Results tagged ‘ Roy Oswalt ’

Roy counts his blessings after sifting through the rubble.

The only thing that matters is that Roy Oswalt’s family is safe, that the closet his mom hid in stayed intact as the rest of the house was blown to smithereenes, that his children were with him in Houston when the tornado blew through Choctaw County and that his dad was out of town on a hunting trip, out of harm’s way.

The only things that were lost were material things, and material things, no matter how valuable, just don’t matter. I kept reminding myself of that when Roy spoke eloquently about arriving to his hometown of Weir, Miss., last Saturday to find that the home he grew up in — located about a half-mile from the home he’s raising his family in today — is gone.

I tried to remember that as he described the neighborhood where he grew up looking “like a bomb went off” — cars in trees, homes flattened to the ground — and wondering how he was going to explain this all to his two young daughters who spend as much time at their grandparents’ house as their own.

The small town of Weir, Miss., where everyone knows everyone, is eerily unrecognizable. So we have to be thankful that Roy’s mom and her dog — “I think she loves that dog more than us,” Roy laughed — are OK.

But when Roy was asked if any Astros memorabilia was lost in the tornado and he revealed his 2005 NLCS MVP trophy is now in pieces, likely scattered over hundreds of yards of land, my heart sank. I remember Roy receiving the trophy and promptly handing it to his dad, Billy, who clutched it with pride and beamed as his son credited him for everything good that has happened to him in baseball.

“Just the way he believed in me,” Oswalt said the night the Astros won the pennant. “Growing up, people used to come by and ask why he spent so much time with me out in the yard throwing the ball. Hopefully, those guys are watching this on TV today and now they understand.”

“Never in my wildest imagination did I expect to see a day like this one,” Billy added, holding the trophy to his chest. “I can’t tell you how proud I am.”

Again, things were lost, not lives. That’s what matters. But some losses — childhood pictures, wedding albums, and a gift from son to father — simply hurt more than others.

Watch Oswalt talk about his trip home here.

Read the MLB.com story here.

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On a lighter note…

I was reminded of a funny story Roy’s agent, Bob Garber, recently told me about that pennant-clinching night.

Once the celebration subsided and the party cleared out, Bob and Billy headed to the car they rented in a parking lot around Busch Stadium. They had the trophy, of course, and had no choice but to carry it with them. As they walked through legions of Cardinals fans, carrying this big, shiny trophy, they realized they could be asking for trouble. But no one bothered them.

They got plenty of weird looks, but they were more of the “wait…is that…nah, couldn’t be” variety.

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Pink in the Park

The Astros went all out for Mother’s Day last year, and they’re currently gearing up for a repeat performance.

Thursday will kick of the team’s annual Pink on the Park campaign to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research, beginning with the signature event, the Pink in the Park Brunch and Bazaar presented by Minute Maid.

The event will raise funds for The Methodist Cancer Center and the Houston Affiliate of Susan G. Komen For The Cure. It’s also a great opportunity to see players hanging out with their moms.

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The brunch and bazaar will feature members of the Astros team, their wives and mothers and will be hosted by Honorary Chairs Cara Berkman and Cynthia Berkman. The event will be held in Union Station at Minute Maid Park. The bazaar, sponsored by Team Scotti, opens for shopping at 10:00 a.m. and will remain open until 2:30 p.m. A portion of the proceeds from sales at the bazaar will also benefit breast cancer research. The program, including a raffle and brunch, will begin at 12:30 p.m. A VIP reception will follow the brunch and is sponsored by Kraft Foods and H-E-B.

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Tickets to the Pink In the Park Brunch and Bazaar may be purchased by calling the Astros In Action Foundation at 713-259-8979 or by visiting astros.com.

Individual tickets are available for $250 and new this year, bazaar shopping only tickets are available for $50.

Other pink activities will also take place from May 3-9. For a complete listing, click here.

Among the highlights:

Monday, May 3:

Tee Time Ladies Golf Outing presented by Minute Maid. This “women-only” affair will be a shotgun start golf tournament held at Redstone Golf Club, Members Course.

