Results tagged ‘ Michael Bourn ’

Houston Youth are ‘Bourn to Wynn.’

By Rachel Frey

The “Bourn to Wynn” three-day leadership program began with a slightly different start than originally planned.

As the participants knew, Michael Bourn, who helped create this program, was traded on Sunday to Atlanta. Jimmy “The Toy Cannon” Wynn, who also helped found this program, helped kick it off on Monday by talking about the qualities good leaders exhibit in their lives. Wynn was joined by Guest Host Madd Hatta from Houston’s 97.9 The Box, who helps facilitate each day’s activities.

“Bourn to Wynn is about dealing with adversity, and overcoming that adversity,” said Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy Director Darryl Wade.

After Wynn spoke, Astros Assistant Director of Media Relations Sally Gunter and KHOU sportscaster Butch Alsandor talked about how their jobs fit together. Gunter showed the participants the products that  media relations puts out, such as media guides, game notes, and the monthly magazine. She also explained how media relations staff schedules interviews with the team for journalists.

Alsandor told about how he uses the information Gunter and the media relations staff send out to create each night’s newscast. Gunter and Alsandor also went on to talk about the paths they’ve taken to get to where they currently are, including explaining how important education and internships are.

Jason Bourgeois joined the program on day two to step in for Michael. As a fellow Houston native, he related well to the participants. He told them about how diligence has positively affected his career. He spent 9 years in the minor leagues, and kept working to earn a full-time spot on a Major League roster. Each offseason, he spends time in the Mexican Pacific League’s winter baseball league to keep practicing and getting better. Bourgeois believes that time has helped maintain his skill level through the off-season. He gives up a lot of time he could be spending with his family to become a better baseball player.

Jennifer Germer, Vice President of Marketing and Ticket Sales, Clint Pasche, Director of Marketing, Kirby Kander, Senior Director of Creative Services, and Brock Jessel, Director of Ballpark Entertainment, joined the youth to share what they do each day at work, and how they got there.  The students were really excited to meet the people who create the bobbleheads (Germer & Pasche), and were excited by the video clips Kander and Jessel brought.  The students asked them many questions, including how did bothdepartments dealt with the changes brought on by the trades.  The staff members told them about some of the changes they made and how they always try to focus on promoting the whole team, and not just players in case something like this happens.

Wednesday’s session focused on setting goals and putting a road map to success into action. Bourgeois, Wynn and Madd Hatta were on hand to lend their experience to the participants.  Head Trainer Nate Lucero joined them on the fields for some stretching and baseball instruction.

Each youth receives a Bourn to Wynn student booklet, T-shirt, poster, certificate, Astros baseball cap, Michael Bourn two-time Gold Glove bobblehead, and a baseball signed by both Bourn and Wynn.  The youths will be recognized before the Astros-Brewers game on Saturday, August 6, at Minute Maid Park with Jason and Jimmy alongside them.

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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 Astros.com/operationvet.

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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!

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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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Jimmy Wynn Training Center opens at Urban Youth Academy

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By Rachel Frey

The Jimmy Wynn Training Center at the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy was dedicated today, June 24, in a ceremony that honored the former Astro’s career and community service. Representatives from the Houston Astros, Minute Maid, Grand Slam for Youth Baseball (GSFYB), Major League Baseball, and other civic and community leaders attended the dedication. GSFYB ambassadors Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, and Brad Mills were also present.

The center is this summer’s field refurbishment project for GSFYB, which is a partnership between the Astros and Minute Maid. The center has 3,412 square feet of multi-use space covered in artificial turf, two cable-suspended batting cages, umpire/staff locker rooms with a shower, and two Yoshida pitching machines, which were donated by Mr. Tadashi Yoshida and shipped in from Chiba, Japan. Major League Baseball also assisted with the completion of this project.

Milo Hamilton was one of the first people to speak, and instructed attendees to, “honor [Jimmy] the way he should be honored. You’re honoring one of the greatest citizens and baseball players.”

Jimmy has been the ambassador for GSFYB over the past six years, and according to Fred Arnold from GSFYB, he cried when they told him the center was to be named after him.

“Come out and learn the game of baseball, learn the facts of life– you have no excuse now,” Jimmy said. “If you need me I’ll be available. I might be slow, but I’m available.”

