Results tagged ‘ Lance Berkman ’

A fun November day at the ballpark, and more comedic stylings from the Puma.

When Lance Berkman told his wife why he was going to Minute Maid Park Saturday afternoon, Cara Berkman summoned her three oldest kids (above) and said, “We’re going too.”

Berkman (aka Puma) was one of four Astros representatives to participate in an event designed to help 20 families who are transitioning from homelessness to self-sufficiency.”Take A Minute” marked the beginning of national Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. Families were treated to a Thanksgiving meal, a tour of Minute Maid Park and an autograph session Berkman, Jeff Bagwell, Hunter Pence and manager Brad Mills.

Cara Berkman didn’t hesitate when she heard what the event was about.

“I said to Lance, ‘Homeless children? We’re going,’ Cara said. “I want my kids to see this and be involved. They need to understand there are people that have hard lives and need our help.”

Brian McTaggart gives a full report of the event here.

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Covering offseason activities is fun, mainly because players in general are well-rested and relaxed, and any fatigue and/or bitterness from a down year has pretty much subsided.

I chuckled a bit as I headed to the event, knowing it would take about two minutes for Puma and I to pick up where we left off — I snap pictures, he acts like he’s annoyed and then he spends the next several minutes lamenting the presence of Facebook and Twitter — “two things contributing to the downfall of society,” Berkman grumbles. (He was especially thrilled when I told him about Twit pic).

Bagwell isn’t quite so dramatic, but we did have a good laugh about the fake accounts floating around. To review, the Berkman Twitter account is bogus, and if you’re ever wondering if that is really Bagwell’s Facebook page, the answer is a resounding no. He’s made progress over the years when it comes to logging on but I can assure you he does not now, and never will, be a Facebooker.

Enjoy the pictures.

My attempts to take pictures of the four Astros at the autograph table were intercepted by one Puma, who just cannot help himself.

 

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Another block, this time, with a sweatshirt.

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So I switched my positioning and was a bit more successful. Here’s Pence, displaying his own brand of goofiness:

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Bagwell tapes a PSA for “Take A Minute.”

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Berkman and Pence, catching up after five weeks of no baseball.

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The new guy always gets the most attention. Brad Mills spent as much time granting media interviews as he did signing autographs.

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Autograph session

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Group photo

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And finally, a visit from Junction Jack.

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Try ‘em Before you Buy ‘em

Speaking of offseason fun at Minute Maid Park…

The Astros Ticket Services Department will host a Select-A-Seat event for fans interested in season tickets on Saturday, December 12 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

If you are interested in 2010 full season ticekts or 27-game mini-plans, come out to the ballpark for a one-on-one guided tour to find the perfect set of seats. Ticket sales representatives will offer valuable information on each available seat location to ensure you invest in the perfect plan.

Also, new for 2010 is the “Buy Two, Get Two Free” season ticket offer. As part of this package, fans purchasing two season tickets in the View Deck I and View Deck II seating levels or in select Terrace Deck sections will receive two additional season tickets in the same price level for free. These full season packages start at only $415 per season seat — only $5 per game.

The Astros are also offering special “Early Bird” incentives for those who buy their season tickets by Dec. 18. The incentives include a choice of taking batting practice, playing catch in the outfield or a taking clubhouse tour at Minute Maid Park. (At first glance, I’d go with the clubhouse tour. It’s pretty cool, although I would imagine for those of you whose baseball careers petered out in the seventh grade, batting practice might be fun).

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Verified players on Twitter.

My blog about Twins closer Joe Nathan using Twitter to respond to a column written about him prompted questions from a few of you as to how many Major League players Tweet.

There are plenty of bogus accounts out there using the names of ballplayers, so MLB.com’s Mark Newman has compiled a list of verified accounts. Currently, Roy Oswalt is the only Astros player with a Twitter account. He hasn’t done much with it, but he’s planning to being more active in the near future.

The “Lance Berkman” account is bogus.

Click here for the full list of legit accounts.

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Who was Puma sticking his tongue out at last night?

