HOUSTON -- The Astros' current three-game homestand is about more than celebrating the squad's winning ways. In the current three-game series against the Orioles, the organization will honor the four Houston firefighters who lost their lives in last week's local fire.
The team is wearing special patches across their jerseys, flags in Minute Maid Park are at half-staff this week, and Tuesday night's game featured a pregame ceremony involving the Houston Fire Department Honor Guard.
Local and national firefighters can also receive free tickets to this week's home games for them and immediate family with their firefighter IDs.
But for many Astros, the sympathy and support hits far closer to home.
"My dad was a firefighter and a police officer," said Houston reliever Brad Peacock. "This means a lot to me. I know what he did every day and how he went out there to help people. Wearing this patch and everything else is the least we can do."
He's not the only player on the team with a similar background.
Astros catcher Jason Castro comes from a family of firefighters. His grandfather, father and brother have all been or continue to serve on the job.
"It hit close to home when I heard what happened," Castro said. "I'm so proud to wear this patch because I think those families need to see that communal solidarity. I can sympathize with them. Sometimes, that's the best way to show support."
Castro's father was a truck engineer and police captain for several decades and his brother just started his duty two years ago. Castro said he thought about entering the family business before baseball, and he remembers the grueling demands and concerns for firefighter families.
"I grew up with my dad being gone for days," he said. "He worked 24-hour shifts, and there was always a wonderment about what was going on when you heard a siren. There's always that fear. You obviously never want it to go beyond that fear."
Houston pitcher Bud Norris' grandfather served as a firefighter for more than 30 years in Southern California. Norris said he remembers how much commitment the job required and heard firsthand stories of dealing with deadly forest fires.
"You hear all the tales and just sit in awe a little," Norris said. "That's their lifestyle, they understand what they're signing up for. If you're a family member, you know that, too. They're the unsung heroes out there. Wearing this patch doesn't change the events, but it's our honor to do it."
Thirteen others were hospitalized in the blaze that the Houston Fire Department called the most deadly in its 118 years. The Houston Pipe and Drum Band also participated in the pregame ceremony.
Astros face another unfamiliar foe in Orioles
HOUSTON -- While the Astros have become familiar with unfamiliar foes in their first season in the American League, the Orioles are an especially unknown entity to the organization.
Baltimore and Houston have met just nine times, playing a trio of three-game sets between 2003 and '08.
This week's series in Minute Maid Park marks the Orioles' second visit to Houston, the first coming nearly 10 years ago (June 3-5, 2003).
"I faced the Orioles in 2008, but it's pretty much a different team," said longtime Astros reliever Wesley Wright. "It's more exciting for the fans to get a new experience, especially since the Orioles are one of the best teams this year."
Sweeps have been the norm in the two teams' tilts. Houston swept that series 10 years ago, but Baltimore brought out the brooms for the eventual National League champions in 2005. The Orioles also took all three games in the '08 series.
Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez said this series is the latest example of the team's continuing adjustment period in the AL.
"It's mostly all new players to you, and you don't really have full scouting reports or too much experience against them," Martinez said. "Everything's new and this series is definitely like that, too. At least we're used to it."
Astros experience long trip home, quick turnaround
HOUSTON -- Most Major League players remember seeing the sunrise during long road trips from their days in the Minor Leagues.
The Astros got reacquainted with that travel itinerary early Tuesday morning, as the team didn't arrive back in Houston until approximately 5 a.m. CT after a late 2-1 win in Anaheim on Monday night.
"It was crazy," outfielder J.D. Martinez said at 3:45 p.m. "I just woke up an hour ago. I want to say we were leaving LA for 11:30 (PT). I think we were dragging butt a little getting into the clubhouse today."
Martinez said he was in "Minor League Mode" all day, and catcher Jason Castro agreed while relating one of his more extreme scenarios from his days with Double-A Corpus Christi.
"With the Hooks, we played a 7 p.m. game in Springfield (Mo.) and bused back to Corpus after the game, which was like a 14-hour trip," Castro said. "We got back around 3 in the afternoon. We had time to get food and come right back to the park and play. So this time wasn't too bad."
Martinez said the adrenaline from a long road trip can sometimes help a team and that he wasn't worried about the wonky schedule affecting the Astros' recent momentum.
"I've noticed when guys come in like this -- tired at first but not too wired -- you're more relaxed," he said. "You're riding a high, so you run with it and play one of your best games."
The Orioles had the day off Monday and landed in Houston Monday evening, a rare case of the road team arriving in town before the home squad.
Biggio's son projected within Astros' drafting range
HOUSTON -- Craig Biggio has been actively involved in the Astros' preparations for Thursday's First-Year Player Draft as a special assistant to general manager Jeff Luhnow, but he doesn't plan on being in the draft room when the team makes its first two picks at No. 1 and No. 40 overall.
Biggio's youngest son, Cavan, recently graduated from St. Thomas High School in Houston -- where his father was his head coach -- and he's projected as a late first-round or early second-round pick. Cavan would love to play for the Astros, but Craig doesn't want to put any pressure on the Astros.
"I stay out of the room early," Biggio said. "I just didn't want the organization to feel they had to take my son because he's my son. I didn't want my son to feel the Astros took him because he's my son. I stayed away from it, and Jeff and I have an excellent relationship. We haven't discussed it at all, but he knows my feelings where I'm at."
Cavan Biggio has signed a letter of intent to follow his older brother, Conor, and play for the University of Notre Dame. Craig Biggio said he and his family have a bonus figure in mind that will help determine whether he signs with the team that drafts him or goes to college.
The way Biggio sees it, it's a win-win situation for his son.
"It's not nerve-wracking at all," he said. "Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. If he doesn't get drafted, he doesn't want to get drafted to a certain degree because of the dollar amount. It hasn't been stressful. We have a pretty good understanding where he's fitting in, and whether he goes and plays that's great, and whether he goes to college, that's great."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.