Results tagged ‘ Minute Maid Park ’

Saying goodbye is never easy, but alas, it’s time. A salute to the Astros and their fans.

Three years ago, Roy Oswalt, a native of Weir, Miss., (pop. 500), built a restaurant smack dab in the middle of his hometown and near three others, intending to give people who lived nearby a place to go for a nice dinner without having to drive 30 miles into town to do so.

Oswalt promised me that when the restaurant was complete and ready for public consumption, he would invite me to come to town so I could cover the grand opening. True to his word, when the date was finalized, he sent a text message that he was ready, and he offered up a room in his lodge located on his sprawling white tail deer ranch.

Roy’s friend, Joey, showed me around the place while Roy was busy at the restaurant preparing for the opening. Joey drove me around the hundreds of acres of land on a four-wheeler, doing his best to explain the country life to a city girl whose idea of “getting back to the land” was hiring someone to trim the six feet of grass that sits in front of her townhome off Washington Ave.

Joey was a great host. He showed me the lake Roy built with the bulldozer Drayton McLane gave him years earlier. He drove me by several wooded areas where white-tail deer freely roamed. And, much to my delight, he got as close as he could to the deer, even as they freaked out and sprinted in the opposite direction, which is what deer do when intruders (me) show up.

After a long afternoon on the ranch and a tasty dinner at Roy’s new restaurant, Joey ticked off the list of activities for the next day. First up: waking up at 5 a.m. to artificially inseminate the white-tail doe, with contributions from super-special, well-bred deer from an undisclosed, far-away place where super-special deer apparently are raised.

“It’s going to be great,” Joey said, excitedly.

Oh.

“You know, that sounds fascinating,” I said. “But I think I’m going to go ahead and sleep in,” I said.

Oswalt, during one of our spirited debates.

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That visit to Roy’s hometown occurred a few months after I began a new job with my old team, a position designed to bring the fans closer to the Astros through the annals of Social Media and blogging. That trip was the first of many in-depth glimpses to our team, for our fanbase, with the intention to give insight as to who these players are and what makes them tick. We wanted to show them not as robots but as people, beyond what you can see for yourself by watching on TV and reading in the paper.

We felt the best way to implement that plan was to provide a never-ending stream of behind-the-scenes access through storytelling, photos and videos. To illustrate the ins and outs of the Houston Astros. To make fans feel like they were part of the process.

Simply put, the last three years have been an absolute blast. But now, as is the case with most elements of life, it’s time to move on.

Over the last 16 seasons, I’ve had three jobs: first with the Astros, then with MLB.com, and then back with the Astros. In another week, I will leave my post with the Astros to go back to MLB.com for an exciting new opportunity. I’ll be a national correspondent, working with all 30 teams on a variety of levels. My first assignment will be All-Star week.

While I’ve obviously had plenty of experience changing jobs, this one is a huge leap, because although I’ll still be based in Houston, for the first time, I will no longer be working exclusively with the Astros. So this, in many ways, is goodbye.

I’m not really into “farewell” columns writers post when they’re on the move, but I do want to express my gratitude to you, the readers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thanks for all of it — the good, the bad and the loud disagreements. For the give and take, the back and forth, the laughter and the spirited debates. Mostly, I thank you for trusting me, for knowing you could ask me just about anything, and accepting my answers as candid, honest and forthright. That was hugely important to me.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know I like to ramble on about a bunch of completely unrelated topics. I figure that would be a fitting way to end this chapter. So here we go:

* Your Astros are in extremely good hands. I refer to Jeff Luhnow as a rock star (although I’m not sure if I’ve ever told him that. Guess he knows now). He understands what it takes for an organization to sustain long-term success and is building the Astros accordingly. Sure, he’s smart and savvy, but he has that little something extra that makes you believe he’s going to be in this job a long while. He gets baseball, he gets people, and let’s face it, he’s just a really cool dude. The first thing he said to me when we met at his introductory press conference was “I follow you on Twitter.” I think @drjohnreyes phrased it perfectly when he said, “Jeff Luhnow being on Twitter is like finding out your parents skydive.”

I’m guessing not many other GMs out there conduct chat sessions with fans during games. Incidentally, Luhnow will do another one of those Tuesday at 7:30 CT.

