Results tagged ‘ Mark Melancon ’

All-Star week notes: Operation Veteran Appreciation, Social Media Night and the first half of 2011, in pictures.

Beginning with the upcoming homestand and continuing throughout the rest of the season, the Astros have added another program that honors our military veterans: Operation Veteran Appreciation.

For every home game, one veteran is selected to receive two free Astros tickets pre-loaded with $15 that can be spent at the ballpark. These field level tickets are for distinctively designed patriotic seats that let all fans know those sitting in them have served their country:

The Astros are currently accepting nominations for Operation Veteran Appreciation. If you know a military veteran in our community who’d like to be a part of the program, the Astros and Gallery Furniture want to hear about it. Thank a veteran by nominating him or her at


Our fourth Social Media Night will take place on Saturday, July 16 in the Budweiser Patio, and now, we’re ready to vote on what we serve for dinner.

Here at the choices:

A. Texas Cobb Salad – Crisp Greens, Grilled Chicken, Diced Tomato, Diced Avocado, Diced Hot House Cucumbers, Blue Cheese Crumbles, Fried Tortilla Strips and Buttermilk Ranch Dressing – served with FiveSeven Cheese Bread

B. Ballpark Beef Nachos – Fresh Fried Tortilla Chips with Tender Sofrito Style Braised Beef, Queso Blanco, Jalapenos, Pico De Gallo, Guacamole and Sour Cream

C. Trio of Sliders – Ballpark Beef with Caramelized Onion & Cheddar, Bar-B-Que Pulled Pork with Dill Pickle Chips and Grilled Chicken Breast with Roma Tomato and Herbed Cheese Spread.

You can place your vote in the poll below, and we’ll tally up the numbers through this blog and on Twitter and announce the winner soon. Even if you are not attending Social Media Night, feel free to vote — ideally, of course, you’ll vote AND attend the event.

What is Social Media Night? It’s a fun night in the Budweiser Patio that includes a player appearance at the opportunity to win autographed prizes. Our guest on Saturday will be infielder Matt Downs.

For the price of $45 per ticket, you’ll receive a ballpark tour, batting practice viewing, a ticket to the game, t-shirt, dinner, dessert and an opportunity to win prizes through our Twitter Trivia contests. Downs will hand out prizes to the Twitter Trivia winners. Prizes will include autographed baseballs and a couple of signed bobbleheads.

(If you are a returning patron and wish to skip the tour, I will be on hand to escort you directly to batting practice. The view party takes place behind the home dugout on the first base side.)

Seating for Social Media Night is limited — just 108 seats available. You can reserve your tickets by clicking here. Hope to see you there!


At 30-62, it goes without saying there weren’t a ton of “highlights” to look back on as the Astros start the proverbial second half of the season. But even in the most disappointing seasons, there are always a few good and/or poignant times to look back on. I sifted through the photos we took in the first half and set aside about a dozen of my favorites, starting with a whole lot of hugging on Opening Day in Philly:

Wandy, Bill Hall

Wandy, Nelson Figueroa (there was definitely a Wandy/man love theme going on Opening Day)

Brothers from different mothers: Matt Downs, Clint Barmes

The Astros clubhouse, on Jackie Robinson Day

I love this picture: a fan favorite from yesteryear, Kevin Bass, and a fan favorite from today, Michael Bourn, gathering for a reception on Jackie Robinson Day

Speaking of yesteryear, we caught up with former catcher Brad Ausmus after he threw a round of BP to Padres hitters in San Diego. Brad was about to leave on a cross-country trip with his family (and Trevor Hoffman's family) to Cape Cod. In an RV. Ah, retirement.

Brrr...Bourn prepares for Opening Day in Philly. It was 80 degrees and sunny with about 20 percent humidity in Houston that day. Just saying.

The beauty part of getting our players on Twitter is now they can take their own pictures and post them, and I can steal them. Which is exactly what I did after Chris Johnson took this Opening Day photo.

When we finally did return from the road to host our 2011 home opener, it was nice to see these two people smiling: Former Prez George Bush, and Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

The Astros were down by about seven runs when this photo was taken. You have to love Mark Melancon for always keeping the faith.

Melancon's first trip to visit the Navy Seals left quite an impression.

If you watch our television broadcasts even semi-regularly, you've probably heard Jim Deshaies talk about a "3-Rod Night." So it should come as no surprise that J.D. staged this photo of the three Rods -- Wandy, Fernando, Aneury.

