Results tagged ‘ Michael Bourn ’

A Lone Survivor celebrated at Minute Maid Park. And Bourns an All-Star.

Minute Maid Park was anything but dark after the Astros left for their recent 10-game jaunt from Arlington to Milwaukee to San Diego. While they’ve hosted some pretty monumental events at their downtown facility, the June 26 bash may just take the cake.

Retired Navy SEAL and best-selling author Marcus Luttrell, a Houston native and a personal friend to general manager Ed Wade, has begun the next phase of his life by helping returning combat veterans who have seen and been through the worst of the worst and survived to talk about it. Luttrell, with the help of the Astros, launched The Lone Survivor Foundation with a star-studded bash at Minute Maid that will certainly bring welcome attention to the grass-roots campaign.

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Some background information on Luttrell: Five years ago, he and his fellow Navy SEALs were sent on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan to capture or kill a Taliban leader. The mission, known as Operation Redwing, tragically concluded after the SEALs were betrayed by some Afghan villagers after the SEALs spared their lives.

Luttrell, though badly wounded, managed to escape a Taliban onslaught and was eventually protected and saved by an Afghan village elder. He was the lone survivor of Operation Redwing.

Luttrell, author of the best-selling memoir “Lone Survivor,” has in the works plans for an all-encompassing ranch retreat that will create a safe haven for warriors and their families to relax, rehabilitate and recover. While waiting for the ranch blueprint to come to fruition, the foundation will offer unique off-site rehabilitation opportunities and will provide funding for rehabilitation and recovery programs for Patriots at other locations.

After the ranch opens the foundation will continue to fund unique requirements on a case by case basis.  Examples include attending athletic performance centers, pain management programs, obtaining invitro-fertilization for those who have lost their ability to naturally reproduce due to combat wounds, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, purchasing adaptive athletic equipment such as adaptive bikes, guns and skis.

The sold-out event at Minute Maid Park drew plenty of celebrities, but even more significantly, the families of the warriors were also in attendance, as were the helicopter pilots and crew that eventually rescued Luttrell.

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What’s more, the United States Air Force authorized those pilots and crew to fly the same helicopter used in the rescue and land it in the parking lot across the street from Minute Maid Park. Luttrell had not seen the people who saved him since he was flown to the hospital following the rescue.

Among the headliners: actor Jim Caviezel, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Peterson, the helicopter pilot that rescued Luttrell, Texas First Lady Anita Perry, actor/director Peter Berg, who is directing the “Lone Survivor” movie, General Leroy Sisco and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck (below).

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The event was hosted by the Boot Girls, a group of five Texas women who are initiating the unique “Boot Campaign” designed to raise funds for organizations such as the Lone Survivor Foundation. The Boot Campaign is a project that invites Americans to buy a pair of Military boots — to take a step in “their shoes” — and the donations go to the Lone Survivor Campaign and other Military groups.

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Congratulations to Michael Bourn, who had a dazed but happy look on his face as his teammates offered their kudos Sunday morning upon hearing that the Gold Glove center fielder had been named to the 2010 National League All-Star team. Most of us figured Roy Oswalt would be the lone Astros representative despite having 10 losses to his record, but NL manager Charlie Manuel gave the nod to Bourn, whose speed on the basepaths and stellar defense earned him a coveted spot on the roster.

The selection show on TBS started at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, so Wade had to call Bourn pretty early Sunday morning to give him the good news.

A groggy Bourn saw Wade’s number on his cell phone around 8 and thought, “I hope this isn’t something bad.” Bourn figured it was one of two things: either he was traded, or he was an All-Star. He was thrilled when it turned out to be the latter.

This is Bourn’s first All-Star game, which is always special. My favorite part of the All-Star festivities is the pregame introductions, where players get individual face time as they’re announced to the crowd. It’s always a prideful time for the fans of those particular players, and I’m looking forward to Bourn giving a tip of the cap to the camera when his name is announced. Now let’s just hope Manuel plays him.

Have you hugged your recycle bin today?

