Results tagged ‘ Richard Hidalgo ’

Astros notes: A visit from an old friend, Schafer’s streak and Altuve’s hot start.

Richard Hidalgo hasn’t played in the big leagues in quite some time, but he has always been a regular presence and active player at Winter Ball in his native Venezuela.

During the Astros’ television broadcast Monday night, Hidalgo told FS Houston’s Patti Smith that he will likely retire this year and start coaching baseball in Venezuela. If he ever decides to pursue a coaching career in the United States (a notion that isn’t out of the question, considering he makes his year-round home in Orlando, Fla.), I hope he gives the Astros a call, or vice versa.

Hidalgo was a fan favorite when he played in Houston, but that was nothing compared to how popular he was inside the clubhouse. Hidalgo was a great teammate, a hard worker and a kind person. Everyone loved “Doggie,” and when he was traded to the Mets in the middle of the 2004 season, a forlorn Gerry Hunsicker, then the GM, mentioned that he whenever Hidalgo retired, he would be the first to try to bring him back into the coaching ranks.

Hidalgo was a regular presence at the Astros’ Venezuelan Academy in the late 1990s and early 2000s on his own volition. He wasn’t asked or paid by the Astros to spend time with the young prospects; he simply was there because he enjoyed passing his knowledge down to the younger generation.

Hidalgo was a matinee idol in Venezuela during his years with the Astros, but in all of his years here, he never changed. He was, and is, a heck of guy. It was great to catch up with him at Minute Maid Park, and here’s hoping we’ll see him again in the future.

Larry Dierker was the manager of the Astros during Hidalgo's best years. Here they are having a laugh after Hidalgo threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Still got it!

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There are records for everything, and there is a record in the Astros’ books for the most games a player reaches base safely to start a season. The record is held by Denis Menke, who reached base safely in the first 25 games he played in 1969.

Jordan Schafer, with his base hit that broke up R.A. Dickey’s no-hit bid in the sixth inning Monday, has now reached safely in 23 games. That ties him with Ricky Gutierrez (1998) for second place.

A couple of other cool stats we came across before the game:

* The Astros have greatly improved in plate discipline from last year. In 2011, the Astros ranked 30th (last) with a 2.5 walks-per-game ratio. This year, through Sunday’s game, they were drawing 3.6 walks per game, good for seventh-best in the Majors. The difference of 1.1 walk improvement is the second- best in the big leagues, behind only the Indians (2.0).

* After going 3-for-5 on Sunday in Cincinnati, Jose Altuve’s .373 batting average ranks among the best ever by any Astro through 22 team games. All-time:

Derek Bell, 1998, .402
Billy Hatcher, 1987, .391
Joe Morgan, 1966, .375
Cesar Cedeno, 1972, .375
Jose Altuve, 2012, .373

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Bonus celebrity first pitch: another Astros alum drops by Minute Maid Park next week.

Exactly 10 years ago, rumblings of a possible Major League Baseball players strike were prevalent in every city, as fans braced themselves for what looked to be an inevitable shutdown. The disputed topics centered around the predictable (money), the hot-button (steroid testing) and the absurd (the owner of the Minnesota Twins thinking he could actually get away with doing away with his team).

Unlike 1994, when the union and the owners were so far apart and negotiations were so contentious that a strike was inevitable, this time, in 2002, players were overwhelmingly against a shutdown (although they’ll probably deny it to this day). This was a different time than in ’94: not even a year had passed since the tragic events on Sept. 11, 2001, the economy was in the proverbial toilet, a war was brewing and people were, in general, frazzled.

Many players voiced a similar sentiment: “If we strike now, we’re done. The fans aren’t coming back.”

The Astros were, at that time, contenders every year. They had won the division in 2001 and were talented enough in ’02 to remain competitive and take the division race down to the wire. There were plenty of young players on that team, but there was a strong veteran presence as well. Many of those veteran players were against a union strike. They wanted to keep playing, realizing the number of years remaining for them to get to the postseason, and win the World Series, were dwindling.

Jeff Bagwell, in particular, was one of those players. He had a few years remaining on his contract, but recent shoulder surgery made his future, and his longevity in the game, a lot less certain. He had already begun the process of passing the leadership baton to the next generation. “Our time is getting shorter,” he said. “This is Richard and Lance’s team now.”

By “Richard” and “Lance,” Bagwell was referring to Richard Hidalgo and Lance Berkman, two rising young stars who were drafted and developed by the Astros and considered to be the future of the organization. Bagwell and Craig Biggio mentioned, often, that the team was in very good hands because of those two players.


Hidalgo’s career, obviously, didn’t pan out the way Berkman’s has. Nonetheless, “Doggie” was a popular figure in Houston back then. He debuted with the team when it was still playing in the Astrodome, and he holds the distinction of scoring the first Astros run at the new downtown ballpark, via the first Astros home run hit in ballpark history.

Hidalgo will be in Houston when the next homestand begins, sparking an impromptu special edition Alumni First Pitch. On Monday, April 30, Hidalgo will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Astros-Mets game (coincidentally, the Astros traded Hidalgo to the Mets in the middle of 2004). Instead of “Flashback Friday,” we’ll call this one “Memory Monday.”

The link to purchase tickets for that game can be found here.

Can’t wait to see “Doggie” again. Woof!

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TV/Radio bonanza: Brett, Dave, Brownie, J.D., Milo and a bunch of programming notes. The band’s back together.

Today, we start with the transcript from Tuesday’s chat session with our intrepid skipper, Brad Mills

Q: How will such new young talented players adjust together in such short time? in other words, how important is finding a good rhythm?

