player, just to make sure that actually is Brad Penny.)
Absurdities of the job are part of the job, and they more often than not provide laughs years later over beers with colleagues. I often refer to Clemens as the gift that keeps on giving, mainly because there are probably enough chuckles he’s unknowingly provided colleague Brian McTaggart and me over the years to fill a book.
At the time, this stuff wasn’t so funny. Standing outside of the entrance to the Astros’ Minor League clubhouse in Kissimmee, waiting hours for Clemens to emerge after working out with his son, was quite possibly the worst use of time in the history of Spring Training coverage. But you had to do it, because everyone else was there, and if you weren’t there to talk to Clemens when he did finally come outside, then you missed the story. So you stand there with the Associated Press and New York Times and New York Daily News and wait and wait and wait with hopes Clemens, now a couple months removed from appearing in the Mitchell Report, will talk.
He didn’t, of course. His black Hummer was parked maybe two feet from the clubhouse door, enabling him to jump in and drive away in silence. McTaggart and I figured that would be the end result, a conclusion we drew during the three hours we waited for Clemens to emerge from the clubhouse and not talk to us. Looking for entertainment value, we decided taking pictures of each other standing next to Clemens’ Hummer was a way to make the best use of our time. ****
(****That wasn’t the most bizarre behavior of the day. That distinction belongs to the AP reporter who inexplicably took off in a full sprint, chasing Clemens and his Hummer, screaming Mitchell Report-ish questions as Clemens sped away. The rest of us were speechless. I asked McTaggart, “Should we be running after him, too?” We decided to do what the Times and Daily News did. Thankfully, they stayed put.)
There are times when I wish reporters had a medium to display their own blooper reels, just for laughs. Most of the time, we’re just grateful for the anonymity. Reporters who are there to merely report prefer to not make themselves part of the story, and the ones who do, well, they’ll catch up with you at Super Bowl Media Day.
When MLB.com was in its infancy back in the early 2000s, reporters and producers received an email from our higher-ups a couple of weeks before the start of Spring Training, giving us a list of old and worn-out cliches that we were NEVER to use in our copy or headlines.
Spring Has Sprung. Hope Springs Eternal. Baseball’s in Full Swing. And on and on.
I sent an email back, asking as politely as possible, “Can we add, ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ to that list?”
That was (at least) 11 years ago. I can’t recall if that line ever did appear on Astros.com or MLB.com, but even if it didn’t, it’s only a small victory. Because it shows up everywhere else.
It seems that whenever the Astros (and quite possibly the Rockets, Texans and other Houston sports teams) are in turmoil, and have, well, a problem, the headline writers spend all of four seconds coming up with something that properly illustrates the issues surrounding the team in trouble.
Houston, We Have a Problem.
Neat. Congratulations. Well done. Now, please stop.
I try to picture the process by which an editor chooses that particular headline. It’s late at night, he’s editing a story about the Astros sinking in the standings. He has his index finger pressed firmly against his chin. He’s looking up at the ceiling, deep in thought. And then it hits him. His eyes light up. Yes. Yes. Yes. He smiles. He types. He inwardly congratulates himself for coming up with the most clever play on words in the history of the English language.
Houston, he writes. We Have a Problem.
How has no one thought of this before? he wonders. It’s perfect. Four decades ago, the Apollo 13 space mission was aborted because of an exploding oxygen tank, and the astronauts inside sent a message back to the command center: “Houston, we have a problem.” And now, a Houston sports team stinks.
Using “Houston, We Have a Problem” solves two issues: It is a quick fix — a convenient headline to slap onto a story and call it a night. It also allows for the editor to have to spend no time actually coming up with something creative. Or timely.
The Astros are getting a lot of national attention lately, and I do not begrudge the writers from jumping on this story. It’s not easy to do what the Astros are pulling off, losing at such an alarming pace that although they were within a game of .500 as late as the end of May, they’re now on pace to surpass last year’s club record 106 losses. It’s mind-boggling. So I understand the need to follow along.
While the Astros are being shoved into the unfortunate national spotlight, this seems like as good a time as any to try to at least attempt to ceremoniously retire “Houston, we have a problem.” Heck, if the Rangers can launch an entire in-stadium campaign to kill the Wave, the least we can do in the Bayou City is wipe out a worn-out cliched phrase that should have gone away around the same time The Brady Bunch went off the air.
The phrase isn’t even accurate. The actual words uttered by the Apollo 13 crew were “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” That is less dramatic, obviously, because it indicates there was a problem, but there isn’t one anymore. That wouldn’t work for headline purposes. Readers aren’t going to be nearly as interested if they think the problem that once existed has been solved.
So, “Houston, We Have a Problem” works better. And the Astros have complied over the years by giving the headline writers plenty of opportunities to use it. Consider:
2000 — The Astros, coming off three straight division titles, move into their gorgeous new downtown ballpark and spend the first half of the season on pace to lose 120 games.
“Houston, We Have a Problem.”
2001 — Larry Dierker, in his fifth year of managing, watches his Astros get swept, again, in the Division Series. Rumors swirl that he will be fired. He is.
“Houston, We Have a Problem.”
2004 — Roy Oswalt and Michael Barrett have a contentious relationship, which creates friction between the Astros and Cubs and adds a delicious subplot every time the two teams meet. Oswalt throws at Barrett during a game at Minute Maid Park, is ejected, and Jeff Bagwell gets mad at Oswalt for getting thrown out of a game during a time the Astros are making a push for the Wild Card. Bagwell’s never spoken out against a teammate, ever. Houston media is all over it. (No, not really.)