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Earth Day has been around for 40 years, but being truly environmentally observant is a relatively new phenomenon for most of us. “Going Green,” of course, is a hip, somewhat new trend, one that the Astros embraced a few years ago and continue to observe today.

The Astros wore green caps during their game with the Marlins, but the true Earth Day celebration began several hours earlier when Geoff Blum, popular television announcers Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown and crews from both the Astros and FS Houston teamed with second graders from Foerster Elementary School to plant seeds in a nearby garden.

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Blum, Brownie

The morning was spent working several garden beds at the Westbury Community Garden, adding soil and fertilizer and planting seeds that will become fruits and vegetables. Those items will eventually be distributed to Westbury residents and surrounding communities.

After raking several pounds of soil with Brownie and ribbing J.D. for wearing the wrong kind of shoes, Blum got down and dirty, planting seeds alongside the kids while simultaneously posing for photos and signing autographs.

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Deshaies

“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of it,” Blum said. “You go to some of these communities and you think it’s pretty much hopeless, and then all of a sudden, there’s this gorgeous oasis of fruits and vegetables and things and the kids are out here having a blast.
 
“They’re realizing the importance of what growing food is. The fact that these kids get to plant the seeds, watch them grow and then harvest everything that they’ve grown, and get to enjoy it, eat it, give it back to a food bank and things like that, that’s pretty impressive.”

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Patti Smith interviews the kids

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An hour south of Westbury, another significant celebration took place when the Astros In Action Foundation and Minute Maid dedicated the newly-refurbished Columbo Field and Buccaneer Field in Galveston.

Drayton McLane, Ed Wade, Grand Slam for Youth Baseball Ambassadors Michael Bourn, and Hunter Pence and former player Jimmy Wynn took part in the ceremony, while broadcaster Milo Hamilton served as emcee.

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Hurricane Ike significantly damaged these two fields and Grand Slam for Youth Baseball, a partnership between the Astros and Minute Maid, restored them to full operation.

Island Little League’s Columbo Field received field turf reconditioning and repairs, infield reconditioning, a dugout-to-dugout warning track, re-worked batting cages and a new electronic scoreboard. 

Galveston West-Isle Little League’s Buccaneer Field received the same repairs plus the replacement of the original on-field concrete walkway with warning track material.

These fields were the eighth and ninth to be refurbished by the Astros and Minute Maid through Grand Slam for Youth Baseball – a community outreach effort that seeks to foster self-confidence, involvement, teamwork and fun among area children.

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Astros potpourri: Gold Gloves, broadcasting news and charity events galore.

Accolades for Bourn

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We lead off, fittingly, with our leadoff hitter, who had his hands full before Friday’s game when he scooped up a couple of well-deserved awards for his stellar season in 2009.

Michael Bourn, the club’s MVP last year, was presented with the Rawlings Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence and the Lou Brock Award, presented to the National League leader in stolen bases.

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Brownie, J.D…and Bagwell.

In the years since Jeff Bagwell retired, he’s been hesitant — and by hesitant, I mean wholly disinterested — in getting involved in the television side of the game. Bags shies away from the spotlight, and as polished as he was talking to the media every night as a player, moving up to the broadcast booth — a landing place for so many former players — wasn’t anything Bagwell aspired to do.

I don’t know what changed his mind, but who cares? Saturdays are about to get a lot more fun around here, with Bill Brown, Jim Deshaies and Bagwell teaming up on FS Houston for 13 home games this year.

“It’s something fun to do around the ballpark,” Bagwell said. “Drayton (McLane) and I talked about it thought it would be something kind of fun, would be nice for the fans, and for me.”

He plans to go easy with the criticism, having not forgotten how truly hard it is to play this game and how much slower baseball looks from the press box

“Mental errors, or if someone doesn’t run the bases the right way — that’s the only thing I’ll bring up,” he said. “I am definitely pro-player, I promise you that.”

