August 2005

Hanging with Morgan Ensberg

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a player for a major league baseball team? We all know it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But what else does it take? How hard is the job? Could you do it?

A pro baseball game lasts about three hours. But it takes more than an hour to prepare and get ready for the first pitch.

After spending prep-game warm-ups with the Astros’ third baseman, I realized just how hard the job is. You can’t just show up on game day and start playing. Ensberg’s job is long hours, skill, patience, practice and determination. And, you have to have a love for the game.

Morgan, 29, Ensberg_and_michaelwas drafted by the Houston Astros in the ninth round of the June 1998 draft. While in college at the University of Southern California, he helped the Trojans to the College World Series title that same year.

Ensberg is admired by teammates, especially for his easy going personality and positive attitude. “Morgan is a great young player, he’s a fine defensive third baseman, he’s got power, and I think he is really starting to come into his own as a major league player,” said Astros General Manager Tim Purpura. Joe Sambito, a former Astros and Red Sox closer, and now Ensbergs agent agreed. “I think at some point he can be a prolific run producer for the Astros.”

On a typical day of a home game, Morgan has breakfast around 10 a.m.. He also reads out of the bible every single morning. After breakfast, he runs errands then grabs a healthy lunch like a spinach salad with chicken. He heads to the ballpark around 3:00 p.m. Once at the ballpark, he slips into his batting practice uniform, and spends time studying the opposing pitcher is for that night’s game, and then he takes to the field for warm-ups and stretches.

Jogging is one way he gets himself loose. It gets the circulation going and is an excellent aerobic warm-up. “You’ve got to get a little sweat going,” says Morgan. “I think that maintaining any type of conditioning program is important along with lifting weights. Nothing too heavy, but just enough to keep your body in shape.”

After a good warm-up, he will play catch with teammate Adam Everett and then field some grounders before heading to the outfield to track balls and wait for his turn to hit in the batting cage. Once in the cage, he tries to get the most out of his batting practice round by working on his swing and his timing. “I try to have a purpose with each swing,” he says. Batting practice not only helps the hitters stay loose, it helps them on their concentration and prepares them for the actual game itself.

This warm-up process takes about an hour each day, except on Sundays where they have no scheduled batting practice. I asked Morgan if he ever got tired of going through the same routine every day, and if he ever felt exhausted after batting practice. “I sometimes get a little tired after batting practice,” he said. “But nothing too bad. I think it prepares me for the game. It gets my mind focused on the game and I’m able to grove my swing and get my arm in shape for the game.”

After batting practice, he heads to the clubhouse and grabs something to eat and then will sit and do a little bit of reading and listen to music on his i-Pod. Thirty-five minutes later it’s game time!

JUST FOR FUN:

MM:How do you feel about being a role model?

ME: I think it’s important that people have role models. It’s important that they should be good examples and I think it’s important for us as ball players to carry ourselves well and play the game correctly and do things correctly off the field too.

MM:  What’s your greatest strength as a player?

ME:  I think just being able to do ok, and when things are going badly, I generally don’t go into slumps for long. I think just keeping an even keel is my greatest strength.

MM: What advice do you have for kids who want to become a baseball player one day?

ME: My advice is actually a little bit different that what you would think. I actually encourage kids who want to be major league baseball players to play a lot of sports, not just baseball, but to get out there and play any sports that interest you. I think it’s all the sports and all the different team aspects that help you learn how to play baseball.

MM: Favorite Stadium to play in.

ME: I like Minute Maid Park the best. I like it because I see well here and I always feel like I can see the pitchers. I also like Wrigley Field which is a cool place and it’s a great atmosphere where the fans are just really great and pulling for the Cubs and it’s just a good rivalry.

MM: The thing most people would find interesting about me is…

ME: I really enjoy reading. I read as much as I can. Normally people just think that we’re stupid dumb jocks. (laughs)

MM: If you weren’t a baseball player, what job would you have?

ME: I think I would enjoy owning and renting out apartments and owning and developing land, or something like that. I also think it would be nice to be able to coach.

McLane’s gentle nature a credit to Major League Baseball

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Drayton McLane has always been someone that I have looked up to. 

Ever since I can remember, he has owned the Astros.

When I was in the second grade, we had season tickets to the Astros at the old Astrodome.  Back then, I thought it would be so cool to be able to own a baseball team, and sit in the good seats all the time.