“Houston, We Have a Problem.”
2006 — Coming off a World Series appearance, the Astros cannot recapture the magic and are not in any kind of race, until the last week of the season when the Cardinals help out by putting together an eight-day nose dive.
“Houston, We Have a Problem.”
2007 — the team is worse, and Phil Garner is fired.
“Houston, We Have a Problem.”
2008 — hellooooo Hurricane Ike.
“Houston, We Have a Problem.”
2009 — the oldest roster in baseball costs $100 million and finishes fifth.
“Houston, We Have a Problem.”
In short, we get it. Houston is the Space City. Astronauts live here. There are times when the Houston sports teams aren’t very good. “Houston, We Have a Problem” was once clever and apropos.
Isn’t it time to move on?
Exactly 10 years ago, rumblings of a possible Major League Baseball players strike were prevalent in every city, as fans braced themselves for what looked to be an inevitable shutdown. The disputed topics centered around the predictable (money), the hot-button (steroid testing) and the absurd (the owner of the Minnesota Twins thinking he could actually get away with doing away with his team).
Unlike 1994, when the union and the owners were so far apart and negotiations were so contentious that a strike was inevitable, this time, in 2002, players were overwhelmingly against a shutdown (although they’ll probably deny it to this day). This was a different time than in ’94: not even a year had passed since the tragic events on Sept. 11, 2001, the economy was in the proverbial toilet, a war was brewing and people were, in general, frazzled.
Many players voiced a similar sentiment: “If we strike now, we’re done. The fans aren’t coming back.”
The Astros were, at that time, contenders every year. They had won the division in 2001 and were talented enough in ’02 to remain competitive and take the division race down to the wire. There were plenty of young players on that team, but there was a strong veteran presence as well. Many of those veteran players were against a union strike. They wanted to keep playing, realizing the number of years remaining for them to get to the postseason, and win the World Series, were dwindling.
Jeff Bagwell, in particular, was one of those players. He had a few years remaining on his contract, but recent shoulder surgery made his future, and his longevity in the game, a lot less certain. He had already begun the process of passing the leadership baton to the next generation. “Our time is getting shorter,” he said. “This is Richard and Lance’s team now.”
By “Richard” and “Lance,” Bagwell was referring to Richard Hidalgo and Lance Berkman, two rising young stars who were drafted and developed by the Astros and considered to be the future of the organization. Bagwell and Craig Biggio mentioned, often, that the team was in very good hands because of those two players.
Hidalgo’s career, obviously, didn’t pan out the way Berkman’s has. Nonetheless, “Doggie” was a popular figure in Houston back then. He debuted with the team when it was still playing in the Astrodome, and he holds the distinction of scoring the first Astros run at the new downtown ballpark, via the first Astros home run hit in ballpark history.
Hidalgo will be in Houston when the next homestand begins, sparking an impromptu special edition Alumni First Pitch. On Monday, April 30, Hidalgo will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Astros-Mets game (coincidentally, the Astros traded Hidalgo to the Mets in the middle of 2004). Instead of “Flashback Friday,” we’ll call this one “Memory Monday.”
Can’t wait to see “Doggie” again. Woof!
The decision to move Jimmy Paredes back to second base, the position he’s played more than any other since his professional career began, has little to do with Jose Altuve, or Delino DeShields, or anyone occupying his old position at third base, for that matter.
Ballplayers are evaluated, discussed, scrutinized and sometimes moved around from the moment they join an organization. General manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff kept a close eye on Paredes, acquired a couple of years ago from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade, and decided the athletic infielder should move back to second base.
And that’s where he’ll play in the Minor Leagues. The general belief is Paredes will eventually be a mainstay in the Majors. The goal is to get the most out of him in the role he’s best suited for. That role, according to the club’s talent evaluators, is not third base.
When the decision was announced, questions immediately popped up regarding the futures of Altuve and DeShields. It made some wonder if moving Paredes is a direct reflection on the Astros’ confidence, or lack thereof, in Altuve’s abilities.
The answer is pretty simple, really. Decisions regarding Paredes have to do with Paredes, and only Paredes. This isn’t about Altuve or DeShields or any other middle infielders in the organization.
Baseball is unlike the other sports. There are many layers to an organization. Most players who are drafted — save for the very few Stephen Strasburg-like prodigies — won’t reach a big league field for three years, minimum. That’s why the Minor Leagues exist. They are designed to turn young, raw ballplayers into Major League contributors.
Hundreds of players comprise a Minor League system. Around four percent are actually prospects that will make it to the big leagues. Even fewer will last more than a couple of years.
The best organizations have talented players at every position throughout the system. They don’t look at their All-Star shortstop on the Major League level and shrug and say, “Well, looks like we don’t need any other good shortstops in our system.” A dozen roadblocks can mess up even the best plan. Injury. Inconsistency. Free agency. A can’t-miss prospect who gets to the big leagues and blows out his arm. Or finds out he can’t hit a Major League curveball.
Take the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain, for example. He was a sure-fire, can’t-miss star. Except, of course, that he’s not. First there was the elbow surgery. Now we hear that he has a possible career-ending ankle injury, born from a trampoline mishap.