* Jim Crane also gets it. The worst thing an owner can do is take over a team, put a sound plan in place to build a winner, and then blow a jillion dollars on a free agent past his prime, messing up the team’s financial structure for the next decade. This will not happen with Crane. He hired smart, capable people to run the baseball operation, and he’s leaving it up to them to do just that. The plan is in place and they are sticking to it. Trust me, it’s a good plan. My money’s on it working.

* Despite the Astros’ current record, the organization as a whole is in a very good place. The Minor League teams are winning, a lot. This would be in stark contrast to the last several years, when the Minor League teams were losing, a lot. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. Luhnow’s mantra: build the Minor League rosters with winning in mind. That means disregarding who was drafted in what round and feeling a need to push former high picks through the system just for the sake of moving them. Now, it’s about performance and development, and little else.

* Minute Maid Park is still one of the premier ballparks in baseball. For the last 10 years, my top three have not changed: Minute Maid Park, AT&T Park (San Fran) and PNC Park (Pittsburgh). Working from Minute Maid Park has been a pleasure, and I’m guessing the fan experience isn’t much different.

* For all of the grief Ed Wade took, he did a lot of good work here. There’s a lot of talent in the Minor League system and many of those players were obtained under Wade’s watch. You haven’t heard a lot about them, but you will. Soon.

* I don’t care what Chris Snyder’s batting average is. He’s been a great addition to this team. He has that certain something that makes him a perfect presence in a big league clubhouse. Every team needs that veteran guy who keeps things steady, can relate to all teammates and handles winning and losing with an unwaveringly calm approach. He’s a ballplayer, in the truest sense. He needs to stick around.

* I hated the hot sauce packet mascot race. Mascots who run in races, by definition, need eyes. When you put faces on inanimate objects, it’s funny. And what’s up with Mild Sauce losing every day? I know Texans like their spicy toppings, but come on. Totally fixed.

* Six years ago, Oswalt and I made a friendly wager. He insisted that when his contract ran out after 2011, he was going to retire. I disagreed, guessing he’d keep pitching. The wager: dinner. Roy, changing your cell number doesn’t get you off the hook. Pay up.

* When the Astros were winning and winning and winning in 2004 and ’05, the rosters were comprised mostly of players who had never played for another Major League team. Most were drafted by the Astros (Berkman, Biggio, Oswalt, Ensberg, Lane, etc.) and others were obtained through trades as Minor Leaguers (Bagwell, Everett). This created a sense of unity among teammates that made the winning that much more meaningful. When the modern-day Astros start rolling again, the rosters again will be filled with mostly players who were drafted and developed by this organization. That’s significant.

* Best moment: Covering the clubhouse scene when the Astros won the pennant. What I remember most about the World Series was not that the Astros were swept, but that Craig Biggio said to me at least three times, “You know, this was totally worth the wait.”

* Worst moment: Covering the clubhouse scene the day Darryl Kile died, 10 years ago today. The grief was overwhelming. I’ve never witnessed such complete devastation and I sensed that some of Kile’s friends would never be able to get past the loss.

* Best quote: Billy Wagner. You just never knew what was going to fly out of his mouth. A reporter’s dream, a team’s (occasional) nightmare.

* Most nerve-racking non-Astros moment: Watching, in person, Brad Lidge attempt to nail down the save in the World Series clinching game for the Phillies in 2008. I was covering the Series for MLB.com and my assignment was to document the postgame celebration on the field. I snuck down to the seats right behind the third-base dugout and watched the ninth inning from there. I was so nervous for Lidge that I actually feared I was going to either pass out or toss my cookies. Fortunately everything turned out well for both of us.

* Most challenging moment: Covering Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. Reporters have to turn in game stories five minutes after the last out is made, and with two outs in the ninth, no one on base and Lidge on the mound, I had 700 words written about the Astros’ pennant-clinching win over the Cardinals. Ten minutes later, Albert Pujols launched his moon shot to left field, and I had no choice but to highlight the story, push delete, and start over. (Honorable mention: the 18-inning win over the Braves in the NLDS. When games go that long, paragraphs that were important three innings ago eventually become irrelevant. So for three hours, it was type, delete. Type, delete. Rinse, repeat.)

* Favorite memory that I couldn’t write about: I finished my game coverage around 3 a.m. after the Astros clinched the pennant in St. Louis and walked back to the media dining room to pour a Budweiser beer from the single tap located near the eating area. I propped my feet up, savored the moment and realized I was probably drinking the very last Bud beer ever to be poured in old Busch Stadium. The ballpark was razed the next morning.

