Results tagged ‘ Milo Hamilton ’

Astros notes: Road tripping in Miami with a slightly altered roster.

The Astros hit the road this week for their first games away from Minute Maid Park with a slightly different look to their roster. As expected, Jed Lowrie, fresh off a successful rehab stint with Triple-A Oklahoma City, has rejoined the Astros and will be in the lineup Friday when the team begins a three-game weekend set with the Miami Marlins at their newly-minted ballpark near South Beach.

To make room for Lowrie on the 25-man roster, Brian Bixler was optioned to Oklahoma City.

You’ll hear a familiar voice on the radio if you listen to the Astros games while they’re in Miami.  Milo Hamilton, who normally announces only home games, is with the club for this leg of the trip. The Marlins ballpark will be No. 59 on his list of Major League stadiums he’s called games from.

Finally, please enjoy this writeup from guest blogger Dairanetta Spain, the Astros’ manager of community affairs. This week, she tackles the Astros Buddies Club, a time-honored tradition that has spanned generations and reached thousands of kids over the years.

Rainbows and Shooting Stars: Astros Buddies Kids Club Goes Retro

By Dairanetta Spain

It’s interesting how often fans mention that Astros alumni Jose “Cheo” Cruz, Jimmy “The Toy Cannon” Wynn, J.R. Richard and many more were their Astros Buddy or how often they share that they were a “Buddy.”

For years, the franchise’s kids club has connected youth to their hometown team since its inception, dating back to the Colt .45s era (then the Six Shooter Club).  Some members have remained close to the team and are current season ticket holders, avid fans and even current Astros employees.

The club has evolved through the years, but a kid’s connection to the club remains the heart and focus. Year after year, Astros Buddies receive their own personalized membership package enclosed with a membership card, their favorite player’s photo card and Astros trinkets, which have varied from season-to-season. Past and present Buddies events range from Photo Day at the Astrodome to the Members-Only autograph party and Buddies Behind-The-Scenes Day.

Among Astros “Flashback Fridays”, Walk of Fame inductions and 50th anniversary giveaways, the retro-themed 2012 Coca-Cola Astros Buddies Kids Club gives members their own piece of Astros history.

The 2012 Buddies club offers two memberships to choose from – the free Rookie membership and the loaded $20 MVP membership – there’s affordable fun for everyone!

In addition to members-only autograph sessions and a kids press conference with players, MVP members receive four free tickets to an Astros home game, a collector’s baseball cap, rainbow jersey drawstring bag, a wall banner, and other cool items, all celebrating the team’s 50th anniversary.

Kids 14 and under can be a part of the club’s 50th anniversary by joining at www.astros.com/buddies

Astros Authentics Manager and former Buddies member Mike Acosta (far left) with Joe Niekro at Photo Day on August 18, 1985.

The original kids club when the Colt .45s started up in 1962 was the Six Shooter Club. Here's the membership card.

Premium items for Buddies Club members.

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Snapshots from Spring Training, Day Three.

A month ago, it looked as if catcher Jason Castro, who had two injury setbacks over the course of one calendar year, might not be ready to start the season when Opening Day rolls around on April 6.

Today, the level of optimism is much higher. It’s more likely than not that Castro, who had season-ending knee surgery last Spring Training and foot surgery this past December, is on track to start the season on time.

This isn’t to say that he’s maintaining the same workout pace as the other catches in camp. He’s not. He’s participating in drills and catching bullpens, but on a slightly lesser scale than the rest. The goal is for him to build stamina without overextending himself, even if it means not being quite ready to play when the Grapefruit season gets underway in another 10 days.

Regardless of when Castro appears in his first spring game, the catching situation this year, so far, is light years ahead of where the team was a year ago. There is no stat line that can truly describe how valuable a catcher is to a team. He’s top lieutenant on the field and can provide a huge sense of security to pitchers. On the flip side, if a catcher is inadequate in his ability to call games and block pitches in the dirt, it can wreak havoc on a pitcher’s psyche.

Castro’s return will be a big lift for the team, and the addition of Chris Snyder, a veteran catcher, should not be overlooked. The Astros now have three catchers in a pool that also includes veteran Humberto Quintero, giving them experience, depth and a plan B. They pretty much had none of those things  a year ago.

A couple of housekeeping notes:

* The final Houston-based Astroline will air on Thursday at Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown. Former outfielder Kevin Bass will join Milo Hamilton for the hour-long show, which can be heard on 740 KTRH and Astros.com.

Astroline will resume the following week on Feb. 29 at the Disney Boardwalk in Orlando. Keeping with tradition, the first Florida-based show will feature manager Brad Mills.