More than a decade ago, Tim Redding blew through the Astros’ Minor League system with such force that most considered him a better pitcher than Roy Oswalt.
The only problem with that theory was that it was wrong. As it turned out, Redding lacked two things: maturity, and the ability to make adjustments when no Major League hitters were swinging at his 0-2 pitch. Or his 1-2 pitch. Or 2-2 and 3-2.
Staff ace? Not so much. Master of the 100-pitch-count-after-four-innings? Most definitely.
That’s why baseball teams are layered in such a way that gives them Plans B, C and even, in some cases, D and E. There are eight levels in the Minor Leagues. Prospects who go through the system endure a steady climb to the big leagues, some quicker than others. There are no guarantees the player who shows an enormous skill set in Rookie Ball will still have that going for him when he moves up to Double-A.
Altuve has less than a half-season of experience as a Major League second baseman. He shows great potential and will be at second base on Opening Day on April 6. Is he destined for a 10-year career? Is he a future All-Star?
DeShields was a first-round draft pick a couple of years ago and was converted from an outfielder to a second baseman. The Astros like his athleticism and speed and believe he has a future as a big league infielder. Does he?
The answer to both questions is a resounding…maybe. But who out there really knows, with 100 percent certainty?
Baseball organizations — the good ones — are about depth. Having too many good players in a system at one position is a good problem to have. Depth gives teams flexibility. It allows them have a strong Major League team that is built with home-grown players, while giving them trading chips when there’s a need in another area. It also allows teams to replenish the roster with talent when a player prices himself out of payroll parameters.
In certain circumstances, of course, adjustments have to be made. Lance Berkman became an outfielder around the same time Jeff Bagwell signed a long-term contract extension. Jonathan Singleton was clearly going nowhere as a first baseman in Philadelphia’s system, given its recent commitment to Ryan Howard through 2017. And that’s one of the reasons the Astros were able to trade for him.
Why were the Phillies able to land Hunter Pence in a blockbuster trade last year? Simple: they had the surplus of prospects to offer up. They had a solid farm system that was contributing in two ways: it produced Major League talent capable of getting to the World Series, with even more players available as trade bait to make the product at the very top that much more powerful.
If an organization has one good shortstop, or one good catcher, or one good second baseman, and no options coming through the Minor Leagues, well, that’s where you start to see “100″ and “losses” used together in a sentence.
Depth is the single most important component of a healthy organization. Baseball teams cannot survive without it. So don’t fret over the Paredes/Altuve/DeShields conundrum. Be glad it’s here.
Speaking of prospects, several Astros staff members and players involved with the 2011 Arizona Fall League championship team received rings for winning the AFL Championship.
The players: Jay Austin, Jason Castro, Jake Goebbert, Kody Hinze, Dallas Keuchel, Jason Stoffel, Josh Zeid and athletic trainer Eric Montague.
Photos from the ceremony:
The Astros’ 18-inning win over the Braves in Game 4 of the NLDS in 2005 still comes up in conversation from time to time, and what people remember best about that game, of course, is the Chris Burke home run that won it almost six hours after the affair started.
Fans might also remember Roger Clemens pitching three brilliant innings of relief. Or that Lance Berkman was lifted for a pinch-runner eight innings earlier. Or that Brandon Backe started the game and wasn’t terribly effective.
But the one key moment that sometimes gets pushed to the side, considering how significant Burke’s home run was, is that the Astros were minutes away from losing that game, if not for one improbable swing of the bat. The two teams were pretty much headed back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 — until they weren’t, thanks to Brad Ausmus.
The game only continued because Ausmus picked a really, really good time to be very un-Ausmus-like and hit a home run with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the game at 6.
The umpires also picked a really good time to show a complete understanding about the ground rules and the zig-zaggy yellow lines in the outfield that indicated what was a home run and what wasn’t. This was before instant replay, but when the ball smacked against the left-center wall, just above the zig and to the right of the zag, the umpire immediately started twirling his index finger in the air, indicating a home run.
Ausmus will be one of 13 former players who will visit Minute Maid Park this season as a ceremonial first-pitch honoree. His Game 4 heroics are not the reason why, of course. “Officer Brad” was a mainstay behind the plate for 10 of 12 seasons from 1997-2008, missing only two years when he was traded to the Tigers (and subsequently traded back after it became apparent the Mitch Meluskey experiment was a disaster).
Ausmus was Steady Eddie behind the plate, wearing several hats in addition to the one with the Astros star on it. He was a security blanket for the pitchers, an encyclopedia of knowledge while dissecting the tendencies and habits of every hitter in the league, and a no-nonsense field operator who was in complete control at all times. His pitchers knew that, as did whoever was running things from the dugout. His batting average was, well, average, but his value to the team was immeasurable.
On Tuesday, the Astros released complete list of first-pitch pitchers who will appear on “Flashback Fridays.” The team will wear throwback uniforms and celebrate Houston’s fabulous 50-year history every Friday home game in 2012, and the return of former players will only add to the nostalgia that is sure to take over Minute Maid Park throughout the season.
