Results tagged ‘ Lance Berkman ’

On Puma, Kaz and Kepp.

The only hope the Astros had on Sunday regarding Lance Berkman was that their star first baseman make it through his final rehab game at Round Rock without his knee giving him problems, such as the swelling that has caused at least two setbacks in the past. Offensive results, while mildly significant, were nowhere near the most important element to this game.

Puma ended up making everyone happy. The fans at Round Rock were treated to two doubles and a home run, and the Astros received the very good news that Puma moved around at full speed, performed at a peak level and experienced no new issues.

Assuming he’s still feeling the same in the next 36 hours, Berkman will be activated from the disabled list in time to play Tuesday when the Astros open a nine-game homestand. A corresponding roster move will likely be made sometime Tuesday morning or afternoon.

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Second base conundrum

When Brad Mills granted playing time to Jeff Keppinger during the first few games of the season, his intention was to simply give a few at-bats to a bench player, one who happens to hit left-handers very well (the Astros faced several lefties during their first two series).

But Keppinger’s bat caught fire, regardless of who he was facing, and that made it difficult — impossible, really — to take him out of the lineup. Given the Astros’ 0-8 start to the season, there was no way to justifiably sit the one hitter who didn’t go into a complete tailspin as soon as the exhibition season came to a close.

Twelve games into the season, Keppinger is giving Mills no reason to bench him. His early success is good for the team but bad for Kazuo Matsui, who appears to be in the process of losing his status as a starting second baseman.

(Several of you have asked if Matsui can be sent to the Minor Leagues when Puma comes off the DL. The answer is no — a player with more than five years in the big leagues cannot be sent down without the player consenting first. Players never would consent, so it’s a moot point.)

During his pregame session with the media, Mills declined to anoint either Matsui or Keppinger as he regular season baseman long-term — yet. He did, however, call Matsui into his office in St. Louis to talk to him about the situation, so I think, reading between lines, we can expect to see a lot more of Keppinger in the immediate future.

It’s the right thing to do for the sake of the team and when you’re 3-9, it would make no sense to play the lesser player just because he was signed as a starter and the other was, upon trading for him, viewed as a bench guy. Ed Wade gave Mills complete autonomy with decisions surrounding Matsui — meaning, Mills will do what’s best for the on-field health of the team without worrying about how much one player is being paid over the other.

Asked if Matsui was working into a utility role, Mills said this: “I don’t want to label it that way yet. We’re still just a dozen games into the season. Let’s wait and see how everything plays out. I’m congnizant to get (Matsui) out there and get him on a roll. It’s tough, but it’s tough to not get the other guy (Keppinger) out there.

“Coming out of Spring Training, I was trying to get Keppinger at-bats in first week of the season. He did so well, the other at-bats were kind of silent. As we kept him in there, he continued to play really well.”

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From the Astros’ clubhouse following their comeback win over the Cubs Sunday:

Mills:

“This is the way to go into the off day and be rewarded for it. It was a big win. It was nice that these guys can see they can win these.”

On Brian Moehler pitching an inning after a long layoff:

“It was good to get him an inning. It just shows you the pro that he is. He stays ready  every day and we were able to get him an inning and it ended up being a big inning for us.”

Jason Michaels, who led off the 10th with a double and scored the winning run:
“The Cubs, the Cardinals…these guys are ‘supposed to’ win the division. These games are always going to be good. You take two of three, enjoy it and go back to work Tuesday.”

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Pictures from the final day in Chicago:

Everyone, including Michael Bourn and Tim Byrdak, is loose during batting practice.

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Bud Norris, Brian Moehler.

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Lee, Pence, Bourn

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Myers and Pence have a quiet conversation in the dugout before BP.

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Scoreboard at Wrigley…the flags indicated the wind was blowing in. The final score did as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant PumaOneLiner.

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

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

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

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

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

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Lloyd, Lloyd all null and void

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

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

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

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

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Thursday roundup: injury updates, Bagwell recap, and photos.

Notes from a Thursday morning in Clearwater, where the Astros and Phillies met for the first time this spring:

* Manager Brad Mills said he expects Michael Bourn to be the first of the Astros’ injured players to return to action. We could see Bourn, who’s been out with an oblique strain, play as early as this weekend.

