Results tagged ‘ spring training ’

I don’t know how good this team will be, and that’s why I like it.

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I am asked almost daily for my prediction for the 2011 Astros. I am asked to guess how many games they’ll win and if they’ll contend, if they have enough starting pitching and hitting and a strong enough bullpen to stay afloat in the NL Central division.

My answer comes off as wishy washy, but it’s the honest truth — I don’t know. I really, really don’t know. And that’s why this team is going to be fun to watch.

When I look at this team, I see a very good starting rotation, and when you have good pitching, you have a chance. When I look at the lineup, I see a lot of players without long-term track records, and that’s why it is nearly impossible to handicap how this season is going to shake out.

Chris Johnson had a terrific rookie season. Jason Castro (pictured above, with Humberto Quintero) and Brett Wallace struggled offensively as they worked to acclimate themselves to the big leagues in a very short amount of time. The middle of the infield will have more pop than last year’s with the addition of Clint Barmes and Bill Hall, but we don’t know how that will translate over the course of six months.

I see interesting arms in the bullpen in Wilton Lopez and Mark Melancon and Fernando Abad, but again, so many of the Astros’ up-and-comers have little to no track record, and therefore, it is impossible to project how they’ll perform over the long haul.

So how good will these Astros be in 2011? I just don’t know. And to me, that makes them a very intriguing story. In 2009, the Astros had the oldest team in two categories: age, and service time. Those are the two distinctions no team wants. Over the course of two years, the Astros have gotten younger and better defensively, and while players who are just starting out are going to have their share of inevitable struggles, I sense it’ll be fun to watch them develop,
too.
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On the other hand, there are plenty of Astros who have been around a while. A long, long while — in many instances, more than three decades. Fortunately, they’re all members of the support staff and not the 40-man roster.

Twelve have been to at least 30 Spring Trainings, led by the grand daddy of them all, Matt Galante, who is participating in his 45th camp. The rest of the list: Special Assistant to the GM Jose Cruz (44), bullpen coach Jamie Quirk (39), bullpen assistant Strech Suba (34), traveling secretary Barry Waters (34), clubhouse manager emeritus Dennis Liborio (34), bench coach Al Pedrique (34), Oklahoma City pitching coach Burt Hooton (34), assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones (34), manager Brad Mills (33), strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman (33), visiting clubhouse manager Steve Perry (32).

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On to the links…

MLB.com

Carlos Lee would like to put last year behind him and start anew

In this McTaggart notebook, we learn that Drayton McLane was surprised the club lost its arbitration case with Pence and that Alberto Arias is concerned about his right shoulder.

McTaggart also has some dandy photos from the first full-squad workout on Sunday in his blog.

Chronicle

Get to know your new hitting coach in this Justice column.

Hunter Pence labeled as the club’s hardest working player, possibly ever. Here’s why.

Could the Astros and Nationals be moving in together in a few years? Justice has the scoop.

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Morning news and notes: Video board’s first images, ‘Grey’s’ mystery solved and what they’re writing about your Astros

The new video board at Minute Maid Park was installed a few weeks ago, and recently, the ballpark entertainment staff was finally able to test it out. We received this photo yesterday of the very first image to appear on the new gigantic scoreboard (thanks Steve Grande):

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Mystery solved

I received this message from an anonymous reader this morning:
“One of the writers for Grey’s Anatomy, Stacy McKee, is a Houston native. She wrote the episode with the Bagwell line. That’s probably the reason for the Bagwell shout out.”

Off the field fun

The Astros send out a sheet of notes after workouts every day, and I found this cluster of tidbits to be most interesting:

IN THE OFFSEASON:  LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith took mixed martial arts classes as part of his offseason regimen…RHP Nelson Figueroa and his family hosted a foreign exchange student…LHP Wesley Wright got married…RHP Mark Melancon conducted a baseball clinic for Major League Baseball in Australia in November…C Jason Castro took three classes at Stanford University, and now needs two more to earn his bachelor’s degree…GM Ed Wade ran in the Houston Marathon on Jan. 31…Hunter Pence opened a new baseball training facility in Houston, and conducted several instructional sessions with youngsters.