Friday, May 7

* Pink Astros cap giveaway to the first 10,000 fans, courtesy of AT&T
* Pink themed Friday Night Fireworks with a special salute to women
* Girls Night Out, presented by Sunny 99.1. Ladies can enjoy the Astros game together with Sunny 99.1 personality Dana Tyson in a special View Deck I seating section for only $9.91 per ticket.
* Pink pampering expo with vendors from various spas and boutiques will be in Conoco Alley
* Pre-game seminars and discussions featuring Astros wives (“Behind Every Man…”) and Astros staff (“Women in Baseball”) will be held in the Union Station Atrium.

Saturday, May 8
* Pink Astros tote bag given to the first 10,000 fans, compliments of The Methodist Hospital System
* Wine and Cheese Night at Minute Maid Park will be held prior to the game from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. in the Union Station Lobby and will feature Master Sommelier Guy Stout.
* Ticket packages are available for $40 or $60 and include a game ticket, event ticket (two wine pours, wine class, and wine charm).
* A portion of the proceeds from the event and from a special silent auction will benefit breast cancer research.

Sunday, May 9 - Mothers Day
* Pink Astros tee shirt to first 10,000 women 15 and older, provided by KRAFT and H-E-B.
* The Astros will honor a local breast cancer survivor as the team’s Honorary Bat Girl in a pre-game ceremony.
* Astros players will wear a pink ribbon patch and pink wristbands during the game. In addition, a few players will use pink bats during the game which will later be auctioned to raise funds for the cause.
* Astros are donating 200 tickets to the Houston Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure for breast cancer survivors and supporters.
* All mothers will be invited to run the bases with their kids following the game.

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More Astros potpourri: why an offday in the middle of a series?

The Astros have a weird schedule this week — only one night game in six days, and an off day right in the middle of the St. Louis series. I’ve received a lot of questions about that, and the explanation is simple: when teams in cold weather cities with open-roofed stadiums have their Opening Day, the next day is usually an offday just in case their Opener gets rained out. Obviously, most Opening Days sell out, so rather than deprive the fans of the game and the club of the gate, everything just shifts to the next day.

It’s 80 degrees and perfectly sunny in St. Louis today (and all week), so tomorrow will be a full day off (yay!). That said, I’m hearing that Brad Mills has reserved the field at Busch Stadium for about an hour for a voluntary workout, and I’m guessing he’ll get a decent showing. The hotel is located near the ballpark, there’s nothing else to do in downtown St. Louis and the way things are going, I would imagine quite a few hitters would like to get in a handful of swings while still enjoying a mental day off.
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Every day when we talk to Mills, we ask for a Puma update with hopes that a return to the field is imminent. So far, no luck. Lance Berkman spent part of his morning rehabbing in Houston, and he’ll continue to do so while the Astros are out of town.

As far as when he’ll be activated from the disabled list, your guess is as good as mine.

“There’s no timetable set forth at all,” Mills said. “When he does finally come back we need him 100 percent to where he’s ready to play every day instead of maybe play for a week and he’s so sore that he has to sit out four or five days or DL him another 15. We don’t want that to happen.”

Making progress without setbacks has been the main issue.

“Some days he comes in and feels real good and they’ll try to increase the activity and all of a sudden, it’s not there,” Mills said. “We’re looking for a little stability in the process, in the program, where he feels good.”

During Monday’s game, we received word Puma did some light running, received treatment and also did some quadriceps strengthening exercises.

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While I’m sure a million different thoughts and emotions are swimming inside of Mills right now, the most important thing he can do for his team is maintain a steady demeanor throughout all of this losing. He and his coaching staff must be a stabilizing force at all times, but especially now, when it’s easy for players to start thinking too much, overanalyzing and psyching themselves out as they try to do their jobs.

“We keep working with them and talking to them and making sure their minds are in the right spot,” Mills said. “And that their minds aren’t getting too heavy or bogged down with what they’re going through, to allow them to free them up to be able to function properly.”

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Meanwhile, my favorite segment of the Astros game notes is back: birthday listings. Not only does the incomparable PR staff inform us when a player or coach has a birthday, but we’re also provided with what other famous people share that birthday.

On Tuesday, Hunter Pence turns 27, and we now know that he shares his birthday with R&B singer Al Green, actor Rick Schroder and the third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson.