After umpires checked the instant replay and upheld Lance Berkman’s home run during Thursday’s game with the Braves, cameras caught Puma sticking his tongue out at someone from the opposing bench.

Braves manager Bobby Cox? The umpires? The fans?

None of the above. The gesture was aimed toward fellow first baseman (and friend of Big Puma) Adam LaRoche. Apparently, during the delay while umpires were reviewing the play, LaRoche was peering into the Astros’ dugout mouthing to Puma “it’s going to be a double, it’s going to be a double.” (All in jest, of course).

So when the home run was indeed ruled a home run, Puma let his buddy know what he thought of that particular prognostication. Just a couple of fun jabs between two comrades.

We Shall Never Forget

Here are some snapshots from the pregame ceremony at Minute Maid Park on Friday, in remembrence of Sept. 11. The Astros clearly left no stone unturned while tracking down the good people of Houston who make sacrifices of all sorts in order to keep the city safe.

The Astros first honored “invisible heroes” — 9-1-1 call takers who are “the calm, reassuring voice on the other end of the phone working quickly” to offer assistance.

Nearly 1,000 call takers were in attendance for Friday’s ceremony, many of whom held a giant American flag on the field throughout the event.

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Representing the 9-1-1 call center near home plate were the 9-1-1 mascots — “Red E. Fox” and “Cell Phone Sally”, joined by Lt. John Shannon, who was recognized by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for his commitment to emergency communications during Hurricane Ike. Wanda Richards of the LaPorte Police Department was recognized as a 9-1-1 “silent hero” for 2009, as was Kimberly Maldonado of the Jersey Village Police Department.

(I thought it was just so nice of Cell Phone Sally to look right at the camera while I took this picture.)

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The Astros recently hosted a contest at Astros.com where fans could nominate their community heroes to be honored before Friday’s game. The winner was Judi Meyn, who has served as an area paramedic for over 30 years and a member of the life flight team for 20. When she is off duty, she spends her time with a volunteer ambulance company or teaching EMT classes at San Jacinto College. Here she is with third base coach Dave Clark, just after she threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

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Heroes of all kinds marched onto the field: members of the United States Military, the Houston Police Department, the Houston Fire Department, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Galveston County Emergency Communication District and many other agencies from jurisdictions all over the Houston area.

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The Houston Fire Department Honor Guard presented the colors.

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After a moment of silence to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, Sgt. Ronald Hunter from the Harris County Sherriff’s Office performed the national anthem.

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Three representatives from police, fire and military sectors were recognized for contributions that “exemplify the spirit of a hero.”

Officer David Freytag (left) has been serving as a Houston police officer for 46 years, was a member of the HPD Honor Guard and also served in the United States Army.

Firefighter Jermain Wiggins (center) was recognized saving a life during a fire last January, when he went into a burning house, found a woman lying in the middle of the living room, grabbed her and carried her out.

While serving in Afghanistan, Staff Sergeant David Worswick (right) survived both an attack on his base and the impact of a road-side bomb that thrust him head first into the windshield of his humvee, which knocked him unconscious. Once he awoke, he immediately began assisting those around who could not help themselves. Worswick received a purple heart for his actions that day.

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Does Hunter Pence like his eggs poached or scrambled? Tune in to find out answers to this, and other Astros mysteries.

0831_pence.jpgHunter Pence must have been paying attention when his mother taught him that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. He loves that big meal first thing in the morning, and one of his regular routines on the road is to find a really good breakfast spot and delve into the local fare.

Pence will be featured in the latest episode of the Astros’ new reality-based show titled “Here’s The Pitch!” on FS Houston. The crew documented one of his recent trips to breakfast eatery Le Peep in Houston, where he dined with the extended Pence clan — his older brother, Howie, his sister-in-law Allison, his niece Hayley and his nephew, Striker.

Also on the docket for “Here’s the Pitch!” Show #2, which will run Thursday at 12:30 p.m. CT and will re-air Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT:

Young Astros fans ask questions of their favorite players: Favorite baseball memory, how to hit a home run and what kind of cereal they like (I’m sensing a trend here). One segment will be devoted to rookie Bud Norris and strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman during a workout, where they’ll explain what it takes for a big leaguer to stay in shape.

