Results tagged ‘ Jeff Bagwell ’

Astros are on MLB Network, and Bagwell’s on Twitter (Tuesday only).

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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.

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“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.
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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).

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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.

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Why is this man smiling?

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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.)

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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.

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Mix in a salad: Astros focus on nutrition.

Today’s ballplayers are arguably more fit and health-conscious than players of any era that preceded them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a little friendly supervision in the nutrition department every now and again.

The Astros have hired Sports Dietician Consultant Roberta Anding to help players maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the season, which isn’t always such an easy thing once they reach the big league level.

Anding, the Sports Dietician for the Houston Texans and Rice University (where she’s also a professor), met with the entire squad before workouts Tuesday morning and stressed the importance of eating well, staying hydrated and staying away from supplements that could contain, unknowingly, banned substances.

In addition to working in healthier food choices inside the clubhouse, Anding will also work with Continental to come up with better options when the club is flying from city to city. In the past, players were greeted with dozens of food items as soon as they walked onto the plane, from the healthy (bananas, apples, oranges) to the relatively harmless (cheese and crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Lunchables), to the sinful (Snickers bars, Dove ice cream bars, Hershey bars).

Additionally, “appetizers” served before the main meal were often fried and accompanied by creamy sauces.

The Astros aren’t looking to overhaul the entire operation in one fell swoop. Rather, they want to slowly work in healthier choices that players can adapt to seamlessly without feeling like they’re missing anything. Although today’s athletes are well-conditioned and disciplined, temptation is everywhere.

(Speaking from personal experience, sometimes it’s hard to reach for the apples when you’ve got Peanut M&Ms staring you in the face.)

Meanwhile, Anding hopes to add a Smoothie station to the clubhouse kitchen. She also encouraged players to work in a healthy diet with their strength and conditioning routine and to stay hydrated.

“Fruits and vegetables are the water you chew,” she said, adding that dehydration can affect performance by “15 to 20 percent.”

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A lot of you have asked how many Major League players are on Twitter. Thanks to @MLB, we can view the entire growing list with one click of the mouse. Here’s the most recently updated verified list, including the Twitter profiles of a couple of Astros players: @HunterPence9 and @hyphen18.

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The first Florida-based Astroline will take place on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/7 CT, live from the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk. Hosted by Milo Hamilton, this week’s Astroline show will feature manager Brad Mills. The show can be heard on KTRH 740 and Astros.com.
You can tweet me your questions for the skipper at http://www.twitter.com/alysonfooter.

Astroline will air four times this spring: March 2, 9, 16 and 23.

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Speaking of Milo, a few weeks ago, he was inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. In perfect double-play form, he also picked up the Pinky Primrose Long and Meritorious award.

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Notables: Fernando Abad was sent home Tuesday morning after the lefty checked in with a temperature of 101. Wesley Wright took his place took his place on the projected list of pitchers scheduled to appear during the home opener with the Braves. …congratulations to @dailyfudgeround for giving the correct answer during the second #TwitterTuesday contest. The question: What was Bill Hall’s favorite musician when he was a kid? Answer: Tupac Shakur. #TwitterTuesday takes place every Tuesday at noon CT throughout the spring and asks a question about a player that cannot be found through an online search. The first person to tweet the correct answer wins two free tickets to any home game this season, with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season. …the Astros will play two games on the road Wednesday — one in Lakeland (Tigers), one in Tampa (Yankees). J.A. Happ will start in Lakeland, Bud Norris in Tampa.

Some pregame images from the home opener:

Hanging on the field, waiting for the anthem…Bogusevic, Johnson…

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…etc….
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Brett Myers warms up

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Jeff Bagwell, in town for a few days, strides to the dugout

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Morning roundup: Bagwell debuts on ‘Grey’s’, single game tickets on sale, and Bobblehead news.

The only connection that ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy has to our fair city of Houston, that I can think of, is Chandra Wilson, who plays the outspoken yet lovable Dr. Miranda Bailey and has been a staple of the show since it first aired six years ago. She grew up in Houston, attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and performed at a very young age at the Theatre Under the Stars.