The first ceremonial pitch is on April 10, the actual anniversary of the first Major League game played in Houston. Bob Aspromonte, arguably the most well-known of the original Colt .45s, will have the first pitch honors that day. The rest of the best:
April 10 vs. ATL Bob Aspromonte; 1960s- Colt .45s
April 20 vs. STL Larry Dierker; 1960s-Astros
May 4 vs. LAD Rusty Staub; 1960s-Colt .45s
May 18 vs. TEX Nolan Ryan; 1980s
June 1 vs. CIN J.R. Richard; 1970s
June 22 vs. CLE Joe Morgan; 1960s-Astros
July 6 vs. MIL Jose Cruz; 1970s
July 27 vs. PIT Mike Scott; 1980s
Aug. 10 vs. MIL Jeff Bagwell; 1990s
Aug. 17 vs. ARI Brad Ausmus; 1990s
Aug. 31 vs. CIN Shane Reynolds; 1990s
Sept. 14 vs. PHI Jeff Kent; 2000s
Sept. 21 vs. PIT Craig Biggio; 2000s
Each player will throw a customized Rawlings baseball that features a 24-karat gold leather cover with the Astros 50th anniversary logo.
This group of players combined for 49 All-Star Game appearances, 15 Silver Slugger Awards, 12 Gold Glove Awards, four MVP Awards, two Hall of Fame inductions, one Rookie of the Year Award and one Cy Young Award. The 13 combined for over 18,000 hits and nearly 2,000 home runs. The five pitchers – Dierker, Reynolds, Richard, Ryan and Scott – have over 800 wins and more than 11,000 strikeouts.
The first pitch participants are scheduled to appear at Minute Maid Park in the month during which their playing days are being honored. The appearances of Staub, Ryan and Morgan are scheduled out of order to accommodate their individual travel schedule.
“Flashback Fridays” highlights the rich tradition of the Astros’ former uniforms, some of the most recognizable and iconic in baseball history. In April, the Astros will celebrate the 1960s by wearing the original Colt .45s jersey. The 1960s shooting star jersey, the first Astros jersey ever worn, will be donned in May. The club will celebrate the 1970s and wear the rainbow jerseys in June, the 1980s shoulder rainbow jerseys in July and the 1990s blue and gold star uniforms in August.
Fans can purchase a special Flashback Friday 14-game flex plan, presented by Papa John’s, that guarantees a seat for Opening Day and each Flashback Friday night. This special ticket package also includes a free ticket for a 15th game of their choice. Plans are available by calling 1-800-ASTROS2 or visiting Astros.com.
In addition to uniforms, “Flashback Fridays” will also feature special ballpark entertainment and fireworks shows themed to each particular decade. Several additional promotions recognizing the 50th anniversary are scheduled throughout the 2012 season, with a complete listing available at www.astros.com.
Meanwhile, enjoy some nostalgic photos of several first pitch honorees:
TV/Radio bonanza: Brett, Dave, Brownie, J.D., Milo and a bunch of programming notes. The band’s back together.
Today, we start with the transcript from Tuesday’s chat session with our intrepid skipper, Brad Mills…
Q: How will such new young talented players adjust together in such short time? in other words, how important is finding a good rhythm?
Brad Mills: Early on, we addressed the need for a cohesive bond and a lot of times with these young players, they do just that. This particular group has bought into that way of thinking and they’ve done a very good job of coming together so far. We think they definitely will continue.
Q: What was the determining factor in naming Myers the closer? Experience? Stats? Desire?
Mills: All of the above, really. We had to make sure that he was as excited about it as we were. When he said he was excited, that was probably the most determining factor. There’s been so many successful closers that have been starters in the past that have turned into really good closers. It helps that he has already been a closer and did well with it.
Q: How fired up is Bud Norris this year? What have been your thoughts on his pitching?
Mills: He’s throwing the ball really well. He has concentrated on a lot of his secondary pitches so far and is developing them quicker than maybe even expected.
Q: Will we see any major rotations or changes in the outfield or infield coming soon?
Mills: There’s going to be changes in the rotation, with Myers leaving and then needing a fifth starter. The infield, we’re going to have a few changes, but nothing drastic yet. The competition we’ve had this spring has really opened our eyes to a lot of good things that have happened to our organization over the past year.
Q: what did you see (on Tuesday) that you liked?
Mills: Livan (Hernandez) stood out. He threw the ball absolutely outstanding. I’m knocking on wood that our defense continues to be very solid. And anytime you hit a walkoff home run, like Brian Bixler did, that’s pretty significant.
Q: Are coaches decisions or a managers decision based on stats solely? Do you ever use your gut?
Mills: I always use my gut, but ignoring stats is ignorant. You have to use everything.
Q: What is the daily routine of a ball player at Spring Training?
Mills: The days are long once we start playing games. Players are usually at the ballpark by 7 in the morning. They have a routine of hitters hitting in the cage, they have their time slots between 7 and 9. Others have early work on the field starting at 8:30. The coaches meeting is at 8 and then we go through a full workout up until lunch. We take lunch and then play a game. That is a full day.
Q: What is the team spirit like after a 6-4 start (after Tuesday’s win)?
Mills: It’s very good right now after the last two wins. Last night’s win and today were both outstanding games, very close games that we won at the end. Anytime we have those types of games it brings a little team bonding. The one thing about this group is they’ve handled themselves extremely well all spring. The effort in doing the things we can control has been very good. That’s been one of the things we’ve emphasized the most.
Q: Are you finding younger picthers recover quicker or about the same?
Mills: Mostly, the same. The one thing veteran pitchers know is how to go about their workload so they are able to recover in a timely manner.
Q: What will these players need to accomplish to make it to the playoffs?
