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Third and Fourth Full Squad Workouts, February 24th and 25th

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I wanted to get these posted last night, and couldn't. My apologies.

I also wish I'd had any great news to report, any inside information garnered* from my trip to Central Florida, but I don't.

The biggest piece of news to occur over the weekend was when Troy Patton tripped over a sprinkler head, and while I got a picture of Patton, I was on the other side of the complex when the accident occurred.

Later, I WAS around when last June's number one pick Max Sapp took a spill while running, but my photo doesn't capture the accident, just the results:

Although the air was ripe with expectation for the arrival of Roger Clemens the entire time, he made only a brief appearance to us fans, and that lasted maybe five minutes before he disappeared from our view into the minor league clubhouse.

Fans looking for an autograph from a future Hall-of-Famer figured it wouldn't be long before he made his egress from the clubhouse onto the minor league fields, but he never did.

And Jeff Bagwell, widely expected to be in Osceola Sunday, may have been, but if so, he certainly never showed his face to us fans.

While I had prepared for my first weekend trying to make contacts with the Astros media department, I have to admit that I tried to do nothing of the sort this past weekend. If the director of media relations was out and about, he certainly was not looking for me. I did run into Alysson Footer, but a particularly intense song from Slayer had just begun playing on my iPod, so when she first said hello, I didn't realize it. Then I fumbled with the controls of the iPod, and by the time I could hear what she was saying, I'm sure she was wishing she'd never said anything at all.

I mean, sure, this little sad encounter highlights my deficient people skills, but I am going to take it as meaning a little more. I'll take it to mean that I shouldn't try to be something I'm not. Tyler tells me that, gee, The Crawfish Boxes would be great if I could just get exclusive interviews. Well, maybe so. But you know what? I'm not a journalist, nor do I play one on TV, and I distinctly did not enjoy trying to impersonate one. I dropped out from that course of study nearly twenty years ago.

What I am is a guy who wants to walk around with his iPod blaring into his ear, taking digital pictures while careful not to spill his Sam Adams on the lens. While I respect the jobs that Jimmy Stanton, director of media relations for the Astros, and Alysson Footer, writer for MLB.com, have to do, the dynamic invoked when I have asked for an interview or access from them is unhealthy for me as a person and as a writer.

So I won't be doing that anymore, and that's all I have to say about that.

Still, if nothing I stumbled upon was particularly newsworthy, I was still very glad to be there to capture Morgan's new "Grizzly Adams" look.

I also got plenty of pictures of Roy and Brad Lidge and Luke Scott, examples of which can be seen here.

Oh, and pictures of Adam Everett, and of Mike Lamb, and Eric Bruntlett, and Lance Berkman, and Carlos Lee, and Chad Qualls, and Richard Hidalgo, and Jason Lane, and Mark Loretta, and Hunter Pence, and Trever Miller and Brooks Conrad, and Mike Rodriguez, and one of the photos of Biggio, you've already seen.

Purpura and McLane made appearances on Saturday, but sad to say, I had my camera set wrong, and the photos I took of them were not useful.

Workouts began just around 9:00 each day and major leaguers had pretty much exited into the clubhouse by 1:00, though each day minor leaguers were still on their fields when the field staff kicked us fans out for the day around two o'clock.

On Saturday, my memory card was full by the time I stumbled across the minor leaguers in their workouts, but on Sunday I made sure to save a couple shots for Koby Clemens. I also got a good photo of Chris Johnson, and another of JR Towles. Note that the minor leaguers can be distinguished from those in the major league camp by the white uniform numbers; the major leaguers' are black with only white highlights. Also notice that Koby is wearing number 22.

The minor leaguer whose photo I most wish I'd gotten, but didn't, was Kelly Wunsch, who we'd signed to the minor league contract February 3rd. He's a left hander with a complicated 3/4 delivery that has to be seen to be believed.