I have no idea if Wilson’s allegiance to her hometown had anything to do with Jeff Bagwell getting a mention on last night’s show — in fact, it’s highly doubtful, considering Wilson is not one of the show’s writers — but it was pretty cool nonetheless.

I was well on my way to falling into a wonderful Ambien-induced slumber when the scene aired, so forgive me if the details are fuzzy. Scene: two guys, both of whom seemed to be fighting over Teddy, got to talking amongst themselves. One of them had briefly pitched in the Major Leagues. Guy 1 to Guy 2: “Did you ever pitch to Jeff Bagwell?” Guy 2 to Guy 1: “Once. It wasn’t pretty.”

That would be the second time the Astros have been mentioned on a hit medical drama. Remember back in 1997 when “ER” aired a live episode? The Astros-Cubs game was playing in the background. It happened to be the night the Astros clinched the division, and if I remember correctly, Brad Ausmus’s home run was playing when the cameras panned on the television.

So, even if our guys are sometimes ignored on the national sports landscape, it’s nice to know we’ve got the prime time, hospital-themed drama market cornered.

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Single-game tickets go on sale today at 9 a.m. CT and can be purchased online at astros.com, at the Astros Spanish website, astrosdehouston.com, at the ballpark Box Office on Texas Avenue or by phone toll free at 1-877-9ASTROS (1-877-927-8767).

You can find a full list of promotional giveaways on astros.com, but here are a few highlights to whet your whistle:

On Opening Day (April 8), the Astros are giving away 2011 schedule magnets to the first 40,000 fans. Michael Bourn Bobbleheads — celebrating his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award — will be given away on April 10.

The Astros are hosting two Dog Days this year: April 17, and Sept. 9. Fans can enjoy the game with their canine friends in designated areas of the ballpark and partake in in a pregame “Pooch Parade.” (Complete with real-live poopie picker-uppers.)

The Astros will again “Play Green” in 2011 and will celebrate Green Week April. 26-May 1. A reusable grocery tote bag will be given away on April 28, followed by a Play Green Bobblehead featuring Play Green ambassador Hunter Pence (April 30).

In early May, the Astros will celebrate Pink in the Park Week (May 9-15) as the ballclub raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research. A variety of events, including a Ladies Golf Tournament, Brunch and Bazaar, Ladies Night (May 13) and Wine and Cheese Night (May 14) are planned. Giveaways that weekend include a Pink Tote Bag (May 13), and a bobblehead featuring Chris Johnson with a pink bat (May 14), which has become synonymous with the league-wide commitment to women’s health and breast cancer research.

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FanFest will take place Opening weekend, April 8-10. We’ll reveal the details as it gets closer, but among the highlights will be current player and alumni autograph sessions, Talkin’ Baseball seminars and silent auctions.

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On to today’s links:

MLB.com

In Brian McTaggart’s notes roundup, we learn that Ryan Rowland-Smith has chucked his signature glasses in favor of contact lenses and that Jeff Keppinger hopes to get his walking boot off by next week.

Tags also features a brash and bold Brett Myers, now a senior member of the starting staff.

Chronicle

Justice: Jason Castro gets high praise from coaches

I thought it was interesting, but not at all surprising, that it was pitching coach Brad Arnsberg who first took Castro into the video room to study opposing hitters and also familiarize himself with his battery partner for that day’s game. Arnie spends hours studying tape in that video room and apparently pitchers aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits.

Zachary Levine tackles Bud’s stomach flu, Pence’s day in Arizona and prospect Delino DeShields Jr.’s pending day in court.

Ringing in 2011 with caravans, Astroline and a Seinfeldian airing of the grievances.

Happy New Year, Astros fans…now that we’ve all flipped the calendar to 2011, the offseason is, for all intents and purposes. over. We’re back in baseball mode, where caravans, awards banquets and…oh yea…that little pending Hall of Fame announcement kick off what should be a busy month of Astros activity.

A few changes have been made to the initial caravan schedule we posted before the holiday break. A lot of you have asked who will replace Matt Lindstrom during the Houston-area visits Thursday, Jan. 13 through Saturday, Jan. 15. Rather than replacements, it looks like there will instead be a slight shuffling of players. Bill Hall has been added to the visit to the Academy Sports + Outdoors in Katy on Jan. 14, while Chris Johnson has been scratched from that visit and added to the Central Texas trip (Austin and San Antonio) Jan. 18-20.

