They need to move on. Now.

capt.495d10655e9040b3abd9f7728ee9d7d0.astros_cubs_baseball_widh109.jpgFirst of all, please don’t think I didn’t want to write while the Astros were on a roll. Time was short, duties were plenty. The Astros were breaking through, or arrasando, like the jingle from the Spanish radio network says. Ty Wigginton was smashing the ball, Lance Berkman followed suit. Wandy Rodriguez was pitching beautifully.

Things are rather different today. When things were looking great, and the Wild Card was so close you could almost taste it, everything started to complicate.

I should put things into its proper context. What comes next should be inferred and read as my personal opinion, and nothing else. And I think those living in Houston, or with relatives and friends living there, will know what I’m talking about.

Hurricane Ike was something that really got all of us in our toes. We all had to be cautious, take emergency measures. This weekend was a very trying moment for all of us. Many people could not get in touch with each other. Friends, family, you name it. Try contacting anyone living in Houston if you are abroad. Initially was a nightmare. Many of our usual readers cannot get in touch with us because they have no power and they will have to wait for days until they get it back.

And I won’t even talk about those living or with relatives in the Galveston area.

Many Astros players had no idea of the whereabouts of many loved ones before flying to Milwaukee. Could their minds be set for playing baseball? Hardly. We know they are professional players, but they’re no robots either. And you and I have seen all throughout this season is that they have a lot of heart for dealing with obstacles.

But this was something definitely bigger than anything else they have ever faced. I don’t know how they could have taken their minds off Ike and into baseball. Your correspondent had a very hard time trying to do just that. Tired, burned out and with a lot of things in their minds, Astros players went to Miller Park. Many did not know what had happened to those close to them. And they had to play ball.

What did they find? Carlos Zambrano pitching at the top of his game, no-hit the ‘Stros, something quite noteworthy and remarkable nonetheless. After that, they found a Ted Lilly who also tied them up at ease. Off to Miami. Roy Oswalt, who had been Mr. Consistency itself, wasn’t consistent at all.

Getting the Wild Card spot is not impossible after this, but it is a lot harder than it was on Saturday. I can’t blame the players, I really can’t. I don’t want to point fingers at anyone. I don’t know if this was the best alternative in dealing with the logistical nightmare that represents rescheduling a MLB game. I don’t know if they could have waited 24 more hours.

All I know that today the Astros have to avoid demoralizing themselves, by all means possible. They have a lot of heart to overcome this. Time, well, that’s another story.

After Ike

As we all know by now, Hurricane Ike left a terrible mark on the Houston Area. Despite the fact damages are less than originally expected, they’re important enough so they’re changing everyone’s plans substantially. Most areas are without electric power, authorities are advising residents to boil water. Debris and broken glasses are everywhere to be found in the Downtown area, that’s why authorities advise people not to go to that area until further notice.

Minute Maid Park was especially built for resisting severe weather. I’m pleased to say that it performed beautifully under those conditions. Astros Business President Pam Gardner told media that the ballpark had only minor damages but none to the building’s core and structure.

This is pleasant to know not just because of the fact baseball can be played there as soon as conditions on the surrounding areas allow it, but because many Astros employees spent the night in the ballpark looking to stay safe under Hurricane Ike. Some others were with their families at their residences. To all of them my word of appreciation and my thoughts and prayers are with them at all times.

Despite the fact Minute Maid Park is almost on top-notch condition, this is not the only requirement for baseball to be reassumed. That’s why Major League Baseball and the Astros were looking for alternatives so they can play the crucial series against the Chicago Cubs. Because holding a sporting event in Downtown Houston is almost a ludicrous thought at the moment, and the threat to fans’ safety, two games will be played at Milwaukee’s Miller Park. Those games will be held Sunday and Monday. The final game would be played only if it has playoff implications.

Fans with tickets to those games are advised to keep them until the Astros inform of ways how those tickets can be reimbursed.

Personally, and despite the fact the Astros are in the midst of a wild and exciting Wild Card race, my mind has been a bit away from baseball, concerned with the fate of all my friends and coworkers in Houston. I hope we can meet again at Minute Maid Park very, very soon.

