Jeff Norris's Houston Astros Fan Profile

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I am an independent sports columnist from The Woodlands, TX.

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Astros Payroll: Design on a dime posted on 01/16/2009

Can you feel it?

Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. The World Baseball Classic is upon us.

Can you feel it?

Many of the mega contracts have been finalized, while a handful of others are still in the works.

Can you feel it?

Owners are scrambling to find Black Friday prices on that last-minute piece of the championship puzzle.

Can you feel it?

The air is brisk. The fantasy blogs are buzzing. And I ask you again.

Can you feel it?

It must be baseball time. “Play ball” time. “Cold beer” time. And while the anticipation level in Houston is not as high as it is in Boston or New York, the natives are restless and hoping for a deadline deal from Uncle Drayton. Although a big-time signing is unlikely, there are still some notable free agents available that could fill some holes for Houston if the price is right.

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Two Announcers Did the Unthinkable posted on 01/12/2009

For seven years, a familiar voice has resonated across a baseball diamond in Madison, South Dakota. It is a voice that has found inspiration in so many places….a voice that was fifty years in the making. It belongs to Keith Bundy, a minister, husband and father of three from a small town near St. Louis. Keith grew up listening to baseball and a highlight of his youth was the opportunity to meet Hall of Fame Cubs broadcaster Harry Carey when he was eleven years old. He met his wife, Peggy, at the University of Evansville and they settled in Madison and raised their three sons.

The entire family found a common bond through baseball. Keith’s oldest son actually volunteered him for his first announcing gig during an American Legion game that he was umpiring in 2001. When the umpire asked the young man if his dad would be interested in calling the game that night, he replied, “sure he would, but you better watch out, you'll create a monster.” Bundy jumped at the chance and he has been the public address announcer ever since, calling everything from Little League to college games. His wife even joins him in the booth from time to time.

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Castro Looking to Turn Heads in Spring Training posted on 01/11/2009

The Houston Astros couldn’t wait to get there hands on Jason Castro. When the superstar catcher was available, they jumped at the chance to make him the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Astros scouting director Bobby Heck was high on the Stanford grad because of his potential to rise quickly through the minor league level. Apparently, that potential is so great that the Astros have decided to invite the rookie to spring camp in Kissimmee.

Astros general manager Ed Wade feels that an early spring training invite to Castro will aid in his development and will help him gain valuable experience for his inevitable return to the big club. Ed Wade is normally hesitant to invite first-year players to spring training. However, Castro’s combination of skill, experience and maturity make him a qualified candidate this season. If there was ever a year where a first-year player could make an impact, this could be the year. The Astros have a glaring need at the catcher position this season following the exit of longtime backstop Brad Ausmus and the lack of improvement from young J.R. Towles and Humberto Quintero.

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How Good is Astros Closer Jose Valverde? posted on 01/07/2009

The Houston Astros have traditionally featured some pretty nasty closers.  Last season, the latest installment came in the form of Jose Valverde.  Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Valverde started the season slowly, but converted 17 of his final 18 save opportunities in August and September with an 0.76 ERA.  He finished with 44 saves, giving him 91 saves in the last two seasons.  So the question is: Where does Valverde rank on the list of Astros closers?  Here is how I would rank them:

  1. BILLY WAGNER (2.53 ERA, 225 saves with HOU) The babyfaced assassin had some amazing years in Houston, including the 1999 campaign. That year, Wagner was 39 of 42 in save situations with a 1.57 ERA and 106 strikeouts in just 66 innings.  He posted a career-high 44 saves in 2003 with a cool 1.78 ERA. Wagner was a three-time All-Star during his time in Houston.

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Houston Astros in Search of a Third Baseman posted on 01/05/2009

Following the release of Ty Wigginton, the Astros are scrambling to replace the productive third-sacker.  So far, the best option that they have been able to come up with is the light-hitting, rapidly aging Aaron Boone.  Boone is best remembered for his postseason heroics with the Yankees, but last season saw him hit just .241 with the Nationals.  The platoon of Boone and Blum will be a far cry from the .285 average and 23 home runs of Wigginton, but there are a few young players in the Astros system worth keeping an eye on.

1.  Drew Sutton (INF-Corpus Christi) The youngster was selected by as Houston's Organizational Player of the Year after hitting .317 last season with 20 homers and 69 RBIs in the Texas League. He has raised the bar even higher with his play in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .397 with four homers and 16 RBIs through 58 at-bats for Scottsdale.  His confidence grows with every at-bat.  Though he was mainly a second baseman, his ability to play multiple positions has increased his value and his bat might find its way into the Astros lineup.

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