BALTIMORE -- Considering he made the jump from the Double-A to the Majors this year, Willy Taveras hasn't had a lot of chances to show if he's going to be able to master the over-the-wall catches to rob opponents of home runs. But the center fielder showed some promise on Monday when he executed a perfectly-timed leap to grab a Rafael Palmeiro fly ball that looked to be headed over the wall. Taveras is working with first base coach Jose Cruz on making such leaping catches, but only time will tell if the 23-year-old outfielder will advance to the caliber of a Jim Edmonds or Torii Hunter.
"You can practice it every day, but you don't know when you're actually going to have to do it, like yesterday," Cruz said. "You just practice getting to the fence and jumping. If you can do that, you're going to do the same thing during the game." Taveras didn't have a lot of practice in the Minor Leagues, where walls are often comprised of high billboards that are not conducive for home-run robbing. For now, Taveras is going to keep practicing, and he'll approach it with a fearlessness that not every outfielder possesses, considering the potential danger involved. "Sometimes people get scared of the wall, because you can get hurt," Taveras said. "I don't think like that. I just try to catch the ball. Anything that happens when you play, happens." "If you think about all the stuff you have to do, it's pretty neat that they can make those kinds of plays," manager Phil Garner said. "If you just keep running until you hit the wall, there's no way you can catch it. You've got to know where the ball is, you've got to know where the wall is. There's probably some guys that just have a naturally ability." Pence on DL: Close followers of the Astros know all about Hunter Pence, the club's first draft pick in the 2004 draft who is slugging his way through the South Atlantic League. But Pence suffered a setback on Monday, straining a quadriceps muscle in the first inning of the Lexington Legends' 10-9 loss to Hagerstown. Pence was placed on the disabled list, which in the Minor Leagues lasts seven days. Remembering that Pence was leading all Minor Leaguers with 23 home runs, Garner wondered: "How do you do that trotting around the bases?" The Great One: Batting practice got a lot more interesting at around 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday when NHL legend Wayne Gretzky was escorted onto the field with his wife, actress Janet Jones, and their children. Gretzky was in town to participate in a prostate cancer awareness pregame ceremony, along with former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, 16-year Major League veteran Robin Ventura and Michael Milken, founder of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Word spread quickly in the Astros' clubhouse that The Great One was outside on the field, and it took no time at all before several players approached Gretzky for his autograph. The main culprits: Brad Lidge, Chad Harville and Chad Qualls. Lidge tried to act cool as he walked away with a signed ball in his hand, but it was clear he was pretty excited to meet the hockey legend. Almost as excited as he was the day before, when he talked shop with Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, who is a broadcaster for Orioles television. "It's amazing the people that are here right now," Lidge said. "Yesterday, I got to talk to Jim Palmer for like 15 minutes about pitching -- that was awesome. It seems like whenever you come back east to Baltimore or Boston or New York, you're going to run into some unbelievable guys you didn't think you'd have a chance to meet."
Morgan Ensberg also walked off the field with a huge grin after meeting Gretzky.
"I played golf with Larry Bird, and now I've met Wayne Gretzky, so I've met two icons," Ensberg said.
But he hopes he's not done.
I want to meet Magic Johnson, I want to meet Michael Jordan," he said. "I have worked out in the exact same gym alongside Tiger Woods, but I didn't meet him. I didn't want to bother him."
Camden Yards: The trip to Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a first for the Astros organization, but several members of the Astros traveling party have been here before. Garner paid many visits to Baltimore when he was the skipper of the formerly American League Brewers, as well as the Tigers.
Garner was complimentary toward the Orioles' ballpark, which opened in 1992. It was, and still is, considered the model by which all other new ballparks were molded.
"This was the beginning of the new era of ballparks," Garner said. "The architects, builders, wanted to do what they've been doing through the '70s -- have the [seating] bowl go out so you can get more fans in. The baseball people said, 'No, we want to bring them closer to the field.'
"They lost some seats, and everybody that comes here loves this place, and that's the reason. They're closer to the field. They did a marvelous job with the aesthetics around the field."
Coming up: The Astros and Orioles will conclude their series on Wednesday, beginning at 6:05 p.m. CT. Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (2-2, 8.41 ERA) will face Baltimore righty Rodrigo Lopez (5-2, 4.52 ERA).
|Morgan Ensberg / 3B|
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.