The list of my favorite people in baseball is long. But no one tops Phil Garner, seen here multi-tasking a couple of hours after the Astros won the pennant.

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That should just about do it. Thank you again for your friendship. I will continue blogging and tweeting in my new job, so I hope you’ll continue to follow along. In the meantime, please continue to follow @astros for information about your hometown nine.

Be well, Astros fans!

Alyson

Hot temps, hot dogs and baseball: Astros welcome the start of summer.

Temperatures start feeling summer-like in Houston in April, so for those of us who live in these parts, it helps to actually look at a calendar when reminding ourselves what season it is.

School being out helps as well, and a combination of that, plus the calendar flipping to June, makes it officially unofficial: it’s summertime in the Bayou City.

Sure, summer doesn’t really start until June 21. But why wait? The Astros will open a homestand on Friday with a host of carefree activities as they “Kick-off to Summer” with a party near the park.

The Astros play NL Central division foe Cincinnati on Friday, but in the hours leading up to game time, the action will be at the Plaza on Crawford St., in front of Minute Maid Park.

Water, soda and $1 hot dogs and popcorn will be available to purchase during the event and several of the Astros partners will be present with giveaways and activities as well.

The Kick-off to Summer Party starts at 4 p.m. CT and will feature interactive activities including:
* A Velcro Wall, Rock Climbing, Bungee Run and more
* Fun Music
* Player Appearances
* Video Games

On Saturday, the Astros will host their very first tailgating event from 3 to 6 p.m. in Parking Lot C.

With a valid pass to that lot, you can bring your grill, food and beverage and hang out in the lot before the game. The Astros will provide a large tent, tables and chairs and several Astros partners will be on hand for the fun. Water, soda and $1 hot dogs and popcorn will also be available for purchase during the event.


You must have an Astros Lot C Parking Pass in order to bring a vehicle and/or food & beverage into the lot. Tailgating is not permitted in any other Astros parking lot or in any privately owned lots around the ballpark.

Passes and tickets can be obtained here:

If indoor activity is more your preference, you can join us for our second Social Media Night, featuring Chris Johnson. The event includes batting practice viewing from behind the Astros dugout, a game ticket in the Budweiser Patio, dinner, dessert, a t-shirt and the opportunity to win prizes signed and presented by Chris Johnson (@cjastros23) through Twitter Trivia.

The only stipulation is you must be on Twitter in order to win the prizes. Liking Blue Bell ice cream helps as well.

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Not-so-undercover: Luhnow moonlights as gameday usher.

Jeff Luhnow’s foray into the world of ushering and ticket-scanning at Minute Maid Park wasn’t quite as dramatic as something you’d see on “Undercover Boss,” mainly because he wasn’t in disguise, and his nametag said, fittingly, “Jeff.”

There was no mistaking Luhnow as he greeted fans at the South Home Plate entrance when gates opened on Tuesday for the Astros-Cubs game. There was no recognizing him, either, apparently. Fans barely batted an eye as Luhnow scanned tickets and greeted fans with a friendly “enjoy the game.”

He fielded not a single question about who he’s selecting in the upcoming draft. No one asked him who’s starting the second game of the doubleheader in Denver on Monday. In fact, Luhnow was recognized exactly once, by a regular at Minute Maid Park who puts up the “K” signs in the outfield at just about every game.

Extreme closeup of Luhnow’s gameday bling

Other than that, it was just another atypical day at the office for the general manager. Except now he has a new appreciation for the gameday employees who are on their feet for several hours every night, tending to fans to ensure the ballpark experience is an enjoyable one.

“It gave me a lot of empathy for our ushers and ticket takers,” Luhnow said. “It’s exhausting. And I only did it for two hours. They’re here all night.”

Luhnow is one of several members of the Astros’ senior management staff who are participating in a new program called “Share the Experience,” where high-level executives spend part of their day working around different elements of the gameday operation.


When staffers were asked to participate, Luhnow signed up right away.

His debut as a ticket-scanner went smoothly, for the most part, with only one minor catastrophe. The barcodes for one cluster of five tickets printed out on a computer wouldn’t scan, so Luhnow had to manually punch in the numbers for each one.

“A high pressure situation,” Luhnow confirmed.

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The Astros will host two tailgating events in 2012. More to come?

The idea of tailgating around Minute Maid Park and the Dynamo’s new stadium has been a hot topic in Houston lately, and on Wednesday, the Astros responded with a plan.