Read the full story on Bagwell’s new gig here, and watch the video here

Below are some images from Bagwell’s autograph session on Friday with kids who registered for Prepared 4 Life’s Lemonade Day event. He’ll do so again on Sunday, signing for kids outside of the Squeeze Play near the right field entrance from 12:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Lemonade Day is a nation-wide event taking place on May 2, which teaches kids the skills they need to be successful in the future. Youth learn to set goals, develop a business plan, establish a budget, seek investors, provide customer service and give back to the community.

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Speaking of our lovable former first baseman…if you haven’t caught former Astro Morgan Ensberg’s explanation as to why Bagwell is the most well-respected Astro, probably ever, do yourself a favor and take a minute to read his most recent blog entry.

Not only does Ensberg perfectly illustrate some of the “little things” Bagwell did as the leader of this team for so many years, you’ll also get a hilarious account of the first time Ensberg was called up in 2000. He walked into the gigantic home clubhouse and was horrified to see his locker was right between Bagwell and Biggio. Good stuff.

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Make A Wish

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Lost in the Opening Day frenzy was a nice side story involving the Astros and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Seventeen-year-old Ramon suffers from Muscular Dystrophy, as does his 15-year-old brother Jose.  Along with their sister Vanessa (five), mom Griselda and dad Ramon, the family was invited down onto the field to watch batting practice and mingle with several players. 

The kids are huge Astros fans, and Ramon was an avid ballplayer until MD made that impossible. Ramon shies from being the center of attention, but on Monday, he was given the star treatment by the players.

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(photos: Stephen O’Brien)

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A Gathering of Champions

A lot of you were bummed out when Casey Daigle didn’t make the team out of Spring Training, not because you were so attached to the young right-handed reliever, but because Daigle making the team increases the odds that his better half– wife Jennie Finch — would make a few cameo appearances at Minute Maid Park.

Ironically, she’ll be in Houston in the near future, likely without hubs. Finch, arguably the best women’s softball player on the planet, is one of many sports stars scheduled to attend “A Gathering of Champions,” benefitting Houston Children’s Charity.

More than two dozen former athletes are scheduled to attend the April 30 event, hosted by Paige and Tilman Fertitta. Several have ties (past and present) to the Astros: Bagwell, Nolan Ryan, Craig Biggio and Larry Dierker.

You can find more details about the event here.

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Also mark your calendars for the annual Tommy Bahama Island Cowboy Classic, scheduled for Monday, April 26. This is always well-attended by current and former Astros players, as well as many people from the front office and broadcast teams. This year, proceeds will benefit Astros in Action and support the Montgomery County Special Olympics.

For more information, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mills sounded optimistic after the game as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On if there are ever times where he misses playing:

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

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

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

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

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

On his most memorable moment in the big leagues:

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

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

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

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

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Feliz and Hunter Pence sign autographs,.

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Jason Michaels, another phormer Phillie.

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Astros, Mills pass the first test. Game one in the books.

As nice as Spring Training wins are for the fans, you’re not going to draw a ton of emotion from those in uniform, regardless of the outcome. The spring season is long and there’s a ton of work to do to get ready for Opening Day, and one win won’t make or break a season.

Still, winning is always nice, regardless of whether the games count in the real standings. The Astros pummeled the Nationals on Thursday by a score of 15-5, and manager Brad Mills drew both positives and negatives from the landslide win in Kissimmee.

The offense was fantastic, but the defense struggled. Hunter Pence wowed the crowd with two home runs, a feat that did not go unnoticed by the new skipper.

“Can I put in my order for two homers every day? Is that OK?” Mills said. “He’s been working every day early, before BP, and late. That’s how he does things. It’s not a surprise that he was ready right out of the chute.”

Watch Mills break down the Astros’ win here. And, as always, enjoy the images from gameday at Osceola County Stadium…

Pregame dugout scene: Michael Bourn, Jason Michaels 

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First base coach Bobby Meacham and Geoff Blum.

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 Jeff Bagwell signs an autograph for a young fan before the game.

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Jose Cruz and Kazuo Matsui chat before the game.

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Hunter Pence, during the anthem.

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A win is a win is a win…

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Ballplayers acting out (literally).

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Funny skits and “getting to know you” bits that are played on the scoreboards in between innings have become such a part of today’s Major League Baseball experience that it’s easy to take them for granted.