Every time we saw him we would wave from the stands and shout hello.   He would always smile and wave at us, not having a clue who we were.  It didn’t matter.  He was a people person, and he made us feel like we were one of the most important kids there. 

During that same school year, our teacher, Mrs. Brisbay assigned a school project and had all her students research a famous person.  We then had to dress up and become that person for a “wax museum” we had at school.  My brother Cameron and I both wanted to be Drayton McLane, so we had to flip a coin.  He won.  He dressed up in khaki pants, a red button collar shirt and an Astros hat, and had lots of people stop to hear his speech.  He was pretty popular.  I was former Florida Marlins second baseman Craig Counsell, who had just won a World Series. 

McLane’s success started when he was very young.  He was born in Cameron, Texas, where  his family owned a grocery store business.  When he was nine, he would work there on Saturdays and in the summers.  He went to college at Baylor University and then got a master’s degree in marketing from Michigan State University.  He returned to the family business and turned it into an international business worth millions of dollars. 

When Mr. McLane bought the Astros in 1993, one of his first goals was to help make a difference in the community.  Because he believes every kid is a winner, they became very involved in charity events and educational programs.  My brothers and I won tickets to Astros games several times in the Straight A program that they had.

When he is not in Houston running the organization, McLane lives with his wife Elizabeth in Temple, Texas.

Under his ownership, the Astros have reached the post season in five of the last eight seasons, hosted an All-Star game and won the 2004 Wild Card berth and advanced to the National League Championship Series.    He also signed pitcher Roger Clemens, who had a real impact on the team the past two seasons.  Clemens won his 7th Cy Young Award as an Astro. 

He is still committed to bringing a World Series Championship to Houston.

These days when I see Mr. McLane, I still look up to him, but in a different way.  I now know how much hard work it took for him to get to where he is today and that running a baseball team is no easy task.  But one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that he still smiles, waves and makes me feel like the most important kid in the park.

MM:  What’s it like to own the Astros?

DM:  When we win it’s a whole of fun.  When we lose, you don’t have nearly as much fun, but it’s awfully exciting and the players are very nice.  The best part is the fans.  I love being around the fans.

MM:  What’s it like to have the best seat in the stadium?

DM:  Oh I enjoy that.  It’s a lot of fun but my wife takes over most of the time. (laughs) When you get married you’ll find that out too.  I enjoy it and its fun to have guests come down and sit with us.

MM:  If you were stuck on an island and you could have anybody with you, who would that be?

DM:  I’ll take my wife.  She’s a wonderful person to go with, and my two sons Drayton III who is 29, and Denton who is 26.

MM:  If someone made a movie about you, who would play you?

DM:  Wow!   I never thought about that!  I don’t go to that many movies so Kevin Costner would be a good one.  He makes good baseball movies. 

MM:  Tell me something about you few people know. 

DM:  When I was real young I was shy.  People would always ask me questions and I was so shy, but I’ve also always enjoyed being around people.

MM:  Name someone you’d like to meet.

DM:  I would have loved to have met Winston Churchill.  He was a hero of mine.  I would have also liked to have met someone even before him, like Abraham Lincoln.  One of the persons I admire most is Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.  Just before we moved from the Astrodome, I invited him to a game and he came and it was awfully fun meeting him. 

MM:  If you could visit any place where would you go to?

DM:  I like to travel.  I travel somewhere every week.  I travel all over the world but I would love to climb Mt.Everest.  I would have loved to have done that.

MM:  The thing that bugs you most is…

DM:  People who are not very tolerant.  People need to be a little more tolerant, and a little more understanding.  They form opinions too fast and then jump to conclusions.  They should have more patience.

MM:  What is your favorite meal?

DM:  Oh, I’ve got lots of them.  Mexican food, like enchiladas and tacos.   I also enjoy eating steak.  I enjoy all the meals but I don’t like chicken.

MM:  Do you have any hobbies?

DM:  I enjoy people. That’s my favorite hobby.  It relaxes me, so I enjoy that very much.

MM:  What is the best thing about owning a baseball team?

DM:  The fans, the people, and trying to bring a championship to Houston.

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Billy Wagner

Wagner2hcn Billy Wagner Makes a Visit to

Houston

Former Astro catches up with old friends

One thing I love about my job is the people I get to meet along the way.  One of those people is former Houston Astros pitcher  Billy Wagner.  From the first time I interviewed him back in 2003, and even now, he has always taken the time to come up to me to say hello and talk. 