* The first full-squad workout will be held Feb. 26, and as always, workouts are free and open to the public. Gates open around 9:30 a.m. The first Grapefruit League game will take place at Osceola County Stadium on March 3 vs. the Nationals. Workouts on home game days are closed.

* Two spring games will be televised this year: March 20 vs. the Cardinals and April 3 vs. the White Sox (at Minute Maid Park).

And we conclude with images from Day 3 on a cloudy but rain-free morning at the spring complex:

Brian Bogusevic, Jed Lowrie

Practicing fielding comebackers: Brad Mills and Kyle Weiland.

Having some between-drills laughs: Jose Altuve, roving minor league baserunning coordinator Milt Thompson, Jimmy Paredes, Jose Cruz.

PFP: Bud Norris.

Two former first-rounders: Delino DeShields (2010) and George Springer (2011).

Batting practice: J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve.

Jimmy Paredes waves to a fan.

Brandon Lyon and Jason Castro discuss Lyon's bullpen session when it ended.

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Milo Hamilton declares the 2012 season his last in the broadcast booth.

Jim Crane, left, Milo Hamilton and George Postolos announce that 2012 will be Milo's last season behind the mic.

Milo Hamilton mentioned a couple of times last year to friends and colleagues that the 2012 season would likely be his last as a lead play-by-play announcer on Astros broadcasts.

Milo will turn 85 in September, and, as he said last year, “That’ll be enough.” On Wednesday, he made that official, formally stating that he’ll retire at the end of the season.

Perhaps there’s no “best” time for a beloved figure to step down, but the timing of the announcement will allow the Astros to weave a season-long salute to their long-time broadcaster in with the celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Plans to honor Milo this year will be officially announced in full at a later time, but here’s a sneak peek:

* Sept. 2, Milo’s 85th birthday, will be “Milo Hamilton Day” at Minute Maid Park.
* The Astros plan to host a special dinner in Milo’s honor during the season, with proceeds benefiting the Astros In Action Foundation.
* There will be an online vote for fans to select Milo’s greatest calls.
* We’ll start an appreciation Facebook page, dedicated to fans saluting Milo’s great career.
* The Astros plan to create a Milo Hamilton college scholarship for broadcasting students.

Stay tuned for more announcements.

“We will provide a fitting tribute for one of the all-time great broadcasters in our industry,” said Astros President and CEO George Postolos. “The unique bond that Milo has built with our fans is very special. With that in mind, we have created ways for our fans to participate in our tribute to Milo. They will have an opportunity to do that throughout the season.”

Milo’s plan is to only retire from the broadcasting side. He will still be a part of the organization in 2013 and beyond as an emcee for special events and fundraisers, and will take part in the caravan and FanFest. He’ll also appear at events for sponsors and season ticket holders and will be incorporated into the radio broadcasts.

Watch the video from Milo’s announcement

More video: Biggio, talking about Milo and his retirement

Milo, by the numbers:
66 — years as a broadcaster.
58 — years as a baseball broadcaster.
27 — years an Astros broadcaster.
5 — Halls of Fame that have honored Milo, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992.
715 — Hank Aaron’s milestone, record-breaking home run, which Milo called as a Braves announcer in 1974.
4,000 — Nolan Ryan’s milestone strikeout, which Milo called as an Astros announcer in 1985.
3,000 — Craig Biggio’s milestone hit total, which Milo called as an Astros announcer in 2007.

From the photo archives: first, a few good ones from the past…

Jeff Bagwell and Milo in 2006, the day Bagwell announced his retirement.

Milo and former skipper Phil Garner at FanFest a few years back.

Milo celebrated his 84th birthday last year by wearing a gigantic blue bow on his head.

Keeping with the theme of intesting head gear, here's Milo and Brad Lidge a few years ago at Spring Training, reading Dr. Seuss books to kids.

…and finally, images from Wednesday’s press conference…

Craig Biggio, who announced his retirement from this very room a little more than four years ago, attended Milo's press conference.

Later, the two convened for an impromptu photo shoot.

The Houston media contingent surrounded Milo following the formal part of the presser.

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Astros notes: Bud, C.J., Astroline, College Classic and an appearance by the ’86 Astros.

We still have a month or so before Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean your Astros have gone into hibernation until it’s time to head to Florida. In fact, this week will feature two appearances by Astros players, one online and one in person.

Starting pitcher Bud Norris will participate in an online chat with fans on Wednesday, Jan. 11 beginning at 6 p.m. CT. The chat, which will last approximately 30 minutes, can be accessed here. You must be a registered member in order to ask a question.