Owner and Chairman Jim Crane announced that the Astros will host two special tailgating events during the club’s 2012 season to enhance the game experience for fans and learn more about the potential of hosting future tailgates around Minute Maid Park.

An event hosted primarily for young adults is planned for Saturday, June 2, and will take place in Parking Lot C on Texas Avenue. The Astros will set up a tented area and provide food and beverage. Fans are also welcome to bring their own food and beverage.

On the previous day, Friday, June 1, a tailgate will be offered for teens (ages 13-18) and will be non-alcoholic. The Astros will again provide food and beverage and the fans are welcome to bring their own, as well.

For both events, the Astros will provide more details to follow.

“We listened to the fans and a majority was in favor of tailgating for Astros games,” said Crane. “However, there are fans who have voiced concerns so we want to learn throughout the process. Following the season, we will make a decision on how tailgating will be handled moving forward.”

The decision to host Astros’ tailgates this season coincides with several fan-friendly initiatives announced by Crane earlier this year including a reduction in ticket pricing at various levels and a new policy allowing fans to bring food and water into Minute Maid Park.

Feel like Talkin’ Baseball? Join us on Saturday.

The doors of Minute Maid Park will be open on Saturday at 10 a.m., and we hope Astros fans will join us for the annual baseball bonanza affectionately known around here as FanFest.

In addition to player autograph sessions and fun activities on the field, we’ll also be hosting several Talkin’ Baseball sessions. From the Social Media side, we are planning for an interactive chat session with Brad Mills and Bud Norris from 2:30 to 3 CT in Union Station that will connect fans who are at FanFest in person and those following online.

We will take questions from our cyber-audience through this link. Fans who attend the chat in person in Union Station will also have the opportunity to ask questions of our manager and starting pitcher. All answers will be transcribed on our chat page for everyone to read.
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In the meantime, I need to brush up on my Astros history, quickly. I’ll be moderating a Talkin’ Baseball session titled “50 Years of Astros Baseball,” during which we’ll reminisce with a bunch of former players about 50 years of Major League Baseball in Houston.

Expected guests include: Jim Deshaies, Jimmy Wynn, Jose Cruz, Enos Cabell, J.R. Richard and Larry Dierker. The session will take place in Union Station from 4:30 to 5:15 p.m.

Other Talkin’ Baseball sessions, all of which will take place in Union Station, include:

* The 2012 Season Outlook, 11:15 a.m. to noon
The panel: George Postolos, Jeff Luhnow, Brad Mills. Moderated by Milo Hamilton.

* Story Time with Milo Hamilton, 12:45 to 1:15.

* 50th Anniversary Plans, 1:30 to 2:15 p.m.

During this session, we’ll be previewing what’s on deck for Flashback Fridays, including retro uniforms, fireworks and alumni first pitches. We’ll also talk about fan involvement in the 25-man roster vote and the premium giveaways aimed toward celebrating our 50th anniversary, including a “Greatest Moments” Bobblehead set and many retro items from every era of Houston baseball.

The Panel: Christie Miller, Promotions and Special Events Coordinator; Mike Acosta, Authentication Manager. Moderator: me!

* Talkin’ Youth Baseball (GSFYB), 3 to 3:45 p.m. CT

The panel: Jason Bourgeois, Daryl Wade, Fred Arnold.

A full schedule of FanFest activities can be found here. We hope to see you Saturday!

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Astros FanFest to be held Feb. 11 at Minute Maid Park. Details here.

The Astros released the details of their 2012 FanFest, which will take place on Feb. 11 at Minute Maid Park. That is also the day individual regular season tickets go on sale.

FanFest tickets are open to the public with no admission fee.

Player autograph session times will be released soon. There will be a nominal fee for autographs.

Here’s the FanFest rundown, taken from the press release:

This year’s festival will include several current and former Astros players signing autographs, a “Talkin’ Baseball” session with Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and President & CEO George Postolos, and several activities for children. Fans will also have the opportunity to purchase autographed and game-used memorabilia as well as promotional items and MLB Authentics merchandise. Proceeds from the event benefit the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy.

Fans will also have the opportunity to paint or sign their name to the Astros 50th Anniversary mural, which will be displayed in the ballpark throughout the 2012 season.

