Astros' 50th marked at Houston Baseball Dinner
Stars from past, current players part of celebration
HOUSTON -- Several of the greatest Astros players from years past, as well as some of the team's current stars, took center stage Friday night at the 27th annual Houston Baseball Dinner, which this year celebrated the franchise's 50th anniversary.
While current Astros like J.D. Martinez, Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Bourgeois were honored for their accomplishments during the 2011 season, it was the bevy of former Astros greats who had the crowd at the Hilton Americas Hotel buzzing.
"You never want to admit you're getting old. But 50 years is a long time, and I've been here for most of [them]," said former Astros player, broadcaster and manager Larry Dierker.
Dierker was one of nine former Astros Most Valuable Players who were in attendance, along with Bob Aspromonte (1964), Jimmy Wynn ('65), Roger Metzger ('73), Bob Watson ('75), J.R. Richard ('76), Jose Cruz (1977, '80, '83, '84), Enos Cabell ('78), and Lance Berkman (2001-02, '04, '06, '08). Dierker was the team's MVP in 1969.
"It's kind of a reality check when you hear it's going to be 50 years," Metzger said. "For me, it seems like it's been a short period of time. But 50 years is a pretty good stretch."
Other former players in attendance included Phil Garner, Kevin Bass, Art Howe, Craig Reynolds and Jim Deshaies, who serves as the team's television analyst.
"I'm just real proud to be a part of those years somewhere along the line, and just proud to be a Houstonian, too," Howe said.
Garner was one of three former managers to attend the dinner, along with Dierker and Howe. Garner took part in the Astros' memorable playoff run in 1986 as a player, and was the manager when the team went to the National League Championship Series in 2004 and World Series in '05.
"I actually thought the '04 team, overall, was a better team than the '05 team," Garner said. "We might have been short one or two spots, and it ended up showing up in the playoffs. While I didn't think the '05 team was as good, we ended up playing better and putting it all together."
One of the highlights of the annual banquet is the awards given out by the Houston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Martinez was honored as the team's Rookie of the Year for 2011, Rodriguez was recognized as the Pitcher of the Year and Bourgeois took home the Darryl Kile Award for his outstanding community involvement and cooperation with the media.
"My mother taught me many lessons -- one of which was to treat people as you want to be treated, and that it's better to give than to receive," he said.
Hunter Pence was named the team's Most Valuable Player for 2011, despite being traded to the Phillies in late July. His brother, Howie, accepted the award on his behalf.
Berkman was recognized, winning the Houston Area Player of the Year, after helping the Cardinals win the World Series in '11. Berkman was eligible for the award because he played collegiately at Rice University in Houston.
And, of course, Berkman was good for a few laughs when he took the microphone.
"I didn't know what to expect coming back here, how it would feel being up here with great former Astros," he said, his voice trailing off while putting his head down as if overcome by emotion. "I'm just kidding. Now you know how I felt walking into [Minute Maid Park] wearing a Cardinals uniform."
Berkman also poked fun at the ballyhoo created when new Astros owner Jim Crane floated the idea of changing the name of the team a few weeks ago, something which has since been shelved.
"I want to thank the Houston Lone Stars for this award," Berkman said. "What? They didn't approve that? It's still the Astros?"
Berkman, who celebrated his 36th birthday on Friday, was also the subject of some good-natured ribbing himself.
"Happy birthday, Lance," Astros manager Brad Mills told the crowd. "I hope you play like your age next year."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who addressed the crowd as GM for the first time, jokingly hinted Berkman would be welcome next year to return to Houston, where he lives with his family.
"Let him finish out his contract with St. Louis. And when we get over to the American League [in 2013], we're going to need a DH," Luhnow joked.
Meanwhile, long-time Astros television broadcaster Bill Brown received the Fred Hartman Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Baseball. The 2011 season marked Brown's 25th as the Astros' play-by-play TV voice. Houston Baseball Dinner co-founder Ivy McLemore, a longtime baseball writer who currently serves as an MLB official scorer, received the Allen Russell Distinguished Achievement Award.
Bobby Williams, the baseball coach at Brazoswood High School in Clute, Texas, received the Ray Knoblauch Award as the area's outstanding high school coach in 2011. Rice University pitcher Austin Kubitza was honored as the 2012 Houston area Preseason Major College Player of the Year.
The event was sponsored by the Astros In Action Foundation and Minute Maid, with proceeds benefiting the Grand Slam For Youth Baseball Scholarship Program.