Mills arrives at camp with spring in his step
Manager praises Astros' facilities, prepares for workout
HOUSTON -- There are still more than three days before Astros pitchers and catchers work out for the first time Saturday morning in Kissimmee, Fla., but the club's Spring Training complex at Osceola County Stadium is already bustling with activity.
Houston manager Brad Mills arrived at the complex Friday and has been getting himself familiar with his surroundings. A handful of players have been working out on their own since Saturday, and the front office was scheduled to arrive Tuesday.
This will be the Astros' 26th Spring Training at Osceola County Stadium, and the place looks much different than it did when Mills came to camp with the Astros as a player in 1985.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Mills said Tuesday afternoon. "It's a good set-up. The fields are in good shape. [Director of Major League field operations) Dan Bergstrom and his group of guys came out and did some things to the field, and the grounds crew here has done a good job. I love the layout and the facilities."
Mills' only complaint has been the weather, which hasn't been very Florida-like in recent days. Low temperatures have been in the 30s with highs in the 50s, but Mills is encouraged because temperatures are supposed to reach the high 60s for Saturday's first workout.
Astros general manager Ed Wade arrived in Kissimmee late Tuesday and will travel with president of baseball operations Tal Smith and assistant general managers Ricky Bennett and David Gottfried to St. Petersburg on Wednesday for Wandy Rodriguez's arbitration hearing. Rodriguez is seeking $7 million, two more than the club's offer of $5 million.
This will be the first Spring Training since Jimy Williams took over prior to the 2002 season that the Astros enter spring with a new manager. Phil Garner and Cecil Cooper were midseason replacements.
"I'm eager to get down [to Kissimmee] and get a chance for us to see a little bit of what we did during the offseason and frankly put the offseason behind us and concentrate on the actual playing of games," Wade said. "It gives us a chance to bear down and hopefully put the right 25 players on the field Opening Day."
Thursday and Friday are reserved for meetings, where Wade and his staff will give their impressions on the players who were with the club last year, and Bennett and director of baseball research/pro scouting Charlie Norton will talk about the six-year Minor League free agents the club signed.
"It will give Millsie a chance to go over his schedule and make sure guys are keyed into what to expect Saturday," Wade said. "It's not just going to be the big league staff, but the roving instructors and Triple-A staff will be there as well, so that's a lot of bodies to make sure they know where they're going Saturday morning."
While Mills gets settled in, the preparations for the arrival of Spring Training surround him. The equipment truck that left Minute Maid Park on Friday was unpacked Tuesday morning, and lockers were being meticulously prepared for the players' arrival.
"It sure is nice to see the uniforms hung up on the lockers today and everybody is starting to get ready," Mills said. "It's always a good time."
Among the players already at the facility are Matt Lindstrom, Jeff Keppinger, Jeff Fulchino, Jason Castro, Humberto Quintero, Brian Esposito, Casey Daigle, Gary Majewski, Lou Santangelo and Wladimir Sutil. Bullpen coach Jamie Quirk has arrived, and Mills said most of the staff will be in Florida by Wednesday.
The Astros encouraged players to report early and made sure they were aware the facility would be open in early February.
"I do think it's an opportunity for us to create a culture in which players want to get down there and begin renewing acquaintances or making new ones in the case of younger players and the guys we acquired," Wade said.
The county built a sixth field across the street from the four Minor League fields that's available for the Astros' use, if necessary. Bergstrom e-mailed Wade over the weekend and told him the fields look great. The only thing missing now are players.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.