Mills: We have to continue to improve. They’ve shown good progression so far in a short time and we’ll have to continue to do that. There’s a lot of talent here and given those capabilities, that is our objective.
* Popular television broadcasters Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies, who not long ago were enshrined into the fictitious MLB bobblehead Hall of Fame, are en route to Florida and will be with the Astros for a full week. They will be in town, of course, to broadcast the Astros’ game on FS Houston on March 20, but they are also going to be given a little time on the radio as well. From what I understand, J.D. will join Dave Raymond in the booth on Saturday when the team plays the Yankees in Tampa, and Brownie will pair with Brett Dolan on Friday for the Astros’ visit to Orlando to play the Braves.
(FYI, bobblehead HOF worthiness is based solely on how much the bobblehead actually resembles the actual person. On a sliding scale, with a score of one being the lowest (a la Jeff Bagwell, class of 2003) and 10 being the highest (Richard Hidalgo, ’01), the Brownie and J.D. bobble given out last June has to be a solid 9.5.)
Anyhoo, it’ll be great to have the old gang together again, especially considering my Astros OneLiners twitter account has been a little barren, to say the least, without J.D.’s, well, J.D.-isms.
* I’m also hearing Craig Biggio is on his way to Kissimmee on Thursday for his annual Spring Training visit. Word is he will be in town through Sunday.
* Former broadcaster/pitcher/manager and current all-around great guy Larry Dierker flew to Florida with owner Jim Crane and a few friends and Astros executives on Tuesday and joined the contingent in Jupiter. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 10 years since the last time Dierker was a regular part of Spring Training, as the Astros’ manager. While I’m sure there’s plenty about being on the field that Dierker misses, Spring Training isn’t high on that list.
As a manager, the early mornings, the long bus trips and the seemingly never-ending slate of Spring Training games wore on him. He quite liked this time of the year when he was an active player, however. As a starting pitcher, he only had to participate in Grapefruit League games every four or five days, and when he was in the game long enough to be considered a veteran, he really had it easy, because he pretty much dictated which road trips he would be on.
“I’d tell the pitching coach where I wanted to go, and I really only had to take one long trip all spring,” Dierker laughed.
*To add catching depth to the system, the Astros signed Landon Powell, who not long ago was released by the Oakland A’s. Powell signed a Minor League deal and will be in big league camp. While it’s unlikely he’d make the team — a healthy Jason Castro and solid backup Chris Snyder appear to be the favorites to break camp with the club — Powell gives the team a possible plan B. Humberto Quintero is still in the mix as well, obviously, but his back issues leave some uncertainty there. Powell simply gives the Astros more options should they need to dip into the system for catching help.
* The Astros will host the Blue Jays on Thursday at Osceola County Stadium at 1:05 p.m. ET, noon CT. Left-hander Zach Duke will start for the Astros, who will face Toronto righty Dustin McGowan. The game will be broadcast on KBME 790 am.
* David Carpenter will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline tonight (Wednesday) at 8 p.m. ET, 7 CT. The show will air live from the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk and will air on 740 KTRH and Astros.com.
In the spring of 1988, a cocky, sunburnt kid from New York sauntered into the Astros’ clubhouse at their Spring Training facility and said to the man standing at the door, “I’m looking for Yogi Berra.”
“And who the heck are you?” the man snapped.
“I’m Craig Biggio,” the kid snapped back. “Where’s Yogi?”
“Oh boy,” the man said to himself. “This guy’s going to be a beauty.”
And from there, a friendship was born. Biggio, fried to a crisp after driving from New York to Florida with the top down on his convertible, and Dennis Liborio, a rough-around-the-edges but soft-hearted Bostonian, eventually became friends, and the two evolved into family over the next 20-plus years.
Liborio is retiring after 32 seasons as the Astros’ clubhouse manager due to health issues. While he’s not a household name to Astros fans, his departure comes as a sad blow to generations of players and staff who grew close to Liborio during their time in Houston.
You may recall reading about Dennis in this blog. Two years ago, we ran a semi-regular feature called “Who’s in Dennis’ chair?” Dennis’ office in the Astros’ clubhouse often doubled as a who’s-who of baseball notoriety, for one simple reason: everyone loves Dennis, and everyone loves to visit Dennis. As a result, the big, comfy black chair in his office was rarely vacant.
Larry Andersen. Phil Garner. Luis Gonzalez. Biggio. Jeff Bagwell. Past players from every decade. Former Astros who were now opponents. Everyone managed to stop by Dennis’s office, because, simply, Dennis’ office was the place to be.
It wasn’t just players who liked to visit. In 2000, the year the Astros’ new ballpark opened, George W. Bush, who at that time was preparing for his presidential campaign, walked into the clubhouse, threw his arm around Dennis’ shoulder, and proclaimed, “This is my running mate!” within earshot of the large contingent of reporters.
Right on cue, Dennis responded, “We’ll show them how to get this country straightened out.” One particular reporter who apparently lacked a sense of humor rushed up to the pair and said, “I just want you to know you can’t have two people on the ticket from the same state.” Without hesitation, Liborio chortled, “That’s all right. I’m from Massachusetts!”
Clubhouse and equipment managers are more than just support staff workers. They’re the eyes and ears of the inner-workings of the team. Everyone and everything that enters and leaves the clubhouse goes through the clubhouse managers, and discretion is one of the biggest components of their game. A ballplayer relies heavily on his equipment/clubhouse manager, which is why the ties that bind them together during a player’s career usually carry on for decades, long after the uniform comes off for good.