The process to put it all together, however, is no easy task. It takes incredible organization on the part of the ballpark entertainment crew, considering it has dozens of players and staff to involve in the process and has to get a season’s-worth of content filmed over a span of less than two weeks.

The Astros’ Ballpark Entertainment department is currently in the process of filming several features for the 2010 season: “Fact or Fiction,” “A Closer Look,” “Think Tank,” “Little League Memories” and “Guess the Flick.” Between now and the first couple of days of March, the staff will have recorded spots with every player who is either guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster or has a chance to make the club this year.

“Fact or Fiction” involves the player making a statement, and then the crowd has to decide if it’s true or not.

“A Closer Look” focuses on things we might not already know about the player — what was his first job? What sport was he good at growing up besides baseball? What movie star do people think he looks like? The final product will include funny motion graphics to illustrate the answers.

“Think Tank” pairs up teammates, who engage in a Q&A word association.

“Guess the Flick” involves playing a scene from a well-known movie, and inserting the player into the scene.

Brian Moehler, Bud Norris and Jeff Fulchino filmed their segments on Monday, and we snuck into the room to get some raw video footage of our own, to share with you. Moehler was hilarious — he acted out a scene from “Dumb and Dumber” and even though I’ve known him for quite a few years, this is the first time I’ve ever heard him get loud. Check out the video to see for yourself.

Moehler also reveals which celebrity people think he looks like, who his most annoying teammate is (I don’t want to name names, but it rhymes with Plum) and that he went to high school with Molly Ringwald (or did he? That’s for you to decide when you play “Fact or Fiction.”)

The Astros ballpark crew — Kirby Kander, Senior Director of Creative Services, Brock Jessel, Director of Ballpark Entertainment, and Joey Graham, Production Coordinator, recently received two Golden Matrix Awards for the 2009 season, including the Best Overall Video Display Award (Best Show in Baseball). This is the fifth consecutive season they’ve won the award, something no other professional sports team has done. Kander, Jessel and Graham also won the Best Interactive In-game Feature for their Guess the Flick segments.

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Here are some images from Monday’s shoot, plus a few from the second full day of pitchers and catchers workouts at Osceola County Stadium:

Moehler, talking about Brett Favre and Molly Ringwald.

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Norris and Fulchino, being prepped on their video segment.

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Fulchino, Mills, Oswalt, Lindstrom.

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Byrdak, Wandy throw side sessions.

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Catchers lined up, catching the side sessions.

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Oswalt throws side session, with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg watching closely.

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Lots of position players showed up to work out, even though they don’t have to official report until Wednesday. Here we have Michael Bourn…

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Hunter Pence…

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Tommy Manzella.

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Celebrating 45 years of Astros memories. On the docket: Mike Scott bobbleheads.

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Being a baseball history fanatic, I’m glad this season will be one of those milestone years for the Astros. Season-long celebrations keep things interesting, and they bring back a lot of the old players, either in person or in the form of cool promotional giveaways.

The Astros are celebrating their 45th birthday this year, and you can expect a lot of fun days at Minute Maid Park that will include a reintroduction of players from the past and a few turn-back-the-clock activities.

I was 11 years away from arriving to my adopted hometown of Houston in ’86 when Mike Scott threw his division-clinching no-hitter, but I’ve heard so many accounts of that game from people who were there — Jim Deshaies, Milo Hamilton, Bill Brown, Larry Dierker, and on and on — that I almost feel like I do remember it, even though I wasn’t there, wasn’t listening on the radio and didn’t even read about it in the paper the next day.

The first (and only) time I met Scott was in ’04 when he flew to Houston from California to participate in some of the All-Star festivities at the convention center and the ballpark. He was exactly how J.D. described him — laid-back, California-cool, wearing flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt and a half-grin that gave the vibe of someone who enjoys the occasional appearance asked of former players by their former teams, but also of someone who’s happily enjoying retirement, away from the game.