The show will also highlight Lance Berkman’s recent visit with Berkman’s Buddies, whom the Puma hosts at Minute Maid Park every Saturday home game.

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I’m working on another pictorial blog documenting the Chicago leg of this three-city trip. In the meantime, here are some friendly reminders regarding what’s on tap when the Astros return from the trip this Friday…

Send in those recipes

The Astros are still accepting recipe ideas that they could add to the Minute Maid Park menu in 2010. If you have a recipe that would do well in a ballpark setting, send your idea to promotions@astros.com. Entries will be accepted through Sept. 5.

The winner will see his or her recipe sold at the ballpark next year and will win luxury suite tickets. The second and third place winners will win autographed Astros items.

Once we have all of the entries, a panel will select three fans that will be involved in a cook off on Sept. 12. I have happily volunteered my taste buds to the cause and will serve as one of the judges….

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300 home run giveaway

On Friday (Sept. 4), the Astros will celebrate the their three players who reached 300 home runs this season with a pregame ceremony and gift presentation. The first 20,000 fans will receive a 300 Home Run Art Card, courtesy of Minute Maid. Additionally, tickets in View Deck II will be sold for just $3 that day.

On Saturday (Sept. 5), the celebration continues as the first 10,000 fans will receive a 300 Home Run T-Shirt, courtesy of AT&T…

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Dog Days of Summer

On Monday (Sept. 7), the Astros are hosting Dog Day, presented by H-E-B. For $20 ($10 of which will go to the Houston Humane Society), you and your dog can enjoy the Astros-Phillies game from the Barking Room only section along Conoco Alley and the H-E-B Dog Zone, featuring Hill Country Fare Dog Food, located in KBR Plaza.

An additional $20 “human ticket” can be purchased with the above package. The deadline to register for tickets is Thursday.

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College Night is Sept. 10…read details here.

Heroes Night is Sept. 11 and will honor all of those who serve in our local police forces, fire departments, and EMS teams along with those that protect our Nation as part of the United States Armed Forces. Details here.

 

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What the Astros got for Pudge.

One scouting report describes Matt Nevarez as having a “huge arm” but also as “extremely raw.” The Astros do not see him as raw. They like his plus-plus fastball and see what could be the makings of an average slider. Nevarez is young, only 22, and even though that’s a little old for Class A, where he was at the time of the trade, he missed some time because of an elbow injury. Now seemingly healthy, the Astros envision Nevarez as a possible power arm for the back end of the bullpen.

Reportedly, the Astros also received infielder Jose Vallejo as one of the two players to be named later. According to this report, the Astros will get a second PTBNL if the Rangers reach the playoffs. 

It’s obviously too early to tell if this trade will work in the Astros favor, but that they obtained a young power arm is encouraging. I would have preferred a starting pitcher, but it would have taken more than Pudge Rodriguez to get that.

Ed Wade addressed several topics during his briefing with the media Tuesday. First, he offered a timeline of how the deal was done. Rangers GM Jon Daniels, according to Wade, called him Friday after front-line catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was diagnosed with an arm ailment. Daniels expressed interest in Pudge, and after mulling over the Astros asking price, he called Wade again Tuesday morning and said he was prepared to move forward with the trade.

The Rangers, Wade said, did not have interest in Pudge until Saltalamacchia went down.

Pudge has a no-trade clause, and he had to agree before the two sides could make it official. That part is why it took so long between the news breaking that Pudge was headed to the Rangers and the Astros acknowledging that they had indeed completed the trade: Pudge first had to accept a trade that would push him into a backup role with his new team.

Wade also offered this interesting tidbit: during their parting conversation Tuesday morning, Pudge wanted to talk about next year, and his interest in possibly returning to the Astros. Wade told him they were prepared instead to look at some of their young catching prospects. “I advised him to take advantage of going ‘home’ and see what the offseason presents at that time,” Wade said.