Fun on the Today Show set: Melancon, J.R. Towles, Brad Mills, Al Roker, Jenna Bush Hager, Junction Jack, Clutch...a Who's Who of "Lend a Hand Today."

A sweet photo from our visit to Texas Children's...

...and we end with one for the ages: elementary school kids absolutely riveted by an Astros school assembly. (Can't reveal who the emcee was at this particular time be he bore a striking resemblance to radio announcer Dave Raymond.)

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Schmoozing with Al Roker: Astros “Lend a Hand Today.”

Baseball players are, in general, more accustomed to late nights than early mornings. After all, their work day doesn’t start until mid-afternoon and normally lasts deep into the evening, with bed time often arriving hours after most of the “normal” section of society shuts it down for the day.

But a handful of Astros were up at the crack of dawn — like, Spring Training early — Wednesday morning, and were happy to do so. They were invited to appear on the TODAY Show with Al Roker as part of his “Lend a Hand Today” tour, a cross-country trek that started in Alaska on Monday, stopped in Las Vegas Tuesday and arrived in Houston Wednesday.

It took no coaxing on the Astros part to convince Mark Melancon and J.R. Towles and manager Brad Mills to participate in this event (even if it meant meeting at the ballpark parking garage at 6:30 a.m.). Roker, one of the most famous and well-liked personalities in morning television, has been traveling the country for 10 years, “Lending a Hand” and shining light on five exceptional charities each year and surprising them with truckloads of donations.

The TODAY Show’s visit to the Bayou City was the most lucrative in “Lend a Hand” history, bringing in $2.7 million for Casa de Esperanza, a safe place for children in crisis due to abuse, neglect or the effects of HIV.

The chosen charity is top secret until Roker does a live, on-air reveal. He’s flanked by hundreds of cheering volunteers and representatives of the various businesses and organizations that donate money, supplies, food, clothing, linens, toiletries, games and toys. Toys R Us was there. Babies R Us, too, as was Jordache Jeans and dozens of others — including the Astros, who presented Roker with a check for $5,000 on behalf of the Astros in Action Foundation, and 1,000 tickets to future Astros games for the kids.

Texas native Jenna Bush Hager, a TODAY Show correspondent, was instrumental in the effort to have the “Lend a Hand” series visit Houston and, not surprisingly, she was a very popular presence among the onlookers at the big reveal. The scene was loud and frenzied and wonderful. And as an added bonus, Roker’s a really nice guy — as friendly and congenial and he comes off on TV. Bush Hager is warm and approachable and I lost count of how many kids from Casa de Esperanza ran up to her. She embraced every one of them.

There are two videos from the appearance — the clip from the TODAY Show website, and our exclusive, behind-the-scenes perspective. It’s kind of fun to watch footage from the same event, from two different angles.

And as always, we took lots and lots of photos…

Among the items we carried in to the event were baseballs to be autographed for future charity events, an oversized symbolic check for $5,000 and boxes of caps to hand out. Towles and Melancon found this to be the easiest way to transport the caps.

The group, after the check presentation.

We gave the players a pretty heady task: get Roker to wear the Astros cap during the broadcast. Roker enthusiastically put the cap on and said, "I'm an honorary Astro." Mission accomplished.

Among the adoring onlookers were Britanny Towles and Mary Catherine Melancon, who collected some autographed Roker/Bush Hager loot for the upcoming Wives Gala.

Jenna Bush Hager poses with the Astros, a fitting photo considering how many games her grandparents attend every year.

Roker snapped about as many pictures as we did. It was fun to see him taking in the scene and enjoying the experience, while tending to his duties as the main "Lend a Hand Today" correspondent.

Towles and Melancon pose with country music singer Clay Walker...

...and then they all exchange phone numbers. Man love at its finest!

The Astros contingent -- including Junction Jack -- unloads the truck full of items donated to Casa de Esperanza.

During commercial breaks, the players asked Roker to sign a few baseballs, which the affable weather man did willingly.

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Round Rock, Day Two: Catching up with Mark Melancon.

Mark Melancon was diplomatic when I asked him about how he felt to be traded from the Yankees to the Astros, calling the whole experience exciting and different, while expressing his appreciation to his former club.

But I’ll bluntly say what Melancon did not: this trade was a very good thing for him, because he went from an organization that is stacked from top to bottom to one that has more holes than swiss cheese.

Holes create opportunities for unproven players. When you’re an unproven player in an organization deep in talent, those opportunities are far fewer than if you’re in one working its way out of troubled times.