(Side note — In the media dining room at Shea Stadium many years ago, Keith Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster, spotted Alan Ashby, then an Astros broadcaster, and said, “Come on, Ash, just fess up. Scotty was scuffing the ball, wasn’t he?” Ashby chuckled, but said nothing. J.D., sitting nearby, cracked up.)

Scott will be one of several past Astros legends immortalized in Bobbleland when his likeness will be handed out to the first 10,000 lucky fans on July 10. Other nostalgic bobbleheads on the docket: Jose Cruuuuuuuz (April 24), Jimmy Wynn (June 5) and Nolan Ryan (June 19).

On May 22, the Astros will give away a bobblehead featuring modern-day fan favorite and Gold Glover Michael Bourn.

A sampling of this season’s promotional items was revealed on Monday, when the Astros announced that regular-season individual tickets will go on sale Friday, Feb. 19 at 9 a.m. CT. The first of seven giveaways in April arrives on Opening Day (April 5), with a schedule magnet going to the first 40,000 fans.

The 45th Anniversary celebration begins April 9, when a special, 45th Anniversary Astros cap will be handed out to the first 10,000 fans. The next night (April 10), the first 10,000 fans will receive a commemorative 1965 Astros jersey.

In May, the Astros again will be helping to create awareness about Breast Cancer with a week-long ‘Pink In The Park‘ promotion, which will include a pink cap for the first 10,000 fans on May 7 and a Pink Tote Bag for the first 10,000 fans on May 8 (Mother’s Day). A trendy, Astros laptop computer sleeve will be given for the first time to the first 10,000 fans on May 20.

On Father’s Day (June 20), the first 10,000 men age 15 and older will receive an Astros necktie. On July 28, the Astros will continue in the celebration of the 45th Anniversary with an orange retro cap giveaway for the first 10,000 fans. On August 15, the first 10,000 kids aged 14 and under will receive a school backpack designed with the look of a catcher’s chest protector.

Friday Night Fireworks also return in 2010 as each Friday night home game will be followed by a fireworks display (weather permitting). A full listing of the Astros 2010 promotional schedule will be available online at astros.com when regular season tickets go on sale Friday, and, of course, additional promotional items will be added to the schedule throughout the season.

Other stuff:

* On Feb. 16 and 17, the Astros are offering all full-season and 27-game plan ticket holders the opportunity to purchase individual game tickets online as part of their season-ticket benefits.

*On Feb. 18, all registered users of astros.com will have the opportunity to also purchase individual game tickets online. There is still time for fans to purchase season tickets or register on the website to take advantage of this limited opportunity.

* For the past several seasons, Opening Day has been a quick sellout, and this season figures to be no different. To guarantee a seat for Opening Day right now, fans can purchase a full-season ticket package or the Opening Day 14-Game Flex Plan, which includes tickets to the home opener and home finale as well as 12 games of the purchaser’s choosing, plus an additional bonus game for free. Opening Day tickets can also be purchased now through either the Hunter’s Lodge or All You Can Eat 6-Game Flex Plans.

* Every Sunday home game is a Price Matters Day, where fans can purchase a View Deck II ticket, hot dog, chips and soda for just $10. The All You Can Eat promotion, which has been expanded to include all home games, gives fan the opportunity to enjoy all of their favorite ballpark fare for just $25 per ticket. The You Pick’Em 6-Game Plan, which starts as low as $42 and gives the fans their choice of games (excluding Opening Day), is one of several reasonably-priced flex plans available.

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Catching up after a busy week, while getting ready for another one.

Some observations after Week One of caravan season…

1. I think you’re going to really like Brad Mills. He smart, passionate about baseball and while he’s technically a “rookie” manager, he has plenty of leadership experience, having managed 11 years in the Minor Leagues and coached 11 years in the big leagues. He spent the last six years as Terry Francona’s bench coach and earned two World Series rings in the process. I believe that counts for something — a lot, actually.

Mills feels very strongly that there is a correct way to conduct yourself when you are a Major League ballplayer. He believes in the importance of the veteran players passing along that knowledge to the young players, and he also believes in every player taking the field with absolutely no confusion about what is expected. 