Astros owner Drayton McLane was pressed about the public perception that the team was throwing in the proverbial towel by trading away one of their most experienced players, and McLane insisted this was not the beginning of the club going into full tear-down mode.

“If we were interested in changing the total texture of the team, we would have done it at the trade deadline,” McLane said. “We had not had conversations about trading Pudge. This was unusual. We got call after the Rangers No. 1 catcher was injured.”

McLane added that Rangers owner Tom Hicks called him about Pudge. “I was very reluctant,” McLane said. “I said, ‘You need to make a strong offer before we’d even consider this.’”

Astros players reactions ranged from disappointment to indifference. Some took it hard and feel that taking away someone with Pudge’s history is equal to giving up on the season. Others weren’t terribly surprised — after all, Pudge was pretty much down to catching a few times a week and splitting time with Humberto Quintero.

“Pudge wasn’t catching as much lately,” Lance Berkman said. “That’s what it seemed like. That’s why I thought there might be something going on even before this (trade). It’s one thing if he was the every day catcher. But he was more part-time.”

Roy Oswalt had this to say: “I guess that’s the process of trying to build the club for next year. That’s what I’m hoping they are doing now. There is a time where you have to start rebuilding, and if you wait until the end of the season, you may not get the pieces you need for the next year.”

My take: While I realize Pudge was a popular player in the clubhouse and with the fans, and he’s accomplished a heck of a lot in his career, and he’s probably headed for the Hall of Fame, I’m not understanding why this is viewed as such a huge loss. Pudge was hitting .251, he grounded into 13 double plays and was showing signs of wearing down, hitting just .170 (10-for-59) with one extra base hit over his last 15 games. And his defense, lauded for so many of his 19 years in the big leagues, wasn’t anything great. Five passed balls in 90 games is, in my estimation, too many.

The 37-year-old Rodriguez is going back to the Rangers, where he spent his best years, to be a backup to Taylor Teagarden. The Astros have a farm system with giant holes and a big league team playing poorly. At first glance, this appears to be a win-win for both sides.

The Astros were also negotiating from a position of strength, which doesn’t happen too often. The Rangers needed Pudge and the Astros were in no huge hurry to rid themselves of him. From the reports I’m reading, the Rangers didn’t give up just a bag of beans for Pudge. We’ll see.

As for how the catching situation will shake out…for now, Chris Coste and Quintero will share the time behind the plate. The Astros will strongly consider bringing up J.R. Towles when rosters expand to 40 on Sept. 1, which would give them a true emergency catcher. Jason Castro, who is headed for the World Cup games in September, does not appear to be on the radar this year. I am holding out hope they consider giving him a chance to win the starting catcher job out of Spring Training in 2010.

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Fun at the Puma palace

We’ll never accuse Berkman of forgetting from where he came, especially when it comes to his alma mater.

Puma recently welcomed 25 Rice University students to his home as part of orientation week, during which co-eds are sent on a scavenger hunt with specific items to obtain on their excursion. Apparently, one of those items this year was a picture with Puma. A friend had reached out to Berkman ahead of time, so it was no surprise when the group showed up at his place wanting a quick pose. Berkman readily obliged, remembering his own “O-Week” at Rice nearly 15 years ago.

“I did it when I was a freshman,” he said. “We fit a full soccer goal into the back of a mini pick-up truck.”

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Need to vent? Join Facebook.

Frustrated. Elated. Mad. Sad. Indignant. Excited. Optimistic. Annoyed. Indifferent. Hopeful.

Baseball evokes a wide range of emotions from its fans, and over the course of this season, and seasons past, I’ve heard from fans who have expressed one or two, or all, of the above. Now, thanks to social networking, we can be mad, sad, elated, hopeful and annoyed together.

Some of you post on my blog, some on Twitter, some on Facebook. Your comments (keep them clean, please) are always welcome and I try my best to join in the conversation and address/answer everything I can. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to join the Astros Facebook page. There are some lively conversations that take place there, and I promise that you’ll find a ton of people who think just like you, and another ton who will think you’re nuts.