Actually, in the game notes, next to Schroder’s name is the title “‘Lonesome Dove’ actor.” Come on. That’s like identifying Rob Lowe with his role in “The West Wing.” Rick Schroder will forever be Ricky Schroder of Silver Spoons, even if he’s spent the last 25 years trying to make people forget that part of his career.

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During Jeff Bagwell’s recent pow wow with the media, he was asked what he thought of Bud Norris’ future as a starting pitcher. I thought I’d pass those thoughts along to you:

“Bud has great stuff,” Bagwell said. “He’s got a personality that maybe his teammates don’t like (laughs), but I love. Bud is off the wall, and he’s not arrogant, but he believes in his ability. And he has tons of ability. He has a chance to be in our organization and pitch and be upward of one-two in our rotation for years to come.

“I’m excited about Bud. I truly love him. I think he’s going to do great, I really do. I remember back in 2001, we had Roy (Oswalt), Wade (Miller), Carlos Hernandez and (Tim) Redding. I remember sitting there talking to Bidge and saying, ‘We have a chance to be good for a while.’ These are the young kids that have to come up. In today’s game, it’s very hard to go out and pay for pitching, because pitching costs so much money. If we develop our own guys, we’ll have time to keep them in our own nest.”

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From the manager’s session after the Astros’ loss in St. Louis Monday:

Mills, asked if it’s too early to get frustrated with the lack of offense:

“You an definitely be frustrated after one game when you struggle to score. Now that it’s adding up, I think it’s OK to be frustrated a little bit.”

On pulling Wandy in the fifth inning, after 65 pitches:

“He’s fine. At that point, being down like we were, we had to go with matchups.”

(Side note: Wandy said he felt a little shoulder soreness during this game but does not feel it will affect him moving forward.)

Oswalt and Opening Day go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

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Judging from my conversations with people who closely follow the Astros, I clearly was one of the few who thought Wandy Rodriguez might be awarded the Opening Day start this year.

I was basing this solely on conclusions I drew from past years. When I got here in 1997, Shane Reynolds was in the midst of what would be a five-year stretch of consecutive Opening Day starts. He made his first in 1996 and his last in 2000, after which he was unseated by a young Scott Elarton.

The decision to start Elarton in ’01 was based solely on his performance in 2000. He won 17 games in a terrible season for the team, while Reynolds pitched only about a half-season until back problems shut him down.

That call by Larry Dierker made perfect sense, assuming he was awarding the Opening Day start to the pitcher who most deserved it, based on the prior season.

In ’02, Wade Miller got the Opening Day nod. Again, Miller’s ’01 season was better than any of his rotation mates by a large margin. He was 16-8 with a 3.40 ERA and proved himself a workhorse, piling up 212 innings.

That was the last time someone not named Roy Oswalt started on Opening Day for the Astros. Oswalt will pitch his club-record eighth opener on April 5, and I admit, there’s something that just feels right about that.

But a couple of months ago when we were still deep in the offseason, I just assumed Rodriguez would be in line to start the opener. Every Opening Day starter over the 13 years I’ve been around this team got that start based on his performance the prior year, so why not this time?  Wandy led the team with 14 wins and had an ERA of 3.02 and was named the club’s Pitcher of the Year. Roy was sidelined for a spell with back problems and compiled just eight wins (a number that could partially be explained by the record-setting 16 no-decisions he received.)

I figured the only thing that might prevent Wandy from receiving the Opening Day start was the fact that he’s left-handed, and managers generally like to put their lefties in between right-handers instead of have them at the top of the rotation.

Turns out, Wandy will fall in line after Oswalt, but not necessarily because of the lefty-righty theory. Simply put, Oswalt has been the ace of this staff for nearly a decade and that means a lot to the organization. It specifically carries a lot of weight with manager Brad Mills, and as long as Oswalt showed he was healthy this spring and stayed on schedule without any setbacks, Mills had no doubt about who would start Opening Day.

(Watch Mills and Oswalt discuss Opening Day here.) 

When Mills reset the rotation after the off day earlier this week, he flip-flopped Roy and Wandy so that Roy would be on schedule to start April 5.

