Results tagged ‘ Rusty Staub ’

Flashback Friday preview: climbing mountains with Astros legends.

During an Astros road trip to Montreal in 1999, I tagged along with Larry Dierker and Bill Brown for a hike up the locally famous tourist attraction called Mount Royal.

Mount Royal is a mountain, yes, but it has a convenient hiking trail that provides a simple pathway from the bottom to the top that allows you to either jog or walk, depending on your level of fitness.

What you probably can’t tell from your television screen is that Brownie, in his mid-60s, is in the physical shape of a 30-year-old. He’s the model of fitness, a workout fanatic with tree trunks for legs who can hang with men half his age. So Mount Royal, for the then 50-ish Brownie, was a cinch.

I was, at the time, in my mid-20s and still somewhat spry, but I had pretty much decided this trek up the mountain would be done as a walker, not a runner.

And then there was Dierker. He was always an athletic type — tall, lanky, fit — but at this time, only about two months had passed since he had the scary grand mal seizure in the dugout that eventually necessitated complicated brain surgery. Dierker was cleared to go back to work a month after surgery, but the notion of him climbing Mount Royal, this soon after his ordeal, had me a little worried.

Our trio looked something like this: Brownie, happily galloping, semi-full speed, up the steps. Me, walking rigorously, looking behind me every 4.5 seconds to make sure Dierk hadn’t face-planted. And Dierk, carefree as always, keeping up pace, showing no hint of the health episode that thankfully didn’t end catastrophically.

There was a little deli store at the top of the mountain, and after our climb, the three of us stopped for a tuna sandwich. Dierk grinned as he recalled a time, during his broadcasting years decades earlier, when he ran into a former teammate on his way up the mountain. I recently asked Dierk to recount that meeting, because it has to do with a former Astro who will soon be in town to celebrate another Flashback Friday at Minute Maid Park.

“I saw this odd-looking big guy coming down the hill, wearing an orange sweatshirt, blue sweat pants and knee-high yellow socks pulled up over his pants,” Dierk said. “He had a towel around his neck and was holding both ends as he ran.”

It was Rusty Staub, then an outfielder for the Montreal Expos.

“Rusty,” Dierk said. “What the heck are you doing. You might be playing tonight. How can you run up and down this hill and still play?”

“Oh, I didn’t run up.” Staub said.  “I just like to loosen up by running down. I took a taxi to the top. I do it all the time.”

That was Staub in a nutshell: eccentric, a little odd, entirely his own man. Dierker remembers Staub as different from the get-go, interested in things other ballplayers didn’t care about, like making business connections and cooking. Dierker also remembers Staub as a stickler for detail, which translated into greatness as a hitter.

“The hitting stats speak for themselves, but they don’t tell you that he had an outfield arm that was just short of Roberto Clemente,” Dierker recalled. “The only thing he couldn’t do was steal bases.  He was a barely fast enough to play the outfield.”

The red-headed Staub, nicknamed “Le Grand Orange” in French-speaking Montreal, debuted for the Colt .45s in 1963 at the age of 19. He played six years for the Houston franchise and, like Dierker, was a part of the first team to play for the newly-named Astros in the Astrodome when it opened in 1965. Staub went on to play for the Expos, Mets, Tigers and Rangers and was a six-time All-Star during his 23-year career. He’s considered to be the Expos first bona fide superstar, but for folks around here, he’ll always be remembered for where he started — Houston.

Staub will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday, May 4, the same day the Astros roll out their second throwback uniform. In April, they wore the Colt .45s garb. In May, they’ll don the 1960s shooting star jerseys. Two dates are targeted: May 4 and May 18.

Next up: the shooting star jerseys (center) from the 1960s.

Staub transitioned into philanthropy following his playing career. Today, the Rusty Staub Foundation raises money for the Emergency Food Pantries, which serves families facing a shortage of food in each of the five boroughs of New York City. The pantries distribute more than a million nutritious meals every year.

Staub’s pending appearance at Minute Maid Park should provide another fantastic trip down memory lane as the Astros continue their year-long celebration of 50 years of baseball in Houston. The remaining ceremonial first pitches are as follows:

May 18 vs. TEX: Nolan Ryan
June 1 vs. CIN: J.R. Richard
June 22 vs. CLE: Joe Morgan
July 6 vs. MIL: Jose Cruz
July 27 vs. PIT: Mike Scott
Aug. 10 vs. MIL: Jeff Bagwell
Aug. 17 vs. ARI: Brad Ausmus
Aug. 31 vs. CIN: Shane Reynolds
Sept. 14 vs. PHI: Jeff Kent
Sept. 21 vs. PIT: Craig Biggio

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Ausmus, Bagwell, Biggio, Kent among A-listers headed back to Minute Maid Park in ’12.

Two players who you'll see throwing out ceremonial first pitches this year: Brad Ausmus and Jose Cruuuuuuuuuz.

The Astros’ 18-inning win over the Braves in Game 4 of the NLDS in 2005 still comes up in conversation from time to time, and what people remember best about that game, of course, is the Chris Burke home run that won it almost six hours after the affair started.