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Cheap tickets alert

Two of the more popular summer promotions have been extended to the end of the season…

Price Matters: For $10, you get a View Deck II ticket, a hot dog, soda and chips. The offer is for the following games: Aug. 23 (D-Backs), Sept. 4-7 (Phillies), Sept. 8 (Braves), Sept. 11-13 (Pirates), Sept. 22 (Cardinals), Sept. 25-27 (Reds).

Kids Free All Summer…er, season:
This offer was originally scheduled to end on Sunday, but it’s been extended to include all remaining home games. For every full price adult ticket you purchase in the View Deck I, View Deck II or Mezzanine you can get two free tickets in the same price level for kids 14 & under.

Condolences to Puma.

Lance Berkman entered the clubhouse on Friday and was met with the usual gaggle of reporters waiting at his locker to talk to him about his recent trip to the disabled list.

Puma did not let on that four hours earlier, he received word that his grandfather, William Leroy Berkman, had passed away at the age of 96.

Puma, whose full name is William Lance Berkman, appeared to be handling the news well and spoke matter-of-factly about his grandfather, who, as his aunt told him, passed away peacefully, of natural causes. “He just got tired,” Puma said.

The funeral will be Monday or Tuesday, so it’s unlikely Berkman will attend any of the Astros games in Chicago. Now that he’s on the DL, he might skip the road trip entirely, although that remains to be determined.

Condolences to Lance and his entire family.

A couple of snipets from Berkman’s Q&A with the media…

On the trip to the DL:
“I wish I wouldn’t have played the last couple of days. That way I’d be a lot closer to getting back.”

“I’m disappointed. I don’t think it’s going to take the whole two weeks (to recover from the calf strain) but there aren’t many options when it comes to the DL. Heck, if it was late August and we were right there (in a division race), I don’t think I would have missed a game.”

“While this is an inopportune time, I guess sometimes you have to do something unpleasant for the overall good.”

Puma added he’ll probably hit off a tee regularly during his time on the shelf, “just to keep from rusting up.”

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Other news and notes from Astros pregame Friday:

Chris Sampson, who has been on the DL since July 10 with shoulder spasms, threw approximately 25 pitches during a simulated inning. He is eligible to come off the DL Sunday and he’s confident he’ll be ready when that time comes.

Aaron Booooone is in town and working out with the Astros after working with a trainer for the last five or six weeks in Arizona. He took batting practice with the team Friday and eventually will begin a Minor League rehab assignment. GM Ed Wade told Boone that a realistic target for a big league return would be September.

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Programming note: Saturday will mark the premiere of “Spotlight: Miguel Tejada” on FS Houston. Narrated by Patti Smith, the show will give an in-depth look into Tejada’s humble upbringing in the Dominican Republic and his rise to stardom in the Major Leagues. The show, which includes interviews with Tejada, his father, his wife, Alejandra, his first manager, Art Howe and Astros GM Ed Wade (among others), will air at 5 p.m. CT and again at 10 p.m. CT.

Sounds like a good one. I’ll be at the game, but I’ll be TiVOing it for sure.

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Apparently, the first wives gala involved dancing.

 

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In 1990, two young wives of two budding superstar Astros players put together a modest fundraiser titled “An Evening of Stars” and hand-picked the organization to where the funds would be donated.

The gala was the first of its kind in the Astros organization, and it’s unlikely Patty Biggio and Nancy Caminiti could have imagined that a night of dinner and dancing for approximately 400 guests would snowball into the most lucrative single fundraising event the Astros host in every calendar year.

At some point in the early to mid-1990s, “An Evening of Stars” turned into “Black Ties and Baseball Caps.” Although the title changed, the recipient of the proceeds has remained the same. The Houston Area Women’s Center — a safe haven for women and children affected by domestic and sexual violence — started as a modest eight-bed facility in 1977 and has grown to a 125-bed shelter, the largest in the country for woman and child survivors of domestic and sexual assault. The Astros Wives have played a part in that; two decades worth of galas have raised over $3 million for the HAWC.