I like the decision. It’ll be Oswalt vs. Tim Lincecum on Opening Day, and anything else just wouldn’t have felt right. I just wonder why it took me longer than everyone else to realize it.

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Images from a busy day in Kissimmee on Saturday (it’s always slightly chaotic when the Yankees come to town):

Coach Biggio hits fungos during morning drills:

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Carlos Lee,Pedro Feliz during batting practice.

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Felipe Paulino and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

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Oswalt and Berkman during the anthem.

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View from above…record crowd for Astros vs. Yankees.

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Random notes on Opening Day, Astroline, old friends, fathers and sons.

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People in baseball like to use the cliche “it ain’t brain surgery,” along with “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” and “that’s baseball” and other well-worn phrases that often make me wish there was a banned cliche list, sort of like the banned substance list that has become a staple in our game.

Anyhoo, “it ain’t brain surgery” is wholly appropriate when breaking down the Opening Day starter pitching conundrum, or lack thereof. After Monday’s offday on Monday, manager Brad Mills reset the rotation so that Roy Oswalt would start the first game back against the Red Sox on Tuesday.

Counting the days and assuming Oswalt will receive his normal four days of rest from here on out, he would be on schedule to start April 5, which just so happens to be Opening Day.

The announcement isn’t official, but, as we’ve already gone over, this ain’t brain surgery. April 5 is shaping up to be a day I’m quite looking forward to, for three reasons:

1) I’ll be watching a game that doesn’t involve the words “Grapefruit” or “split squad” and won’t involve 37 pitching changes (at least let’s hope not);
2) It’ll be a game that actually counts in the National League Central standings;
3) It’ll feature two of the league’s top pitchers: Oswalt, and San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum.

And here’s more good news: there are still tickets available. I think a lot of fans just assume that Opening Day is sold out months in advance, but if you hop on astros.com, I think you’ll find some seats to your liking.

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Arnie on Astroline

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Hopefully by now you’ve caught at least one of the many Brad Arnsberg interviews and videos that have been posted throughout the spring. If you have, you’ve probably noticed the Astros’ new pitching coach is a pretty animated guy. It also takes no time at all to realize he not only has a deep passion for what he does for a living, but he also isn’t afraid to express it.

Arnsberg will talk pitching for a full hour on Wednesday with Milo Hamilton during “Astroline,” the team’s weekly radio show that is winding down another offseason of Hot Stove talk.

The show airs live from the ESPN Club at Disney’s Boardwalk in Orlando at 7 p.m. CT, 8 ET. You can listen on the club’s flagship station, KTRH 740, or streamed live at astros.com. The number to call into the show with questions is 713-212-5874, or you can do it the new-age way and tweet me.

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It was a fun, lively day at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday, partly because a ton of people from Red Sox Nation showed up to watch their make a rare appearance in Kissimmee. You could say that the two clubs are geographically incompatible given the hundreds of miles between Kissimmee and Fort Myers, but a home-and-home series was irresistible to the schedule-makers who noted the obvious Astros-Red Sox ties.

Mills was Terry Francona’s bench coach for six years in Boston before he was hired to be the Astros’ skipper, but the two actually go all the way back to their college days, when they were teammates at the University of Arizona.

Several prominent Red Sox players, including Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, asked specifically to be on the trip, despite the three-hour bus ride, because they wanted to say hello to “Millsie.” And you could tell throughout the morning that Mills was excited to see his old team. He’s a high-energy guy by nature, but I detected a little extra kick in his step on Tuesday (especially after his current team shut out his former team, 3-0.)

Another interesting storyline involved Astros third baseman Chris Johnson and his dad, Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson. Francona, working with only a portion of his Major League staff thanks to a split-squad schedule, assigned the elder Johnson to coach third base in this game, so that he could be next to his son.

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“It’s Spring Training, and we’re trying to get some stuff done,” Francona said. “But there is time to realize the human side, and it’ll be fun to watch.”

Chris Johnson maintained a low-key demeanor about his dad’s visit to Kissimmee, but Ron Johnson was the total opposite. He was bursting with both pride and excitement as he talked about coaching next to his son.