Other brief impressions which stamped themselves on my memory include the number of pitches Carlos Lee took during batting practice Saturday. He connected on one of the first pitches he saw, and the ball went quite a long way down the left field line, and calls of encouragement from the assembled players around him rang out. But then he refused to swing at five of the next eight pitches he was thrown, and I was like, who takes batting practice pitches?

But if Lee had issues Saturday, he had none Sunday, when the session I saw him take featured nothing but full-on hardcore swings.

Not that it is significant of anything but coincidence, but it seemed to me that of the sessions I caught, Hidalgo may have been striking the ball with the most authority. And it seemed to me that Ensberg and Lane both had their fair share of popups that hit the top of the cage. Again, not that the fifteen or twenty minutes I saw are of more import than the hours I'm sure they've taken since camp opened, but just saying.

It is true, however, that Lane and Brad Ausmus took extra batting practice both days. On Saturday, basically the entire coaching staff was there to look on, including Garner and Berry. On Sunday, Ron Jackson and Rex Jones were the only ones around. . . until Roger showed up.

And Hunter Pence appears to have normalized his stance somewhat. If you remember that scrunched up stance we saw in that photo from when he was at UT-Arlington, well . . . he looks nothing like that now.

I might also mention for the sake of those who might be heading to Kissimmee for Spring Training the lodging and dining arrangements I made, as I can recomend the both of them. As I used to quite often when I drove up for O-Astros games, I stayed at the Stadium Inn and Suites. I don't know if they are still official hotel in Kissimmee of the Florida State League, but they ARE still a half mile from OCS. Nothing fancy, but the rooms are pretty sizeable, and they keep the air-conditioners cranked.

Another advantage to the Stadium Inn is that a fine restaurant sits in its parking lot, a hundred-yard walk or so. The Kissimmee Steak House is known by the Astro ballplayers and by the Chronicle writers as being one of the best in Kissimmee. You may not be able to say that the KSH has the best steaks in the county like you used to, 'cause Charley's now has a location in Kissimmee, as well, but you can say that the Kissimmee Steak House is almost as good for 70% of the the price. And it was pretty darned convenient, too.

I began by having a Bloody Maria at the bar, and not only was their featured tequila Patron Silver, the barmaid chopped fresh horseradish for the mixer. It was so good I had to have two. Then once I sat down for dinner, my Delmonico ribeye was buttery and savory and just wonderful. The french onion soup was done up the right way, baked in the brown ceramic crock with the melted gruyere cheese, and the salad, while simple, was full of fresh, crunchy ingredients. Only the rice pilaf wasn't great; but it was still good.

I ate so much I had to take a walk along US 192 up to Bill Beck Boulevard afterward to work off some of the meal.

After dinner, back in my room, I read the copy of Behind the Scenes Baseball that I had brought along special, and it was originally my intention to review the book here, but clack kind of stole my thunder, and besides, it looks like most people here are already familiar.

I will, however, point out that author Doug Decatur makes no bones about his contention that the number two hitter is key to a successful lineup. It made me think of a thread from the other day where someone had taken issue with Garner's comments that Biggio would lead off, with Burke slated second. Not that this excuses Biggio's declining OBP, but if Decatur has influenced Garner like he says, then perhaps Garner is hitting Burke second precisely because he feels Burke is the better hitter these days. Decatur's idea of "bunching" your lineup, as he calls it, hardly seems revolutionary, but it's worth being reminded that Garner was batting Everett second when he first took over the team.

Also, despite the portrait that Decatur paints of Garner, as one more or less enlightened by the numbers, did you not find it interesting that despite Decatur's entreaties, Garner still refused to consider Lidge in the eighth inning of a tied road game? It was like Garner's empirical experience was overruling the numbers half of his brain on that one . . . and I think I see his point.

Anyway, nothing beats gettin' out of town to watch your favorite baseball team. A good meal and a good book made the weekend complete.

I can't wait to do it again next year.

Links to all photos taken last Saturday can be found here, and all photos from Sunday are linked to here.
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*Pun absolutely intentional