This year’s soiree will be held on Aug. 6 on the field at Minute Maid Park and will be co-chaired by Pamela Michaels and Michelle Quintero. Tickets to the gala begin at $400, and as an added benefit, All-Star, Diamond, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger tables have the opportunity to select a player and his wife or guest to be seated at their table. Player requests are granted first by level of sponsorship and in the order received.

For more information or to purchase tickets call 713-781-0053.

As I was looking through pictures from past events in preparation to blog about this year’s milestone gala — the big 2-0 — I couldn’t help but notice the ones in the early years involved not only dinner and schmoozing with baseball players, but also dancing, and, during the Casey Candaele years, break dancing. These days, the gala is a bit more subdued, but still a lot of fun. And the silent and live auction items have undoubtedly improved.

Judging from the picture at the top of this blog, it’s clear Craig and Patty Biggio felt comfortable on the dance floor. They’re not the only ones…

This is the most normal pose I found of Candaele, circa 1990.

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Those who know Casey, however, would probably say this one is the more normal of the two.

 

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Many people danced that night, but from what I can tell from the pictures, Casey was the only one who took it to the floor, literally.

Hey, look, it’s Jim Deshaies…with hair!

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Fast foward 10 years…the team in 2000 wasn’t very good, but there were a lot of fan favorites on the club. Left to right: Jose Lima Time, Scott Elarton, Jeff Bagwell, Billy Wagner, Jay Powell and Lance Berkman (pre-Puma.)

 

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2003: Bagwell, Milo Hamilton, Berkman.

 

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While perusing the 1990 scrap book I found this letter written by Ellen Cohen, who had just taken over as President and CEO of the HAWC. I was struck by Cohen’s description of exactly how the funds from the gala were spent, and how much Cohen was hoping the wives would again pick the HAWC as their charity of choice (obviously, they did).

(Point of interest: Cohen left the HAWC in 2006 when she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives from Houston District 134.)

 

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Friendly reminder that the Kids Free All Summer will continue through Aug. 23. A friend of mine tried it out couple of weeks ago — he and his wife each bought a $20 ticket and their four kids got in for free. That six people for 40 bucks. Check it out…

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Rock beats scissors, and Ausmus beats Kent. Seriously?

The final results of the season-long Top Moment Bracket Challenge were revealed Monday, and it’s not at all surprising that Craig Biggio’s 3,000th career hit was named the very best moment in Minute Maid Park history. But I have to take issue with how the rest of the top 10 shook out, especially Jeff Kent’s game-winning home run that won Game 5 of the 2004 NLCS. Seventh? Seventh? That’s it?

I have no problem with Chris Burke’s 18th inning home run in ’05 ranking second, but I can’t understand how Biggio’s final game in ’07 ranked higher than Kent’s homer. And I am completely flabbergasted that Brad Ausmus’ home run during his final game as an Astro last year even made the cut. Mike Hampton throws him a cookie in a game between two non-playoff teams and that’s one of the top moments in the history of this ballpark? Really?

Here’s the top 10…agree? Disagree? (My top three, in order: Biggio’s 3,000th hit; Burke’s HR, Kent’s HR. And one more that’s not listed — the 4-6-3 DP turned by Eric Bruntlett and Adam Everett to end Game 4 of the NLCS in ’05.).

1. Craig Biggio’s 3000th career hit.
2. Chris Burke’s 18th-inning HR in the NLDS.
3. Craig Biggio’s final game.
4. Jeff Bagwell’s game-winning single in memory of Darryl Kile.
5. Brad Ausmus’ final game home run.
6. Brad Ausmus’ HR in the NLDS.
7. Jeff Kent’s HR in the NLCS.
8. Lance Berkman’s Grand Slam in the NLDS.
9. 2004 All-Star Home Run Derby.
10. Craig Biggio’s Jersey Retirement.

Brian McTaggart talked to Biggio about his moment being picked No. 1: “Playing 20 years with one organization in a great city, I have had a lot of good things happen to me, but the 3,000th hit was the best night of my professional life,” Biggio said. “To have the fans vote it as the top moment, I am honored. It was a night that I will never forget, because I got to enjoy it with my family and the fans and teammates. And to be able to enjoy the moment with Jeff like it happened on the field was truly special. I liked that the fans acknowledged this moment.”