Autograph Sessions

The list of current Astros players scheduled to sign autographs throughout the day are: Brian Bogusevic, Jason Bourgeois, Jason Castro, Chris Johnson, Jed Lowrie, J.D. Martinez, Bud Norris, Humberto Quintero and Fernando Rodriguez. Manager Brad Mills will also be in attendance.

Former players scheduled to sign autographs include Enos Cabell, Jose Cruz, Larry Dierker, J.R. Richard, Shane Reynolds, Bob Watson, Jimmy Wynn and many more.

Talkin’ Baseball Sessions

Astros Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton will host an informative and entertaining “Talkin’ Baseball” session with Luhnow and Postolos, during which fans will have the opportunity to participate. Alyson Footer will also host multiple sessions that day, including a chat with former Astros players and a sneak preview into the Astros 50th Anniversary celebration plans.

Footer will also hold an interactive chat session with Astros manager Brad Mills and right-handed pitcher Bud Norris. The two will interact with fans in person and online simultaneously. The session will take place in the Union Station Lobby, where the two will take questions from fans in the audience and from fans following online.

On The Playing Field

For a small donation, fans will have the unique opportunity to take batting practice on the field of Minute Maid Park. Opportunities to run the bases will also be available. Tours of Minute Maid Park will also be offered.

Signature Nacho Sampling

Minute Maid Park’s culinary team has spent the offseason developing some new recipes. The Astros and ARAMARK, the team’s exclusive food and beverage partner, invite fans to help decide which signature nacho finalist will be featured on Minute Maid Park’s menu. Fans attending Astros FanFest will have the chance to sample and vote for their favorite nachos, which will be placed on the permanent menu in 2012. Signature nacho sampling and voting will be located at section 208 on the Club Level.

Free Kids Activities

Several inflatable games on the field, face painters, balloon artists and a “Talkin’ Youth Baseball” session with Bourgeois are also a part of this year’s FanFest. “Story Time With Milo Hamilton” will feature the Astros radio voice reading a popular children’s story.

This year’s event will also include a Special Valentine’s Day Buffet in the FiveSeven Grille and several entertaining video features throughout the ballpark and on the El Grande video board.

Additional information, including autograph signing times for current and former players, will be released the week of the event.

ASTROS TICKETS ON SALE

In conjunction with FanFest, the Astros will make their individual-game tickets for the 2012 regular season available for purchase beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11. Those tickets can be purchased online at Astros.com, at the Minute Maid Park Box Office or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-877-9ASTROS. Tickets may also be purchased at all Astros regular Houston-area Ticketmaster outlets. The Astros have plenty of special ticket offers available and will not be raising a single ticket price in 2012, as compared to prices at the end of the 2011 season.

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Minute Maid Park in 2012: cheaper tickets, cheaper beer, new outside food and beverage policy.

The day that Jim Crane officially became the owner of the Houston Astros, he hinted that several changes were on the way that would benefit fans in 2012.

This wasn’t just window dressing. Asked during the press conference in November if those changes included lowering ticket prices, Crane indicated that was indeed the area that he and President/CEO George Postolos would be focusing their attention on in the immediate future.

Turns out, Crane consulted with the staff on these issues even before he took over as the Astros’ owner. And now, less than three months before Opening Day, a comprehensive plan has been put in place.

Ticket prices for more 5,000 seats have been lowered, and more affordable beer prices will be offered throughout the ballpark. And for the first time since Minute Maid Park opened, fans will be permitted to bring in their own food and beverages.

“We feel this is the right thing to do,” Crane said. “It is a way for us to let our fans know how vital they are to our success, and to let them know we’ve been listening to them.”

From the get-go, Crane has been open-minded about fan ideas and suggestions. He has attended several meet and greets throughout January with season ticket holders, and many of the decisions made to lower prices and allow outside food and drink were made after hearing the feedback from the fans.

Here’s the skinny:

Tickets:

The Astros reduced the price of seats in the Field and Club levels and the Outfield Deck.

Seats in Field Box II (section 132, rows 11-40 and all of sections 133-134) are now priced at $29, down from $41 in 2011. The new Power Club (sections 233-236) in the Club Level offers tickets for $35 that includes a $15 credit for food, beverage and retail items. Those seats were $46 in 2011 with no food credit.

The Outfield Deck tickets are now $5 for adults and $1 for kids ages 3-14 . In 2011, adult tickets were $7. With this reduction, a family of four can attend a game for $12.