Jimmy Lee Solomon, who is from the Houston area and is an Executive Vice President of Baseball Development of Major League Baseball, was also present to celebrate the opening.

“This is more than a building– it’s more than the bricks and steel,” Solomon said. “It is a catalyst for change in the community. Kids in areas like this have no chance at the American Dream. We must provide hope to them [through opportunities like the center]. The worst poverty we can leave children in is the poverty of hope.”

Clint’s Crew 2: Houston Jr. RBI

 By Rachel Frey

On Friday, May 27, members of Houston Jr. RBI program fwere welcomed to Minute Maid Park by Clint Barmes through his “Clint’s Crew” program. Clint’s Crew hosts kids in the Houston area once a month at Minute Maid Park.

Clint’s Crew groups are given 20 tickets to the game, which are loaded with $10 for food, beverages, or other merchandise. They also received a drawstring backpack filled with Astros items.

The Jr. RBI kids were allowed to watch batting practice on the field, and got autographs from Michael Bourn and Jason Bourgeois before Clint finished his practice swings and came over to meet them. Clint signed hats and baseballs for the kids before they posed for a group picture.

Houston Jr. RBI is made up of children 15 and under, and each coach was asked to pick members from their team for this opportunity. Houston RBI participants are also members of the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy. Over 300 kids participate in the Houston RBI program, and last year, their senior division (18 and under) won the RBI World Series in Jupiter, FL.

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Rachel Frey is the Social Media and Broadcasting Intern for the Houston Astros. She studies Public Relations at The University of Texas at Austin, where she spends most of her time attending Texas Football and Baseball games. Connect with Rachel on her Twitter account: @RachelFrey or on her MLBlog: A Temporary Perspective.

Pitchers throw live batting practice, hitters a little flummoxed

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The first day that pitchers throw to hitters during a live batting practice session is always a little entertaining (if you’re a pitcher), a little befuddling (if you’re a hitter) and not at all telling as to how these guys will perform in another five weeks (if you’re the manager).

Pitchers have a four-day head start on position players, and while that might not seem like a long time, it is. Pitchers have had a head start, getting their arms loose, throwing bullpens and slowly getting back into a (very preliminary) rhythm. Hitters, no matter how well-conditioned they are when they show up to camp and how much they’ve been hitting in the cages over the winter, are nowhere near where they will be in a few more weeks in terms of timing and simply shaking off the rust.

Fifteen pitchers threw live BP: LHPs Fernando Abad (pictured above), J.A. Happ, Sergio Escalona, Wandy Rodriguez, Wesley Wright; and RHPs Jeff Fulchino, Arcenio Leon, Wilton Lopez, Jordan Lyles, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Lance Pendleton, Aneury Rodriguez, Fernando Rodriguez Jr. and Henry Villar.

The Astros will have similar workouts throughout the week, and next Sunday, in anticipation of the first Grapefruit League game the next day, will play an Intrasquad game. These usually run 5 1/2 innings and will likely be the first time the team plays on the main field at Osceola County Stadium.
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Did you know? Hitting coach Mike Barnett was Michael Jordan’s hitting coach at AA Birmingham in 1994. Barnett recalled how focused Jordan was, no matter what the task at hand: “That type of competitiveness, that type of work ethic, he was just a joy to work with every day.”
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Quotable:

General Manager Ed Wade, on what has surprised him about camp:

“I just think the whole tone and tenor has been very, very positive. I think part of it flows from the staff and the attention to detail as regard to the schedule, and Millsie preaching energy to the staff during the eight o’clock meeting before they ever go out onto the field to interact with the players.  Let’s keep the energy up. I think a lot of it flows from the approach they’ve taken. It hasn’t been a case of any particular player standing out. It’s a case of the guys collectively looking like they understand why they’re here and having fun in the process.”
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The final Houston version of Astroline will take place Wednesday at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown, beginning at 7 p.m. CT. Our old buddy Phil Garner will join Milo Hamilton for the full hour and they welcome your calls (713-212-5874). The show is open to the public and will air on the club’s flagship station, 740 KTRH. The show will also be streamed live on astros.com and will be available in the archives on the site soon after the broadcast.