* Mills said Lance Berkman is “feeling good. He had a real good day (Wednesday).” Mills identified this weekend as being a crucial time for the Puma, “to see if the knee keeps not swelling as much. This weekend is going to tell us a lot.” Berkman has been sidelined for most of Spring Training after undergoing a knee procedure.

* Brett Myers said he “felt something” –a  pinch in the groin area — while covering first during his start against the Phillies on Thursday. He threw one warmup pitch and walked off the mound, figuring it made no sense to push himself and risk aggravating what he characterized as a minor injury.

“I didn’t want to take a chance,” Myers said, referring to the mild left groin strain that ended his outing with one out in the sixth. “We’ll just see how it is tomorrow. It wasn’t painful to where I said, “Oh…this is serious.”

Mills sounded optimistic after the game as well.

“He was able to at least move and go through the motion to the plate, which tells me it’s minimal,” he said.

* Bud Norris, whose schedule was jumbled when he missed a couple of days with a stomach virus, will likely make his next start in a Minor League game. Mills also said that Brian Moehler will start pitching in relief, even though he’ll continue to be stretched out as a starter.

It’s getting to that point of the spring where the rotation and bullpen are taking shape, and innings are getting scarce for the bubble guys. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that Felipe Paulino has the edge on Moehler for the fifth starter spot (if they indeed start the season with five starters and not four, which they could do with the early off days). That has yet to be announced, but I would believe that if Paulino has one more outing like the one he had in Bradenton the other day, he’s as good as in.

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After more than four months of “Astroline,” the weekly radio show as signed off for another season. The last show took place Wednesday night at the ESPN Club on the Disney Boardwalk, and as expected, Jeff Bagwell’s appearance caused chaos (the good kind) and a packed house.

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I had to laugh, because most of the calls that came in were more of the “I love you, man” variety and less about actually asking a question. Between the callers and Milo Hamilton heaping accolades and praise on the legendary first baseman, Bagwell barely noticed me mouthing “overrated” from the other side of the table.

I kid. Bags was his usual congenial self and graciously signed autographs for the long line of fans that formed long before he arrived. He also gave some pretty insightful answers to questions from both our Tweeps and the live audience at the ESPN Club.

On if he’s thought about being up for Hall of Fame election next year:

“The only reason I know it’s coming up is because I do read a few things here and there. I’ll stand by what I’ve always said. If I get into the Hall of Fame I’d be very, very privileged. It’s the greatest individual accomplishment you can receive in this game. But more important to me are the text messages and phone calls I get from ex-teammates. I hope I was a better teammate than I was a player. That means more to me than anything — the relationships I’ve had in baseball, the friends I’ve made mean more to me than the Hall of Fame. All that matters to me was what my teammates thought of me.

“My two children — their godparents are Dominican (Moises and Austria Alou). Where else does that happen? That’s what’s amazing about the game of baseball.”

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On if there are ever times where he misses playing:

“I miss it, but my last 3 1/2 years, it was more like a job than it was having so much fun. The good news we were winning so that was fun. But it was hard, going out there every night (with a bad shoulder) and thinking, ‘you’ve got to throw this thing?’ That took a little bit out of me.

“I’ll put it this way — I miss being good. I don’t miss being bad, I don’t miss being hurt. I had a lot of fun in ’94 (laughs). (The later years) took a little bit of fun out of the game.”

On if he’d get into full-time coaching:

“Not now. My two kids (ages 9 and 7), there’s no chance they would let me go for that long. Those coaches, they put in so much time. They get to the ballpark at 11 (a.m.) and leave at 11 at night. I would never see my children. At this point, it does not work.

“That said, as everyone has told me, when the kids are 13, 15 years old, they’re going to say, ‘Dad, you’re not that cool and I don’t want to hang out with you anymore.’ Then, we’ll see.”

On his most memorable moment in the big leagues:

“Probably my first big league game, in 1991 in Cincinnati. The Reds were coming off a World Series win and the place was literally shaking. The fans were going crazy. I was nervous. But it was a big day for me, because I finally knew I had actually made it to the big leagues.”

