02/19/2013 4:55 PM ET
Pena, Veras help Astros break language barriers
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros veterans Carlos Pena and Jose Veras were both honored to be able to address their fellow Latin American players at a team meeting Tuesday morning where, at the request of general manger Jeff Luhnow, they stressed the importance of learning English.
Luhnow, who was born and raised in Mexico City and speaks fluent Spanish, and bilingual bench coach Eduardo Perez were on hand as Pena and Veras spoke to an Astros Latin American contingent that is about 20 players strong.
Pena, who was born in the Dominican Republic, said he was "moved" by the gesture.
"I've been in many organizations, and this is the first time I've seen a general manager or bench coach take their time and set aside about 45 minutes to talk to the Latin players and understand there are some things that need to be addressed and need to be taken care of, instead of just taking it for granted and forgetting about them," Pena said. "I've never seen that before. Hats off to the Astros for doing something like that. It means the world to me."
Pena said that even though he moved to the U.S. at a young age, he knows how difficult it is for many Latin American players to adapt to a new culture and lean a new language.
"I came out of that meeting feeling extremely happy and excited and pleased and grateful to be in an organization that cares about Latin baseball players," Pena said.
Veras said his father placed him in English classes when he was about 14-years-old, so he knew how to speak English when he came to the U.S. He practiced by making conversation and writing letters in English to learn it better.
"I told them it will make them a better professional and a better person, too," Veras said. "When you're done playing baseball, you have another quality. You can be bilingual in any company and any store or whatever or help any GM to be able to translate."
Just like old times with Astros for Ensberg, Everett
KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Not all the faces at Astros camp this spring are new.
Former Astros players Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett, who were added to the Minor League coaching staff this winter, have been in camp for a few days and have been working with the Major League club. Ensberg, a third baseman, and Everett, a shortstop, comprised the left side of the infield when the Astros reached the World Series in 2005.
"It brings back a lot of great memories," said Ensberg, who's been hired as a developmental specialist at the Astros' Class A affiliate in Lancaster, Calif.
Ensberg, who had done some coaching at the University of California-San Diego, said he's amazed at athleticism the Astros have amassed and will try to give as much advice as he can.
"I kind of battle the idea sometimes whether I should say something now or hope to do it later, and I feel like it's a complete waste if I wait on it," Ensberg said. "If I see something that can help a kid, I tell them immediately. I just don't want to the kid to continue to do something that will hurt them in the long run."
Everett, who was a terrific defensive player, will be an infield instructor, working with both the Major League team as well as the organization's Minor League infielders. He'll be at Major League and Minor League Spring Training and visit the affiliates and the Astros during the season.
"It brings back a lot of great memories, just seeing where the organization is and where it's going," Everett said. "It's encouraging. To see all the guys come back that want to be a part of it, as far as former players and getting involved, it's actually pretty neat."
Clemens might have some parting shots for hitters
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Roger Clemens will spend one more day at Astros camp before going home later in the day on Wednesday, ending the first of his three stints working with Houston pitchers on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium.
Clemens, who was back in jeans and boots on Tuesday after breaking out the baseball pants on Monday, said he might throw live batting practice to hitters.
"I enjoy throwing what I call 'room service' to them," he said.
Clemens watched a group of Astros pitchers throw live BP on Field 2 and spoke to each one afterwards, including Bud Norris, Xavier Cedeno and Brett Oberholtzer. Manager Bo Porter said Clemens even addressed the hitters earlier in the day.
"I thanked him today so much for all he's been doing around here, not just with the pitchers but also with the position players," Porter said. "When you have a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher who makes himself as accessible to us as Roger as made himself, it's a benefit for everyone."
Porter said he's grateful to have experienced pitchers like Clemens, pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach Dennis Martinez to help the young arms. The trio has combined for 651 wins and 9,804 1/3 innings in the Major Leagues.
"We're very fortunate," Porter said.
Porter throws a curve into intrasquad plans
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitchers have one more day of live batting practice Wednesday before they'll appear in Grapefruit League games, beginning with Saturday's opener against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.
Houston manager Bo Porter said Tuesday the club will use a pitching machine that throws nothing but curveballs in Thursday's intrasquad game.
"As you take batting practice and even through live [BP], these guys haven't taken too many swings off of breaking balls," Porter said. "It's one of those things that when you get to a game setting and you have the backdrop and the space and the field and all the cages and stuff like that removed, it's always a good drill."
The Astros will hold a draft Wednesday morning to pick teams for the intrasquad game, which will be held inside Osceola County Stadium and last about five or six innings. The teams will be called Team Everett and Team Ensberg, with Minor League instructors Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett serving as coaches.
• Astros manager Bo Porter said he won't name a starting pitching for Opening Day until about the third or fourth time through the rotation this spring. Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell are considered the front-runners for the Opening Day nod.
• Right-hander Hector Ambriz, who's been out of action since he sprained his left ankle last week, continues to improve. He's been on a treadmill and he's throwing on flat ground at 120 feet. Ambriz has yet to throw live batting practice.
• Porter said he expects to ask to use the designed hitter when visiting National League parks during Grapefruit League play for about half the exhibition schedule. The Astros will use the DH at home for every game at Osceola County Stadium and will have to have pitchers hit in places like Jupiter, Fla., (Cardinals), Viera, Fla. (Nationals) and Port St. Lucie, Fla., (Mets) later in camp.