There is a twist to this Wednesday’s show: Astroline and Buffalo Wild Wings will be hosting a silent auction benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project, a fundraiser geared toward raising awareness and enlisting the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members. Participants can purchase a $10 ticket, which entitles them to six traditional or eight boneless wings and a beverage. In addition, these guests will receive a ticket to participate in a raffle of one autographed item. The silent auction, which will contain many Astros autographed items, will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. CT.
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On to the photos…

Michael Bourn grunted (in admiration) on more than one occasion while facing Abad.

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Infielders stand by while pitchers practice faking pickoff throws to second

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This conditioning exercise involves players bending their knees and flapping their arms. In a group, it looks like they’re trying to fly away.

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J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez during morning pickoff drills.

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Mills chats with players at the end of the workout, when players are stretching following conditioning drills.

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Happy to be here: Carlos Lee…

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…and Hunter Pence

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Gold Glove voters often get it right (Bourn). But not every time.

Michael Bourn was a deserving winner of his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award, and given his nearly flawless play in center field for two years running, few, if any, will question that his selection was legit.

But the yearly announcement of Gold Glove Award winners also brings up the yearly argument that certain players got hosed, and that the voting system is flawed. This appears to be one of the few areas of conversation that, seemingly, fans and writers actually agree upon.

I’ve read many columns this week that suggest Gold Glove voting is unfair, broken, inaccurate…pick whatever word you want, the fact is, many believe the system doesn’t work. I tend to agree with this. Voting on defense is extremely difficult, for two reasons: you need to play close attention to each individual player over a long period of time to truly grasp how capable a defender he is, and, more importantly, the numbers you see on a stat sheet regarding defense mean very little. And therein lies the problem.

It drives me absolutely crazy when an infielder’s low error total is used as a barometer for defensive excellence. “So-and-so has made the fewest errors of all NL shortstops and leads the league with a .991 fielding percentage.” In some cases, you can interpret this as “So-and-so has no range and therefore, every ball that is hit five feet to the left or right of him sneaks by for a base hit. Therefore, so-and-so’s fielding percentage is nearly perfect!”

It’s absurd. An older infielder who has limited abilities at his position, and therefore gets to half as many balls as someone 10 years younger, gets the high fielding percentage, while that lightning-fast youngster who gobbles everything hit within two time zones of where he’s standing and makes the occasional bad throw to first gets the shaft because the stat sheet says in plain view that his fielding percentage is *only* .975.

This is the main issue when it comes to voting for Gold Gloves. The sticking point really lies with the infielders more than anyone else. An outfielder’s ability is pretty transparent — he’s either fast, or he’s not. He either takes good routes to balls, or he doesn’t. He can either catch a fly ball, or he can’t. With infielders, it’s different. The balls come at them faster and there are many different types of errors to make — bobbles, bad throws, balls rolling through the legs, etc. Range is hugely important, and when an infielder’s range starts to leave him, it’s obvious.

But range is not something you can read on a stat sheet, and stat sheets are often the only thing the voters — managers and coaches — are using to determine who is deserving of Gold Gloves.

This isn’t a knock on the voters, although I don’t believe they’re all putting in a full effort to make good selections. I’ve been around a bunch of coaching staffs over the years and I’d say 60 percent really put some thought into voting and 40 percent did not. If that’s anything close to a barometer for the rest of the teams, there’s a problem.

To aid the voting process, managers and coaches are given statistical packets full of defensive stats for every player in the league to reference. The problem is, they’re only getting half the story, and if they’re basing it solely on whoever made the fewest errors…well, that’s an issue.

I believe Gold Glove voting can involve the managers and coaches, but it shouldn’t be limited to only them. Perhaps the writers should become involved, but to be honest, the first people I’d add to the voter pool are the broadcasters. Announcers are watching and scrutinizing and talking about every single play made during a game. And they remember what they saw and described. As a reporter, I remember several instances where I’d call Dave Raymond while writing my game story because I couldn’t remember a certain play but I knew he’d recall it instantly.

I also think some consideration should be given to players becoming involved in voting. Not all of the players, but perhaps those who appear on the All-Star ballot. First basemen vote for the best first basemen, second basemen for the best second basemen, and on and on. The only rule is, you can’t vote for yourself.