(Additional note: Hall is now confirmed for Jan. 15 in College Station/Cypress.) 

Additionally, Nelson Figueroa will accompany the Astros to Temple and will appear at two public autograph signings on Jan. 25.

An updated schedule can be found here, but please keep in mind this is still TENTATIVE and more changes could be made. The venues for the visits, however, will remain unchanged.

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Astroline

After a two-week holiday hiatus, Astroline, the Astros’ weekly offseason radio show, will resume on Wednesday (Jan. 5) — same time (7 p.m. CT), same place (Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown). Aired on KTRH and Astros.com, this week’s Astroline show will feature host Milo Hamilton and outfielder Brian Bogusevic.

We’ll be there tweeting, of course, so send me your questions for Bogusevic and we’ll read/answer them on the air.

Future Astroline guests have yet to be booked but we will convey the information as soon as we know.

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Applause, applause

0103_wilton.jpgCongratulations to relief pitcher Wilton Lopez, who was selected by the Nicaraguan Sports Writers Association as the Professional Athlete of 2010. He was chosen ahead of athletes such as world boxing champion Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez and pitcher Vicente Padilla.

Lopez (shown above, receiving his Pitcher of the Year plaque from the Corpus Christi Hooks during Spring Training last year) will be honored at an awards dinner on Feb. 5 at the Holiday Inn hotel in Managua.

The banquet will be attended by the President of the Republic. Also expected to attend is the most successful Nicaraguan-born player in big league history, former pitcher Dennis Martinez, who played 23 years in the Majors.

Incidentally, Lopez is only one of eight players from Nicaragua to ever have appeared in a Major League game. Padilla and shortstop Everth Cabrera are the only other active Nicaraguans in the Majors.

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A Festivus for the rest of us

In addition to many traditional holiday parties I enjoyed over our eight-day break, I attended an annual Festivus celebration, which included (but wasn’t limited to) re-gifting, a Festivus pole and a scrumptious array of black and white cookies.

Festivus, as most of you over the age of 27-ish probably remember, is a fictional holiday made up by George Costanza’s cranky and socially inept dad on the hit 1990s show “Seinfeld.” The holiday offers the practice of “Airing of Grievances,” which occurs during the Festivus meal and allows each person to tell everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year. It’s perfect for the typical American dysfunctional family, which is why it worked so well for the Costanzas.

It works well in baseball circles, too, come to think of it. And all of this Hall of Fame chatter in the last week has my head spinning. So, to steal a very famous line from the cantankerous Frank Costanza, I say to select media outlets, “I’VE GOT A LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH YOU PEOPLE!”

No, not for the reasons you might think. Yes, I’ve read the same stuff you’ve read. I’ve pored over columns and blogs and tweets of dozens of writers splattered all over the country and clearly, there are a lot of voters who are not voting for Jeff Bagwell. They have their reasons, ranging from their suspicion of PED use to simply not being overly impressed with the man’s 15-year career.

Whatever. They vote, I don’t, and they’re entitled to their opinions (although I strongly disagree with the majority of the dissenters). Free speech is alive and well in this country, thankfully, so have at it.

But for crying out loud, can they not find better pictures to illustrate their pointed opinions about our lovable former first baseman?

I mean, really. Are the columns more complete if Bagwell is shown looking sad? Forlorn? Confused? Irritated? Defeated? Tired? Every time I open a story on the ‘net, there he is, looking, well, not so great.

So in honor of our pal Bags, here’s my contribution to the voting process (since I’m not involved in any way, shape or form with the voting process): a nice, happy shot of him.

Enjoy…and here’s to a great 2011…

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Why Bill Hall over Jeff Keppinger?

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Wade and Hall toured the field shortly after Hall’s signing was officially announced on Monday.  

Ed Wade set out this offseason to upgrade at second base or shortstop or both, hoping to find more run production from two spots that produced, combined, exactly nine home runs in 2010.