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We’re heading back to Houston in exactly a week, but first, there are some more Grapefruit League games to play. Sights from batting practice in Clearwater Thursday:

You’ve probably noticed there are quite a few former Phillies playing for the Astros these days, such as third baseman Pedro Feliz, who drew quite a bit of attention from the Philly media.

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Brett Myers caught up with ex-teammates before facing them a couple of hours later.

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Feliz and Hunter Pence sign autographs,.

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Jason Michaels, another phormer Phillie.

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On Blum, Puma and Opening Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Images from a windy Monday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium:

Pregame chuckles: Jeff Keppinger, Chris Johnson, Bobby Meacham

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 Hunter Pence, Blum

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Pence

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Tommy Manzella, Dave Clark

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

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J.R. Towles.

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Cruuuuuuuuz checks out his bobblehead.

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Teams have been giving bobbleheads away for the better part of a decade, and while they’re fantastic keepsakes, not all players bear a clear-cut striking resemblance to their bobble likeness. That’s not a knock on the designers. I can’t imagine anything more difficult than trying to match a face with a plastic figurine, especially when the player doesn’t have any unusual or distinctive features, like a goatee (Bagwell), piercing blue eyes (Biggio) or a surfboard (Ausmus).

That said, I was duly impressed with the Jose Cruz bobblehead sample that arrived in Kissimmee a few days ago. It’s one of many items the Astros will be featuring this year as they celebrate their 45th anniversary, and Cheo’s likeness harkens back to the glory days of the mid-1980s when rainbow jerseys weren’t yet retro — they were just simply cool.

The Astros have hosted several throwback days over the years, and the rainbow jerseys have made a handful of random cameo appearances. Every time the team wore them, I could help but notice how silly they looked on everyone — except Cruz. He stood at first base wearing the yellow, orange and red, and it just looked right.

I ran that thought by Cheo: “Everyone else looks dorky, except for you,” I suggested. “I look good in anything,” he answered. (Cheo has a hilarious sense of humor. His initial reaction when he saw his bobblehead? “It looks like chocolate.”)

The Cruz bobblehead will be given out on April 24, the first of four nostalgic figurines saluting 45 years of Astros history. The others include Jimmy Wynn on June 5, Nolan Ryan (June 19) and Mike Scott (July 10).

We staged a photo shoot with Cruz, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence in order to provide an up-close view of some of the items that will be on display this year. We also shot some video that includes reactions from all three. Trust me, Cruz’s segment alone is worth the click.

Here’s Puma wearing the 45th anniversary cap that will given away on April 9:

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And Pence models the 1965 jersey that will be handed out on April 10. The Astros will also wear that jersey during the game as part of a special “Turn Back the Clock” night. The visiting Phillies will also wear their uniforms from 1965.

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Other anniversary-themed giveaways include schedule magnets (Opening Day), fleece blanket (April 23) and replicas of both the blue and orange caps the Astros wore from 1965-93 (July 9 and July 28).

A complete list of Astros promotional games can be found here. See you at the park!

Best seats in the house.

Spring Training is a great time to hang out at the ballpark and catch some rays, but the best part has to be the vantage point the fans have to the players.

Spring ballparks are tiny, seating somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 to 10,000 fans. During the regular season, thousands are relegated to the upper decks — nosebleeds, if you will — but during Spring Training, there is not a single bad seat in the house.

My favorite area is located right behind the bullpen. Not only do fans have the opportunity to engage in conversation with the relievers, but they can watch the starting pitcher warm up less from than 10 feet away.

As I watched Wandy Rodriguez warm up today, I was struck by how close he was to the fans seated just behind the ‘pen. That’s a perspective you can’t get at any other time other than Spring Training, and for the fans, that’s a real treat.

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The ESPN Club on Disney’s Boardwalk was hopping Wednesday, and for good reason. Lance Berkman draws a crowd no matter where he goes, and that was definitely the case this time as the fans enjoyed an hour of Puma perspective. We even picked up some fabulous Puma One Liners…even when Lance isn’t trying to be funny, he just is.

He answered a full slate of questions, some of which I’ll post now (in case you missed it):

On his conversations with opponents while manning first base:

Albert Pujols and I talk a little bit over there. Mainly, he’s like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you hitting?’ Albert’s a great guy, that’s how he is.”