And let’s not forget the pool of experts that comprise The Fielding Bible committee. Let’s face it — there are a lot of qualified people that can help pick the best of the best defenders. So why aren’t we using them?

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Fortunately, we don’t have any such controversy in Houston. Bourn is just really, really good. As Ed Wade said, “You see the ball leave the bat, and you say, ‘No way that one gets caught,’ and then Michael runs it down. Some guys make plays look tougher than they are. Michael makes the impossible catch look routine.”

Some snippets from Bourn’s conference call with the media:

On if he feels that it’s easier to win Gold Gloves once you’ve won one:

“I didn’t expect it. I think you still have to earn it. The first time is the hardest time, but every time you get it, it’s an honor. It can never get old.”

On what it takes, besides speed, to be a Gold Glove center fielder:

“The routes you run. The better routes you take, the easier it is to get to the ball, the less you have to dive. That’s the biggest thing. Jumps are important, too.”

(Bourn also said he gave his parents his Gold Glove Award last year, but this year, he’s keeping it for himself.)

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On our TV broadcasters, Astroline and Michael Bourn.

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While I realize there are still a lot of unanswered questions floating around regarding last week’s announcement that the Astros will partner with Comcast beginning in 2012, I do want to clear up one thing: Astros broadcasters, both for radio and television, are employed by the Astros, not the stations that broadcast the games.

I’ve read and heard a lot of concern about Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown, our lovable TV announcers, as to how the new TV deal affects them. Rest assured, it doesn’t. They’re Astros employees and therefore, they go where the Astros go. Same goes for Milo Hamilton, Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond on the radio side.

Regarding your other questions surrounding what the new TV deal means for you and your current cable carrier, please be patient. Most of your questions do not have answers yet. There are a lot of moving parts and eventually, everything will be clear. For now, it’s not, so giving half-baked answers that may or may not accurately apply in ’12 would be irresponsible on my part. Thank you for your patience.

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Speaking of broadcasting, the Astros’ wildly popular offseason radio show, Astroline, will begin its weekly run beginning Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. CT. Aired on 740 KTRH, streamed live on Astros.com and hosted by Hamilton, Astroline will take place at a new location — Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown (510 Gray St.)

We’re still waiting for confirmation on the first guest, but we can tell you that the Houston portion of Astroline will include 13 dates: Nov. 17; Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 29; Jan. 5, 12, 19 and 26; Feb. 2, 9, 16 and 23. The show will then relocate to Florida for Spring Training.

As was the case last year, Twitter will have an active role during Astroline. Fans will be encouraged to tweet their questions to me (twitter.com/alysonfooter) and we’ll read them, and answer them, over the air.

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Next Wednesday, we’ll find out if Michael Bourn won his second National League Gold Glove award. I’m guessing the odds are in his favor, for two reasons: he’s clearly one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and, it’s a lot easier to win it the second, third and fourth times around. The toughest part is getting the player enough national publicity for voters from far-away teams to take notice, but once his name is out there as a top defender, the ensuing awards come at a much more rapid pace.

In the meantime, Bourn was recognized for his defense last week by another pretty reputable entity. The Fielding Bible doesn’t carry the same glitz and glamour as the Gold Glove, but I like it because of how technical it gets when evaluating the candidates.

The Fielding Bible is a book compiled by John Dewan, who has recruited some of the most respected people in the game to analyze every play (literally) a player makes during the season. Detailed information is recorded on each play, such as the location of each batted ball, the speed and the type of hit and determining how each player compares to his peers in making those plays. An example Dewan uses is: How often does Derek Jeter field a softly batted ball located 20 feet to the right of the normal shortstop position, compared to all other Major League shortstops?

Dewan uses the plus/minus system for plays made and missed, as compared to how often they were made and missed by others at the same position. (For the record, Adam Everett turned in the highest score ever, turning in a +43 at shortstop in ’06. That means he made 43 more plays than the average MLB shortstop would make.)