As a special thank you for their loyalty and commitment, the Astros will also issue five percent rebates to full-season and 27-game plan season ticket accounts in 2012 to those who have renewed their tickets by the Jan. 31 deadline. Those rebates will be distributed in the form of a gift card that can be used to purchase food, merchandise or individual game tickets at Minute Maid Park.


Beer:

The Astros have expanded their $5 beer special to include every permanent concession stand and permanent bar at Minute Maid Park where domestic beer is sold. This beer in a 14-ounce cup will now be available at 35 locations throughout the ballpark.

Outside Food and Beverages:

Fans are now allowed to bring food and water into Minute Maid Park for games. Food must be transported in a small, clear (see-through) plastic bag, and water must be in a sealed, plastic bottle, being one liter or less in size. One bottle of water per person is allowed.

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The Astros will also continue to offer several of the popular ticket specials that have been available in recent years:

Price Matters Days presented by H-E-B

This offer, which is available for every Monday through Thursday Astros game, includes one View Deck II ticket, one hot dog, a bag of H-E-B chips and one soda for $10, which represents a savings of over 50 percent. Also, for $10 more, fans can purchase a lower level seat in the Bullpen Boxes.

All You Can Eat

For $30, this deal includes a Mezzanine game ticket and unlimited hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, nachos, soda and water and is available for every home game. Groups of 20 or more are eligible to purchase this package for $25.

Coca-Cola Value Zone

This offer, which is available for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday game, includes a Mezzanine ticket and Astros cap, as well as a hot dog and Coke product beverage for $20.

POWERADE Double Play Tuesdays

This offer, which is available every Tuesday, features two Outfield Deck tickets for $2. Additionally, fans can now also purchase two Field Box II tickets for $40, which is new in 2012.

9-Inning Lunch Break

This package is offered for weekday, 1:05 p.m. games and includes a Field Box ticket and $20 in Minute Maid Park food and beverage vouchers, which is a $61 value, for $45, a savings of $16 per ticket.

Dynamic Pricing

This offer is available for every Astros home game for select seats. Prices, which fluctuate based on demand, can represent up to 50% in savings per ticket.

Special Fundraising Pricing

Charities and community organizations can earn up to $10 per ticket by selling discounted Astros tickets.

Group Ticket Specials

With the Astros Group Ticket Program, groups of 20 or more can purchase discounted tickets. Group discounts can be as high as 50% per ticket, depending on the size of the group.

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What offseason? Players are working out now, and we have the pictures to prove it.

Remember when ballplayers used to show up to Spring Training fat and out of shape after spending the offseason either working a part-time job or sitting on the couch eating potato chips?

Yea, me either.

That routine died out generations ago. Once players started making enough money to support themselves year-round, they were able to concentrate on staying in shape, and some — maybe even most — actually do just that.

The Astros have always had a large number of players who work out in Houston during offseason, for two reasons: a) the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Dr. Gene Coleman, makes himself available throughout the winter to conduct workouts in the home clubhouse, and b) Houston’s mild climate in the winter makes the city a destination spot for many players looking to establish year-round roots. With so many players living in Houston or spending a healthy portion of the offseason here, it’s easy to utilize the Minute Maid Park facilities to get in the daily workouts.

Some players have been here the entire offseason. Others started coming by after Thanksgiving, and a few began their Minute Maid Park workouts when the calendar flipped to 2012. In total, anywhere from 12-15 players have had a presence here this winter.

MLB.com reporter Brian McTaggart recently dropped by the weight room to check it out for himself and gave a rundown of players, which includes Wandy Rodriguez, Humberto Quintero, Bud Norris, Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace, Brian Bogusevic, Angel Sanchez and Fernando Rodriguez. Jarred Cosart, one of the club’s top pitching prospects after arriving in the trade with the Phillies last year, has been working out with Coleman most of the offseason. Catcher Carlos Corporan and catching prospect Chris Wallace have been spotted there as well.

“We had workouts starting the last week in October up until about a week before Christmas,” Coleman told McTaggart. “We had nine weeks of workouts there, and we developed a base to start with, and we started developing strength the second time through. And now we’re trying to maximize strength and develop some power and get them ready for Spring Training.”

Brian Bogusevic, Gene Coleman, Angel Sanchez, Fernando Rodriguez.