I swore I wasn’t going to make any sweeping proclamations about someone taking over a high position with the organization, based on some of my past observations over the last eight-plus years that I now have deemed cringe-worthy (“So-and-so’s GREAT! Capable! Approachable!” Only to find out that well, no, that wasn’t the case. At all.) But I spent a full week around Mills, first in Temple and then in Houston, where we had plenty of time to chat during the long drives to and from about a dozen caravan stops. And I have to say, with no hesitation, Mills clearly gets it.

I walked away from the caravan week with a strong feeling that the clubhouse culture is going to change dramatically soon after Spring Training begins. Toward the end of 2009, there was a feeling of defeat that I have never, ever seen from a Houston club, even in the down years. I don’t know Mills that well yet, but I just cannot envision him putting up with any sort of defeatist attitude from the players.

Plus, he’s a warm-weather kind of guy. He called Francona, who lives year-round in Boston, yesterday to let him know “It’s 75 degrees here and there is not a cloud in the sky.” Just wait until he manages 81 home games without a single rain delay. he’ll feel like he hit the lotto.

2. Of all of the recipients of the Darryl Kile Award over the years, Brian Moehler just might fit the description better than anyone. The award goes to someone who, among other things, is a great teammate who puts the team before any personal agenda.

On our way to a caravan stop on Wednesday, Moehler brought up what a fantastic signing Brett Myers is and how much it improved the Astros chances to be competitive in 2010.

Now, Myers just might have knocked Moehler out of the starting rotation mix and bump him to the ‘pen. That is of little concern to Moehler. The only thing that matters to him is winning, and Myers increases the Astros’ chances to do just that. If it means taking a lesser role on the team, then, in Moehler’s view, so be it.

3. Pitchers and catchers work out in less than a month. The first full-squad workout will take place a few days after that. Here’s what intrigues me the most:

* Jason Castro’s chances to make the team as the front-line catcher right out of the chute. I’m sensing that the club would like for it to happen, but is hesitant to put that much pressure on the kid. Someone brought up a good point — Castro needs to concentrate on his work behind the plate, handling a pitching staff, learning opposing hitters, etc…yet, his odds to make the club will largely depend on how well he hits in March. Is that fair?

* Roy Oswalt’s back: He’s changed up his conditioning routine, cutting back on running and concentrating more on core-strengthening. He said he’ll be ready when the bell rings, but keep in mind that for a player, that bell rings on Opening Day, not the Grapefruit League opener. So don’t expect miracles on March 4.

* Who gets the Opening Day start. If Opening Day honors go to the starting pitcher who had the best year in the previous season, then Wandy Rodriguez getting the ball is a no-brainer. But I’ve come across a couple of people who think there’s an argument to be made for Oswalt, the team’s unmatched ace almost a full decade. If you were Mills, who would you appoint?

In the meantime, here are some shots from the locally-based caravan stops from the last couple of days, plus the baseball dinner…enjoy.

Craig Biggio mingles with residents of the Brookwood Community.

Bill Brown, Mills, Biggio and Moehler (hidden behind Brownie) begin the presentation at Brookwood.

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Junction Jack, Moehler and Biggio play an abbreviated game of baseball at Brookwood. I think Moehler struck out Biggio here.

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Then it was off to Katy Jr. High…

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Later that night, at the baseball banquet…

MVP Michael Bourn, conducting his 1,000th interview of the week (or at least it seemed that way).

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Bourn signed a few autographs for some young admirers.

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 Rookie of the Year Jeff Fulchino and his wife, Carrie.

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Darryl Kile Award recipient Moehler, and his wife, Dee.

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Bourn, Wandy, Moehler, listening intently to seating instructions before heading to the main banquet room.

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The next day, the caravan resumed with a trip to Methodist Hospital…

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…Pearland High School..

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…and a Grand Slam for Youth Baseball Little League sign-up rally.

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Meeting special people on a special day.

Meet Tyran.

This young man was one of many patients the Astros met during their visit to Scott and White Hospital during the final caravan day through Temple, Texas on Wednesday. He was timid at first, but thanks to a very congenial Michael Bourn, it took no time at all for Tyran to relax with our players and enjoy the company.

