7/4/2013 3:20 P.M. ET
Astros exhibit sights, sounds of Fourth of July
By Chris Abshire / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Few holidays scream baseball quite like the Fourth of July.
Houston joined in the festivities Thursday, as the Astros rocked Independence Day-themed hats, armbands and necklaces.
Uniformed military personnel were invited to the ballpark and honored as they stood along the baselines with both Houston and Tampa Bay players during the pregame introduction.
The 36th Infantry Division Band's Soldier's Chorus sang a solemn but poignant national anthem prior to the game, with the American flag draped across shallow center field behind them.
The holiday's presence was felt in the atmosphere throughout the ballpark.
Before Thursday's game, the Astros held a street festival outside Minute Maid Park, complete with cotton candy, food vendors, a dunking booth, balloons, a magician, live music and a lady dressed as the Statue of Liberty.
The music in the pregame was American themed, from John Mellencamp's Americana to several renditions of "God Bless America" to Ray Charles' version of "America The Beautiful," which soundtracked the Fourth of July scene in baseball staple "The Sandlot."
Fans were offered mini American flags as they entered the park, and many waved them proudly, wildly cheering for the military personnel entering and exiting the diamond.
"Today just speaks baseball, it speaks family and it speaks hot dogs," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "Hopefully, it speaks an Astros win, too."
Looking beyond record, Norris makes All-Star case
HOUSTON -- Astros pitcher Bud Norris is not shy about his desire to play in the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
"It would be a huge honor," he said. "That's what every player dreams of."
The All-Star rosters will be announced at 5:30 p.m. CT on Saturday and televised nationally on FOX.
Norris has a case, though the Astros' first-half struggles and low profile could hurt his candidacy. There is no arguing with his numbers, which present a compelling profile.
The righty has a 3.22 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 18 starts, anchoring a burgeoning Houston rotation that has been mostly impeccable since mid-May.
"I think he's definitely getting All-Star consideration," manager Bo Porter said. "I think he's pitched well enough to be one. That's out of our control. I would definitely give him my vote, because he's been our best pitcher the whole year."
Last week, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called Norris "one of the best we've seen" all season. Then how is Norris' 6-7 record so decidedly underwhelming?
Houston has not hit for Norris often, scoring only three runs a game behind him. Over Norris' last 10 starts, that number has been even worse, as the Astros plated just 23 total runs in those outings.
It has left Norris on the hook for no-decisions and losses even when he has shut a lineup down, like last Friday, when he allowed no earned runs in seven innings but the Angels scored three times after he departed to win, 4-2.
"When you talk about wins and losses, a lot of things are out of your control," he said. "It's more about the quality of the outings. How productive is this guy, is the question. The wins and losses don't speak to that."
His ERA could actually drop to 3.06 if he wins an appeal to MLB about a hit call that he hopes to get changed to an error from the White Sox game June 17.
Norris, who has become a trade magnet but has been pledging his commitment to the Astros, said an All-Star nod would be more than just a personal achievement.
"Being an All-Star would be a big deal for me, but also an honor for this organization, too," he said. "I've made my case on the field, but these guys play the defense and get the hits that help me do that."
Familiar faces abound in Texas for Astros' president
HOUSTON -- Astros president Reid Ryan wishes his new team had remained in the opposite league of the Texas Rangers, whose CEO is his dad, Nolan.
"The Rangers will always be family to me, and so will the Astros," Ryan said. "The fact you can be a big Astros fan and Rangers fan, to be honest with you, is a little bit tough now because they're in the same division. People are having to draw sides. To me, it's not about the Rangers or Astros, it's about the people. And that's what I'm excited about."
He will have to draw sides for at least one weekend, though, as the Astros invade Arlington on Friday for a three-game set at Texas. Even as a front-office figure, Ryan said that had not dulled his competitive fire, especially against his famous father's team.
"At the end of the day, whether you're playing dad in the backyard in a pickup basketball game or in college or in high school in the orange and white game in Alvin, whatever it is, you want to win the game, you want to do your best. You want to beat the people on the other side of the field from you."
The younger Ryan was driving to the Ballpark in Arlington on Thursday but planned to stay only for Friday's game.
Ryan might be as excited about seeing friends in the Rangers organization as he is about the baseball on the diamond.
"It's going to be great to see those guys and see my dad and everybody, but it's not just my dad," he said. "I have so many deep, lifelong relationships with people over there, [Rangers Enterprises executive vice president] Jay Miller, [Texas bench coach] Jackie Moore, [Ballpark Entertainment executive VP] Chuck Morgan, [Rangers executive VP of communications] John Blake, [Texas pitching coach] Mike Maddux. I could go on and on and on.
"Those guys have treated Jackson [Reid's son] so well over the years," Ryan said. I'm talking about the Nelson Cruzes of the world, guys like that. It will be fun. It's not a stressful deal at all. All those guys have treated me in a positive way and are very happy for me."
Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.