October 2006

I remember… When I lost my mind

193front_largeGnarls Barkley, anyone? This postseason can lead you to insanity, to say the very least. And it all came to an unexpected yet amusing climax at Game 7 of the NLCS. Who would’ve thought that Carlos "Cardinal killer" Beltran would surrender to such a pitch. Goes beyond me. Goes beyond Beltran himself, who wasn’t able to believe it. Astros fans all over the place will find some poetic justice in all of this.

Congratulations to the Cardinals. They will have it tough. Detroit looks solid in all aspects of the game, but as The Sporting News pointed out in its daily email today, anything can happen. This has been one postseason in which nothing is taken for granted. Wow. My buddy Mark, the very own master of the MLBlogosphere will lead you through the fun behind-the-scenes side of the Fall Classic. Join him.

Things here are just starting to warm up, baseball-wise. It’s still early in the season to make any judgments and analysis. It’s way way too early. At least we saw Al Pedrique being named supervisor of all Astros baseball operations in Latin America, which includes the legendary Guacara Academy. Our best wishes to the current Magallanes skipper.

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And I’d like to welcome a new Astros blogger to the neighborhood. My big pal Rita will give you a different yet entertaining point of view on all things hot stove. She’ll be great, I’m sure.

Rainy day in Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela. Rain, thunder and other stuff that’s not so nice either. In the meantime, we can’t avoid staring at the Rolling Stone magazine we just got today (yeah, I’m also subscribed to a truckload of magazines, and yes, Baseball America and The Sporting News are among them). Thank you, Fergie.

Winter Wonderland

FotojuegoIf you believe baseball ends with the final out of the World Series, you’re wrong. Very, very wrong.
You see, baseball for me never stops. As soon as the Major Leagues finish their regular season, we start switching gears and preparing ourselves for Winter Baseball being played in several Caribbean countries, such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela.

Being a Venezuelan, I know from experience how great it is to see a Winter League game. It was here that I fell in love with baseball, and I had the full Field of Dreams experience as a kid: going through the steps at the ballpark, and seeing the pristine green field with the white basepaths just printed out on it.

Venezuelan fans are unique, it’s so much noisier and passionate than it will ever be in the United States. I’m sorry for my American friends, but it’s a cultural matter, and there isn’t nothing wrong with that. In the States, you go and have a good time watching a ballgame. In Venezuela, you go to watch a ballgame and to attend a full-out party at the same time: You dance, yell, dance some more, sing, cheer loudly and a whole lot more. Have you seen a samba band playing at the stands in any US ballpark making fans of a determined team dance and sing, just like they do with the La Guaira Sharks, for example?

Cheering never ends. From the first pitch up to the final one. Rivalries here take a whole new meaning, just ask Magallanes and Caracas fans, a rivalry so bitter and so intertwined in our culture it’s unparalleled everywhere. I don’t even think Yankees and Red Sox fans can say they have a similar one.

Baseball is in our blood. And from the next four months, we’ll be talking about it nonstop. Anchorpeople from all networks will unabashedly say in their newscasts they are cheering for a determined team. Eighty per cent of people attending games will be wearing their favorite jerseys (and many will follow suit on the streets). Many commercials on TV will mention the ongoing season. Journalists will remain objective in their writing and reporting but will not abide to the "no cheering in the press box" rule that exists elsewhere. Oh no. They will applaud and cheer just like any other fan. That’s the way it is here and it has always worked.

It’s a baseball atmosphere unlike any other. And I tell you, I’ll be keeping an eye on many Astros prospects that will play. For example, the Caracas Lions will feature coveted pitching prospect Juan Gutierrez, who was 8-4 with a 5.06 ERA in Double-A. Magallanes will have plenty of ‘Stros futures such as Paul Estrada, and there is a lot of speculation going on about the possible return of Luke Scott, who tore up the League last year.

I would never end trying to describe you how it feels to experience Venezuelan Winter Baseball. And yet it would not make it justice. I hope one day you might be able to see that for yourselves.

Cory Lidle

LidleAs most of us in the baseball world are, I am extremely shocked by today’s dramatic developments. Cory Lidle might not have been the best pitcher in baseball but was a guy who kept his place in the Show by working extremely hard, and was deeply loved by his teammates and everyone who knew him.