Brad Mills: Early on, we addressed the need for a cohesive bond and a lot of times with these young players, they do just that. This particular group has bought into that way of thinking and they’ve done a very good job of coming together so far. We think they definitely will continue.

Q: What was the determining factor in naming Myers the closer? Experience? Stats? Desire?

Mills: All of the above, really. We had to make sure that he was as excited about it as we were. When he said he was excited, that was probably the most determining factor. There’s been so many successful closers that have been starters in the past that have turned into really good closers. It helps that he has already been a closer and did well with it.

Q: How fired up is Bud Norris this year? What have been your thoughts on his pitching?

Mills: He’s throwing the ball really well. He has concentrated on a lot of his secondary pitches so far and is developing them quicker than maybe even expected.

Q: Will we see any major rotations or changes in the outfield or infield coming soon?

Mills: There’s going to be changes in the rotation, with Myers leaving and then needing a fifth starter. The infield, we’re going to have a few changes, but nothing drastic yet. The competition we’ve had this spring has really opened our eyes to a lot of good things that have happened to our organization over the past year.

Q: what did you see (on Tuesday) that you liked?

Mills: Livan (Hernandez) stood out. He threw the ball absolutely outstanding. I’m knocking on wood that our defense continues to be very solid. And anytime you hit a walkoff home run, like Brian Bixler did, that’s pretty significant.

Q: Are coaches decisions or a managers decision based on stats solely? Do you ever use your gut?

Mills: I always use my gut, but ignoring stats is ignorant. You have to use everything.

Q: What is the daily routine of a ball player at Spring Training?

Mills: The days are long once we start playing games. Players are usually at the ballpark by 7 in the morning. They have a routine of hitters hitting in the cage, they have their time slots between 7 and 9. Others have early work on the field starting at 8:30. The coaches meeting is at 8 and then we go through a full workout up until lunch. We take lunch and then play a game. That is a full day.

Q: What is the team spirit like after a 6-4 start (after Tuesday’s win)?

Mills: It’s very good right now after the last two wins. Last night’s win and today were both outstanding games, very close games that we won at the end. Anytime we have those types of games it brings a little team bonding. The one thing about this group is they’ve handled themselves extremely well all spring. The effort in doing the things we can control has been very good. That’s been one of the things we’ve emphasized the most.

Q: Are you finding younger picthers recover quicker or about the same?

Mills: Mostly, the same. The one thing veteran pitchers know is how to go about their workload so they are able to recover in a timely manner.

Q: What will these players need to accomplish to make it to the playoffs?

Mills: We have to continue to improve. They’ve shown good progression so far in a short time and we’ll have to continue to do that. There’s a lot of talent here and given those capabilities, that is our objective.

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TV/Radio notes:

* Popular television broadcasters Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies, who not long ago were enshrined into the fictitious MLB bobblehead Hall of Fame, are en route to Florida and will be with the Astros for a full week. They will be in town, of course, to broadcast the Astros’ game on FS Houston on March 20, but they are also going to be given a little time on the radio as well. From what I understand, J.D. will join Dave Raymond in the booth on Saturday when the team plays the Yankees in Tampa, and Brownie will pair with Brett Dolan on Friday for the Astros’ visit to Orlando to play the Braves.

(FYI, bobblehead HOF worthiness is based solely on how much the bobblehead actually resembles the actual person. On a sliding scale, with a score of one being the lowest (a la Jeff Bagwell, class of 2003) and 10 being the highest (Richard Hidalgo, ’01), the Brownie and J.D. bobble given out last June has to be a solid 9.5.)

Anyhoo, it’ll be great to have the old gang together again, especially considering my Astros OneLiners twitter account has been a little barren, to say the least, without J.D.’s, well, J.D.-isms.

* I’m also hearing Craig Biggio is on his way to Kissimmee on Thursday for his annual Spring Training visit. Word is he will be in town through Sunday.

* Former broadcaster/pitcher/manager and current all-around great guy Larry Dierker flew to Florida with owner Jim Crane and a few friends and Astros executives on Tuesday and joined the contingent in Jupiter. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 10 years since the last time Dierker was a regular part of Spring Training, as the Astros’ manager. While I’m sure there’s plenty about being on the field that Dierker misses, Spring Training isn’t high on that list.

As a manager, the early mornings, the long bus trips and the seemingly never-ending slate of Spring Training games wore on him. He quite liked this time of the year when he was an active player, however. As a starting pitcher, he only had to participate in Grapefruit League games every four or five days, and when he was in the game long enough to be considered a veteran, he really had it easy, because he pretty much dictated which road trips he would be on.

“I’d tell the pitching coach where I wanted to go, and I really only had to take one long trip all spring,” Dierker laughed.

Dierker chats with Brett Dolan, as Dolan tries to shield himself from the relentless sun during BP in Jupiter on Wednesday.

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Other notables:

*To add catching depth to the system, the Astros signed Landon Powell, who not long ago was released by the Oakland A’s. Powell signed a Minor League deal and will be in big league camp. While it’s unlikely he’d make the team — a healthy Jason Castro and solid backup Chris Snyder appear to be the favorites to break camp with the club — Powell gives the team a possible plan B. Humberto Quintero is still in the mix as well, obviously, but his back issues leave some uncertainty there. Powell simply gives the Astros more options should they need to dip into the system for catching help.

* The Astros will host the Blue Jays on Thursday at Osceola County Stadium at 1:05 p.m. ET, noon CT. Left-hander Zach Duke will start for the Astros, who will face Toronto righty Dustin McGowan. The game will be broadcast on KBME 790 am.

* David Carpenter will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline tonight (Wednesday) at 8 p.m. ET, 7 CT. The show will air live from the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk and will air on 740 KTRH and Astros.com.

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