Take Dennis and Nolan Ryan, for instance. For decades, they traveled together to Las Vegas every offseason for the rodeo. The first night of their very first trip, Dennis walked into the lobby of the hotel wearing a 10-gallon hat, cowboy boots and a pair of jeans with a huge western belt buckle. “Here comes the Boston Cowboy,” Nolan said in his thick southern drawl. “Nolan, I’ve heard of the Boston Strangler,” Dennis responded, “But never the Boston Cowboy.”
It was during one of those Vegas trips many years later when Dennis’ longtime sweetie, Geraldine, blurted out, “Darn it, Dennis, when are you ever going to marry me?” In typical “Diamond Denny” fashion, he answered, “How about now?” And the two went through a drive-thru and tied the knot, Vegas-style.
A few weeks later, a box weighing no less than 70 pounds arrived to the clubhouse. “What the…?” Dennis said. Inside was a jumbo-sized steel ball and chain, courtesy of Gonzo, with a note that said, “It’s about time.”
Liborio started his baseball career in Wally Pipp fashion in 1969, when he was 14 years old. He’d hang out near the Red Sox’ clubhouse at Fenway for no particular reason, except to watch the players come in and out. He became such a fixture there that finally, the Red Sox clubhouse manager decided to put him to work. One of the clubhouse kids was out sick with mono, and Dennis filled in by taking the uniforms to the dry cleaners. He ended up staying on four years.
In 1977, the manager of the Dodgers’ clubhouse called Dennis and asked him to work for him. Dennis was the Dodgers’ assistant equipment manager until November of 1979, when the Astros came calling. Traveling secretary Donald Davidson and Assistant GM Gerry Hunsicker called Dennis’ boss and said, “We have an opening. Do you know anybody?” And just like that, Dennis was in his way to Houston to run the Astros’ clubhouse.
Dennis has been with the Astros for all nine playoff appearances and was with them when they clinched the first, and only, pennant in 2005. He’s watched more than 5,000 Astros games. During his tenure, Houston’s record was 2,596-2,471.
“Dennis is truly one of my best friends,” Biggio said. “Behind every great, successful team, there is a great clubhouse man. That’s what Dennis was for us. For me, he’s been an awesome human being and did an unbelievable job. He will be missed.”
More quotes from notable Astros:
“Dennis is one of a kind. Of the countless people I’ve met in the game, he is among my favorites. It just won’t be the same without him in that clubhouse. As players, he was our team ‘Mom’ … not afraid to give you grief, but always had your back.” — Jim Deshaies, current Astros TV analyst and Astros pitcher from 1985-91
“Dennis Liborio is an Astros institution. His many years of faithful service to the organization are greatly appreciated by the players he has helped during his tenure. Thank you, Dennis, for all you have done for me and so many others. The clubhouse won’t be the same without you.” — Lance Berkman, Astros 1B-OF from 1999-2010
“I felt like Dennis was one of the top equipment and clubhouse managers that I ever worked with. He always had a real passion for the game and was truly committed to the organization. I hope he enjoys his retirement.” — Nolan Ryan, Astros pitcher from 1980-87 and current Texas Rangers president
“Dennis was wonderful to us. There was never a dull moment in that clubhouse, no matter how bad you were going. He was so much fun to be with, but was always so on top of everything. We appreciated him because he honestly cared about us. I miss him more than anyone I was with in Houston.” — Bill Doran, Astros infielder from 1982-90
“When I got to Houston in 1990, we had a young team those first few years and Dennis was a father figure to a lot of us. He really took care of us. We had so much fun sitting in his office, listening to him holding court and telling great stories. He was incredible to us. Over the years, our families built a strong bond and even shared season tickets for the Aeros games since Dennis loved hockey so much.” — Luis Gonzalez, Astros outfielder from 1990-95
“Dennis will be greatly missed. He brought me to Houston with him and is the reason I am here today. I love the guy and appreciate everything he has done for me and for the Astros.” — Barry Waters, Astros longtime Traveling Secretary who also worked with Liborio in the Dodgers clubhouse prior to coming to Houston in November of 1979
Happy New Year, Astros fans! Hope you ate too much, enjoyed time with your families and watched a lot of football (not necessarily in that order) over the holiday break. The first day back at work for baseball people is a lot like Groundhog Day: six weeks until Spring Training with a full slate of activities to get to first, before we head to Florida.
Many of you have asked about FanFest, caravans and Astroline. Here are some general guidelines for what’s on tap, although we’ll be posting a more formal schedule when it’s all ready to go.
In the meantime, hope this provides some assistance…
The Annual Houston Baseball Dinner Benefiting Grand Slam for Youth Baseball will take place on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Americas Hotel near Minute Maid Park.
The event will include a special celebration of the Houston franchise’s 50th anniversary, with several former MVPs and current players expected to attend. Award winners include Pitcher of the Year Wandy Rodriguez and Rookie of the Year J.D. Martinez, as well Jason Bourgeois, the winner of the Darryl Kile (Good Guy) Award. Two former Astros will be recognized as well: Hunter Pence, voted as the team’s MVP, and Lance Berkman, who will be presented the Greater Houston area’s Major League Player of the Year award. Longtime television broadcaster Bill Brown will be recognized with the Fred Hartman Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Baseball.