On a recent trip to Houston with his new team, The Philadelphia Phillies, Wagner once again came through, giving me his time and sharing with me how much he misses being in the Houston area.

Wagner, 34, was traded to the Phillies prior to the 2004 season.  It was a trade he was not happy with at the time, but has made the adjustments.  Currently, he has 24 saves and a 1.97 ERA with the Phillies.  He definitely is giving them what he gave the Astros for so many years – talent, skill and a strong work ethic. 

MM:  What is life like in

Philadelphia

?

BW:  A little bit more hectic.  It’s not as laid back as

Houston

.  There’s a little bit more media and a lot more traffic!

MM:  Does your family like it there?

BW:  Well, they’ve been there just about a month.  They seem to like it a lot. They get to come to the ballpark as we don’t live to far away, so they enjoy it a bit.

MM:  Do you miss Houston?

BW:  Oh yeah, definitely!  I was here for ten years and I’ve got a lot of fans and friends here.  It will always be like home to me.  I really miss my friends and the community.

MM:  Have you been able to stay in touch with any of the Astros?

BW:  I’ve stayed in touch with the guys I played with like Baggy (Jeff Bagwell), Bidge (Craig Biggio), Ausmus (Brad), and Brad Lidge.  Guys like that. 

MM:  What do you like to do in

Philadelphia

?

BW:  Not much.  You know, where we play, it’s always get to bed late and get up early, so if I do anything, it’s mostly play with the kids.

MM:  What is the best thing about playing in

Philadelphia

?

BW:  (laughs)  The cheese steaks. Honestly, I think it’s more the way the crowd reacts.  They are very intense and you’ve got to play hard.  It’s always a tough situation when you come in there.

MM:  Who is the funniest guy on your team and have they played any pranks on you?

BW:  Oh, that’s a tough one.  It would have to be between Todd Pratt and Jason Michaels.  Thank goodness, they haven’t played any pranks on me.  I guess I’ve got too much time so they don’t give me too much grief.

MM:  What advice to you have for kids who would like to be able to throw a fastball like you one day?

BW:  All I can say is just throw a lot, play a lot of catch, and build your arm up.

 

Steriods and Such

Steriods have become a problem in all sports, not just baseball.  And while nobody probably really cares what a kid thinks, it’s still an important issues that we should not ignore.

More and more high school athletes are trying steriods.  Whether it’s to get them to the next level, or to just be the super hero, who knows.  Unfortunately, teens have the idea that bad things happen to someone else, not them.

Ken Caminiti died last year from a heart attack at the age of 41. Forty-one was too young. 

Caminiti was the first major league baseball player to publicly admit to using steroids. He also admitted that they caused him serious health problems, and when he stopped using them, caused depression and side effects he did not want.

In 2001, Caminiti was arrested for cocaine.  I was shocked, extrememly disappointed, and couldn’t understand how or why anyone would get involved with drugs, alcohol, much less steriods.  I read up on steroids and how bad they are for you.

Side effects include heart and liver damage, strokes, aggressive behavior and endocrine system problems, just to name a few.  Isn’t that enough?

In our school DARE programs, they do a great job teaching kids of the dangers of both.  So why would anyone want to do this?

No one will ever really know.  But if you think about it, baseball players face peer pressures just like us kids do.  There is always some guy coming up that may be better than you, hit harder than you, and threatening to take your job away.  As players get older, many may feel the need to step it up to stay competitive.  They feel lots of pressures.

The lesson we all can learn  is that certain things we do can have serious consequences down the road.  Mr. Caminiti suffered the ultimate loss.

Steriods are bad for you, period.  These players set the example for us kids.  If it’s ok for you, is it ok for us?

My biggest peeve is lying about it.  "No, I absolutely DO NOT take steriods!"  Then they test positive.  That doesn’t make for a good role model.

Whether or not they should get in the Hall of Fame if they were known to test positive for steriods is another issue.  I guess that will be up to the baseball writers who vote.  I have heard the pros and cons on talk radio over this issue.  But I also know, there were lots of guys voted in who were clean and made it on skill alone. 

In the long run, I hope that the new rules on steriods helps get some guys off of it.  When they are 60 and having health problems, they will have to ask themselves whether it was worth it or not.