Notes: Astros set to welcome Bagwell
Retired first baseman will serve as additional camp advisor
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jeff Bagwell's first Spring Training on the other side of the baselines will begin Sunday when the Astros' all-time home run leader arrives at the Osceola County Stadium complex.
Bagwell retired Dec. 15 after a spectacular 15-year career. He is the all-time club leader with 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs and 1,401 walks. Bagwell recorded a lifetime batting average of .297, and he finished in the top 50 among all Major League players in seven categories: home runs, RBIs, extra-base hits, walks, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and OPS.
Among Bagwell's new duties as a result of the personal services contract he signed with Houston include helping out in Spring Training.
"He will work with our guys over here [at the Major League complex] some and he will work with the Minor Leaguers, we'll move him back and forth," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "Baggy's a great asset not only because he's an icon in the clubhouse, [but] players pay attention when he walks in.
"I was very impressed with Bagwell in the elite minicamp. Most players have a transition period, particularly great players have to transition because they're not accustomed to try and teach people how to do what they do," Garner said. "That's why I really think a lot of great players don't make great coaches and managers; it's always been people trying to pull things out of them instead of them having to go get somebody to come along with them. That's what coaches have to do, you have to endear players to you, you have to gain their confidence and then you have to figure out what clicks with them."
At last month's minicamp, Bagwell demonstrated he possesses some of the attributes Garner seeks in a coach.
"Baggy was really super. I watched him in the hitting films, and he was dead right on, in my opinion, on every player I saw him break down," Garner said. "Players were paying attention, saying good things. The way he was interacting with the players was great for us. I think he's going to enjoy this transition into a new career. I think he's comfortable with where he is right now; this time last year he wasn't."
Last year, Bagwell was holding out hope he could play another season. But a degenerative shoulder condition eventually forced the first baseman into retirement. Now he will be teaching some of the skills that made him so great to current Astros, such as defense.
"That's another feather in his cap for me [for Bagwell] for Hall of Fame [consideration]," Garner said. "He was a phenomenal defensive player for years before he hurt his arm. Not just good, he was phenomenal.
"In the old [Astro]dome when I was managing Milwaukee, he fielded a bunt on the third-base side and wheeled and threw to second and right when he released his right foot crossed over the third-base foul line, and got our guy out at second. That's pretty impressive. He did stuff like that all the time, [he was a] very aggressive first baseman fielding bunts; he took you out of your game."
Garner also plans to have Bagwell talk to the younger players about baserunning.
"He was not a guy with great speed, but he got good jumps and he had great instincts on the bases. He was the classic baserunner in the sense that he was always one step ahead in his thinking," Garner said. "He always ran through a base; you didn't see Baggy jog to second base on a base hit to the outfield. He always antcipated the next base, and that's what you try to teach. It sounds simple, just run through the base and then make your decision; but day in and day out I watch it in the big leagues [and] guys don't do that."
Biggio's rite of spring: Another Spring Training is under way, which means Craig Biggio is breaking in another new glove. The second baseman takes a new one out of the box at the beginning of every camp and begins breaking it in during workouts and games. By the time Spring Training ends six weeks later, Biggio will have the glove ready for everyday use in the regular season.
"Some guys, usually outfielders because they don't use their gloves as much as infielders, will stay with one glove their entire careers and just get the interior refurbished when it gets too soft," Biggio said. "I get a new one every year, for me it usually is starting to get too soft by the end of the season."
Biggio's routine has varied only because he's played so many positions. The second baseman uses the shorter model infielder's glove these days. He began his career at catcher and has also played the outfield. Different gloves required different breaking-in methods.
"When I was catching I'd take the [catcher's] mitt and dunk it in the Jacuzzi, just submerge it all the way," Biggio said. "I'd let it dry out overnight. It would still be heavy but it would start conforming to the hand better."
For fielder's gloves, Biggio used to rub shaving cream in the pocket to help soften the leather. Shortstop Adam Everett showed him a better method that involves pine tar and saliva.
"Never oil," Biggio said. "That's the worse thing you can put on a glove."
When he moved to the outfield a few years ago Biggio temporarily borrowed former teammate Moises Alou's glove.
"Mo used the same glove every year, it was way too soft for me," Biggio said.
Then there was Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, who didn't break in his gloves.
"Ozzie would take a new glove out of the box and play [in a game] with it," Biggio said. "That was amazing to me when he told me that. It takes me weeks to get one ready to where I feel comfortable with it. But Ozzie said he liked the way the new gloves felt. That shows you how soft his hands are."
Patton steps on a sprinkler: Troy Patton, one of the club's highest-rated pitching prospects, sprained his ankle when he stepped on a sprinkler head while running wind sprints Saturday.
Patton was embarrassed by the incident and said it was no big deal.
"He's day to day," Astros general manager Tim Purpura said. "It's just a slight sprain, nothing serious, and he should be throwing again in a day or two."
Qualls steps forward: Chad Qualls threw off the mound again Saturday but was not allowed to pitch batting practice as the Astros are bringing the right-hander along slowly due to a slight soreness in his right shoulder.
"I thought he threw good," Garner said. "We've had him tone back a little bit, he's been a little sore, stiff I guess is the proper word. He's probably ready to throw BP, but he threw his slider for the first time today. We'll give him one more bullpen before we get him out there to face some hitters. But he threw it good today, today was the first day he let it go, so that's a good sign."
Extra bases: Eric Bruntlett is expected to rejoin the team Sunday. The infielder had gone home to Santa Rosa, Calif., to be with his wife Eden for the birth of the couple's daughter. Kate Bruntlett was born Wednesday morning. ... The Astros will play an intrasquad game on Tuesday at the Osceola County Stadium main field in Kissimmee. Garner hasn't finalized plans as to who will participate. Some of the regulars, including Biggio, Bruntlett, Orlando Palmeiro, Carlos Lee and Brad Ausmus will not play. "We'll try to get a lot of kids in that intrasquad game, just to let them pitch an inning," Garner said. ... There's not a lot than can be done as far as evaluations until the exhibition games begin, but Garner looks for certain things from the youngsters during the workouts. "Pitchers you watch them throw, you look to see if their fastball has movement on it, if their breaking balls are sharp or loopy," Garner said. "Look at their mechanics, they can give you a clue. Sometimes you get fooled. I thought Darryl Kile would have arm trouble and he never did. So those kind of things are markers, but you don't pass judgment on a kid based on Spring Training."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.