A blog worth reading

celestino.jpgI’m so sorry because I have been AWOL when it comes to this blog. Several obligations, my already-finished stint at the Pelota Caribe radio show, the list goes on and on…

So I will try to put things straight now. However, it’s so nice to see you have so many options for reading interesting baseball stuff here, both in English and Spanish, even Portuguese. Tudo de bom!

One of them is the blog by my fellow scribe Jesse Sanchez. He writes articles on both languages about Latino ballplayers, whether they’re Dominican, Venezuelan, Puertorrican, Mexican, you name it.

He’s always writing in a very friendly yet knowledgeable way, approachable to readers. His stories are not to be missed if you happen to be browsing our websites. His blog is also a window into the thoughts, minds and humanity of those beings who are blessed in making a living by playing baseball.

So you should read it, if you haven’t done it yet. For example, this post on my fellow Venezuelan Jose Lopez from the Seattle Mariners (we both were born on the same city) is one not to be missed.

Statement by Ed Wade

In mid-February of this year, we began contract negotiations with the agent for free agent pitcher Shawn Chacon.  During those negotiations, the player’s agent stated on more than one occasion that Chacon had offers from other teams, but that none of them were willing to give the player an opportunity to be a starting pitcher.  We made it clear to the agent -and in a subsequent conversation with Chacon–that we were prepared to bring him to Spring Training and give him an opportunity to compete for a spot in our starting rotation.

At no time did we give any assurances that he would be inserted into the rotation for the entire season.  Under those conditions, Chacon signed a one-year contract with the Astros on February 20.  I’ll invite you to go back and read the statements made by both the club at the player at that time regarding what the understanding was regarding the opportunity to start.

Chacon won a job in the Astros starting rotation and opened the season with five solid starts, compiling a 0-0 record and a 2.45 ERA.  However, beginning with his start on April 30 and ending with his start on June 19, Chacon had made 10 starts, compiling a 2-3 record and an earned run average of 6.66.  In his last four starts, his record was 0-3 with an ERA of 9.35.

On Sunday of this week, prior to our game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Cecil Cooper met with Chacon and informed him that he was being moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen.  I was not present for the meeting, but was in the clubhouse both pre-game and post-game.  The player made no effort to speak with me and gave short, profane responses to media questions regarding his removal from the rotation.

On Sunday afternoon, Chacon’s agent called Assistant General Manager David Gottfried to discuss the move and informed David that Chacon wanted to be traded to a team that would allow him to start.  David informed the agent that our intention was to have Chacon play a meaningful role in our bullpen with the eventual possibility of returning to the starting rotation, depending upon his performance.

On Tuesday morning, I returned a call from the agent when he again stated Chacon’s desire to be traded to a team where he could start and I repeated what David Gottfried had stated two days earlier.   

Following batting practice on Wednesday evening, I was on my way to the home clubhouse when a member of the media stopped me to tell me that Chacon had informed him that he wanted to be traded to a team where he could start and said that his agent had informed us of his desire.  Chacon also told the reporter that he would accept his unconditional release.  I went on camera with the reporter and restated our position that we had no interest in trading him because we felt that he could help us in a meaningful bullpen role and eventually earn a spot back in our rotation.

Following the interview, I went into Cecil Cooper’s office in the clubhouse.  Present were Coop and pitching coach Dewey Robinson.  I told them of the media conversation and said that I would like to have a meeting with Chacon to clear the air.  At that point, Dewey Robinson informed me that he had asked Chacon to throw a bullpen session during the game on Tuesday night and that Chacon had ignored him.  Then, in the bottom of the ninth inning with Jose Valverde pitching to close out the game, Chacon got up in the bullpen on his own and began throwing.  Based upon this information, I was even more convinced that a meeting was necessary, and I asked Coop to arrange it while I returned upstairs to retrieve something from my brief case.

When I returned to Coop’s office, he and Dewey were still present.  Coop informed me that Chacon refused to come into his office for a meeting, telling Coop that he had nothing to say to him and that he had no interest in coming into the office.  I asked Coop if he knew where Chacon was and Coop responded that he was in the lunch room.