Anyhoo, in layman’s terms, Bourn being recognized as the best center fielder in baseball by the Fielding Bible doesn’t just mean he made a bunch of plays that drew oohs and ahs by spectators, cable stations and web sites. It means he’s taking good routes to balls, getting good jumps and reading the ball well off the bat. It means he has great instincts, which is something that can improve over time but cannot be taught. He’s making a lot of things look easy that simply are not. All good news for Astros fans.

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And finally, a dip into the photo vault…here we have a very young, fresh-faced Hunter Pence attending batting practice after he was drafted and signed by the Astros in 2004. Other than utilizing a wide array of hair styles over the years, he really hasn’t changed much…

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On Carl Crawford, the 2011 infield, and our own Emmy winning TV star.

It’s never too early for a little Hot Stove chatter…

Let’s get this one out of the way now: Carl Crawford is from Houston, he’s only 29, and he can do a lot of things really well — hit for average, hit for power, play tremendous defense…plus, he’s fast (as kids, he and childhood buddy Michael Bourn were pretty much considered the fastest runners in Houston and used to go toe-to-toe, literally, for bragging rights.) In a nutshell, Crawford is that five-tool player worthy of a nice, fat contract and appears to be the most attractive free agent about to hit the market this winter.

A lot of you have asked what the odds are that the Astros will be the team to sign him to that nice, fat contract. I put the odds at slim to none.

The numbers I’m hearing bandied about from industry insiders is six years at $120 million or seven at $140 million. Yes, there will be a team out there goofy enough to shell out that kind of cash. I cannot envision it’ll be the Astros.

The payroll is not yet set, but it’s going to be somewhat lower than the $93 million it was when the season started, and higher than the $50-some million it was when the season ended. The Astros will be able to retain all of the arbitration-eligible players they want to bring back, and they’ll have some wiggle room to fill in gaps (fifth starter, utility infielder, bullpen, etc.). But to sign Crawford means allotting what could be as much as one-quarter of the entire payroll to one player. That’s a bad blueprint, regardless of how great of a player Crawford is.

Plus, you know how I feel about signing Type A free agents, which will cost the team its first-round draft pick. Losing first-rounders is part of what contributed to the dip in Minor League talent over the last decade, and while the farm system is slowly replenishing itself, the Astros are not yet to the point where they should be sacrificing those precious picks.

(Update 10/20: I had that wrong…totally forgot about the rule that protects teams that finish in bottom half of standings from losing their first-rounder. Sorry about that…that being said, it won’t have any bearing on the Astros not being in on the bidding for Crawford.)

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To-do list

So what are the priorities this offseason? The Astros will be looking for fifth starter candidates (Felipe Paulino and Jordan Lyles are two internal options), a utility infielder and possibly a left-handed hitting outfielder who could platoon with Jason Michaels in left field.

Left field might be open, should Carlos Lee move to first base. That could change if Brett Wallace wins the first base job outright during Spring Training, sending Carlos back to left. These are scenarios that will sort themselves out next spring, but look for the Astros to search for some backup outfield help (Brian Bogusevic is an internal candidate to fill that role).

The Astros will also look at second base and shortstop and decide if they want to stick with Jeff Keppinger and Tommy Manzella, respectively. Keppinger had a terrific year, producing the most consistent numbers of any position player on the roster. He’s also under club control for two more seasons, which makes him an attractive piece to keep around. Manzella, and Angel Sanchez, are less of a sure thing.

Manzella needs to hit a little more to really establish himself at this level, and Sanchez, as good as he was offensively, may not be the answer from a defensive standpoint. His range was decent, but his arm strength is somewhat of an issue.

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Applause, applause

Big congratulations to FS Houston’s Patti Smith, Max Mejia and Marshall Hooker, each of whom took home a Lone Star Emmy under the category of “Sports — One-time Special” for their “Spotlight” show about Miguel Tejada in 2009.

Our own Jim Deshaies also won an Emmy in the “On Camera Talent” for, well, be an outstanding on-air analyst.

The eighth annual Lone Star Emmys took place Sunday night in Dallas. Kudos to all of the winners…

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Terribly tragic news from out Latin American operation: Astros Venezuelan Scout Luimac Quero passed away in the early morning hours on Sunday from a heart attack at the age of 26. He is survived by his wife Klineidy Leon, who is three months pregnant, and his one year old daughter, Megan Quero. Deep condolences to his family.

