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Notes: McLane remembers Lay

Notes: McLane remembers Lay

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HOUSTON -- Approximately 10 years ago, Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. went to then Enron Corp. CEO Ken Lay and asked for his help in passing a referendum that would approve the building of a new downtown baseball stadium.

On Wednesday, McLane credited Lay for laying a foundation that led to the construction of what is now called Minute Maid Park, and McLane remembered Lay as a giving, philanthropic figure who wanted to make Houston a first-class city.

"I saw the goodness that was in him, and he genuinely cared about Houston," McLane said. "I explained about trying to win the referendum and get a ballpark downtown. He made 32 speeches for us in six weeks and spent a huge amount of time to help us.

"I remember asking him one time, 'I'm just curious, why are you working so hard for this?' And he said, 'I want to help make Houston a world-class city and this ballpark will help do that.'"

Lay died early Wednesday morning of coronary artery disease at the age of 64. While Lay will be remembered for the fall of Enron, which declared bankruptcy in Dec. of 2001, and for the trial that ended in his conviction for conspiracy and fraud, McLane, who was a character witness in Lay's trial, hopes some of Lay's legacy will reflect his philanthropic side.

"I have worked in 20 or 30 fundraisers for charities in Houston," McLane said, "and I learned early that when you called on the major businesses and individuals in town, the first question everyone's going to ask you is, 'What's Enron going to give and what's Ken Lay going to give?' I learned quickly to go see Ken Lay first, and as you worked to raise money for these good causes, he raised the level of philanthropy. I think that's the lasting legacy. Houston's a better city because of Ken Lay. I'm speaking of him as a leader and as a human being."

The Astros' downtown ballpark opened as Enron Field in 2000, but the partnership with the Astros ended after only two seasons upon the collapse of the energy giant. McLane didn't have any contact with Lay over those years, except when he appeared at his trial.

McLane never knew of any health problems affecting Lay but surmised the stress of the last five years likely took its toll.

"The immense strain personally and impact on him and his wife, Linda, and his entire family, you can just imagine it takes its toll on people," McLane said. "I was with him a number of times during the referendum, and we worked long hours and he went full speed ahead. Can you imagine the emotional strain? Hard work doesn't wear us down. It's the emotional strain."

Burke in center: Chris Burke, who will likely wear a special metal sole in his shoe for the remainder of the games until the All-Star break, said on Wednesday the contraption isn't particularly comfortable, but it will allow for him to play center field without incident.

"It helps me run at a faster speed," Burke said. "It's definitely not comfortable, but not only does it allow me to run a little faster, but it apparently prevents further irritation."

Burke's sprained left foot has kept him from action for a few days, but considering he could have probably played Tuesday, manager Phil Garner had no issue putting him back in center for the Astros' series finale with the Cubs.

"Yesterday he felt like he was A-OK to go 100 percent," Garner said.

Eric Bruntlett also received a rare start Wednesday, and Garner said he is considering playing Bruntlett at shortstop more often when the Astros face left-handers. Entering the game, Bruntlett was hitting .488 versus left-handers, while Everett was hitting .188. Against righties, Adam Everett has a .251 average; Bruntlett, .203.

"[Everett's] hitting right-handers better than left-handers, and Bruntlett's hitting left-handers," Garner said. "We may try this from time to time."

On the mend: Brandon Backe was encouraged by the results of his second of four rehab starts he'll make before returning to the Houston Astros rotation on July 22.

Backe threw 4 2/3 innings for Triple-A Round Rock on Tuesday, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out three in an Express win over Albuquerque at The Dell Diamond.

"It was a big step from last time, and hopefully I can make as big a jump as I did from last start to this start and from this start to next start," he said. "I certainly could've gone five innings and got that last out with the next batter, which probably wouldn't have been more than maybe six pitches.

"Then again, I could have gotten hit around. I felt I had some stuff left in the tank and pretty much felt great. The first inning was a little rough, but I started to find it in the second inning and the rest of the way it was pretty darn good."

Backe threw 76 pitches, 53 for strikes. At the plate, he drew two walks in two plate appearances, once with the bases loaded.

0-fer o-ver: Brad Ausmus knocked a hit to left in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game, ending his hitless streak at 0-for-40.

"The odds were overwhelming in my favor that it would end eventually," Ausmus said. "I haven't felt too badly throurgh the course of the stretch."

Coming up: The final series before the All-Star break will begin on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. CT, when the Astros host division rival St. Louis for the first game of a four-game set. Right-hander Taylor Buchholz (5-6, 5.36 ERA) will face right-hander Sidney Ponson (4-3, 5.60 ERA).

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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