I proceeded to the lunch room and asked Chacon several times if I could speak to him.  On each occasion, he refused to meet with me, finally telling me that anything I had to say to him could be said right there.  At that point, I told him that if he wanted me to address him in front of his teammates I would, and I told him that he needed to look at himself in the (bleeping) mirror.  Up to that point, contrary what was previously stated, I had not raised my voice to the player, cursed the player and had not made any defamatory remarks toward the player. Chacon responded with profane and threatening remarks and got up from his seat. He moved in front of me until we were standing chest-to-chest and then shoved me to the ground.  When I attempted to get to my feet, he shoved me a second time, at which point players and coaches intervened.  After order was restored, I told him that he was suspended and he eventually left the clubhouse.  I then held a short meeting with the players.

Along with the incidents that I’ve already covered, I believe it’s also important to point out that on Sunday, June 1, Chacon started a game against the Brewers in Milwaukee in which he allowed two hits, two walks, two hit batsmen and four runs in the first inning.  When Dewey Robinson went to the mound to settle him down, he turned his back on Dewey and refused to acknowledge his presence.  When the inning was completed, Chacon disappeared into the clubhouse.  Cecil Cooper entered the clubhouse with the intention of calming him down, but was eventually forced to remove him from the game.  Chacon was fined by Coop for those actions.

As an organization, we believe that we have fairly treated the player.  His pattern of disrespect and defiance to me, the manager, the pitching coach and most importantly the organization led us to this decision.

Nobody wins in Chacon mess

Shawn Chacon has always been a volatile pitcher. The Astros gave him an opportunity. He proved to be efficient enough during Spring Training, and he got a spot in the rotation.

His performance in the last month or so hasn’t been the best, that’s why the manager considered moving him to the bullpen, maybe in an effort to ease pressure off him.

What happened last night and ended up with Chacon being suspended indefinitely, his request to be traded and maybe his end as a professional baseball player (and he’s well aware of that) is definitely beyond me.

This is what Chacon told the Houston Chronicle, and has been quoted by several news services:

According to Chacon, he was in the dining room after batting practice when Cooper asked him to come to his office.

“I said, ‘What do you want to speak to me about?’ ” Chacon said. “He said, ‘We just want to talk to you.’ I said, ‘Anything you can say, you can say to me right here. I don’t want to go to the office.’ He looked at me, and I said, ‘There’s nothing for me to say to you guys.’ And I don’t think whatever they had to say to me they were going to make me happy. I didn’t want to get in a closed-room conversation.”

“I sat down to eat, and Ed Wade came to me and very sternly said, ‘You need to come with me to the office.’ I said, ‘For what? I don’t want to go to the office with you and Cooper.’ And I said, ‘You can tell me whatever you’ve got to tell me right here.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, you want me to tell you right here?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I’m not yelling. I’m calm.”

It deteriorated quickly afterward, according to Chacon.

“He started yelling and cussing,” Chacon said of Wade. “I’m sitting there, and I said to him very calmly, ‘Ed, you need to stop yelling at me. Then I stood up and said, ‘You better stop yelling at me.’ I stood up. He continued and was basically yelling and stuff and was like, ‘You need to (expletive) look in the mirror.’ So at that point I lost my cool, and I grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground. I jumped on top of him, because at that point I wanted to beat his (behind). Words were exchanged.”

Players quickly separated Wade and Chacon, who remembers being pulled away by outfielder Reggie Abercrombie.

I have never heard anything similar in my five years writing about the Astros. I can tell you that for certain.

I’ll let you make up your own minds about it. If you allow my two cents, I don’t know whether Wade crossed the line in his actions and words towards Chacon. Maybe he lost his patience with him. Let’s be honest, a baseball team is not precisely your five-year-old daughter’s tea party, whether you like it or not. Many have remembered stories of his alleged behavior during his tenure with the Phillies.

Chacon could have waited, kept quiet, you name it. Such violent behavior cannot be tolerated. If he was fed up with Wade’s tirade, there were other ways of dealing it. And it only makes it harder to believe in what he said. You cannot treat your boss that way.

Drayton McLane stood by Wade: “We can’t have anarchy,” McLane said that he told the players. “You can’t have rebellion. If (Chacon) disagreed with what Cecil wanted him to do, he should have had the courage to sit down and talk to him. He wouldn’t come in Cecil’s office.”

Nobody wins with such a shameful incident. Chacon will weigh questions about his behavior and why he can’t amend his ways; this episode is the latest on a series of tantrums and attitude (without mentioning his two positive test for marijuana use while being in the Minor Leagues). Wade will have to ask himself why he took such a risk, that ended up coming back to him like a boomerang.