You might have looked at Jeff Keppinger’s numbers last year — .288, 34 doubles, 59 RBIs, and wondered why they would want to swap him out with Hall, who hit for a lower average — .247 — and had fewer RBIs (46). It comes down to power — the Astros need more pop in their lineup, and they feel Clint Barmes and Hall have more to offer than Tommy Manzella and Keppinger. Hall slugged .456 last year, as compared with Keppinger’s .393, and that, ultimately, is what prompted Wade to make this move.

“Bill brings some additional offensive punch to our lineup,” Wade said. “He hit 18 home runs in limited at-bats last year with Boston and we think our offense is enhanced with the run-producing potential that both he and Clint Barmes can provide. Bill’s defensive versatility allows us to consider using him a number of different ways, but our plan is to have him play second base regularly. Jeff Keppinger has done a very solid job for us over the past two seasons and with his versatility, we believe there will be plenty of at-bats to go around.”

Meanwhile, Hall, who has played everywhere in the infield (minus first base) and all three outfield positions during his nine-year career, is happy to be targeted for just one position in 2011 and said that opportunity gave the Astros an edge over his other suitors.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of ability to play other positions and I do take pride in my defense,” Hall said. “I don’t consider myself a utility player. I consider myself a baseball player. I am happy with the opportunity to play one position. I always said, I’m really good at lots of positions, but if I concentrate on one, hopefully I can be great.”

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On another note, we’re only a couple weeks away from finding out if Jeff Bagwell will be voted into the Hall of Fame. I’m sticking to my earlier prediction that he’ll need more than one time on the ballot to be elected, but it’s been interesting to read about how voters feel about Bagwell and some of the other players eligible for election this year.

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I ran across one particularly interesting one by Jeff Fletcher, Sr. MLB writer for Fanhouse. As I read it, it kind of cemented my earlier argument that the voting system is somewhat flawed. This is not remotely a criticism of Mr. Fletcher, who, by the way, feels Bagwell is Hall of Fame worthy. But one paragraph, meant to illustrate Mr. Fletcher’s initial pursuit to figure out whether Bagwell indeed was a Hall of Famer, stood out to me:

Did anyone ever go to the ballpark just because he wanted to see Bagwell play? Did you ever read the phrase “future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell” when he was playing?

The answer to question one: Yes. The answer to question two: Yes.

Yes, yes, yes.

But if you didn’t live in Houston, and weren’t surrounded by Astros baseball, and had only minimal exposure to this team, how could you possibly know that?

Mr. Fletcher looked at Bagwell’s raw stats and saw where Bagwell stacked up among the greatest players in history, and that was enough to put the first baseman on his Hall of Fame ballot. Not every voter will feel the same way when they look at Bagwell’s stats — at least not this year — but considering where the Astros fit into the national scope during Bagwell’s 15 years in the big leagues, I wonder how much that lack of exposure hurts him now.

In other words, the Astros were a really good team, for a really long time, and were largely ignored elsewhere in the country. If Bagwell had played in New York or Boston, would we even be discussing this? Or would he be considered a Hall of Fame no-doubter?

Is Jeff Bagwell a Hall of Famer? Indeedy.

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Anyone who on a daily basis watched Jeff Bagwell play during his 15-year career has no doubt that he is worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

And I truly believe he’ll get there — eventually. But on the first ballot? Probably not.

Before you fire off angry emails filled with statistical data to back up the argument that he is a first-ballot candidate, let me say that I totally, completely, 100 percent agree with you. He is one of the best first basemen ever to play the game, and he played for a long time, and his numbers are tremendous. That, by definition, merits Hall of Fame election. And if he’s a Hall of Famer, then logically, he would be elected this year by the more than 500 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who recently received their ballots. But that isn’t how it works.

Most players, save for the ultra elite, have to wait more than one try to be inducted. And I doubt Bags will be the exception to the rule.

It’s too bad, really, because this notion that you’re a Hall of Famer but have to wait a while to be recognized as such is just silliness. Is there a separate category — “Hall of Famer, at some point, when we decide it’s time”? To me, it’s black and white. You are either a Hall of Famer, or you’re not.

And in Bagwell’s case, he most certainly is. I’m going to list some of the stat-based criteria that support this argument. But then, we’ll look at this from the perspective of what Bagwell did other than hit a lot of home runs and pile on the RBIs. More on that later.