Former Astros expected to attend include Bob Aspromonte, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Bob Watson, J.R. Richard, Jose Cruz and Enos Cabell.
To order tickets, click here or call 713-259-8686.
The next day, on Saturday, Feb. 11, the Astros will host FanFest at Minute Maid Park. Full details and a rundown of player appearances will be released at a later date, but here are the basics: FanFest will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature autograph sessions with current and former players and interactive activities for all age groups.
The Astros most likely will be ready to release their full caravan schedule early next week, but here’s a peek:
The caravan (aptly and creatively renamed CAREavan this year) will begin a little later than usual, in order to coordinate it with the baseball dinner and FanFest. The Houston-area caravan stops will take place the week of Feb. 6 and will include stops in Sugar Land/Missouri City, Spring, Cypress and Katy. There will be an autograph signing session at an Academy Sports + Outdoors each day, starting around 6:30 p.m. CT. The lone exception is Friday, Feb. 10, when the Academy signing will start at 3:15 p.m. because of the baseball dinner that evening.
Out-of-town stops will begin Feb. 1 and will include visits to Austin, Brownsville, Harlingen/McAllen, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Corpus Christi.
General manager Jeff Luhnow will appear on Astroline on Wednesday (Jan. 4) at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown. The show, hosted by Milo Hamilton, begins at 7 p.m. CT and will be aired on 740 KTRH and Astros.com.
Hall of Fame announcement
The Hall of Fame will announce its 2012 inductees on Jan. 9, and as was the case last year, our man Jeff Bagwell will likely be the talk of the Internet regardless of whether he gets in.
Bagwell received 41.7 percent his first time on the ballot in 2010-11. Judging from published reports by voters who are making their choices public, Bagwell has received more support this time around. That said, it’s not looking promising that he will receive enough votes to count for 75 percent of the final tally. I think a lot of us agreed a while back that Bagwell’s third time on the ballot was going to be his best chance to be voted in anyway, given his longtime teammate Craig Biggio will appear on the ballot for the first time at the end of 2012 and should have no problem getting in on the first try.
I’ve read the arguments against Bagwell’s HOF candidacy that range from the well-reasoned to the (IMO) completely absurd. That’s what happens when you have more than 500 people giving more than 500 opinions, but it’s good to see more voters are coming around on Bagwell this year. The PED issue continues to follow Bags, as many writers are still taking the guilt-by-association route — as in, he played in the 1990s, so he must be guilty, despite any real evidence that he was actually associated.
Some writers simply think Bagwell was a very good player, but not among the best ever. A friendly reminder to the voters who actually watched Bags play in person 10, maybe 12 times during his 15-year career: there is good baseball played all over the country, played by Hall of Fame-worthy players who spent their entire careers in places other than the Northeast. That their feats weren’t televised nationally on a regular basis doesn’t make them less worthy of being recognized for what they accomplished.
If early returns are any indication, it appears that Barry Larkin will be the lone inductee in Cooperstown in July.
Here’s a fun story about someone you may not have heard of before but is a huge part of the Astros’ operation. Mike Acosta started in the late 1990s as a broadcasting intern and eventually worked his way into a job the Astros created especially for him — Authentication Manager. In this Ken Hoffman column in the Houston Chronicle, Acosta discusses bobblehead technology and why he has so much to be excited about as the Astros prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Major League Baseball in Houston this year.
On this date in Astros history:
January 3, 1962 – A groundbreaking ceremony takes place on the future site of the Astrodome. The ceremony’s attendees, include players from the Colt .45s, city and county officials, fire pistols into the ground to celebrate the historic event.
To receive daily updates of Astros historical moments, follow @astros on Twitter and look for the hash tag #Astros50.
After more than a month of Spring Training, it’s always nice to get some fresh, new faces around camp…especially when those fresh, new faces belong to Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies.
Many moons ago, Brownie and J.D. attended Spring Training for the entire month, like the radio announcers. But in the last several years, their time in Florida has instead centered around the few days before and after the Astros’ Spring Training television broadcasts.
FS Houston usually swings through town to show a game or three on TV, and Brownie and J.D. are here now, preparing for two regionally televised games on Friday in Jupiter against the Marlins and Saturday at home against the Cardinals.
Brownie and J.D. will be in the booth together Friday, but because Saturday’s game will be delivered to both the Houston and St. Louis markets, they’re going with one broadcaster from each team: Brownie, and Cards announcer Al Hrabosky.
Where does that leave J.D.?
“I’m going to be the Tony Siragusa guy,” J.D. said, referring to the retired NFL defensive tackle who is now a sideline analyst for football games shown on the Fox Network. “The sideline guy, hanging out, not contributing a whole lot. But it gives the fans a chance to see the games.”
“Does Tony Siragusa eat when he’s on the air?” Brownie wondered.
“My hunch is that he’s got something squirreled away,” J.D. said of the 340 pound Siragusa. “That’s what I’ll do. I’ll be the guy eating hot dogs in the stands. They can get a shot of me every now and then and I’ll have a different food product every half inning.”
So on Saturday, look for hits from Hunter Pence, strikeouts from Wilton Lopez and a little mustard in J.D.’s well-trimmed goatee.
Watch our full interview with Brownie and J.D. here.