I am terribly saddened by these news and I believe I join all of the Astros and its fans in sending our thoughts and prayers to Cory, his wife and son, and everyone who has been affected by this tragedy. I have been glued to Headline News and CNN Pipeline for all of the afternoon, and I felt a terrible sour taste when I listened the terrible developments regarding the fact Lidle was the owner of the ill-fated plane. (We can’t avoid parallels to Thurman Munson)

Chris Burke has successful surgery

BURKE UNDERGOES SUCCESSFUL SURGERY

Full recovery expected in time for Spring Training

HOUSTON, TX ? The Houston Astros announced that infielder Chris Burke underwent successful surgery today to repair a dislocating left shoulder.  The announcement was made by General Manager Tim Purpura.

The surgery was performed today in Birmingham, Ala. by Dr. James Andrews.  Team Medical Director Dr. David Lintner assisted with the operation.  Burke is expected to be fully recovered in time for Spring Training.

The 26-year-old Burke hit .276 (101×366) with a career-high nine home runs and 40 RBI in 123 games for the Astros in 2006.  He also hit 23 doubles while stealing 11 bases and scoring 58 runs.  Burke appeared in games at five different positions, including 69 games at second base and 38 in center field.  He was the club?s first selection (10th overall) in the June 2001 draft.

Phil stays

Astros extend Garner’s contract

One-year extension has Houston skipper under contract through 2008

HOUSTON — The Houston Astros announced today that the club has extended the contract of manager Phil Garner by one year, through the 2008 season. The club also retained five members of the 2006 coaching staff: bullpen coach Mark Bailey, hitting coach Sean Berry, bench coach Cecil Cooper, first base coach Jose Cruz, and third base coach Doug Mansolino. Pitching coach Jim Hickey will not be retained for the 2007 season. The announcements were made by General Manager Tim Purpura.

Since taking over as interim manager on July 14, 2004, the 57-year-old Garner has led the Astros to a 219-179 (.550) record. The 2006 Astros were 82-80. The 14th manager in franchise history, Garner has a career managerial record of 927-981 (.486) in 14 big league seasons. He previously managed the Milwaukee Brewers from 1992-1999 and the Detroit Tigers in parts of three seasons from 2000-02.

"Phil’s leadership has contributed greatly to our recent success," said Astros Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Drayton McLane, Jr. "Our goal has always been to bring a World Series championship to Houston, and we have come closer to reaching that goal under Phil’s tenure as manager than at any other point in the history of the franchise."

The 2006 Astros won nine in a row in late September, making up eight games on first-place St. Louis in eight days. The Astros were 10-2 in their last 12 games, and Houston finished 1.5 games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central. Garner’s first two Astros clubs, in 2004 and 2005, reached heights not previously attained in franchise history. The 2005 club won the Houston franchise’s first National League championship, becoming the first Astros team to play in the World Series. The Astros defeated St. Louis in the 2005 National League Championship Series and the Atlanta Braves in the 2005 National League Division Series. That club was 89-73 during the regular season and overcame a 15-30 start to capture the NL Wild Card berth after a 74-43 (.632) finish. The 2004 Houston team went 36-10 (.783) in its final 46 games to make the playoffs, and also won the first postseason series in club history, defeating the Braves in the 2004 NLDS. In each of the last three seasons, Houston has finished second in the National League Central Division.

Garner is the fourth former Astros player to manage the club, joining Bob Lillis, Larry Dierker and Art Howe. Garner played for the Astros for seven seasons from 1981-87, driving in a career-high 83 runs in 1982. In 1,860 career big league games over 16 seasons from 1973-88, the three-time All-Star hit .260 (1594×6136) with 109 home runs and 738 RBI.

Bullpen coach Mark Bailey returns for his sixth season in 2006, while Cecil Cooper, a veteran of 17 Major League seasons as a player, returns for his third season as bench coach. First base coach Jose Cruz, who has been involved in all of the franchise’s postseason appearances as a player or coach, will begin his 11th season in his current role on the coaching staff. Hitting coach Sean Berry will begin his first full season and second overall as hitting coach. Berry served as the club’s interim hitting coach from the All-Star Break until the end of the 2006 season. Doug Mansolino returns as Houston’s third base coach for the third consecutive season.

Jim Hickey spent parts of three seasons as the club’s Major League pitching coach from 2004-06, assuming the post when Garner took over as interim manager on July 14, 2004.

Additionally, the 2007 season will be the 31st with the Astros organization for bullpen assistant Strech Suba, including one as a minor league player and 30 in his current role.