“This morning, I got up around 5:30, and I was the only guy, I guarantee you, that said, “OK! We’re going to Kissimmee today! Three-hour drive! This is great!” Johnson gushed.

Here’s an image of father and son exchanging lineup cards with the umpires:

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Why let rain get in the way of a good time?

Rain-soaked cancellations of Spring Training games usually signal the end of the baseball day for the average fan, but for most ballplayers, there is still work to be done.

Half the Astros squad boarded the buses Thursday morning for Viera, where three hours later the game would ultimately be cancelled due to torrential downpours. Back at the home complex, however, the other half of the team did its best to get its work in, including several pitchers who were scheduled to throw bullpen sessions.

I looked out of the window of the Astros offices around 10 a.m. expecting to see nothing but empty fields, but instead, here’s what I found:

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That’s pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and reliever Chris Sampson, seemingly ignoring the fact that it was raining hard enough that everyone else exited the fields and ran for cover.

Rain might not seem like that big of a deal during Spring Training, and that’s partly true. Once the fields are soaked to the point of flooding and the conditions become dangerous, there is absolutely no reason — other than financial ones — why teams should try to get the games in long after the fields are deemed unplayable.

That doesn’t mean the players just get to go home, however. For all pitchers, staying on schedule is essential. Roy Oswalt, the scheduled starter for the doomed game in Viera, instead returned home on the team bus and threw to Minor Leaguers on one of the backfields. He threw 60 pitches over the equivalant of three innings.

“That was the best we could do today,” Oswalt said. “The last inning was good. The first two, so-so. The last inning, I figured out what I was doing.”

Jeff Fulchino and Tim Byrdak each threw an inning as well. The rest of the work had to be done in the cages after the rain started again.

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Did you know there was a baseball game involving Craig Biggio played at Minute Maid Park on Thursday?

Biggio’s St. Thomas High School baseball team, for whom he’s the head coach, played Galveston O’Connell.

Many thanks to Astros authentication manager Mike Acosta, who sent along these images. Mike surmised this was probably the first time since Biggio’s retirement that he was back on the field at Minute Maid Park, in uniform, for a baseball game.

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March 3 notes: Bagwell in camp, intrasquad game, Puma update.

The clubhouse was a little livelier than usual Wednesday morning, probably because it was the last day of workouts before the Grapefruit League games begin. It’s not that players get overly excited about Spring Training games — in fact, after about 15 of those they’ll be itching to get finished with the schedule and start playing some “meaningful” baseball. But after nearly two weeks of throwing side sessions, taking batting practice, practicing pickoffs, rundowns, pop flies, plays at the plate and hitting the cutoff man, it’s probably not a stretch to assume the players are ready to mix things up a bit.

Manager Brad Mills posted his lineup for the Astros-Nationals game on Thursday:

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I’ve already had some questions about the decision to catch J.R. Towles and use Jason Castro as the DH, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. Mills said that most of the DH playing time will go to the catchers, which will allow for Humberto Quintero, Towles and Castro to continue to receive at-bats even when they’re not behind the plate. Considering the starting catcher position is wide open this spring, that’s a sound move.

Lance Berkman’s bruised left knee is feeling better, but the first baseman won’t play in Thursday’s game and his status for Friday is still TBD. Mills said he’s waiting to see if Berkman can DH for that game in Lakeland, or if he can play his position. Mills has Towles on the radar to DH, while Quintero will DH during the “B” game in Lakeland. Felipe Paulino, a sixth candidate for a starting position, is slated to start that game.

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The clubhouse wasn’t the only lively place Wednesday morning. The coaches’ locker room was jumping as well, mainly because of the addition of Jeff Bagwell (along with some interesting story-telling by Enos Cabell, parts of which regrettably filtered into the hallway where I was eaves-dropping).

Bagwell will be with the Astros for three days and will return again at the end of March for about a week. He’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and other than going completely out of his mind not being able to work out, he seems to be doing well. He spent most of the morning shaking hands with people with his left hand, to avoid any unnecessary tugging of his right arm which could irritate the shoulder.