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From the photo vault…

Here we have an image of one of the first photo shoots for the Astros pet calendar, probably taken about four years ago. My only question is, what were they feeding that cat?!?! (The kitty cat, not the Puma.)

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Are the Astros a better team when Carlos Lee plays first base?

During Brad Mills’ daily session with the media on Tuesday, the skipper revealed that he and Ed Wade had talked extensively last winter about moving Carlos Lee to first base and Lance Berkman to left field.

Berkman had volunteered to do so if management felt that would give them the best chance to win, and although they ultimately decided against pulling the switch-a-roo, it does raise an interesting question about what the Astros might have in mind for 2011.

Lee has played a lot at first base lately, more than Brett Wallace, and you have to assume that Lee, at this point, has the edge on Wallace as to who might be playing over there come Opening Day next year.

This isn’t so much about Wallace’s performance so far as it’s about the team putting Lee at a position that best helps the ballclub. And I think it’s pretty obvious that Lee is much better at first base than we thought he’d be, and he’s also a much better first baseman than he is a left fielder.

You also have to wonder if playing first base has helped Lee at the plate. Is playing a position where he is involved in nearly every play, which in turn requires non-stop concentration, helping him focus better at the plate? There seems to be long stretches of nothingness while standing in the outfield, and I can see where it would be easy to become distracted or let your mind wander. Maybe the concentration that’s there when Carlos plays first base lingers when he is hitting. It could be the best explanation as to why his bat has come to life after hitting around .240 for the better part of four months.

So if Carlos plays first base next year, where does that leave Wallace? More than likely, it would leave him in Oklahoma City, which on Wednesday will be formally introduced as the Astros’ new Triple-A affiliate.

Wallace is a young player with options on his contract, which means the Astros can send him to the Minor Leagues without penalty. And when you’re a young player, sometimes the numbers game — not statistical numbers, but rather, the numbers that total what a team is paying a veteran player — trumps productivity, or potential for productivity, on the field.

Wallace playing first base at Triple-A gives the Astros depth at the first base position — a plus for the club. It’s probably not what Wallace wants to hear, and we’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves by even trying to look seven months down the road. But it’s an interesting discussion nonetheless.

The other question is, if Carlos plays first, who plays left field? I went back and forth on this topic with a lot of you over Twitter, and many of you suggested Brian Bogusevic. My response? I am all for taking a look at him out there, but I have not seen him play enough to make a concrete judgment on how he’ll perform if he plays, say, 150 games out there. That would be one of the many questions the front office and field staff would have to answer between now and Opening Day next year.

Some suggested Jason Michaels be given a chance to start, but I do not believe that is the answer. It’s easy to look at the nice year Michaels is having and assume he should be an every day player. But I believe Michaels is perfectly suited for what he’s doing right now — starting once or twice a week to stay fresh, and coming off the bench as a late-game pinch-hitter in RBI situations. That’s what he’s here for, and it’s what he does well.

The Astros will have some money to spend — how much is to be determined — and could pursue a free agent outfielder. Or they could take a look at Jason Bourgeois or other outfielders currently in the system. First and foremost, they must decide where they want Lee to play. I still think Wallace is the long-term solution at first base, but there’s nothing that says that long term has to begin in 2011.

If you were a decision-maker, what would you do?

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The Astros made their annual trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center Tuesday morning, and by my count, they batted 1.000 in attendance. The entire team (which, you’ve probably noticed, is pretty expansive this time of year), the coaching staff and the athletic training staff were accounted for, as were Wade, Dave Gottfried and the Grand Poobah himself, owner Drayton McLane.

That there were not as many wounded soldiers to meet this time was a blessing, of course. Those who were there rehabbing were gracious with their time when the Astros approached, and as usual, in terms of lifting spirits, the players left feeling they got more out of the visit than the soldiers.

“They tell you they wish they could go back (to the Middle East),” Mills said. “Because they’re soldiers, and that’s what they do. There’s a sense of gratitude for that.”