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On to today’s links…

MLB.com:

McTaggart: Despite falling a few spots on the depth chart, J.R. Towles has an upbeat attitude this spring

In this notes package, Tags touches on Pence’s arbitration hearing and Dave Clark’s managerial stint in Winter Ball.

Chronicle:

Richard Justice likes these Astros and he thinks you will, too.

Justice also explains why you can mark Brett Wallace down as the Opening Day first baseman.

Zachary Levine writes about a largely unheralded bullpen…

...and he dissects why nicknames in our game are so silly, and often, boring. (this is funny stuff)

We conclude with some photos from Friday’s workout:

Two catchers: Quintero and Castro

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Cage work: Tommy Manzella and hitting coach Mike Barnett

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Brian Bogusevic

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2009 first-round pick Jio Mier

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At this pace, Spring Training might as well start Jan. 1.

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I’m not sure if this is the case with every club, but here in Kissimmee, anticipation of the first full squad workout, scheduled to take place this weekend, is waning with each passing day.

That’s not to say we’re not looking forward to it. Of course we are. It’s just that with so many position players here and working out, it feels as if the “first full squad workout” on Feb. 20 has already happened.

Times have certainly changed. In the old days, a couple of position players would show up early to get a few workouts in before the real stuff started. The majority of the team — especially the starting lineup — would usually arrive on one of the last flights out the night before the official report date, with players filtering into the clubhouse in the late hours to check in with the staff.

Nowadays, positions players are beating the pitchers here, for a number of reasons. Offseasons are no longer spent eating potato chips and getting fat and sluggish. Most players start a workout regimen about a month after the prior season ends, and by the time they get to Spring Training, they’re already in tip-top shape.

Strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman can take at least part of the credit for all of the early arrivals. A slew of young Astros up-and-comers lived in Houston over the winter and worked out every day with Coleman, so when he packed up and headed to Florida around Feb. 10, a lot of the players followed.

Once the equipment truck leaves Houston, the clubhouse and athletic training staffs do too, and players no longer have access to the home weight room as they did earlier in the offseason. So they head to Florida.

And they’re here in full force, even though “report” day isn’t for another three days. The backfields at the Osceola County Stadium complex on Thursday were filled with infielders, taking both ground balls and a few rounds of batting practice.

That said, workouts on the field are not exactly the same as workouts in the weight room. Chris Johnson spent most of the offseason in the Astros’ weight room, yet after one day of running around the fields, “I could hardly get out of bed this morning.”

In that case, it’s probably good that we still have six weeks until Opening Day…

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A lot of you have asked who has the advantage to win the first base job, Brett Wallace or Carlos Lee. Right now, around 10 days before the first Spring Training game, the odds are overwhelmingly in Wallace’s favor.

Lee is a backup plan in case Wallace really, really, really scuffles this spring (yes, it deserves three reallys, to illustrate just how disastrous of a showing Wallace is going to have in order to not be the Opening Day first baseman.)

The Astros like Wallace, a lot. Ed Wade likes him. Hitting coach Mike Barnett likes him. And manager Brad Mills is firmly in his corner as well, praising the 24-year-old’s “unbelievably quick hands.”

“He’s got great hands, and he’s always hit at every level he’s played,” Mills said. “He’s got eye-hand coordination that’s pretty special. The experience he was able to get last year at the Major League level was huge. He was traded in a lot of big deals and wasn’t able to get situated. Last year, he found out what the Major Leagues were about.”

Other notable quotables:

Mills on Bud Norris: “I don’t want to put a thumb print on it, because I don’t want to hold him back. But it’s scary when you think about the ability he has.”

Mills on J.A. Happ: “He’s a talented first-class individual. He just wants to continue to get better. Last year every game out, he competed. He competed every inning, every pitch. A guy with ability like that, he’s going to give you a chance to win ballgames.”

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From behind the camera lens, Spring Training Day Two:

Having some chuckles before workouts begin…

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Early morning workouts always start with a little light running…

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Two bearded veterans: Fulchino, Myers.

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Melancon practices comebackers with Mills watching from the side.

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Wallace, Barmes, Meacham, Quirk

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Barmes, Manzella

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Mills, Johnson

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Norris, Lyon

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Spring Training, Day One: Pitchers, catchers and lots of facial hair.