On Thursday, third baseman Chris Johnson will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline, beginning at 7 p.m. The show airs live on 740 KTRH and Astros.com and will take place at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown. C.J. is planning to bring some autographed items to hand out as well to the folks in attendance at the venue.

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The Houston College Classic will take place at Minute Maid Park March 2-4. Details and ticket information will be released soon, but in the meantime, here is the schedule and participating colleges:

Friday, March 2, 2012
Noon           Texas Tech at Arkansas
3:30 p.m.  Tennessee at Houston
7:00 p.m.  Texas at Rice

Saturday, March 3, 2012
Noon            Arkansas at Houston
3:30 p.m.    Texas at Tennessee
7:00 p.m.    Texas Tech at Rice

Sunday, March 4, 2012
11:00 a.m.    Arkansas at Texas
2:30 p.m.      Houston at Texas Tech
6:00 p.m.      Rice at Tennessee

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Tickets are still available for the 2012 Houston Baseball Dinner Benefiting Grand Slam For Youth Baseball’s Scholarship Program, which will include a special celebration of the Astros’ 50th Anniversary.

2012 will mark the 27th season of the popular dinner, which will take place on Friday, February 10 at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Americas Hotel in downtown Houston.  The event is sponsored by the Astros In Action Foundation and Minute Maid, with proceeds benefiting the Grand Slam For Youth Baseball Scholarship Program.

In addition to honoring the top players from the 2011 ballclub, this year’s dinner will include a special 50th Anniversary tribute featuring Astros Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton and a long list of former Astros team MVPs, including Bob Watson, J.R. Richard, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Jose Cruz, Enos Cabell, Bob Aspromonte and more.  Phil Garner, manager of the 2005 NL Champion Astros, will also be in attendance. Members of the 2011 Astros scheduled to attend include J.D. Martinez (Rookie of the Year), Wandy Rodriguez (Pitcher of the Year) and Jason Bourgeois (Darryl Kile Award) and manager Brad Mills.  Former Astros Hunter Pence (2011 MVP) and Lance Berkman (Houston Area Player of the Year) will also be recognized at the event, but are unable to attend.

Additionally, longtime Astros television broadcaster Bill Brown will receive the Fred Hartman Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Baseball. 2011 marked Brown’s 25th season as the Astros play-by-play TV voice.

As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration, a special VIP reception will be held prior to the dinner, at 6 p.m., and will feature several of the former MVPs and current Astros players. A limited amount of MVP tables for 10 that will include tickets to the dinner and the VIP reception will be available for purchase for $2,500.

Dinner attendees will also have the opportunity to bid on several attractive items at a silent auction, with those proceeds also going to the GSFYB Scholarship Program.

 Tickets for the dinner are priced at $100 each or at $1,000 for a table of 10, and can be purchased online at www.astros.com/baseballdinner or by calling Jo Russell at 713-789-0626. General information on the dinner is available at www.gsfyb.org, via email at info@gsfyb.org or by calling 713-259-8686.

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Speaking of former Astros stars, a large number of members of the 1986 Astros will be appearing at Reliant Arena for the TRISTAR Houston Collector’s Show Jan. 20-22.

Among the familiar faces slated to appear: Nolan Ryan, Kevin Bass, Alan Ashby, Phil Garner, Jose Cruz, Danny Darwin, Hal Lanier, Mike Scott, Glenn Davis, Billy Hatcher, Bill Doran, Jim Deshaies, Dickie Thon, Terry Puhl and Bob Knepper.

TRISTAR also offers the opportunity to attend a VIP reception for the ’86 Astros reunion.

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Notes and quotes from Jeff Luhnow’s appearance on “Astroline.”

General manager Jeff Luhnow kicked off the new year by appearing with Milo Hamilton on the first “Astroline” of 2012, which took place Wednesday night at Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown. As expected, the show generated a lot of calls and tweets and ended up being a very informative hour with lots of questions answered by the new GM.

You can listen the show in its entirety by clicking here. Some interesting snipets:

On his opinion about the trades made before he was here and if he’s happy with depth in the Minor League system:

JL: I do believe we have a plan in place put together by (owner) Jim Crane and the ownership group and (president and CEO) George Postolos. That plan involves us building from within, developing a system that can be productive and allow us to compete year in and year out. How long it takes until we’re competing year in and year out, I don’t know at this point. I do think that the trades made last summer added some interesting players to the system. It’s hard from where I’m sitting to say, “Was that a good deal or not?” It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know what other options were available at the time. But I do know both of those players (Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn) were traded and there’s a lot that came back in return. I do think that going forward, the system is going to get better. There’s a lot of excitement around some of the players in the Minor Leagues that have come through the Astros drafts and the trades and it’s going to be fun to watch them develop and we’re going to hopefully add to that.