To avoid any mishaps, he held a coffee cup in his right hand for most of the morning. Here he is having a coffee toast with Hunter Pence around 9 a.m.:

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The Astros played an intrasquad game Wednesday as a final tuneup before Thursday’s Grapefruit opener. This was mainly for the pitchers, which is why most of the regular position players didn’t play. Instead, several Minor League players and non-starters comprised the rosters for “Meacham’s Mashers” and “Clark’s Crushers,” named after the two coaches who managed this game — first base coach Bobby Meacham and third base coach Dave Clark.

The wind was blowing out at about a 20 mph clip, which might explain why the final score was 16-13 (in favor of Meacham’s Mashers.)

For a behind-the-scenes peek at the Intrasquad “draft,” click here. You’ll find footage of a lot of banter between coaches as Meacham and Clark picked their teams.

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Thanks to the more than 500 of you who have hopped onto our Astros Witticism Twitter account, aptly named PumaOneLiners. As the season goes on, we hope to use that as a landing spot to showcase the more humorous side of baseball players, even though we also plan to use it as a way to communicate postgame quotes once the regular season begins.

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Images from spring training workouts on a cold, windy Wednesday morning:

 Puma, Blum, Sean Berry.

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Pedro Feliz

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Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt

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Bagwell

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Bagwell with minor league field coordinator Dick Scott.

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Ballplayers acting out (literally).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moehler, talking about Brett Favre and Molly Ringwald.

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Norris and Fulchino, being prepped on their video segment.

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Fulchino, Mills, Oswalt, Lindstrom.

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Byrdak, Wandy throw side sessions.

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Catchers lined up, catching the side sessions.

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

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

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Hunter Pence…

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Tommy Manzella.

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Love is in the air. Astros wives dish about their hubbies.

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Kory Blum met her future husband, Geoff, while out with friends one night in L.A., and within minutes, both knew they had found “the one.”

Nicole and Roy Oswalt have known each other for most of their lives, but it was a chance meeting at a high school choral competition that sped up the course of their casual friendship.

Nicole Oswalt and Kory Blum spilled the beans about marital bliss in the February edition of Houston Lifestyles & Homes magazine, available in stores around town and online at http://www.houstonlifestyles.com.

The Astros wives were refreshingly candid about what makes their marriage work, and while this might generate some ribbing from their husbands’ teammates when Spring Training starts next week, their words offer a peek into a side of baseball players we normally aren’t privy to.

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 “I have never laughed so hard or been so carefree,” Kory says of her courtship with Geoff. “I loved his easy-going personality, his love of life, and was delighted to find we had dreams of common goals.”

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Writes Nicole: “I could tell at a young age that he would be a good man, hard working, responsible with good morals and values, and he’s never let me down.”

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Sampson’s new pitch: a changeup

Chris Sampson revealed plenty of notable nuggets during his appearance on Astroline Wednesday night, including the news that he’s developed a changeup to add to his repertoire this season.

“It’s been six years coming,” he said. “When I got sent down to Round Rock last year, there as a pitcher on that staff — Roy Corcoran. He had a good changeup. I asked how he held it, played catch with it. It felt comfortable in my hand for the first time in six years. When I throw it right, it’s pretty good.”

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College Classic

Tickets are available for The 2010 Houston College Classic, which will take place at Minute Maid Park from March 5-7. The field of teams includes TCU, Houston, Texas Tech, Missouri, Texas and Rice.

Daily admission is $13 or $30 for all three days. Kids ages 4-14 can enter for $6 a day, or $15 for a three-day pass. You can order tickets online by clicking here, or by calling 1-800-ASTROS2.

Roy Oswalt opens a restaurant, and several towns celebrate.

Several months ago, Roy Oswalt introduced me to a friend visiting Minute Maid Park. “Where are you from?” the friend asked. “Ohio,” I said. “Ohio?” he responded. “Do you own any land there?” I said, “You mean, like the bedroom at my parents’ house where I grew up?” I answered. Roy laughed. “She’s a city girl,” he said. “She doesn’t know land.”

But I sure do now. I just spent a whirlwind 36 hours in central Mississippi, about 90 minutes from Jackson. This is home for Oswalt, and it contains everything that is important to him — his family, his ranch, his community, and now, his brand new restaurant.

“Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse” opened its doors to the public for the first time late Friday afternoon, and I was grateful to be there to see the finished product. Roy cleared the land for the restaurant with the bulldozer Drayton McLane gave him, and now, a year later, that small area of land is a quaint 24-table eatery perfect for a night out with the family.

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I’ve heard plenty about Oswalt’s hometown of Weir, Miss. and the ranch he owns in neighboring Kosciusko, aptly named “Double 4 Ranch.” But with all of the stories he’s told over the years, I couldn’t really picture it. So this seemed like as good a time as any to see it up close (through the lens of my ever-present camera, of course).

I admit, when I think of log cabins and lodges, I picture this:
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But after entering the gate at Double 4 Ranch and traveling some distance down a winding road, this is what was before me:

Log cabin? Hardly. More like a log mansion — five bedrooms, 3,000 square feet, simply exquisite. I Twit pic’d several interior shots, which you can find here and here and here.

Big thanks to Roy’s friend and ranch partner Joey Barton, who gave me the grand tour of the ranch and was a terrific host throughout the excursion. The ranch consists of 1,000 acres of high-fenced hunting grounds, so obviously, I got the abbreviated tour. Still, I saw plenty of white-tailed deer that comprise the majority of the controlled wildlife at the ranch. Most of the time, the deer ran from us, and that was apparently my fault — deer get used to the people that are around all the time, but they can pick up a new scent from hundreds of yards away. And they don’t particularly like visitors. (I didn’t take it personally.)

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Roy spends the majority of his time during the offseason at the Double 4 Ranch, and now, I can understand why. While I am without question a newbie to country living and admittedly don’t fully grasp the lure of hunting, fishing and ranching, I can certainly appreciate the sheer beauty and peacefulness that only this lifestyle can offer.

I live near downtown, six blocks from the dreaded train tracks. I wake up three times a night to horns blowing. I spend half the year in noisy hotels and I would never dare travel without my earplugs.

Standing on the balcony at Roy’s ranch, all I could see was a clear lake and acres of land, and all I heard were crickets. I thought, I’d pay significant money for just a week’s worth of nights this quiet.

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Roy generously housed four of us at the lodge — myself, plus three colleagues from the agency that represents him. Once we were all present and accounted for, Joey led the caravan to Homeplate. On the way, however, Joey decided to take us on a slight detour through Weir, to give us a tour of three significant landmarks from Roy’s childhood: his high school, and the baseball and football field where his athletic career began in earnest.

The high school:

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Below is a picture of the Weir High School baseball field — not only did Roy pitch on that mound, but his dad, Billy, cleared the land when Weir decided to start a baseball team during Roy’s sophomore year.

The school may be small, but the championships are plentiful, as these banners show. One of my favorite Oswalt football stories originated here. Apparently, he conducted himself in a somewhat unsportsmanlike fashion during one particularly high-scoring game. As Roy ran into the end zone, he turned around to face his opponents and jogged in backward, all the while pretending he was shooting guns into the ground — “Pew! Pew! Pew!”
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The press box…I love this.

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We arrived to the restaurant before 5 p.m., and the place was already packed. Keep in mind, this isn’t like Westheimer Road in Houston, where restaurants are as plentiful as orange construction barrels. Roy’s main reason for even building a restaurant was to give people a nice place to get a good steak and seafood dinner without having to first drive more than 40 minutes to get there.

Homeplate Steak and Fish is central to four towns — French Camp, Weir, Kosciusko and Ackerman. Judging from the constant flow of patrons Friday night, it’s clear people from all directions are excited about the convenient location as well.

Below: Roy poses with his agent, Bob Garber.

(Random interjection — Oprah Winfrey is from Kosciusko, the city where Oswalt’s ranch is located. That would explain the Oprah Winfrey Road we passed on our way to the restaurant.)

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Now, I think we can all agree that usually when a famous sports figure gets into the restaurant business, his actual involvement includes two things: a) lending his name to the project and b) cashing the check he gets for lending said name. That is far from the case with Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse.

Not only did Roy have a direct hand in building the establishment, he was front and center during business hours, working the cash register, seating people, overseeing the kitchen operations and socializing with the patrons.