First, the bare facts:

*His .948 career OPS ranks 22nd in Major League history and 10th among right-handed hitters. Four of the nine right-handed hitters ranked ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, while four others are not yet eligible for induction.

*His .408 career on-base percentage ranks 15th all-time among right-handed hitters and ninth all-time among first basemen (third among right-handed first basemen).

*He is the only first baseman in history and one of 12 players all-time to reach 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases.

*He is one of five players in history to collect 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001). Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols are the others.

*He is the only player in history to record 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored and 100 walks in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001).

Clearly, not only was he the best first baseman of his era, he was one of the best, ever, in history.

But Bagwell wasn’t just a force at the plate. I doubt you could find a smarter all-around ballplayer, one who played his position and ran the bases flawlessly, one who had instincts so keen that it seemed as if he knew what was going to happen 10 seconds before it did. He perfected the 3-6-3 double play, knew exactly when and how quickly to run up on bunters (who would subsequently be nailed at second base after a flawless throw from Bagwell) and rarely received a throw in the dirt from a fellow infielder that he couldn’t pick.

I asked him once why he wasn’t given more credit for his defense. His reasoning: “I’m not left-handed.” So is that to mean that just because left-handed first basemen have an easier time fielding their position, that automatically makes them better? Of course not.

He downplayed his baserunning by stating simply, “I’m not that fast.” He had much better speed than he gave himself credit for, and with over 200 stolen bases, he was clearly doing something right. That’s where the instincts came into play. His timing was flawless. He could read a pitcher better than anyone. Heck, he stole home three times in his career, which is three more times than most players have on their resume. Quite simply, Bagwell was nearly perfect as a ballplayer.

You know a player was good when you can distinctly remember the rare time that he wasn’t. I recall one game in St. Louis in 2004 when, with one out, Bagwell took off from first base on a fly ball. He was halfway to third when the ball was caught by the center fielder and thrown to first for the easy double-up. After the game, I said to him, “I’m so flabbergasted I don’t even know how to phrase the question.” Bags: “I’ll make it easy for you. Obviously, I’m a complete moron.”

I can’t count the number of times I’d watch Bagwell play and think to myself “this is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen.” Over 14 seasons, there were three players who repeatedly floored me with their abilities: Roy Oswalt when he pitched, Adam Everett when he played shortstop, and Bagwell, when he did anything.

So yes, if you watched Bagwell play every day, you grew to appreciate just how superior of a ballplayer he was. A Hall of Famer in every way imaginable. But a few elements will work against him this year: His 449 homers falls short of the 500 that usually guarantees first-ballot election; his shoulder injury ended his career prematurely and prevented him from going over the top in some of the offensive categories; and most of the voters did not watch him play on a regular basis and therefore will judge him only on the offensive numbers. He was so much more than a hitter, but, in some cases, that is not a point of interest when it comes to election time.

And, simply, some voters just like to make players wait. First-ballot Hall of Fame election is reserved for those players whose numbers are so gaudy, so off the charts, that you don’t even need to have watched them play a single game to know there were few — if any — who were better.

Bags was great. Really great. Hall-of-Fame great. But in terms of waiting for that call to Cooperstown, we might have to wait a while longer. And I really, really hope I’m wrong on this one.

(I also think there are enough writers out there who would be tickled pink to have Bagwell and Craig Biggio go in together. Biggio will be eligible in two years, which will be Bagwell’s third time on the ballot.)

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Odds and ends as we shift our focus from eating too much pumpkin mousse cheesecake during Thanksgiving to eating too much at the office Christmas party…

Hunter Pence All-Star Camp 2010

Your favorite right fielder is hosting a baseball camp for kids ages 6-18 that will offer one day of training with Pence and other professional ballplayers. Campers can participate on either Dec. 18 or 19 and the cost is $200.

For that cost, you will receive:

HP Play Dri Reebok Camp Tee
HP Reebok Drawstring bag
HP 2010 Camp Bracelet
Instructors and Sponsorship Program
Personalized autograph and picture
Autographs from all instructors

To sign up, visit hunterpencebaseball.com or call 713-254-7520.