Bogusevic

Humberto Quintero

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Reliever Fernando Rodriguez will appear with Milo Hamilton on Astroline Thursday at 7 CT at Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown. Astroline can be heard on 740 KTRH and will be streamed live on Astros.com. As always, you can tweet me your questions for Rodriguez and we’ll read them on the air.

The schedule for Astroline shows through February is as follows (guests TBD):

Wed. January 25
Thurs. February 2
Wed. February 8
Wed. February 15
Thurs. February 23
Wed. February 29

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On April 28, athletes from all over the country will come together at Minute Maid Park to honor Joe Niekro at the 3rd Annual Knuckle Ball…A Pitch for Life.

At the peak of his Major League Baseball pitching career, Niekro was famous for his command of the knuckleball, a baseball pitch with an erratic, unpredictable motion. Like a knuckleball, Niekro’s life took an unpredictable path on October 27, 2006, when he died suddenly from a ruptured brain aneurysm. In honor of his memory, his daughter, Natalie Niekro, created The Joe Niekro Foundation, with a mission to raise funds for brain aneurysm research, and treatment, and help bring public awareness to this devastating condition affecting as many as 1 in 15 people.

A number of former players from the Astros, Major League Baseball, NFL and NBA will be on hand at the black-tie gala. The event will feature a reception, formal dinner, silent and live auction. Joe’s brother and Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro will serve as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, with a special presentation of The 2012 Joe Niekro Humanitarian Award to Haynes and Boone, LLP Partner and current Chairman of the Board of the Harris County -Houston Sports Authority, J. Kent Friedman.

To kick things off, special performances from country music superstars Chuck Wicks and Trailer Choir will take place at Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar on April 27.

Proceeds from the musical concert will also benefit The Joe Niekro Foundation and brain aneurysm awareness. The two hit acts will also make a special appearance at The Knuckle Ball gala.

For tickets and more information on both events and The Joe Niekro Foundation, visit http://www.joeniekrofoundation.org/knuckleball.

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The Astros have several part-time positions available, including jobs in Guest Services, Tour Guides and the Box Office.

You can find a complete list of job opportunities available here, or an application can be filled out simply by dropping by Union Station during business hours.

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New year, new blog: FanFest, Caravan, Astroline, Bagwell. (Will the Hall call?)

Happy New Year, Astros fans! Hope you ate too much, enjoyed time with your families and watched a lot of football (not necessarily in that order) over the holiday break. The first day back at work for baseball people is a lot like Groundhog Day: six weeks until Spring Training with a full slate of activities to get to first, before we head to Florida.

Many of you have asked about FanFest, caravans and Astroline. Here are some general guidelines for what’s on tap, although we’ll be posting a more formal schedule when it’s all ready to go.

In the meantime, hope this provides some assistance…
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Baseball Dinner

The Annual Houston Baseball Dinner Benefiting Grand Slam for Youth Baseball will take place on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Americas Hotel near Minute Maid Park.

The event will include a special celebration of the Houston franchise’s 50th anniversary, with several former MVPs and current players expected to attend. Award winners include Pitcher of the Year Wandy Rodriguez and Rookie of the Year J.D. Martinez, as well Jason Bourgeois, the winner of the Darryl Kile (Good Guy) Award. Two former Astros will be recognized as well: Hunter Pence, voted as the team’s MVP, and Lance Berkman, who will be presented the Greater Houston area’s Major League Player of the Year award. Longtime television broadcaster Bill Brown will be recognized with the Fred Hartman Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Baseball.

Former Astros expected to attend include Bob Aspromonte, Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Bob Watson, J.R. Richard, Jose Cruz and Enos Cabell.

To order tickets, click here or call 713-259-8686.
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FanFest

The next day, on Saturday, Feb. 11, the Astros will host FanFest at Minute Maid Park. Full details and a rundown of player appearances will be released at a later date, but here are the basics: FanFest will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature autograph sessions with current and former players and interactive activities for all age groups.
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Caravan

The Astros most likely will be ready to release their full caravan schedule early next week, but here’s a peek:

The caravan (aptly and creatively renamed CAREavan this year) will begin a little later than usual, in order to coordinate it with the baseball dinner and FanFest. The Houston-area caravan stops will take place the week of Feb. 6 and will include stops in Sugar Land/Missouri City, Spring, Cypress and Katy. There will be an autograph signing session at an Academy Sports + Outdoors each day, starting around 6:30 p.m. CT. The lone exception is Friday, Feb. 10, when the Academy signing will start at 3:15 p.m. because of the baseball dinner that evening.