Speaking of our television broadcasters, did you know 2011 is Brownie’s Silver Anniversary? It’s his 25th year as the Astros primary play-by-play voice on television. This season also marks the 15th for Brownie and J.D. as a team.
On that note, Milo Hamilton, the legendary elder statesman on the radio side, will host the second to last Astroline tonight (Wednesday) at 8 ET/7 CT at the ESPN Club on the Disney Boardwalk. His guest will be Nelson Figueroa.
You can listen to the show on 740 KTRH and Astros.com. You can also tweet me questions and comments if you have any…
* Wandy Rodriguez, sidelined with some mild shoulder tendinitis, will throw a side session on Friday and will be re-evaluated before being scheduled for his next start. He is not expected to miss another turn in the rotation, although Brad Mills did not want to reveal the target date he and his staff have for Wandy just yet.
* Angel Sanchez was unavailable for Wednesday’s game after tweaking his back on Tuesday in Sarasota.
* The Astros will enjoy their one and only scheduled off day Thursday before resuming the Grapefruit League schedule on Friday in Jupiter. Lefty J.A. Happ will start that game, while the Marlins will counter with right-hander Ricky Nolasco.
The Astros hosted a special guest during their morning routine on Wednesday: 16-year-old Matt Myers, who plays baseball at Seminole High School in Sanford, FL. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in January. His visit was coordinated by third base coach Dave Clark, who introduced Myers and his family to most of the Astros Spring Training contingent. Myers also threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game.
In case you missed our #TwitterTuesday contest, our winner was @MigM_, who guessed correctly that Jeff Bagwell’s first car was a Mercury Capri (and it was orange. Bags admitted he thought he looked pretty cool in it, but looking back realizes he definitely did not).
On to the photos…
Bagwell, Jamie Quirk, Jason Michaels
Clint Barmes, Bill Hall
J.D. signs autographs
Michaels, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee
As a self-admitted MLB Network junkie, it sure has been a long month without my favorite cable sports station.
The place I rent down here has the bare minimum when it comes to cable programming, so I’m a little limited. After three (three!) Disney channels, TNT, E! and ESPN, the pickings are slim. Sadly, I’m experiencing pangs and withdrawal symptoms without MLB Network — and Bravo, too, come to think of it. Now, not only am I without nightly baseball talk, I also have no way of getting my daily dose of the fantastic train wrecks that are the “Real Housewives.”
Anyhoo, I happy to see Greg Amsinger and his crew at our spring complex early Monday morning, shooting b-roll and stocking up on interviews with about a dozen Astros. While I won’t be able to actually watch Tuesday night’s “30 clubs, 30 days” special featuring your Astros, it was, I suppose, gratifying enough watching the crew gather the content.
A full hour, beginning Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT, will be dedicated to all things Astros. They talked to every prominent player while they were here shooting, and they will also dedicate an entire segment solely to the farm system and the talent that we may see in the big leagues in the not-so-distant future.
“It’s for the hardcore baseball fan,” Amsinger said. “It gives a little bit of everything, not just the guys at the big league level.”
Hopefully you’ll watch, enjoy, and give me a proverbial scouting report. For a full schedule of “30 clubs, 30 days,” click here.
Question from e-mailer Ben:
I was wondering if you could tell me the following distances (miles/hours to get to certain camps.) Most notably Nationals, Braves, Phillies and Yankees.
Answer from your friendly neighborhood blogger:
The Astros travel anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours for Spring Training road trips, which is why the Braves (30 minutes) and not the Red Sox (three hours) are the official Preferred Opponent of Your Spring Training Houston Astros.
Here’s a photo of the entire Grapefruit League schedule, bus-ride version. To calculate the time it takes to get to the road destination, simply subtract the time the bus leaves from 10 a.m., which is the standard arrival time for a 1 p.m. game (4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, 3 for a 6 p.m. game. You get the drift).
So, if the Astros are traveling to Lakeland to play the Tigers, that trip is an hour, so the bus will leave from the ballpark at 9 a.m.
I don’t know the exact mileage, but you can find that easy enough on Google maps. Enter “Kissimmee” and the road city and it will include how many miles it takes, in addition to directions.
Why is this man smiling?
I can’t tell you yet, but you’ll find out soon enough when we reveal our #TwitterTuesday question on, well, Tuesday.
Jeff Bagwell is the topic of this week’s Google-free trivia question and we’ll tweet that question exactly at noon CT. The first correct answer wins two free tickets to any Astros game this season with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season.
The exercise is simple — I tweet the question, you tweet your guesses back to me. When we receive the first correct answer, we’ll run a video of Bags giving his answer. Soon after that, we’ll also type it out on Twitter, for those who might not be able to access the video.
(Bagwell is here until Friday, by the way.)
The Oklahoma City RedHawks have announced that tickets for the March 29 exhibition game against the Astros will go on sale to the general public beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday (March 15).
Remaining availability is limited, and seats are expected to sell quickly. For the Astros-RedHawks exhibition, Club seats are $20, Field and Bleacher seats are $16, Third Base Terrace seats are $12 and Lawn seating is $10. First pitch on March 29 is scheduled for
6:30 p.m., with gates opening at 5:00 p.m., the same time Astros batting practice is scheduled to begin.
Tickets are available for purchase by phone at (405) 218-1000, online at http://www.okcredhawks.com, or by visiting the RedHawks ticket office on Mickey Mantle Drive in Bricktown.