On if he’d ever adopt the Hunter Pence high-sock look:

“I’ve done that before, to just mix it up a little bit. Especially if you don’t hit the ball well with the low pants, you go with the high pants. But it takes a lot of effort to wear high pants. You have to have an extra pair of socks. It’s a high maintenance look and I’m pretty low maintenance.”

On Brad Mills:
“Brad’s done a great job, especially for a guy who’s a first year manager. He’s really been impressive. I think all the guys like him and respect him. He brings a winning pedigree to the clubhouse. You can’t find anyone who says anything bad about him. It’s a great hire for the organization. Even if we run into a little adversity this year, I don’t think he’s going to be any different. I have a lot of respect for him and have enjoyed being around him in this camp.”

On young players to look out for:
“You kind of know the guys we have who are knocking on the door. Bud Norris, he’s got to continue in his development as a Major League starter for us to be successful this year. Our two young catchers (Jason Castro, J.R. Towles), I’m impressed with both of them. Chris Johnson, the young third baseman — he’s been put on back burner because we signed Pedro Feliz, but he’s got a lot of ability. He’s a great defender and has been swinging the bat well.”

On Feliz:
“He’s a great guy in the clubhouse, a great defender. He plays third base about as well as anyone in the game. It frees up (Geoff) Blum to move around and play where he needs to play and come off the bench.”

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Not a great outcome score-wise on Wednesday, but it was a bright, sunny, warm day, which makes for great photo opps. Enjoy the sights…

Wandy has one final conversation with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg before taking the mound.

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Mills chats with a couple of players while walking off the field after the game.

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Quintero, Paulino and Norris have a laugh before morning stretching.

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Pence takes some hacks in the cage.

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Pence and Puma.

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Introducing…PumaOneLiners.

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Major League Baseball players come in all shapes and sizes. They have an array of personalities, from serious and reserved to fun-loving and carefree. There are the intellectuals and the pranksters, the high-intensity veterans and the high-energy rookies.

We watch them play every day, and sometimes it’s hard to remember they’re not robots, but instead, people with thoughts, interests, families and insights, just like the rest of us.

With that, we introduce you to a new Twitter account to follow: PumaOneLiners. This will be solely dedicated to quotes from your Astros, ranging from the funny witticisms to postgame comments from the clubhouse and anything we pick up in between.

It’s obviously named after our resident hilariously funny superstar, Lance Berkman, who named himself Big Puma a few years ago when he grew tired of the “Fat Elvis” label. By naming the Twitter account after Puma, we’re saluting our beloved first baseman and all of the laughs he’s provided over the years. But PumaOneLiners won’t be limited to just Berkman witticisms. We’ll draw from everyone — the players, manager, coaches and, of course, our broadcasters, whose senses of humor are displayed nightly on the airwaves.

Through Twitter and Facebook and Astros.com, we have endless avenues to give you minute-by-minute insider access to all things Houston Astros. We hope you’ll find PumaOneLiners equal parts entertaining and revealing. Hop on, and enjoy the ride!

Spring Training locker assignments: who sits where?

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The Astros’ Spring Training locker room is basically sectioned off into two sides — one for the pitchers, and one for the position players. For the most part, they’re placed numerically, with a couple of exceptions.

For as long as I can remember, Roy Oswalt has always had the first locker when you walk into the clubhouse from the main hallway. I never understood why he wanted to a) be that close to people walking in and out and b) make himself that geographically accessible to the media, but I figured he had his reasons.

It dawned on me this morning that his area has a little more leg room than the rest, and considering this is how he passes the time in the early morning hours before workouts start, it makes perfect sense:

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On the other side of the clubhouse, position players are also lined up numerically, for the most part. One exception is this row, which has always been saved for what I like to call the “high rent district.” This year, it’s Berkman, Lee and Feliz. In the past, that row has been occupied by the likes of Bagwell, Biggio, Kent, Ausmus…you get the drift.

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Hunter Pence’s locker, and Hunter Pence.

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Bud Norris‘ locker is right next to Oswalt’s, which should make for some interesting dialogue as the spring wears on. Oswalt is a man of few words, and Norris…well, let’s say he’s a very conversational young chap.