On his basic philosophy on building the Astros and signing free agents:

JL: From a free agency standpoint, there’s a couple of critical things. If you have a limited payroll you have to make sure you don’t make mistakes. You sign one bad big contract and that can set you back years….You can’t win with just free agents. Everybody knows that. Even the Yankees know that. We’re going to be a small payroll team for a few years here. We’re going to have to build from within. What does that mean? That means staffing the organization with the best scouts and best coaches at all levels. It means doing it internationally and doing it domestically. There’s no one silver bullet. You have to be excellent across all different areas. You have to have the best scouts in the Dominican. You have to have good development people throughout the system, good amateur scouts in the U.S. and pro scouts in U.S.

There are already good scouts in the Astros organization and we’re going to layer on top of that and make value decisions. What I mean by that is every baseball decision ends up being dollars and cents decision at the end of the day. How much is a Double-A prospect worth relative to a six-year free agent. There’s ways to value all of that and methods other teams use that I’m familiar with from my days in St. Louis. We’re going to institutionalize all of that here so that it becomes part of our nature.

What kind of payroll do you see the Astros having long term? Are the days of $100 million over?

JL: We’re going to need to demonstrate some progress on the field and demonstrate that the fans are coming back and getting excited about the ball club. You look at the Houston market — the Texans are very successful.  The Rockets are very successful. There’s no reason the Astros can’t be successful. The market is large enough to sustain a payroll in the top 10. I would imagine if we do our jobs and get some breaks going our way and the fans start coming back, we’re going to be able to push the payroll to a point where we can compete year in and year out.

I’m used to $100 million-range payrolls with St. Louis and it gives you a lot of flexibility to sign free agents and keep some of your better players. As our young players come through and go through arbitration and become free agents, we want to have the flexibility to sign these guys and keep them around for a while. I know Jim and George and the entire ownership group are committed to that. But we have milestones along the way that we’re going to need to hit in order to get there.

What are Chris Johnson’s chances of being the starting third baseman in 2012?

JL: I don’t know if I have an answer for that right now. We have a couple of different options. There are not too many positions where you say, that person’s absolutely going to be there April 6 when we open the season. There will be open competition for a lot of spots and third base is one of them. We want to put the best product on the field this year but we also want to develop for the future. Brad (Mills) and his staff and myself will spend all of Spring Training trying to figure out the answer to that.

On Sig Mejdal, hired recently as the director of decision sciences:

JL: He really helped me do my job as scouting director (in St. Louis) and helped me pick the right guys and a lot of the guys that we, together, picked made it to the big leagues and helped the Cardinals win the championship this year. We’re hoping to replicate some of that and hope that some of that luck rubs off over here.

On using modern technology available for statistical analysis:

JL: From my standpoint, it’s not a matter of if you use the old school methods or new methods. You really need to use both of them. Nothing replaces the value of having an experienced scout go out and observe a player and give you his point of view about what that player is going to become. That’s information that’s been part of baseball forever and will continue to be part of baseball. It’s essential.

There is, though, so much additional information available to any baseball person today. No one person can analyze it all and understand it in their own mind. We’ll start using some of the more sophisticated technology to combine it with the scouting opinions and make the best decisions.

Other notable tidbits:
* Luhnow had a two-hour, get-to-know-you breakfast meeting with Craig Biggio on Wednesday. It was an informal discussion to serve as an exchange of ideas and gave Biggio a chance to share some of his ideas and opinions.

* While no player is untouchable, Luhnow does not plan to trade Bud Norris. “He is a critical part of the plan moving forward,” Luhnow said.

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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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Yankee Stadium: As good as advertised.

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Television announcer Bill Brown summed it up nicely when I asked him what he thought of the new Yankee Stadium before Friday’s game:

“The concourses are wide, the field looks great, the access is wonderful. For $1.3 billion, it should be.”

And it is. The ballpark is gorgeous, worth every penny, whether you’re looking at it from a fan’s perspective or from a player’s perspective behind the scenes. Upon first glance, it reminds you a lot of the old Yankee Stadium, only (obviously) more modern. The white facades that were such a part of the old place have been resurrected in the new. And since it’s less than two years old, it’s still sparkling clean.

Enjoy the images, as well as the video we captured from the new ballpark

Blum, Keppinger, Pence

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The famous Lou Gehrig speech…this picture hangs near one of the main entrances at Yankee Stadium.

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The view from the visitors dugout.

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Jason Michaels, Jeff Keppinger.