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Brett Myers was a target for reporters on Wednesday, which was to be expected considering the 30-year-old right-hander is now one of the elder statesman of this pitching staff. And, with a long-term commitment from the team, Myers also understands the added responsibility to serve as a camp-opening spokesman of sorts.

Myers has Roy Oswalt’s old locker, located at the front entrance, in the corner. The new digs were not lost on Myers, who quipped: “I don’t want this locker. The last guy who had it got traded.”

During a somewhat lengthy chat with reporters, Myers praised manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg for giving him some room to breathe and letting him be himself last year. “This coaching staff lets you have fun within your means,” he said. “So you do your thing and they let you be yourself. I didn’t have to mind my P’s and Q’s as much. They just let me be me and from there we had a good relationship.”

Other notable quotes:

Mills on new hitting coach Mike Barnett’s extensive coaching resume: “When he got this job, he didn’t have to call a lot of players. A lot of players called him. He works he tail off and rally cares about the hitters.”

Mills, on making sure pitchers pace themselves as they get ready for the season (using Wilton Lopez as an example): “We really put a lot on (Lopez) last year. He got tired and we had to sit him out for about four games last season. He loves to pitch and he loves to pitch every day. He’s such a workhorse and wants to do so much. We had to pull the reins back a little bit.”

On leadership in the clubhouse: “I tell the guys here, lead yourself. Everything you do, from the time you walk into the clubhouse to the time you go home…guys start rising to the top. Those are the ones who are going to be leaders.”

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Random thoughts as we watch morning workouts:

* Pitchers and catchers were the only groups required to be at the Osceola County Stadium complex on Wednesday, but a slew of position players are here as well. It seems as if more and more players every year start arriving earlier, way ahead of the required report date. Most of them have been working out all winter anyway, and I would imagine it’s enticing to finally be able to get out of the weight room and onto some real baseball fields.

Among the early arrivals: Hunter Pence, Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace, Tommy Manzella, Jeff Keppinger (with crutches), Clint Barmes, Koby Clemens, Brian Dopirak, Anderson Hernandez, Jiovanni Mier, Brian Bogusevic, J.D. Martinez, J.B. Shuck. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t others, I just might not have seen them yet.)

* I keep getting the question, “Is it/will it be weird to go into the clubhouse and not see Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman there?” And I find myself giving different answers ranging from yes, it’s strange to no, I haven’t really given it much thought.

On my way to work this morning, it dawned on me that this is not even close to the first time that Spring Training has started and some sort of franchise icon is not there because he’s moved on or retired. At first, you see that his old locker is occupied someone else and say to yourself, “Hm. That’s kind of weird.” It lasts a few minutes, and that’s pretty much the end of it.

It was kind of weird for the first 10 minutes or so the spring after Jeff Bagwell retired, kind of weird for about the same amount of time after Craig Biggio was done, and the same goes for Brad Ausmus -- although Ausmus’ exodus was a little more upsetting, for a few reasons: 1)he was a fantastic quote and 2) watching the competition sprint over to Ausmus’s locker five seconds after I approached him was, without fail, wonderfully amusing. There was a fear that if you let someone talk to Ausmus without eavesdropping, that person will get material that was equal parts witty and insightful and over-the-top brilliant, and your stuff will stink.

One time I went over to Brad and said, “I have nothing to ask you. I just want to see how long it takes for everyone to freak out that I’m talking to you and they’re not.” The answer — and the competition — usually arrived in under 10 seconds.

* It took a while to do this, but we’ve officially changed our Twitter profile dedicated to Astros witticisms from PumaOneLiners to AstrosOneLiners. As much as it pains me to do so, “Puma” has moved on, and so shall we. To ease the pain, I dug up my favorite shot of CJ and Castro from the Rookie Road Trip last year and am using that as the new AstrosOneLiners avatar.
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And with that, enjoy the images from Camp Astros, Day One…

Arnsberg, Myers

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Catchers warming up for morning workouts

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Jose Cruuuuuuuuuuuuz, Burt Hooton
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Drayton McLane watches the team work out from behind the protective fence.