Brian Bogusevic signs autographs at Academy Sports + Outdoors last year during the caravan.

Out-of-town stops will begin Feb. 1 and will include visits to Austin, Brownsville, Harlingen/McAllen, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

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Astroline

General manager Jeff Luhnow will appear on Astroline on Wednesday (Jan. 4) at Buffalo Wild Wings on Gray St. in Midtown. The show, hosted by Milo Hamilton, begins at 7 p.m. CT and will be aired on 740 KTRH and Astros.com.

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Hall of Fame announcement

Second time a charm for Jeff Bagwell?

The Hall of Fame will announce its 2012 inductees on Jan. 9, and as was the case last year, our man Jeff Bagwell will likely be the talk of the Internet regardless of whether he gets in.

Bagwell received 41.7 percent his first time on the ballot in 2010-11. Judging from published reports by voters who are making their choices public, Bagwell has received more support this time around. That said, it’s not looking promising that he will receive enough votes to count for 75 percent of the final tally. I think a lot of us agreed a while back that Bagwell’s third time on the ballot was going to be his best chance to be voted in anyway, given his longtime teammate Craig Biggio will appear on the ballot for the first time at the end of 2012 and should have no problem getting in on the first try.

I’ve read the arguments against Bagwell’s HOF candidacy that range from the well-reasoned to the (IMO) completely absurd. That’s what happens when you have more than 500 people giving more than 500 opinions, but it’s good to see more voters are coming around on Bagwell this year. The PED issue continues to follow Bags, as many writers are still taking the guilt-by-association route — as in, he played in the 1990s, so he must be guilty, despite any real evidence that he was actually associated.

Some writers simply think Bagwell was a very good player, but not among the best ever. A friendly reminder to the voters who actually watched Bags play in person 10, maybe 12 times during his 15-year career: there is good baseball played all over the country, played by Hall of Fame-worthy players who spent their entire careers in places other than the Northeast. That their feats weren’t televised nationally on a regular basis doesn’t make them less worthy of being recognized for what they accomplished.

If early returns are any indication, it appears that Barry Larkin will be the lone inductee in Cooperstown in July.

(Of the many pro-Bagwell columns, I think I like this one the best.)

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Here’s a fun story about someone you may not have heard of before but is a huge part of the Astros’ operation. Mike Acosta started in the late 1990s as a broadcasting intern and eventually worked his way into a job the Astros created especially for him — Authentication Manager. In this Ken Hoffman column in the Houston Chronicle, Acosta discusses bobblehead technology and why he has so much to be excited about as the Astros prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Major League Baseball in Houston this year.

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On this date in Astros history:

January 3, 1962 – A groundbreaking ceremony takes place on the future site of the Astrodome. The ceremony’s attendees, include players from the Colt .45s, city and county officials, fire pistols into the ground to celebrate the historic event.

To receive daily updates of Astros historical moments, follow @astros on Twitter and look for the hash tag #Astros50.

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Last minute ticket info as we near the Spring Training finish line

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As we inch toward the beginning of the regular season, we’d like to pass along some information about the upcoming exhibition game at Minute Maid Park, along with a couple of ticket tidbits you may have missed…

March 30 vs. Boston Red Sox

Before Brad Mills joined the Astros, we didn’t see much of the storied AL East Red Sox beyond an Interleague series every four years or so. But I sense it’s no coincidence that we’ve seen more of the Red Sox in the last two years than we did in the 15 years prior, now that Mills is in the mix.

For a baseball fan living in Houston, that can only be viewed as a good thing. While having the Royals and Blue Jays as our exhibition guests at Minute Maid Park for the better part of a decade was nice and all, it’s simply more fun to have a team like the Red Sox in town. And they’ll be here March 30 at 7:05 CT (in addition to a three-gamer in early July.)

Click here to reserve your tickets for the final exhibition game of 2011…

Also, we’re offering a First Pitch sweepstakes for the Astros-Red Sox game. Fans can text “pitch” to 26099 for the chance to throw out the first pitch on March 30. The contest ends Thursday afternoon and the winner will be notified on Friday.

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If you’re more focused on the regular season, check out this new cheap ticket, premium game package: The Opening Day 3-Game Hot Pack.

The package includes a ticket to Opening Day (April 8 versus the Marlins), a ticket to the June 28 game versus the Rangers and July 3 versus the Red Sox.

Details can be found here…

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