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Speaking of Pence, he and several other Astros were in the weight room bright and early Tuesday morning, as they are every Monday through Thursday throughout most of the offseason.

Under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman, the crew — Pence, Humberto Quintero, Wandy Rodriguez, Brian Bogusevic and Ross Seaton – spent most of the morning hitting the weights, the exercise bikes, and several other pieces of workout equipment that I don’t know the names of. In other words, it might be the offseason, but the players are still working. (And more will join the morning routine in the near future, including Bud Norris, Chris Johnson, Jason Bourgeois and Brett Wallace.)

Here’s proof:

Bogusevic, Coleman, Wandy

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Pence, Seaton

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Wandy, Coleman, Pence

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Quintero, Wandy

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Wandy

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And finally, here’s an updated photo of the big empty hole formerly known as the Astros dearly departed (and outdated) scoreboard. The new version will be delivered later in December and will be installed, hopefully, in January. Stay tuned…

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Some thoughts on hitting coaches as we wait for the Astros to hire one.

Now that the Astros have had a hitting coach — albeit a temporary one — who was once one of the best hitters in the game and is considered by many to be Hall of Fame worthy, it’s easy to assume that the next one needs to bring the same type of resume of greatness as a player.

That is simply not the case.

Jeff Bagwell’s .297 average and 449 home runs had absolutely nothing to do with his ability to be a good coach. He succeeded in the role for the exact reasons we thought he would — he’s smart, he understands both the mental and mechanical side of hitting, and he relates well with today’s players, possibly better than anyone who’s ever coached in the Astros’ organization.

Bagwell came here and immediately worked on getting the hitters to relax, to have good at-bats, to clear their heads and stop analyzing every motion of every at-bat during hours spent in the video room. Many of the hitters did enjoy quite a turnaround after he took over as coach, which is a credit, on some levels, to Bagwell. On other levels — and Bags will be the first one to acknowledge this — the hitting came around because inevitably, the good hitters who spent much of the season being bad hitters eventually became good hitters again. That’s what happens over a six-month season. Things even out. (It’s that whole “law of averages” thing we talk about so much in this game.)

So as disappointing as it was to hear that Bagwell isn’t coming back, it’s important not to get caught up in thinking the Astros have to find another Hall of Fame worthy player to take over. The Astros are in the process of searching for a new hitting coach, and I would expect the list to consist of a blend of candidates, from those with impressive resumes as players to those who have experience in the coaching ranks. I’d also expect their statistics as players to have no bearing on their chances to land the hitting coach job, because, quite frankly, how they hit as players just doesn’t matter.

Take for example, hypothetically, Brad Ausmus (who, for the record, is most definitely NOT a candidate for the Astros’ hitting coach job). Over an 18-year Major League career, he proved to be a really, really…mediocre hitter. Not terrible and not terrific. Over 1,971 games, he posted a .251 average (average being the operative word).

Does this mean he had less of an understanding of hitting than Bagwell? Of course not. Ausmus knew what he needed to do at the plate. He just didn’t have the same physical gifts as some of his contemporaries to parlay the knowledge into results we saw from the Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman. I would feel entirely comfortable with him as a hitting coach (although, as a former catcher, I think he’d make a better pitching coach).

There are instances, in fact, where the really great players don’t make very good coaches because often, things just came naturally to them and they can’t relate, or understand, players who cannot simply roll out of bed and hit .300.

Often, it’s the guy who spent 10 years in the Minor Leagues and had the proverbial “cup of coffee” in the big leagues who makes a great coach, because he was never able to let his guard down, even for a minute, as he fought for playing time.

A hitting coach needs to be able to detect flaws and, more importantly, understand what each hitter, as an individual, has to do to get the absolute most out of his ability. I do like that Bagwell steered away from the video room and didn’t try to overload his guys with too much information. So much of being a good hitter is being able to deal with failure. I have seen many players over-think themselves right out of the game, leaving their raw ability largely untapped because they were too busy worrying.

Hopefully, the next coach will bring with him a to-do list consisting of one item: “Keep it simple, stupid.”