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Carlos Lee.

 

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Roy Oswalt, pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. And Chris Sampson.

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An outside view of the entrance at Yankee Stadium.

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A shot of the press box. You’ll notice Astros writers Brian McTaggart and Bernardo Fallas.

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It’s slightly ironic that the Astros are making their first trip to the Yankees’ new stadium this weekend, considering their first and only trip to the old one was this same weekend seven years ago.

Friday marked the seven-year anniversary of the six-pitcher no-hitter the Astros completed against the Yankees. The game that was historical on many levels and hysterical on still more, considering before it had even ended, speculation that George Steinbrenner was going to fire the hitting coach had already circulated around the press box and on the radio airwaves. Only in New York.

Three things stand out to me about that night more than any other:
1) Jeff Kent did not know it was a no-hitter until Billy Wagner told him once the last out was made. Kent, not exactly Mr. Congeniality to begin with, looked at Wags with an expression that was a combination of surprise, confusion and disapproval. Why in the world would Wagner pound his glove and then raise his fist in the air after closing out one of hundreds of games he’d appeared in by now? Kent: “What the heck are you doing?” Wags: “Dude. We just no-hit the Yankees.” Kent, breaking into huge grin: “Really?”

2) Octavio Dotel recorded four strikeouts during his inning of work, after one batter had reached on a wild pitch.

3) That night, Brad Lidge schooled some of his teammates on the historical meaning of what had just transpired. Lidge, a history buff, already knew plenty of obscure stats that put the no-hitter in perspective. The next day, he arrived with five or six more facts about the no-hitter that no one knew before. The guy was a walking encyclopedia. 

That brings us to the cool tidbit of the day, courtesy of media relations All-Star Sally Gunter: Two of the six Astros pitchers to contribute to the no-hitter seven seasons ago were in attendance at Friday’s game. Roy Oswalt was in the Astros dugout while former Astro Pete Munro (a native New Yorker) watched the game from the stands.

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Back to 2010…random tidbits from the pregame session with Brad Mills:

Carlos Lee will likely DH during Saturday’s game. A lot of you asked, rightfully, why Jason Michaels wasn’t playing left with Lee, with his shaky defense, isn’t DH-ing. Mills said Lee really wanted to play in left for at least the opener but would definitely DH for at least one game this series.

Matt Lindstrom had back spasms was unavailable to pitch during Thursday’s game in Denver. He felt better the next day in New York, but he was again deemed unable to pitch that night (which didn’t matter, since there was no save situation).

Consider Lindstrom day-to-day. Each day, Mills will check with him after he loosens up and throws during batting practice, and his availability will be decided before the game.

Radio announcer Milo Hamilton doesn’t travel with the team, but he makes exceptions when the Astros play in a  new ballpark that he’s never visited. Milo’s broadcast of the Astros-Yankees game on Friday marked the 58th different ballpark he’s called a game from.

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.”

_________

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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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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Milo, Norris on Astroline together. But only one is the King of Baseball.

Bud Norris has been through a full Major League Spring Training with the Astros, but this year, things will be decidedly different for the 24-year-old right-hander.

A year ago, the California-born Norris, who recently bought a townhouse in Houston, was considered by the front office as a possible future closer. Heading into 2010, however, he’ll be looked at to fill a dire need in a rotation that has a few options but could certainly use a young arm.

He spent two months in the big leagues in 2009 and was shut down with only one or two starts remaining in the season, not because of injury, but because the club is looking for long-term preservation instead of short-term results.

“(General manager Ed (Wade) and (former manager Cecil Cooper) decided it was for the best,” Norris said during his recent appearance on Astroline, the club’s weekly radio show. “I dealt with my workload. My body was getting tired, but it was definitely for precautionary reasons. I wanted to be out there with my teammates and helping them, but at the same token, I knew that for the future, it was something that was needed.”

Norris was Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline, which airs every Wednesday on KTRH 740 a.m. and on astros.com and takes place live at Sherlock’s Baker St. Pub on West Gray in Houston. Little did we know, a fun sideshow unfolded at the same time, thanks to Hamilton’s recent honor at the Winter Meetings as the “King of Baseball.” He was given a trophy, in addition to the full King garb — cape, crown and scepter. Enjoy the imagery.

(Programming note — next week’s Astroline guest will be Geoff Blum, followed by Craig Biggio on Jan. 27 and Michael Bourn on Feb. 4)

King Milo and Bud Norris

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Bud signed autographs during commercial breaks.

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Getting ready to go on the air

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On the air

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Milo’s garb even attracted the local news…

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…not to mention the fans!  

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