An organization’s first responsibility is to build a farm system with its own players by drafting them, signing them, developing them and getting them to the big leagues in a reasonable amount of time. But another very important element is an ability to identify its own weaknesses, find a team with a surplus in that area and, if all of the stars are aligned, strike a deal.

Melancon wasn’t touted as a top Yankees prospect at the time of the trade, but if you dig a little deeper, the Astros appear to have something here. He’s 25, throws between 92 and 94 mph and has four pitches: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup. And he’s working on a cutter.

Melancon has Major League experience, having been up with the Yankees three separate times last year and twice this year. Originally a ninth-round selection of the Yankees in 2006, the 6-foot-2, 215 pound right-hander has a 2.84 ERA over 123 Minor League appearances and in the big leagues, he has a combined ERA of 4.87 over 15 relief appearances.

He’s not years away from the big leagues as are the low-level prospects teams often get in return when they trade away a high-priced veteran. Look for Melancon compete for a job during Spring Training next year and don’t be surprised if he makes an appearance with the Astros when rosters expand to 40 on Sept. 1.

I wonder if this is sort of like the Dan Wheeler trade from six years ago. The Astros got him from the Mets for Adam Seuss, and before the year was over, Wheeler was one of the most reliable arms in the back end of the bullpen on a team that made it all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS.

Wheeler was behind a bunch of veteran relievers with the Mets, so to them, he was expendable. But he came to the Astros and soon, he was invaluable.

Time will tell if Melancon turns out to be that type of pitcher. He was endlessly lauded after the ’06 draft, but Tommy John surgery in 2007 slowed the development process and pushed him lower on the Yankees’ depth chart. Still, he seems to be someone who was still very highly thought of in the Yankees organization and who’s still young enough to develop into a pitcher who has staying power in the big leagues.

I asked him about his walk totals, which were unusually high this year. He walked 22 in ’08 and 11 in ’09, but by the time he was traded to the Astros, he had issued 31 walks over 56 1/3 innings. A change in mechanics may have something to do with that — after he was sent down to Triple-A earlier this year, Scranton coaches told him he needs to get the ball down a little more consistently. That led to a change in arm slot, dropping it from above the shoulder to more of a mid-range level. Melancon hesitates to use that as an excuse but acknowledged location issues can pop up when “you’re changing a lifelong habit.”

He hadn’t thought much about being traded from the Yankees, mainly because he had not heard his name come up in any rumors leading up to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. He said he was “completely shocked” when his manager called him in and put him on the phone with Yankees GM Brian Cashman. He didn’t sweat it, though, and realized pretty quickly this could work in his favor.

“If you’re established in the big leagues, (being traded is) probably more stressful, just depending on the situation. But going up and down between the big leagues and the Minor Leagues, you just try to establish yourself up there. You’re playing for all 30 teams, not just for one team. I feel this is a great opportunity for me. About five minutes after the trade, I was excited to be on board with the Astros.”


Some images from a Thursday in Round Rock (Thirsty Thursday, no less: discounted soda and beer. Might explain the very healthy crowd on hand for the Express-Grizzlies games.)

That’s Melancon walking to the clubhouse from batting practice. After covering baseball at the Major League level for so long, the BP attire here — shorts and t-shirts — still takes me off guard. But as I mentioned during the Corpus leg of this trip, the heat is off-the-charts oppressive in the mid-afternoon hours this time of year (it was 102 at 4 p.m. on Thursday), so wearing uniform pants would be absurd.   


The view of Dell Diamond from the press box. This is one of the best facilities in Minor League baseball, especially from a working standpoint. It really doesn’t get any better.



Ran into Chris Sampson in the dugout (in this picture, he’s playing catch with his son). He pitched a scoreless inning Thursday night and has allowed two runs over 4 2/3 innings since he was sent to Round Rock not long ago.




Meanwhile, back in Houston, the Astros officially announced the signing of their first-round pick, Delino DeShields Jr. The deal was completed much later than the Astros had hoped — the goal after the draft is to sign them and get them playing as quickly as possible — but the important thing is they signed him. Some images from an eventful afternoon at Minute Maid Park:

Before addressing the media,  DeShields signs the contract.


He’s then congratulated by Asst GM/Scouting director Bobby Heck.


Putting on the jersey…


…and shaking hands with club owner Drayton McLane.


Posing with Heck and Astros amateur scout Lincoln Martin, who signed DeShields.


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