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With the help of our #astrostweeps, we threw together a last-minute party Thursday night at Lucky’s Pub to watch Game 2 of the World Series. The group was united in rooting for the Rangers, even through the late-game bullpen meltdown. Disappointing result to the game, but losing is a lot easier to take when surrounded by lively conversation, piping hot pizza and cold beverages. Thanks to @xtinedp, @itsallaboutde @lnzy04 @EdBashinski and Jesse Gonzalez for the good times…

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And in closing, it’s time to dip back into the photo vault, where we found some fun shots of our Astros of yesteryear going airborne.

Adam Everett

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Bagwell

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Biggio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2. Call Weezie. We’re movin’ on up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rinse, repeat.

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

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

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

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

New:

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Old:

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3. Miscellany:

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

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

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

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

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

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From the photo vault:

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


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Aluminum bats, Minor League MVPs, and…Bagwell takes BP?

It’s never fun to be one of the many teams NOT headed for the playoffs the final weekend of the regular season, but still, those final moments of a 162-game grind when you know the season is coming to an end can be highly entertaining. While it’s still business as usual in terms of preparing for the game, it is also not uncommon for oddities to pop up here and there in the hours leading up to gametime.

Take “early BP” for example. Normally, early BP involves some of the younger hitters who might not be getting enough at-bats or veteran players who are struggling. On Saturday, a few folks took early BP, including…hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

Arnsberg had been out early with his son, Kyle, a sophomore at the Arizona State University. Kyle was hitting with the college-issued aluminum bat, and pretty soon, so was Pops. Bagwell took a few swings, too (but I think he might have used a wooden bat).

That wasn’t the end of the aluminum bat cameo. It reappeared a few minutes later when the veteran hitters took BP, and while we all know why Major League players don’t use aluminum bats, Saturday’s session provided a nice reminder.

Hunter Pence hit the light fixture that extends a couple hundred feet above the facade in left center. Carlos Lee came thiiiiiiiiiis close to hitting Drayton McLane’s office window on the fifth floor of Union Station. A couple of balls left the ballpark completely.

It’s been a long year, and while everyone’s experiencing some level of fatigue, it was nice to see the players having a little fun as the season winds down.

We captured images of a lot of laughs, and who can’t use a few chuckles after 160 games (194, if you count Spring Training)?

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Geoff Blum.

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Jason Michaels was the first to hit with the aluminum bat.

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This is Michaels pointing to Union Station and making sure Carlos realized how close he was to actually hitting Drayton’s window. JMike swears he saw Drayton watching from his office.

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Pence takes some aluminum hacks…

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And tips his cap to…well, no one, since it was before gates open. But he was proud of hitting the light fixture.

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Humberto Quintero wasn’t part of the aluminum hitting group, but he’s always good for a pregame laugh or too anyway. 

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The pregame ceremony on Saturday was dedicated to the best and brightest of the Astros’ Minor League system: Pitcher of the Year Jordan Lyles, Player of the Year J.D. Martinez and Player Development Man of the Year, Gulf Coast League manager Omar Lopez. The three also enjoyed an up-close view of batting practice, although they looked slightly out of place being so well-dressed among a bunch of polyester-clad ballplayers. Enjoy the sights.

Lyles and Martinez are greeted at the cage by Bagwell and Co.  

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Astros give contract extensions to five coaches and hope to make it six. Your move, Bags.

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In the 13 years I’ve been around the Houston Astros, I cannot remember a coach ever getting a contract that extended beyond a one-year deal. I checked with a couple of people who have been here a lot longer than me — Bill Brown and Greg Lucas, to name two — and they, too, could not recall any instances from the past where a coach was granted a multi-year deal.

Even Ed Wade, who has hired plenty of managers and coaches over the years as the general manager for the Phillies and Astros, can’t remember an entire coaching staff being offered two-year contract extensions at one time. In other words, multi-year deals for coaches are saved for a very select group and don’t happen very often. That the Astros handed out five such extensions in one day speaks volumes about the job the staff has done this year and the continuity the club is creating as it attempts to separate itself from a playoff drought that is now going on five years.

Five extensions were awarded, but the Astros are hoping to add a sixth. The decision rests solely with Jeff Bagwell, who was offered the same two-year extension as his colleagues but is still undecided on whether he wants to continue as the hitting coach. He’s still torn between the job and his family, and while he has enjoyed his time in his current role, I’d still put his odds of returning next year at no greater than 50-50.