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J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon throw bullpens, under Arnsberg’s watchful eye.

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Jeff Keppinger won’t start the season on time, but he arrived to Kissimmee plenty early.

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Wandy Rodriguez

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Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson, Humberto Quintero, Jamie Quirk

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Two young spring invites: J.B. Shuck, Koby Clemens

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Hunter Pence

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Pence, Mills

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PFP drills

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Tips and notes for the Spring Training traveler.

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Back by popular demand (thanks to you who emailed me as a friendly reminder), we’re running our yearly, informal, hopefully helpful Guide To Spring Training. In this blog, you’ll find tips for navigating around Osceola County Stadium, spring home of your Astros, and also getting around the areas surrounding the ballpark, with suggestions as to where to eat, where to lodge and what roads to avoid if you don’t want to lose your mind (yea, I’m talking about you, highway 192).

Hopefully, these tips will help you out as you travel to Central Florida for another spring season. I will admit up front that I definitely don’t get out much during Spring Training, so I’m probably not the best source when it comes to nightlife. But I have stumbled across a few good places here and there, and hopefully, you’ll find the insight beneficial. Please feel free to contribute in the comments section below. I’m sure a lot of you are seasoned Spring Training veterans and have found plenty to do when you’re down there. So please share your knowledge/experiences. Thanks!

For those of you not going to Spring Training, please check back often to this blog and astros.com for complete coverage of everything happening with your Astros throughout the spring season. We’ll be providing news, photos and videos, all with hopes that you’ll
reacquaint yourselves with some of your old favorites as well as get to know those who are new to the team. You can also follow me on Twitter, where I’ll be providing minute-by-minute updates throughout. Where I go, you’ll go.

1. Where is Kissimmee and how do I get there?
Kissimmee is about 20 minutes from Disney, to the west of Orlando, on Highway 192. The address is 1000 Bill Beck Blvd., on the left heading toward the turnpike.

From the Orlando Airport, take the South exit (to Kissimmee) out of the airport. Merge onto Boggy Creek Road, pass under the #417 – Greenway and continue on Boggy Creek to the next stop light (Circle K store on corner) turn right. This is still Boggy Creek Rd. After
you pass the Lakeside Subdivision stay in the right lane and go right at the next light (still Boggy Creek), go over the bridge, turn left at the light (Bill Beck Blvd.). Stadium parking lot will be on the right approximately 1/2 mile ahead.

If you are staying anywhere near Highway 535, which is directly off of I4 in Lake Buena Vista, I strongly suggest you travel to the ballpark via Osceola Parkway. It’s a toll road, so you’ll have to pay around two bucks each way, but trust me, it’s worth going that way and avoiding 192 and its billion stoplights. Take the Parkway East for about four miles to Michigan Ave. (You’ll see a shopping center on the left that has, among other things, a Buffalo Wild Wings). Turn right on Michigan for about two miles until you get to 192. Turn left and the ballpark will be on your left, about a mile down.

2. How can I watch the team work out?
Just show up at the ballpark — workouts begin Feb. 16 (pitchers and catchers) and Feb. 20 (full squad) and they’re open and free to the public. It’s a great time to get an up close view of your favorite players and you’re free to roam around all fields in the back of the complex, while the workouts are going on.

Workouts usually begin around 9:30 a.m. and last until noon or so. They’ll probably conclude a little earlier during the first four days, when it’s just pitchers and catchers.

When the team is on the road during Grapefruit season, half the squad stays back and works out at the home complex. Those workouts are also open and free to the public, but keep in mind that a lot of the marquee players will be with the team on the road (especially
when they play a team located close to Kissimmee). WORKOUTS ARE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC ON HOME GAME DAYS.

3. Where can I obtain autographs?
Most players do not sign during the workout hours, but don’t be discouraged. Many players finish the workouts on the field, go into the clubhouse for a few minutes in the weight room, and then come back out to sign.

Once the games start, the best place to obtain autographs is the patio located near the back of the clubhouse, down the left field line. Typically, once a player comes out of the game, he’ll stop and sign before he heads inside. Sometimes, he’ll first go inside to work out and then come out and sign.