Leaving Arlington

capt.b42d556d1fcf4e58ad729af687f49d2c.astros_rangers_baseball_arl107.jpgThese have been some very good days to keep an eye on your Astros, haven’t they? Many things are floating around our heads after this final game against the Rangers:

– It looks like the Rangers will always pound the Astros no matter what. It was different today, though. It was to be expected to see one or two losses in a row for the ‘Stros after this latest roll. We don’t think losing will become a new pattern in the near future.

– Lance Berkman, Lance Berkman, Lance Berkman. He finished this game very near the .400 mark (just one tiny point). This run by the Houston first baseman has been unbelievable. He has always been a top-notch ballplayer, but what he’s done these past few days defies description. It’s a 17-game hitting streak now, folks. You’ll see something we wrote on him very soon at Cronicas de los Astros, the Spanish-language official magazine.

– We hope Roy Oswalt’s pain is not an indication of anything too big. Oswalt has been a factor of stability among a very shaky starting rotation. And there are a few days left for Wandy’s return.

– Josť Valverde has picked up the pace. Thank God. This team is not Berkman alone, they have  “a truck full of lumber” as they say where I come from. But the pitching is always a reason for concern.

– Some interesting series we have coming up. Astros, Cubs, a division rivalry, Berkman on fire. What else can you ask for? The Juicebox should be packed.

Berkman NL Player of the Week

Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros has been named Bank of America Presents the National League Player of the Week for the period ending April 27th. Bank of America, the Official Bank of Major League Baseball, is the presenting sponsor of the National League and American League Player of the Week Awards, which reflect Bank of America’s long-standing tradition of promoting and recognizing higher standards of accomplishment.

Berkman led the National League with 12 RBI and a 1.136 slugging percentage and tied for the N.L. lead with four home runs and 25 total bases. The 32-year-old first baseman hit .455 (10-22), including one double and one triple, and recorded a .517 on-base percentage. On April 24th at Cincinnati, the four-time All-Star went 3-for-3, including a three-run home run and a double. The home run was the 18th of his career at Great American Ball Park, giving him the most for any opposing player at the park since its 2003 opening. The Rice University product hit two homers against St. Louis on Saturday. Lance recorded three multi-hit games and four multi-RBI games and hit safely in six of seven games en route to capturing his third career weekly award.

Other nominees this past week included Berkman’s teammate Miguel Tejada (.414, 1 HR, 7 RBI); Washington’s John Lannan (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 SO); Arizona’s Brandon Webb (2-0, 2.25 ERA, 12 SO); Colorado’s Garrett Atkins (.344, 3 HR, 9 RBI); Philadelphia’s Pat Burrell (.375, 2 HR, 8 RBI), Chase Utley (.379, 2 HR, 4 RBI) and Jayson Werth (.323, 4 HR, 7 RBI); Cincinnati’s Edwin Encarnacion (.357, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Brandon Phillips (.321, 4 HR, 8 RBI) and Edinson Volquez (2-0, 1.29 ERA, 17 SO); James Loney (.300, 8 RBI), Russell Martin (.524, 3 2B, 3 RBI) and Brad Penny (2-0, 2.77 ERA, 6 SO) of the Dodgers; Aramis Ramirez (.296, 2 HR, 8 RBI) and Carlos Zambrano (2-0, 0.64 ERA, 9 SO) of the Cubs; Florida’s Hanley Ramirez (.273, 3 HR, 4 RBI), Dan Uggla (.393, 4 RBI) and Josh Willingham (.458, 2 HR, 7 RBI); Pittsburgh’s Xavier Nady (.296, 4 2B, 8 RBI) and Paul Maholm (2-0, 1.20 ERA, 8 SO); Albert Pujols (.455, 6 RBI) and Adam Wainwright (1-0, 2.81 ERA, 12 SO) of the Cardinals; Atlanta’s Matt Diaz (.391, 3 RBI); Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder (.304, 3 HR, 7 RBI); Luis Castillo (.429, 2 RBI) of the Mets; San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez (.296, 2 HR, 8 RBI); and San Francisco’s Fred Lewis (.393, 2 HR, 5 RBI).

Tourneau, the world’s largest watch store, will award Lance Berkman with a luxury Swiss Timepiece, suitably engraved, in recognition of his accomplishments as Bank of America Presents the National League Player of the Week.