That’s not to say Oswalt doesn’t have his chatty moments. He’s come a long way since his rookie year in 2001, a time that I refer to as his “deer in the headlights” phase. Players are usually unpolished when they get to the big leagues, and Roy was no exception. Who can forget the night he set the club rookie win record? With about eight cameras in his face, Roy was asked how it felt to pass Jim Deshaies for the rookie record. Oswalt: “Who’s Jim Deshaies?” J.D., who was standing nearby: “Guess I should probably introduce myself.”

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Other camp observations:

General manager Ed Wade is looking forward to watching Tommy Manzella man the shortstop position this year. Because Wade has been with the Astros only about two years, he’s had to rely on his staff to give their insight as to Manzella’s development.

“Our guys say he’s a tick above average in range, a tick above average in hands, and has an average arm,” Wade said. But the real selling point was this: “They said, if you had to get one more out in the ninth inning, you want the ball hit to Tommy Manzella,” Wade said. “I was told he’s been ready for about two years to play defensively in the big leagues. He definitely gives us solid range and a good arm. We’re going to miss Miggy (Miguel Tejada), but our range has improved with Tommy.”

Someone asked me what young player I’m most intrigued by this spring, and while Jason Castro is still first on my list, Manzella is a close second. I really wish Manzella had been given more playing time after he was called up last September, but I have to assume we’ll be watching him regularly when the Grapefruit League season starts next week.

One thing I like about spring games is watching the young guys play. They’re fast and have something to prove, so they really pour their energies into the games, whereas the veterans take is slower, knowing Spring Training is a time to get back in the swing of things without having to worry about winning or losing a job.

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I always consider the final day before position players arrive to Spring Training as the calm before the storm. Although plenty of position guys — about half of the squad — have already shown up and are working out regularly, they don’t hit the fields with the rest of the team until the first official workout, scheduled for Wednesday.

I anticipate a pretty busy morning, which will include (not necessarily in this order): a team-only meeting with manager Brad Mills, who will address his new club for the first time; a more expansive team meeting, which include a few words from owner Drayton McLane; and a media crush at the locker of one Lance Berkman, who apparently was due to arrive in Kissimmee at 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday. (Not sure why this mattered but it was reported as such by the Twitteratzi).

***UPDATE:*** Puma sighting at 5:30…right on time. Spring has officially sprung.

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And finally, good luck and congrats to Aaron Boooooooone, who is officially retired and has joined ESPN’s Baseball Tonight crew.

 

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All dressed up, no place to go.

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We were headed to the airport around 4 p.m. on Monday when we received word that our flight to Waco was called off.

A small contigent of Astros representatives was planning to attend Monday night’s Texas Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Waco, where two Astros — first baseman Lance Berkman and Triple-A pitching coach Burt Hooton – were among 10 honorees who make up the class of 2010.

Bad weather — rain and high winds — changed our plans. We were going to fly up on Drayton’s seven-seater plane, but his pilot thought better of it after assessing the weather conditions.

Apparently, Drayton’s pilot will fly in just about anything, but even he was not comfortable with making the Houston-Waco trip that night. Although I’m disappointed to not be going, my stomach is turning just imagining what a bumpy ride that would have been.

Anyhoo, congratulations to the Big Puma and to Hooton, who was 35-3 with a 1.14 ERA for the University of Texas before winning 151 games in the big leagues.

Puma, as most of us know,  is a five-time All-Star with 313 home runs in his career with the Astros. He’s a native of Waco and a graduate of New Braunfels Canyon High School.

During his three-year baseball career at Rice University (1995-97), Berkman earned first-team All-America honors and in 1997 was named the National College Player of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

He also turns 34 on Wednesday…

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I won’t have any pictures from Monday’s ceremony, obviously, but the canceled trip opens up the perfect opportunity to post some pictures from the “Rain or Shine: How Houston Developed Space City Baseball” exhibit currently on display at the Heritage Society of Houston.

I stopped by the exhibit the night it opened and found it absolutely delightful. On display are memorabilia from every era of Houston baseball, including the years of the Minor League Buffs to the original Colt .45s to the Astros.