Fans might also remember Roger Clemens pitching three brilliant innings of relief. Or that Lance Berkman was lifted for a pinch-runner eight innings earlier. Or that Brandon Backe started the game and wasn’t terribly effective.

But the one key moment that sometimes gets pushed to the side, considering how significant Burke’s home run was, is that the Astros were minutes away from losing that game, if not for one improbable swing of the bat. The two teams were pretty much headed back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 — until they weren’t, thanks to Brad Ausmus.

The game only continued because Ausmus picked a really, really good time to be very un-Ausmus-like and hit a home run with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the game at 6.

The umpires also picked a really good time to show a complete understanding about the ground rules and the zig-zaggy yellow lines in the outfield that indicated what was a home run and what wasn’t. This was before instant replay, but when the ball smacked against the left-center wall, just above the zig and to the right of the zag, the umpire immediately started twirling his index finger in the air, indicating a home run.

Ausmus will be one of 13 former players who will visit Minute Maid Park this season as a ceremonial first-pitch honoree. His Game 4 heroics are not the reason why, of course. “Officer Brad” was a mainstay behind the plate for 10 of 12 seasons from 1997-2008, missing only two years when he was traded to the Tigers (and subsequently traded back after it became apparent the Mitch Meluskey experiment was a disaster).

Ausmus was Steady Eddie behind the plate, wearing several hats in addition to the one with the Astros star on it. He was a security blanket for the pitchers, an encyclopedia of knowledge while dissecting the tendencies and habits of every hitter in the league, and a no-nonsense field operator who was in complete control at all times. His pitchers knew that, as did whoever was running things from the dugout. His batting average was, well, average, but his value to the team was immeasurable.

On Tuesday, the Astros released complete list of first-pitch pitchers who will appear on “Flashback Fridays.” The team will wear throwback uniforms and celebrate Houston’s fabulous 50-year history every Friday home game in 2012, and the return of former players will only add to the nostalgia that is sure to take over Minute Maid Park throughout the season.

The first ceremonial pitch is on April 10, the actual anniversary of the first Major League game played in Houston. Bob Aspromonte, arguably the most well-known of the original Colt .45s, will have the first pitch honors that day. The rest of the best:

April 10 vs. ATL Bob Aspromonte; 1960s- Colt .45s
April 20 vs. STL Larry Dierker; 1960s-Astros
May 4 vs. LAD Rusty Staub; 1960s-Colt .45s
May 18 vs. TEX Nolan Ryan; 1980s
June 1 vs. CIN J.R. Richard; 1970s
June 22 vs. CLE Joe Morgan; 1960s-Astros
July 6 vs. MIL Jose Cruz; 1970s
July 27 vs. PIT Mike Scott; 1980s
Aug. 10 vs. MIL Jeff Bagwell; 1990s
Aug. 17 vs. ARI Brad Ausmus; 1990s
Aug. 31 vs. CIN Shane Reynolds; 1990s
Sept. 14 vs. PHI Jeff Kent; 2000s
Sept. 21 vs. PIT Craig Biggio; 2000s

Each player will throw a customized Rawlings baseball that features a 24-karat gold leather cover with the Astros 50th anniversary logo.

This group of players combined for 49 All-Star Game appearances, 15 Silver Slugger Awards, 12 Gold Glove Awards, four MVP Awards, two Hall of Fame inductions, one Rookie of the Year Award and one Cy Young Award. The 13 combined for over 18,000 hits and nearly 2,000 home runs. The five pitchers – Dierker, Reynolds, Richard, Ryan and Scott – have over 800 wins and more than 11,000 strikeouts.

The first pitch participants are scheduled to appear at Minute Maid Park in the month during which their playing days are being honored. The appearances of Staub, Ryan and Morgan are scheduled out of order to accommodate their individual travel schedule.

“Flashback Fridays” highlights the rich tradition of the Astros’ former uniforms, some of the most recognizable and iconic in baseball history. In April, the Astros will celebrate the 1960s by wearing the original Colt .45s jersey. The 1960s shooting star jersey, the first Astros jersey ever worn, will be donned in May. The club will celebrate the 1970s and wear the rainbow jerseys in June, the 1980s shoulder rainbow jerseys in July and the 1990s blue and gold star uniforms in August.

Fans can purchase a special Flashback Friday 14-game flex plan, presented by Papa John’s, that guarantees a seat for Opening Day and each Flashback Friday night. This special ticket package also includes a free ticket for a 15th game of their choice.  Plans are available by calling 1-800-ASTROS2 or visiting Astros.com.

In addition to uniforms, “Flashback Fridays” will also feature special ballpark entertainment and fireworks shows themed to each particular decade. Several additional promotions recognizing the 50th anniversary are scheduled throughout the 2012 season, with a complete listing available at www.astros.com.

Meanwhile, enjoy some nostalgic photos of several first pitch honorees:

Jeff Bagwell during 2004 postseason.

Craig Biggio during pregame introductions at the World Series.

Larry Dierker during his uniform number retirement in 2002.

Jeff Kent introduced himself to the Houston fanbase in dramatic fashion, hitting a home run in his first game as an Astro.

Nolan Ryan during a press conference following his 3,509th career strikeout.

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