The Astros will celebrate that top moment before the Aug. 3 game with the Giants. The first 10,000 fans will receive a DVD with the televised broadcast of the Biggio 3000th hit game from June 28, 2007, compliments of the Astros and FS Houston. The night will also include a pregame celebration that will include a special presentation to Biggio.

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It’s Twitter-ific!
I remember just about a year ago sitting in the press box chatting with Astros broadcaster Dave Raymond, who was attempting to explain this new craze called “Twitter.” He must have spent 15 minutes trying to make me understand what it was and why all the kids these days are using it. I checked out the site and, quite frankly, I lost interest pretty quickly.

What a difference 12 months makes. Now I can’t stop Twittering, and I’m not the only one. McTaggart is Twittering. Richard Justice is Twittering. Greg Lucas is Twittering.

You should see us in the clubhouse before batting practice, furiously typing on our iPhones as soon as information oozes from Cecil Cooper/Puma/Ed Wade. Often, it’s the same information, only different. Like today:

4 p.m. CT:
@brianmctaggart: Pudge has changed his jersey number to 77. He wore No. 7 for most career but it is retired here. He had worn 12 before deciding he misses 7.

4:10 p.m. CT:
@alysonfooter: Pudge changes number from 12 to 77. He wore 7 his whole career but obviously can’t have that. So 77 it is.

30 minutes later:
@richardjustice: I’ve learned exclusively that Pudge has changed his jersey to 77.

Pictures from Monday’s action:

Pudge dons his new No. 77. “I have to go back to my seven again,” he said. “I can’t use one seven, so I’ll use two. You’ll see one from the camera on the third base line and you’ll see the other on the first base side.”

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Puma tests his hammy during batting practice and has a quick meeting with Cooper, Wade and head athletic trainer Nate Lucero. The group decides Puma will play that night, but later, it’s revealed he’ll have an MRI.

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The Astros celebrated the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Lunar landing…seven members from the NASA team that were a critical part of the success of the Apollo program simultaneously threw out the first pitch prior to the game. Astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger sang the national anthem. Read about it here.

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Astros pass first test of second half. Next up, Cardinals.

The Astros should have won the game Sunday and exited Los Angeles with three wins over the Dodgers, but despite the disappointment following their 4-3 loss in the finale, they were able to draw some positives.

True, they had to “settle” for a split, but considering that split came against agruably the best team in the National League, the trip cannot be deemed a failure.

I’ll be honest, after the Astros did what they were supposed to do against the Pirates and Nationals just before the All-Star break, I thought the good times might be coming to an end, or if not an end, a slow crawl. But the Astros passed their first test, one that begins a challenging stretch against some of the league’s best — the Dodgers, Cardinals and Cubs, to name a few.

“Everyone in here knows we should have won this game,” Russ Ortiz said following Sunday’s loss. “But we’re a mature enough clubhouse to not let this affect us. We hit well this series and we pitched well against the best lineup in the league.”

Speaking of Ortiz, I think we witnessed a bit of a breakthrough — maybe a better word is truce — between the veteran right-hander and manager Cecil Cooper. When Coop went to talk to Ortiz after Ortiz gave up a base hit to Andre Ethier with two outs in the sixth, Coop seemed to be wavering between pulling the plug and letting Ortiz finish what he started.

With his arm around Ortiz’s waist, Coop said, “Hey, this is your guy to get. So go get him.’

“And,” Coop said later in his office, after Ortiz coaxed a 4-3 groundout from James Loney, “He went and got him.”

The vote of confidence meant a lot to Ortiz, who as you probably remember lashed out at the manager, through the media, for yanking him prematurely during his last start before the All-Star break.

Sunday’s communication between pitcher and manager is a positive sign that the ugliness from the last altercation has been dropped.

“(Cooper) said, ‘This is your guy,’” Ortiz said. “I knew if I made my pitches, I could get him out. (Cooper) had (asked me how I was feeling) a couple of times already. To be able to finish off the inning was big, not only confidence-wise for me but confidence-wise for (Cooper). It was a good thing for him to come out and tell me this is my guy, and then to be able to get him out.”