Most players sign, but not at all do. Odds are, you’re going to have a great success rate getting autographs from the young players. The veteran guys are pretty good about signing as well but there are always exceptions.

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If you bring four things for one player to sign, you’ve got “dealer” written all over you and you’re probably going to be blown off. Please don’t ruin it for everyone else, especially the kids. Game programs, ticket stubs and hats are great indications that you’re a well-meaning fan, not a dealer. Success rate odds increase heavily when you bring those items.

4. What else is there to do in Kissimmee?
Kissimmee is located next to the Happiest Place on Earth, so there’s plenty to do. Disney isn’t just an amusement park anymore; there’s something for everyone, including great nightlife for adults.

“Astroline” will begin its Florida broadcasts on March 2. The show will air live every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET (7 CT) at the ESPN Zone on the Boardwalk at Disney. There are a ton of restaurants and nightclubs along the Boardwalk, so once Astroline is finished, you can
find plenty to do in the same area.

In terms of dining, I’m partial to La Forchetta, located a couple of miles from the Osceola County Stadium complex at 321 S. John Young Parkway (when you’re driving away from the ballpark, turn left on JYP and go about a mile and a half. It’s on the left. If you get to the bridge, you’ve gone too far.) La Forchetta has delicious Italian home cooking, overseen by owner Maria Manzi. Get there early — the restaurant has only about 15 tables, and during Spring Training, it fills up quickly.

If you stop by Kissimmee Steak House, located to the left of the ballpark (turn left out of the complex on 192), odds are, you’ll run into Milo Hamilton. As most of you might know, Milo’s list of his favorite restaurants on the road is about a mile long, and Kissimmee
Steak is right at the top.

The Loop on Osceola Parkway has really grown over the last several years, and you’ll find just about anything you’re looking for there, from restaurants to brew pubs to shopping and a movie theater. Restaurants of note: Pei Wei, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Bonefish Grill.

Downtown Kissimmee has been built up nicely in the last few years as well. If you turn left on Main (coming from the ballpark) and head toward Downtown, you’ll find a nice array of restaurants, sports bars and wine bars. A few of us Astros types are partial to Three Sisters — good bar food, cold beverages, great happy hour specials. Very casual setting.
 
5. When do games start?
The Astros open on the road this year. They will play the Braves at their Disney complex on Feb. 28 beginning at 1:05 p.m. ET. The first home game is the next day, also against the Braves and also at 1:05 p.m. ET. All exhibition games will be a
ired on either 740 or
790 am. FS Houston will televise the games on March 18 and 19.

You can view the full Spring Training schedule here .

6. How do I get tickets?
Individual game tickets can be purchased at astros.com, in person or by mail at the Osceola County Stadiums box office (home games only). You can also order by telephone and in person at Florida Ticketmaster outlets (home and road games).

The box office is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET and on all game days.

Credit card purchases can be made by calling Florida Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000. Mail orders for home games can be sent to Osceola County Stadium, 631 Heritage Park Way, Kissimmee, Fla., 34744. Checks should be made to Osceola County Stadium and include $7 postage and handling for each order. Gameday parking is also $7.

Of course, the easiest way to order tickets is online at astros.com.

7. Housing
There are hotels everywhere, but it also might be more economical for a family or group of friends to rent a townhome. If you’re looking for last minute housing, try Bob Rivera, either via email (bob@gblservices.com) or by phone — 321-946-8889.

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Mish mosh Part II: Stats, scoreboard, Spring Training, photo vault and parties galore

A few interesting year-end notes as we look toward the Hot Stove season:

* At the start of the season, the average age of the Astros starting eight was 31. After the July 31 trade deadline, that average age was 27.

* Rookie Wilton Lopez stranded 32 of 33 inherited runners this season, which was the top percentage in the Majors (97%). Lopez also had a club-best 20-inning scoreless streak, which was third-longest among National League relievers.

* Despite missing the final 13 games due to injury, Michael Bourn became the first player in franchise history to lead the league in steals in back-to-back seasons with 52. Bourn led the NL with 61 steals in 2009.

And one housekeeping note: The Astros outrighted three players to Triple-A Oklahoma City: catcher Brian Esposito and infielders Anderson Hernandez and Wladimir Sutil. The move removes all three players from Houston’s 40-man roster, which now stands at 37.