Opening night was a family affair. His wife, Nicole, ran non-stop for hours, cleaning tables, refilling iced tea and taking orders, as did her sister. Both sets of parents were also there to offer moral support.

(Nicole did stop long enough to entertain us with the story about how she and Roy met. They went to different high schools, but they met at a choir convention during a field trip to Mississippi State. Yes, choir. Apparently, every student had to put in chorus time, even the jocks.)

There was something endearing about watching Roy and Nicole attempt to operate the cash register:

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Nicole

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That’s his dad, Billy.

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Overview of the restaurant

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Interesting twist: When it became obvious they were slightly short-handed in the kitchen, Roy’s agent, Bob, rolled up his sleeves and washed dishes. For three hours. At some point, Mike, who works with Bob, jumped in to help as well.

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This is the special 44 oz. steak, a nod to Roy’s uniform number. To get some perspective, I put my 6 oz. filet next to it.

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As much as I loved the ranch and the restaurant and the tour of his tiny hometown, what struck me the most is how much Roy simply blends in. In Weir, he’s not Roy Oswalt, superstar pitcher. He’s just Roy, a hometown kid who has no intention of living anywhere else. Because he’s happiest when he’s out of the public eye, he’s clearly in a good place.

I just hope I can visit again.

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Oswalt merchandise, Castro news, and other offseason tidbits.

 

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(photo courtesy of royoswalt44.net)

Roy Oswalt launched his web site, royoswalt44.net, a couple of months ago, but he just recently added a new element — merchandise.

Oswalt is offering hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts and youth clothing that feature his personal logo, “RO44.” He also has a number of items available bearing the logo of his soon-to-be-opened restaurant, Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse.

 


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Not only are the items reasonably priced and pleasing to the eye, but he’s giving every bit of the money he makes off the merchandise to community/charity efforts in both his hometown of Weir, Miss. and his second home, Houston. The recipients of the proceeds will be revealed at a later time.

Click here to check it out the gear.

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Rising Stars Game

You were first introduced to catcher Jason Castro last Spring Training when he was invited to Major League camp, and it’s likely you’ll continue to hear about the former No. 1 draft pick as he makes his way through the Astros’ player development system.

Castro, who spent the majority of the ’09 season at Double-A Corpus Christi, is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He’ll be the lone Astros representative to participate in Saturday’s Rising Stars Game, which will showcase the best of the best in the AFL.

The game will be broadcast to a national television audience on MLB Network, and a live feed will also be available at MLB.com, beginning at 7:15 p.m. CT. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo has the rest of the details in this story, including information on who will call the game from the booth and other noteworthy tidbits.

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Wanted: A local angle?

Speaking of broadcast booths…

Every October, I wonder why local television announcers are not part of the national postseason broadcast. Imagine how much the broadcast would be enhanced if the networks included announcers who watched every single game a team played that season, beginning with Spring Training. They could certainly provide insight you just can’t get from play-by-play and color announcers who don’t have as much background and anecdotal info as the local guys.

It’s not unheard of to have a third broadcaster in the booth during the regular season, so why not do this during the playoffs? At the very least, they could invite a local guy in to do three or four innings.

Radio announcers call postseason games, but the TV guys are left in the cold. They travel with the team through the playoffs, but they have absolutely no role. I always thought that was a shame. Imagine in ’04 or ’05 if Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies alternated time in the booth with the national announcers. They could provide the same tremendous insight as they do during the regular season. And, if nothing else, at least Willy T.’s last name would be been pronounced correctly.

Just a thought.

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Bourn autograph session

When I hear about a convention geared toward all things male, I can’t help but picture a bunch of Al Bundys sitting on the couch, drinking beer out of a can, belching and telling stories about the four touchdowns they scored in a single game in high school.

But apparently, there’s more to the “Guy Expo” than just lounging around and talking politics and sports. This weekend’s event will take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center and promises, simply put, the best of what men like.

Sports will obviously be involved, and the Astros will be well-represented. We’ll have a booth set up at the Guy Expo, and our very own Michael Bourn will be signing autographs on Saturday from 1 to 2 p.m. CT. Former Houston flamethrower J.R. Richard will precede Bourn with his own hour of autographs from noon to 1.

Click here for more information.

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