Tyran’s mother sat back and marveled at how happy Tyran was with the lavish attention everyone — Bourn, J.R. Towles, Brad Mills and bullpen assistant Javier Bracamonte — heaped upon this young man, and it was yet another reminder how little ballplayers have to do to make someone’s day and positively affect a young life.

The players carry autograph cards with them on these caravan trips and hand them out to anyone who wants one, and soon, Tyran had a stack of mementos. It was touching enough just watching the scene unfold, but it was Tyran’s mother’s words at the end of the visit that really moved me.

“I’m his foster parent, and we just got him,” she said. “I haven’t even been able to bring him home yet. I was wondering how I was going to decorate his room when it was time.”

Pointing to the stack of autograph cards, she said, “Now, I know exactly how to decorate his room.”

The compassion people carry with them — they’re truly angels on earth — never ceases to amaze me. Parents come in all forms, as do those who dedicate their lives to caring for people who are dealt a terrible hand in life. The hospital workers at Scott and White who escort us through the hospital every year had a gut-wrenching hour just before we arrived — they lost a young patient to whom they had grown incredibly attached. “We’ve had a terrible day,” one woman said tearfully. “Please bear with us.” Then she gathered herself, put on a smile, and walked us into every patient’s room with the same unbridled enthusiasm.

Yes, we look at baseball players as heroes, but let’s not forget the everyday folks who do absolutely extraordinary things. When you work in sports, you’re reminded of this practically every day. Wednesday was one of those days.

 

Tyran could not take his eyes off Bourn, and I think Mike became pretty attached as well.  

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 The group with more patients at Scott and White.

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A difficult day for those who work at Scott and White. Yet they still made the day special for dozens.

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A few patients’ rooms were off limits because the kids were too sick, but others were inhabitable only if the guests wore masks and gowns. Here’s Bourn getting suited up. I posted another shot on Twitter.

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After the hospital visit, we had a major change of pace…lunch at the Temple Lions Club. This is always a raucous hour attended by Drayton McLane and a few dozen locals. An auctioneer raffles off a handful of Astros goodies…signed bats, balls…and a Milo bobblehead!

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Then it was off to Yoe High School, the alma mater of one Drayton McLane.

After the autograph session following the assembly…it was time to head back to Houston.

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Random thoughts and tidbits while riding on the bus

We just finished up breakfast with baseball and softball players from Mary Hardin-Baylor and we’re on our way to an assembly at Shoemaker High School. I’ll post pictures from the entire day’s events later today, but in the meantime, here are some unrelated tidbits to chew on:

* Chatting with bullpen assistant Javier Bracamonte during breakfast produced this nugget: Miguel Tejada is currently in Haiti, assisting with relief efforts to help those affected by the earthquake in Port Au Prince. Tejada leased two 18-wheelers from the Dominican Republic and shipped food, water and clothing to the devastated city. That Tejada did this is not at all surprising; in fact, I would have been more surprised had his name not come up while talking about assisting those in need in a desperate time.

* Michael Bourn was asked by a student-athlete about significant moments in his career. Bourn pointed to his rookie season with the Phillies, during a game against the Astros in Houston. He was called on to pinch-run, and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told him he didn’t want to see him on first base for more than one pitch. “Bad idea,” Bourn recalled. “I was way too hyper.” Meanwhile, the always chatty Astros first baseman, Lance Berkman, said to Bourn, “You’re going to try to steal, aren’t you?” Bourn acted like he didn’t hear him. Three seconds later, “I’m picked off,” Bourn recalled. “And out of the game.”

* Today is Brad Mills’ birthday. He started the day with a 4 a.m. workout — not because he’s such the early riser, but because he basically woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. He’ll spend the big 5-3 with 13 hours of caravan stops. Fortunately he’ll have a hearty birthday dinner tonight at Drayton McLane’s annual barbecue in Temple, which will be attended by plenty of Astros favorites, past and present: Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Bud Norris, Doug Brocail, Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio. (Look out Puma, I’m bringing the camera.) .

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