04/05/2004 9:12 PM ET
Notes: Everything's bigger in Texas
Astros pull out all stops in Opening Day festivities
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- It's a little too early to be thinking about July, but the Houston Astros made sure to include a taste of the All-Star Game in their Opening Day pregame ceremonies before Monday's game at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros have seven former All-Stars on their roster: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Brad Ausmus, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent. To honor their accomplishments while at the same time acknowledging that Minute Maid Park is the site of the 2004 Midsummer Classic, the Astros invited the families of the past All-Stars to throw out the ceremonial first pitches.
That event put the finishing touches on what was an action-packed day at Minute Maid Park. The day began with the annual street festival, which drew more than 1,000 fans who were treated to a pep rally appearance by Clemens and Pettitte.
During the pregame ceremony, youth baseball players from the Humble High School baseball team and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program held American and Texas flags.
Jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, fresh off of a North American tour with Sting, played the national anthem, which was followed by a flyover by the 147th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard.
Spoiled in the south: You gotta love Houston. Here, we enjoy the four seasons: mild, hot, boiling hot and unbearably hot. Here, we have sports venues with retractable roofs -- so during the times when it's unbearably hot, or raining, we just close the roof and play ball.
But Monday was a perfect night for a ballgame. Seventy-one degrees at gametime, no rain in sight, and Astros fans were treated to an open-roofed Opening Day.
In other parts of the country, fans aren't treated to such luxury. Just turn on any televised game and you'll see fans, players, umpires and coaches bundled up from Baltimore to Cincinnati.
Manager Jimy Williams can relate. He's managed in Toronto -- at Exhibition Stadium, before SkyDome -- and Boston.
"I can remember having so many clothes on in Toronto that I felt like I was a linebacker in the NFL," he said. "We were playing games up there when it's snowing. It's pretty good when we're here (in Houston). This is a great place to play."
Redding throws: Sunday was a welcome off-day for most of the 25-man roster, but for Tim Redding, it was a day to work.
In order to stay on a five-day schedule, Redding pitched for the Triple-A Zephyrs, who hosted the Double-A Round Rock club in an exhibition game. Redding allowed four unearned runs on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. He threw 84 pitches.
Redding, who recently bought a house in Houston, would have liked to have had the day off to get his affairs in order. Still, it wasn't a terribly trying day, as he was able to fly in and out on the same day.
"I could have used a full off-day to unpack," he said. "But pitching yesterday was better than sitting in the bullpen and not being used for two or three games. I've been down that road."
Batting order: Berkman was slated to bat sixth in the order for Opening Day, behind Richard Hidalgo and in front of Morgan Ensberg.
Williams slotted Berkman into the sixth spot because the Astros faced Kirk Rueter, a left-hander. When the Astros face a right-hander, Berkman will bat fifth and Hidalgo will bat sixth.
Play through it: Ensberg's less-than-impressive defensive display toward the end of Spring Training was largely due to tendinitis in his right elbow, a malady that he is confident he can play through.
"It's just a question of pain," he said. "You throw through it, but I didn't want to throw through it if it was a real problem. It's not. I'm just icing it, mainly. I feel pain, but it's not a bad pain."
Said Williams: "He threw some balls on the line before he left Florida. He threw good. He hasn't had any setbacks from doing that. It's my understanding that he's not going to injure anything any worse. His arm strength, to me, is fine."
Pettitte's plans: Pitching in your own backyard has its perks. Pettitte, a native of Deer Park, will enjoy living in his house for half the baseball season, seeing his kids on a regular basis and driving his own car to work every day.
But there's another side to pitching at home. Now he has a laundry list of friends and family who are sure to jump on the Astros' bandwagon.
Actually, according to Pettitte, it's not that bad. For his Astros debut Tuesday, he expects around 50 people, including his wife, Laura, and their three children.
"Just immediate family and all my close friends," Pettitte said, adding he didn't have to buy extra tickets through the club for his first start.
Ryan in the house: Forget the dugouts. When you really want to stargaze at Minute Maid Park, take a quick look at the Diamond Level seats -- that prime area right behind home plate where club owner Drayton McLane entertains some of the most recognizable faces in the country.
|Roger Clemens (left) and Andy Pettitte are two of seven former All-Stars on the Astros' roster. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Attending Monday's game were former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, who, including the two exhibition games against the Royals over the weekend, have now attended three Astros games this year. Also in attendance was Nolan Ryan, making his first Minute Maid Park appearance since signing a five-year personal services contract with the Astros in mid-February.
This spring, Ryan spent five days at the club's Spring Training site in Kissimmee, where he began evaluating the young pitching talent the organization is grooming for the Major Leagues.
"I enjoyed being down there for a short period of time," Ryan said. "I think I saw some arms that I hadn't seen in the organization earlier that were down in A-ball. It made me feel good about the organization, because I saw some kids down there that, as they develop, have an opportunity to make it to the big leagues."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.