3/28/2014 9:24 P.M. ET
School pride on display for March Madness
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
SAN ANTONIO -- School pride has been prominently on display for the lucky few Astros who saw their alma maters reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Although Stanford grads Mark Appel and Jason Castro were disappointed that their team was bounced by the University of Dayton, they were at least able to make a night out of it during their free time upon arriving to San Antonio on Thursday. The two watched the game from a Mexican restaurant with San Antonio city councilman Rey Saldaña, who just happened to be the team manager during Castro's days as a Cardinal ballplayer.
"No one, except for the guys at Stanford, expected them to go that far," Appel said of the basketball team. "What they did, especially where they've been the last couple years...I don't think they have anything to hang their heads about. They accomplished a lot. We're all proud of what they did."
All was not lost in the Astros clubhouse, however. As of late afternoon Friday, George Springer's University of Connecticut Huskies and Kevin Chapman's Florida Gators were still very much alive.
"That's my school and my state, so I always like to cheer them on no matter what," Springer said.
Porter: Presley fits in perfectly on Astros
SAN ANTONIO -- Off hand, the Astros weren't exactly sure how many players they brought with them to San Antonio -- the consensus was it was somewhere between a whole bunch and a boatload -- but one player they knew for sure was with them on this trip was newcomer Alex Presley.
Presley, claimed on waivers from the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, is seemingly a perfect fit for the Astros, who feel they will benefit from the outfielder's ability to take on several roles.
"He's left-handed, he can play all three outfield positions, he gives us some flexibility where against a righty he can actually play right field," manager Bo Porter said. "And now you look at your outfield configuration and you have two switch-hitters in [Dexter] Fowler and [Robbie] Grossman, and the left-handed hitting Presley that you can match up that way."
Presley, who grew up not far from Texas in Monroe, La., is familiar with Houston after having taken several trips there as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2010-13. Changing teams this far into Spring Training took him by surprise, but it was a pleasant one given the proximity to home.
"I thought I was going to make the team in Minnesota," he said. "I'm glad Houston picked me up. It's a pace you want to play because it's close."
Presley, who will wear uniform No. 8, combined to hit .276 with three home runs and 15 RBIs for the Pirates and Twins in '13. He's played 143 career games in left field, 41 in center and 28 in right.
Porter said the opportunity to pick up Presley was something "we couldn't pass up."
"Just looking at our roster," Porter said, "It actually was just a perfect fit."
Astros add new food and beverage choices at Minute Maid
SAN ANTONIO -- Minute Maid Park has for many years been lauded for its wide array of food options that covers everything from standard ballpark fare to more gourmet and exotic treats.
The tradition continues this year, following a joint announcement by the Astros and Aramark that detailed a $1.8 million renovation to Minute Maid Park's main concourse and eight new food and beverage concepts.
Among the delectable delights:
Street Eats: the food truck craze is moving indoors to section 126, where rotating menus similar to a food truck will be available. Examples: Chicken Fried BLT, Smoked Pork Sandwich Dip, Texas Hold'em (barbecue chicken with golden cheddar cheese, tomato, fries and slaw on Texas toast); Chicken Bahn Mi (Asian chicken with cucumber, pickled, carrots, cilantro and chili mayo); and Pulled Pork Tacos.
Texas Legends Grill (section 134): The Astros brought back two legendary entities this year: executive adviser Nolan Ryan, and his wildly successful burger business. Nolan Ryan Beef burger options will be 8 oz. in size with a choice of a single burger, bacon burger or mushroom swiss burger. The Texas Legends Grill will also offer a NY Strip Steak Sandwich - NY strip topped with white cheese horseradish sauce and fried onions.
H-Town Grille (sections 109, 125): Apparently, everything's beefier in Texas. Classic ballpark items at this kiosk including burgers featuring Nolan Ryan Beef, plus grilled chicken sandwiches, brisket sausage, veggie dogs and more.
Home + Away Ballpark Classics (sections 113, 129, 156): traditional ballpark fare including hot dogs, chili cheese dogs, Bavarian pretzels and more.
Texas Smoke (section 124): Chef Bryan Caswell's newest venture with Chef Ronnie Killen, serving country-style barbecue, burgers and other fare -- i.e., Brisket Sandwiches; Loaded Baked Potatoes; BBQ Baked Potato; and Classic country sides (baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw).
Casa Nacho (section 111): featuring traditional and enhanced nachos like Astros fan favorite, Monster Chicken Nachos.
Stockyard Bar (section 156): serving a variety of domestic and imported beers including, St. Arnold Amber Ale and Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale, as well as a variety of wines.
Corona Cantina (section 119): featuring newly available Corona on draft, Negra Modelo, Pacifico and other bottled beers, as well as a variety of wines.
• Appel will start for the Astros on Sunday at Minute Maid Park when they host El Aguila de Veracruz of the Mexican League. That game, set to begin at 1:10 p.m., will be the second of a two-game exhibition set. The first game is scheduled for Saturday at 7:10 p.m. CT, with lefty Brett Oberholtzer taking the mound for the Astros.
• The Major League portion of the traveling party will depart San Antonio after Friday's game, with mostly the projected Double-A Corpus Christi roster staying behind to play the Big League Weekend series finale with the Rangers on Saturday.
• Former catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who played for the Rangers from 1991-2002 and the Astros in 2009, caught the ceremonial first pitch on Friday, thrown by Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. ...the ball was delivered by members of the U.S. Army North Rappel Team, who descended from the ceiling rafters and landed on the outfield turf.
• The dimensions at the Alamodome probably wouldn't pass the smell test for a regular-season Major League game, but for exhibition baseball, they were simply a fun topic of discussion. Garnering the most attention was the right-field line, measuring a modest yet eyebrow-raising 271 feet with a 16-foot high fence. The only big league facility that might be comparable is Boston's Fenway Park which measures at 310 feet to left field and 302 to Pesky's Pole in right.