Bourgeois hoping to make hometown team
Non-roster invitee looking to latch on in Astros' outfield
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The tight aisles and corridors of the Astrodome served as an air-conditioned summer playground for Jason Bourgeois, who would sneak his way into the stadium to watch the Astros as a kid, taking advantage of his dad's job working the box office on game days.
He grew up watching and admiring Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, and the way they went about their business. They served as role models for Bourgeois, a Houston native with a few goals of his own -- reaching the Major Leagues would be terrific, but to play for the Astros? That's the stuff of which dreams are made.
"I always used to dream about playing in the Astrodome growing up, and when they built Minute Maid Park I always wanted to be at home and have an opportunity to play in front of family," Bourgeois said.
The 28-year-old outfielder may get that chance this season. Bourgeois is in camp with the Astros as a non-roster invitee, which means he's guaranteed nothing more than a few at-bats to show what he can do and some long bus rides around Florida's Grapefruit League.
Bourgeois is competing for the Astros' fifth outfield spot along with Cory Sullivan, Alex Romero and Yordany Ramirez. Houston is his sixth organization since being drafted in 2000 out of Houston's Forest Brook High School, but the Astros represent so much more than just another chance.
"I have a lot of family that is in Houston, so it would be a real good opportunity for my family to be there," Bourgeois said.
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Bourgeois' locker sits next to longtime friend Michael Bourn. The two take the field together most mornings at the same time, just like they did so many times as Little League teammates on Houston's north side 20 years ago. They've been friends since and have shared their experiences of chasing their dreams.
Bourn reached the Majors two years before Bourgeois and made a name for himself last year with the Astros, who showed so much faith in his abilities, that they sent Brad Lidge to the Phillies in part of a trade that brought Bourn home. Bourgeois is still trying to get established.
"All I can worry about is what I bring to the table," Bourgeois said. "I'll try to be available, and I'll show them everything that I have -- my versatility, my speed and trying to be a table-setter. Hopefully, that's something that they want."
One of Bourgeois' best tools is his speed. He stole 237 bases in 1,069 career Minor League games and can play all three outfield spots and second base. The Astros might favor a left-handed-hitting outfielder off the bench like Sullivan, but he can't run like Bourgeois. Few can.
"We're going to continue to look at him in the outfield, because we know he can play some infield positions, and if he increases his versatility he might be an alternative to consider," general manager Ed Wade said.
Bourn knows exactly what Bourgeois can do. They were teammates, along with Tampa Bay Rays outfielder and Houston native Carl Crawford, in Little League at Houston's Smokey Jasper Park. Bourn and Crawford were teammates on the Mt. Zion Angels, and Bourgeois was on the Twins.
"When we went to state we always picked Jason up and that made our team more dominant," Bourn said. "I don't think we ever lost when we went to state."
Bourgeois has kept in touch with Bourn and Crawford since, following the box scores and watching both of their careers take off. Crawford is a three-time All-Star in the American League, and Bourn won a Gold Glove in the National League last year.
"We pull for each other being from the same home town and the same Little League, and it's real impressive how he made the adjustment from one year to the next, and hopefully he can continue to do that," Bourgeois said.
Bourgeois has had a taste of Major League life. He appeared in six games with the White Sox in 2008, and last year played in 24 games with the Brewers, hitting .189. He has eight career hits, three stolen bases and one home run in 40 at-bats.
He is probably a long shot to make the Astros out of Spring Training, but if the determination of his youth is any indication, Bourgeois will do whatever it takes to be a part of the action. And this time, he'll be the one making sure his father gets into the game.
"He'll have a ticket anytime he wants," Bourgeois said.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.