I am not originally from here, but I find the history of Houston baseball fascinating. When we closed down the Astrodome in 1999 we immersed ourselves in a season-long historical celebration of the 35 years in the Dome, and from Bob Aspromonte to Jimmy Wynn to Nolan Ryan to Cesar Cedeno to Jose Cruz to Mike Scott to Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, I felt like I came to know dozens of characters and personalities that helped define what this franchise means to this city.

On a recent caravan trip, I told Jim Deshaies that if I could go back in time and join one team in Astros history that I missed (I got here in 1997), it would be the 1986 Astros. These days, you’ll see a bunch of players from that era around the game — Charley Kerfeld, Larry Andersen, Alan Ashby, Billy Hatcher – and I can only imagine just how much fun it was to be around that club. What a year, too: they first hosted the All-Star Game, then clinched the division on a Mike Scott no-hitter before playing some of the most exciting postseason games in team history.

The Heritage Society exhibit, located at 1100 Bagby (near the Hobby Center), offers a nice variety of artifacts to capture a half-century of baseball in Houston, highlighting every era. It’ll be there until April 4, and admission is free. Here’s a sneak peek:

 

The exhibit contains one jersey from every year of baseball in Houston.

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The helmet Chris Burke wore when he hit his game-winning homer in the 18th inning of the NLDS in 2005, and the helmet Brad Ausmus wore when he set an Astros record for games caught.

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Seats from the Astrodome.

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This is the suit and the hat former announcer Gene Elston wore on road trips. Apparently, the entire team was required to wear matching suits, as you’ll see in the next picture.

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I think I’d actually pay money to see Berkman and Michael Bourn wearing the same suit, just for laughs. But what really cracks me up about this picture, more than everyone being dressed alike, is that two of the players are holding guns as props. Let’s see…get off a plane, pull out your gun. Could anything sound more absurd these days?

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This is a piece of the original scoreboard in the Astrodome. Apparently, the lights do indeed still blink.

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This is a 1960s RCA Victor Radio that broadcasted the first game in the Astrodome on April 9, 1965. So cutting edge at the time. Nowadays, you can get any Major League game on any night by simply having the right app on your iphone. (Sigh. I still remember when “apps” meant “appetizers.”)

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Astros Go Red, and some other tidbits to chew on over the weekend.

Thanks to all who showed up for the “Go Red” photo shoot Friday morning at Minute Maid Park. Hosted by the Astros and the American Heart Association, the event commemorated the “Go Red for Women” campaign, bringing awareness to about heart disease as the No. 1 health threat to women.

It was a fun hour, for a good cause, and we had a nice turnout. The group wore red, of course, and posed in the outfield seats. Enjoy the visuals:

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Even the little ones got into the “Go Red” spirit:

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While waiting for the photo shoot to begin, I noticed a bit of activity on the field. Here we have Hunter Pence running wind sprints in the outfield:

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Kind of looks like Rocky Balboa here… 

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Other news and notes:

Houston College Classic
For the 10th consecutive year, Minute Maid Park will host the Houston College Classic March 5-7. This year’s field includes three teams ranked nationally in Baseball America’s preseason poll including No. 1 Texas, No. 5 Rice and No. 11 TCU. Rounding out the field is the University of Houston, Texas Tech and Missouri.

Tickets currently are available and can be purchased at astros.com, at the Minute Maid Park Box Office, or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-877-9ASTROS.

Astroline
Guests for the next two weeks of Astroline shows are confirmed — Chris Sampson next Wednesday (Feb. 10) and Jimmy Wynn the following week (Feb. 17). The guest for Feb. 24 is still pending. Astroline will then move to Florida for the remainder of Spring Training.

The Houston show is broadcast live from Sherlock’s Baker Street Pub at 1952 West Gray St. and is open to the public. I’ll be tweeting live from Astroline for the next two weeks, so when you get a free moment, please send your questions to my twitter account.

Puma, Hooton entering the Hall

Lance Berkman and Burt Hooton will be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame on Monday in Waco.

I’ll be there, tweeting live and blogging when it’s over, so be sure to check early and often for up-to-the-minute play-by-play action. Puma loves it when I follow him around with a camera so this should be a ton of fun.

Astros Fanfest

Fanfest will again be held in conjunction with the exhibition games before Opening Day, April 2 and 3. A full schedule of activities will be released at a later date.

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