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Bits and pieces, odds and ends and ramblings from the road trip:

* If Puma wasn’t a baseball player he’d be a country singer (assuming he can actually carry a tune; jury’s still out on that one). His reasons:
You never really have a bad day at work
You get to sing for a living
If you forget the words, you can just stick the microphone out to the crowd and let them sing it for you.

* I asked Puma if he’d ever consider giving up switch-hitting and just hit left-handed full-time. He said switch-hitting is something he’s done his entire life, and facing lefties from the left side of the plate is simply awkward at this stage of the game. Had he done it before, he might consider it, but he doubts he’d be very good at it now.

I don’t blame him. So much of playing baseball is based on muscle memory, on repetition, on reacting rather than thinking. To try to learn something new at this stage of the game — Puma just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his Major League debut — is probably asking a little too much.

* Kind of a slow weekend in terms of celebrity sightings at Dodger Stadium. Of course, nothing can top spotting Rob Lowe in the Diamond Club area after an Astros-Dodgers game a couple of years ago, but the scoreboard will always capture a dozen or so A-listers on any given weekend. This time, I counted three — Larry King, Calista Flockhart and the kid from Two-and-a-half Men.

* Sat in front of Russ Ortiz and his soon-to-be eight-year-old daughter on the flight home. Let’s just say baseball took a backseat to High School Musical and Miley Cyrus. Awesome.

* A tip of the cap to head athletic trainer Nate Lucero, who celebrated the 19th anniversary of his 21st birthday on Sunday.

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Ticket special alert: 10 games for 20 bucks (and again, no fine print).

The Astros will ring in the second half of the season with one of their more popular ticket specials — 10 games for $20.

For a limited time, fans can buy Outfield Deck tickets to 10 Astros home games for only 20 bucks — a $50 savings per purchase. The special is available online only and the offer ends Wednesday, July 15 at 5:30 p.m. CT.

The 10 dates: July 20 and 22 vs. Cardinals; Aug. 3 and 5 vs. Giants; Aug. 19 and 20 vs. Marlins; Sept. 7 vs. Phillies; Sept. 9 vs. Braves; Sept. 21 and 23 vs. Cardinals.

I’m told this one sells out pretty quickly, so click here if you’re interested. And no, there’s no “with the purchase of 17 hot dogs” attached to the special (hey, I’m an ex-reporter. I’m skeptical by nature). Ten games. Twenty bucks. The end.

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The Astros hosted their annual PLAY event at Minute Maid Park Tuesday, which involved the Astros athletic training staff, the Taylor Hooton Foundation, kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Houston and setup man LaTroy Hawkins.

The two-hour PLAY event, which stands for “Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth,” is designed to educate children about nutrition, exercise and staying active.

PLAY was formed by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) in conjunction with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which was formed by the parents of the 17-year old high school athlete from Plano, Texas, who took his own life in 2003 as a result of the abuse of anabolic steroids.

Young athletes are experimenting with anabolic androgenic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs without knowledge of the associated dangers. 

Working with the Taylor Hooton Foundation and Major League Baseball clubs, PBATS is incorporating anti-steroid education within the PLAY campaign to generate awareness of this problem.

Each participant at the PLAY event received a PLAY “Pledge Card” to sign, along with Hawkins, promising to remain active, make healthy decisions and avoid performance-enhancing drugs.

The PLAY program was created in 2004 to raise awareness about children’s health issues because obesity is a major concern in the United States.  Since 2004, the PLAY campaign has conducted 60 events inside all 30 MLB ballparks reaching thousands of children with positive messages about making healthy decisions and living a more active and healthy lifestyle.

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Lance Berkman’s favorite Minute Maid Park memory is now posted on the Astros Memories blog. All season, the Astros are posting favorite moments from past and present players as part of their 10-year Minute Maid celebration. Berkman’s answer is one of my favorites, because it’s one that few talk about now but that had a huge, huge impact on the team’s pursuit of the pennant in 2005.

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