Esposito and Hernandez can elect to become free agents, while Sutil will be placed on Oklahoma City’s roster.

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Mark your calendars

Who says it’s too early to talk about Spring Training? (Well, me, come to think of it, but that’s neither here nor there.) Ed Wade and Brad Mills have already hammered out the dates that your Astros will begin shaking off the offseason dust and getting back in the swing of things, so to speak.

“Report dates” have become a thing of the past, replaced simply by the first day players need to be on the field and ready to work out. For pitchers and catchers, that day is Feb. 16. Position players will arrive four days later, with the first full-squad workout slated for Feb. 20.

The first Grapefruit League game will be on Feb. 28, when the Astros travel the very short distance to Disney to play the Braves.

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One more note about that new video board…

The recent announcement that the Astros are installing a brand new high def scoreboard and moving the press box up one level to make room for a new club area was, for the most part, well-received by those I heard from. I do want to reiterate the explanation of where the funds are coming from, to assure the few of you who expressed some concern that spending money on the scoreboard would take away from the product on the field.

The money to pay for the renovations will be taken from an Asset Renewal and Replacement Fund, which the Astros, as part of their lease with the Sports Authority, have contributed to since the ballpark opened 10 years ago. As tenants, all repair and maintenance issues are the Astros responsibility, and they’ve put $2.5 million each year into the fund. Think of it as a savings account of sorts, solely there to fund large renovation projects and repairs that are inevitable over the course of time when you’re running a venue of this size.

The funds cannot be used for anything other than the physical building. It is Astros’ money that goes into the fund and Astros money that is spent, with the restriction that it’s used for building improvements only.

The Astros cannot, as part of their lease, use that money to, say, buy relief pitching. Hope that clears up any confusion.

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Parties, parties, parties

What’s a girl to do when the final out of the season is made and she’s left with only a long, dreary, boring offseason ahead of her? Put on her party shoes, of course. Another winter brings a flurry of golf tournaments and charity functions, with dozens of current and former sports stars making appearances and supporting some pretty worthy causes.

Houston is a hotbed for such events, considering how many past and present athletes from all major sports make their year-round homes here. That, along with the pleasant fall weather, makes is easy to lure participants, especially for golf tournaments. Read on…

***Astros Alumni

The Astros will host their annual Alumni Golf Tournament at Wildcat Golf Club on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. with an 11 a.m. shotgun start. The luncheon and awards portion of the event will begin at 3:30 p.m.

1013_jd.jpgThe Astros are still recruiting participants, but so far, the tentative list of Astros alumni who are expected to participate includes: Eric Anthony, Alan Ashby, Kevin Bass, Enos Cabell, Bill Dawley, Jim Deshaies (shown above), Larry Dierker, Phil Garner, Bill Heath, Xavier Hernandez, Art Howe, John Hudek, Mike Jackson, Cliff Johnson, James Mouton, Shane Reynolds, Mike Simms, Billy Smith, Carl Warwick, Brian Williams, Woody Williams, Glenn Wilson, Jimmy Wynn and Anthony Young.

For more information or to register for the tournament, click here.

***”The Greatest Save” Banquet

In conjunction with the Alumni Golf Tournament, the KinderVision Foundation is hosting “The Greatest Save” on Monday, Nov. 15 at Minute Maid Park. KinderVision is a national campaign that, with the assistance of law enforcement, provides education and instruction to families on how to protect their children from sexual exploitation, molestation and abduction. Supported by Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, one of the organization’s most visible spokesmen, KinderVision’s catch phrase is “The Greatest Save” — the one they never have to make.

Fingers and other Hall of Famers will be on hand for the event, which will take place in the lobby of Union Station and will be emceed by Astros Hall of Fame radio announcer Milo Hamilton. Packages for the golf tournament and banquet are available, but they’re also offering banquet-only tickets, which start at $100 or $1,000 for a table of 10.

For more information, visit KinderVision’s web site or contact Alicia Nevins at 713-899.9812 or anevins@kindervision.org.