We were asked not to take pictures or film video inside the medical center, but I did manage to capture a few images with my iphone before we went in…

Bagwell, McLane (I was fighing the sun on this one)
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And finally, here are some images from batting practice at the Nationals’ (really impressive, fan-friendly) ballpark:

Press box view:  

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Michael Bourn, who will be out at least a couple more days with a strained oblique, hangs out at the cage with hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and tries not to lose his mind with boredom. Not playing appears to be not sitting well with the speedy center fielder.

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Jason Castro

 

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Hunter Pence

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Brett Wallace

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Lots of Astros fans in the stands for the first two games. Here’s a shot of one particularly interesting fan we met Tuesday.

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Jim Deshaies found him interesting, too. I think JD made a ZZ Top reference during the exchange.

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Early returns on Happ? A-plus.

When the Astros were in Philadelphia on the last road trip, I learned from a local reporter that when the big trade went down — the one that sent Roy Oswalt to Philly in exchange for J.A. Happ and others — the Phillies players didn’t want to talk about it with the media.

The players were upset to lose Happ, and they were wary of sounding like it was a slam on Oswalt. It wasn’t. They were happy to have him on their team, but they were saddened to lose Happ, a pitcher whom most of his former teammates saw as a future top-of-the-rotation mainstay. They knew what they were losing. One month later, it’s becoming clear that Philly’s loss was Houston’s gain. In a big way.

Happ isn’t going to overpower hitters, but clearly, he knows how to confuse them. Other than one abysmal start in St. Louis — his second start as an Astro — Happ has been, for lack of a better term, nails. He tossed a two-hit shutout against the same St. Louis club on Monday, lowering his ERA at Minute Maid Park to 0.84. He’s the only pitcher in stadium history to make at least five starts without recording a loss, and his ERA this season is 2.89.

Happ is 27 and under club control through 2014. He’ll begin his arbitration years in 2012. In other words, the Astros have him for a long time, and when you’re in the process of revamping your organization, it’s essential to reload with young pitchers who will be around for a while. The starting rotation has posted a 2.27 ERA over the last 21 games, and Happ has been a big part of it.

A lot will have to go right in order for the Astros to a force in the NL Central next year, but when you have a strong starting staff, you have a chance. The Astros, at the very least, have that.

Other notes from the win:

Carlos Lee picked up an RBI Monday, giving him 29 RBI in his last 30 games since July 28. Since that date, Lee leads all Major Leaguers in RBIs immediately ahead of Carlos Gonzalez (28) and Casey McGehee (28).

Michael Bourn extended his hitting streak to nine games by going 1-for-4. The streak dates back to Aug. 22, during which he’s hit .368 with five stolen bases and three RBIs.

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Calling all heroes

The Astros are honoring all local police forces, fire stations and EMS teams as well as those serving in the United States Armed Forces during 9/11 Heroes Night at Minute Maid Park prior to the Astros vs. Pirates game.

The Astros are also offering a special discount to all local heroes and their guests. Fans can visit www.astros.com/heroes to take advantage of this offer.

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29-95.com night

Join the Astros for 29-95.com Night at Minute Maid Park on Friday, September 17. For just $29.95, you can score a package that includes a seat on the FiveSeven Patio to watch the Astros take on the Reds, a slider trio (burger, chicken and pulled pork), french fries and your choice of beverage.

After the game, you can enjoy live music from Robert Ellis and The Boys in the FiveSeven Grille. Plus, each 29-95.com member will receive an Astros cap and $3.75 draft beer and margarita specials.

Tickets and food and beverage vouchers will be mailed upon receipt of purchase on or before Friday, Sept. 10. Packages purchased after Sept. 10 can be picked up at the Minute Maid Park Box Office, located along Texas Avenue, on Sept. 17. Box Office will open at 9:00 a.m.

Click here to order tickets: http://houston.astros.mlb.com/hou/ticketing/2995.jsp

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It’s always nice when Craig Biggio drops by the ballpark, but it’s especially appreciated by your friendly neighborhood blogger, for photo opp purposes. Enjoy the sights:

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Bagwell and Biggio together always creates a bit of a stir.

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Bourn

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Chris Johnson

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Jason Michaels, Geoff Blum

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Carlos Lee

 

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Hunter Pence

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Astros are on Facebook

Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter

Check out Astros witticisms at PumaOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

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