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Wade is hoping Bagwell takes the extension but understands there’s a chance he won’t. When Bagwell took the job in July, he gave no false pretenses — this was absolutely an interim position, a trial period of sorts where Bagwell would find out if a) he was good at the job and b) wanted to make this a more permanent gig.

“You have to be all in,” Wade said. “This isn’t a job where you can dabble.”

And that’s the sticking point. Either Bagwell commits a minimum of 7 1/2 months (8 1/2 if the Astros make the playoffs) of his calendar year to the Astros, or he commits 12 months to his kids, ages nine and seven. He won’t let this linger through the winter, and I would expect a decision to come within a couple weeks of the season’s end.

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I was sincerely glad to hear that the rest of the coaches were given such generous extensions. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you might recall me talking a few weeks ago about what an eye-opening experience it’s been to watch this group work this year. It’s not that the Astros haven’t had good coaches in the past — they have — and maybe it’s because I’m simply paying more attention to this group this year, but I can’t remember a staff that was quite this on the ball and dedicated, both with their time and their knowledge.

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After the coaching shakeup last winter, I said that the Astros took the field 162 times in 2009 and rarely were they the most prepared team on the field.

This season has been a complete 180. The Astros certainly didn’t win every game — heck, they didn’t even win most of their games. But as far as scouring scouting reports and spray charts, watching video and being completely prepared for any and all scenarios that might come down the pike during a game, these coaches were always two steps ahead. Good for them.

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The extensions of the coaches naturally prompts the question, “What about Brad Mills?” Mills is signed through 2011 with an option for ’12, and I would look for the option to be picked up soon after the season ends. Wade said he’ll sit down with Mills and discuss the manager’s “situation,” but this is all a formality. There is no way Mills will have to start next season waiting for the option to be picked up, and it wouldn’t shock me if he was extended far beyond ’12 in the very near future. Said Wade: “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve hired my last manager.” (And no, that doesn’t mean Wade is going anywhere, save the snarky responses.)

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Keeping the coaching staff intact through ’12 at the very minimum is all part of the grand plan to create continuity, which contributes to an organizational flow that affects every level, from the big leagues to the lowest levels of the Minors. Mills’ first order of business as soon as the season ends is to go to Florida to watch the Astros prospects in Instructional League, in an effort to familiarize himself with the younger talent coming through the system.

It’s important for Mills to be able to manage the 25 players he has at any given time on the big league level, but it’s also extremely helpful to be familiar with the kids coming up through the system. Soon, he’ll have those players in Spring Training, including many who will be sent to Minor League camp but will eventually appear at the big league level. This all goes back to continuity — having one group of leaders, all on the same proverbial page, teaching one overall organizational philosophy.

When Fred Nelson, the new farm director, and Dick Scott, the club’s Minor League Field Coordinator, search for the club’s next Triple-A and Double-A managers, they will stress the importance (especially at the Triple-A level) of creating the same atmosphere in the Minors so that the transition to the big leagues will be as seamless as possible.

Winning teams are built from the ground up, and the Astros certainly appear to be preparing for long-term health, from top to bottom. In April and May, the Astros appeared to be years away from being legitimate contenders. Their second-half turnaround suggests that a winning season could happen sooner than we thought. Creating stability at the very top, in the leadership positions, is a good place to set the foundation.

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Enough preaching. Picture time:

This clipboard that hangs on the cage during batting practice and spells out who’s hitting in what group and who is the designated BP pitcher.    

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When you see players gathered in the dugout before BP talking amongst themselves, there’s a pretty good chance they’re talking about fantasy football. The more animated players are usually the ones faring the best in the standings.

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Catching up with Brian Esposito, Jason Castro.

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Humberto Quintero, Michael Bourn.

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From the photo vault

We take you back to 2001, when the Astros clinched the NL Central division on the final day of the season in St. Louis.

First up: Octavio Dotel and Jose Cruz, with Moises Alou peeking over in the background.

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Also, that same night…third baseman Chris Truby and shortstop Adam Everett, both in the very, very, very early stages of their careers.

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