***Knuckle Ball

Minute Maid Park will also serve as the venue for the second annual “Knuckle Ball…A Pitch for Life.” On. Nov. 13, athletes from all over the country will gather in Houston in support of the Joe Niekro Foundation, formed after the former Astros pitcher died from a brain aneurysm in the fall of 2006.

Niekro’s daughter, Natalie, established the foundation, committed to the funding of aneurysm research and treatment.

Last year’s Knuckle Ball raised over $450,000 and they’re hoping to exceed that total this time around. The black-tie evening will include casino gaming, a formal dinner, and auction and the opportunity to mingle with some of baseball’s greatest legends. Drayton McLane is recognized as an honorary chairman, while Joe Niekro’s brother, Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, will serve as the master of ceremonies. Country music singer Chuck Wicks will provide the entertainment.

For more information and to sign up for the event, visit the Joe Niekro Foundation web site.

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And finally, we dip into the photo vault. In honor of the postseason, check out this shot from the clubhouse in St. Louis the night the Astros won the pennant. After most of the media and other forms of riff raff had cleared out, the players could really let loose. And oh, did they. Here we have Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge getting their groove on, while the National League trophy and Brandon Backe admire from the side.

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The 2010 Spring Training schedule is very favorable for the Astros vacationer.

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Every year it seems as if the Astros play more road games on the weekends than home games during Spring Training. And when they were home on the weekends, it rarely coincided with spring break, which obviously is the most popular time for families to travel to Florida to take in some Grapefruit League baseball.

The Astros released their spring schedule on Friday, and there’s good news — the Astros are home parts or all of four weekends.

They’ll play a split squad with the Nationals at home on Saturday, March 13 (with part of the team traveling to play the Cardinals), and on Sunday the 14th, they’ll host the Braves.

The following weekend, they’re home against the Blue Jays (Friday, March 19), Yankees (Saturday, March 20) and Mets (Sunday, March 21). They’ll also be home the following weekend, hosting the Pirates (Friday, March 26) and Rays (Saturday, March 27).

Not a bad schedule, especially for those of you whose spring breaks fall in the middle of the month.

Astros Spring Training tickets will go on sale Saturday, Jan. 23 at 9 CT and can be purchased either online at astros.com, at the Osceola County Stadium box office (for home games only) or by telephone and in person at Florida Ticketmaster outlets.

Ticket prices for all but three games remain the same as 2009 — $22 for Dugout Box Seats, $20 for Outfield Box Seats. $18 for Upper Reserved Seats and $15 for Outfield Reserved Seats. For Yankees, Cardinals and Phillies — tabbed “premium games” — the ticket prices will be $25 for dugout, $23 for outfield box, $21 for upper reserved and $18 for outfield reserved.

Season tickets may be purchased now by calling (321) 697-3201. Season ticket prices are $436 for Dugout Box Seats, $398 for Outfield Box Seats, $360 for Upper Reserved Seats and $303 for Outfield Reserved Seats.

2010 Houston Astros Spring Training Schedule (subject to change, all times TBA)
Friday March 5 at Detroit
Saturday March 6 vs. Atlanta
Sunday March 7 at Atlanta
Monday March 8 vs. Toronto
Tuesday March 9 at Mets
Wednesday March 10 vs. Florida
Thursday March 11 at Washington
Friday March 12 at Toronto
Saturday March 13 vs. Washington (SS)
                             at St. Louis
Sunday March 14 vs. Atlanta
Monday March 15 OFF
Tuesday March 16 at Yankees
Wednesday March 17 vs. Washington
Thursday March 18 at Detroit
Friday March 19 vs. Toronto
Saturday March 20 vs. Yankees
Sunday March 21 vs. Mets
Monday March 22 vs. St. Louis
Tuesday March 23 at Pittburgh
Wednesday March 24 at Mets
Thursday March 25 at Philadelphia
Friday March 26 vs. Pittsburgh
Saturday March 27 vs. Tampa Bay
Sunday March 28 at Florida
Monday March 29 at Pittsburgh
Tuesday March 30 vs. Philadelphia
Wednesday March 31 at Atlanta
Thursday April 1 vs. Detroit
Friday April 2 vs. TBA at Minute Maid Park
Saturday April 3 vs. TBA at Minute Maid Park

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