HOUSTON -- The vast reaches of the outfield at Minute Maid Park -- with the unique hill in center field that sits 436 feet from home plate -- give Michael Bourn a giant canvas to perfect his artistry.
Bestowed with tremendous speed and a strong arm, Bourn dashed and dazzled his way around the Astros outfield in a fashion that made him the favorite of not only the fans, but also baseball's nightly highlight shows.
The breathtaking visions of Bourn running down line drives in the gaps, scampering up Tal's Hill to make an improbable catch or throwing out a runner at home plate didn't go unnoticed by his peers, who voted Bourn the winner of his first Rawlings Gold Glove on Wednesday.
"It's a good honor," Bourn said. "I was excited when I heard the news. I was looking around at the people that were also named as Gold Glove [winners] and it was a really good list of players to be around. I'm amazed by it and excited at the same time."
Bourn, 26, is the first Astros player to win a Gold Glove since catcher Brad Ausmus, who took home the previous three Houston awards in 2001, '02, and '06. He's the second Astros outfielder to win the award, joining five-time winner Cesar Cedeno (1972-76).
"It comes as no surprise," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "It's a tremendous honor for Michael and well-deserved. He makes center field seem awfully small when he's out there, and I don't think you really appreciate what he does defensively until you see somebody else out there and realize how big our ballpark and other ballparks are.
"He covers a tremendous amount of ground, is a great athlete and has great instincts and never takes anything for granted. We're fortunate to have him, and I'm happy that his peers have recognized him for what I assume will be many Gold Gloves."
Bourn was one of three National League outfielders to win a Gold Glove, joining Philadelphia's Shane Victorino and Los Angeles' Matt Kemp. Other winners were St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright, St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles second baseman Orlando Hudson, Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
Kemp and former Philadelphia teammates Rollins and Ryan Howard were among those who called Bourn to congratulate him, as did Astros teammate Darin Erstad, the only player to win a Gold Glove in the infield and the outfield.
Bourn admitted winning a Gold Glove was a goal.
"I can say that," he said. "I feel like I can play defense. It's always on your radar, but everybody knows you have to show offense to get a Gold Glove. We know it has nothing to do with offense, but that's how it is. I was able to accomplish that this year."
In his second season with the Astros, Bourn was named the team's Most Valuable Player by the Houston Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America by hitting .285 with a .354 on-base percentage and leading the NL with 61 stolen bases.
But his defense was just as valuable.
Bourn was determined to improve his defense last offseason and played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where the craggy fields helped him improve fielding ground balls. While in Houston, he worked closely with coaches Dave Clark and Jose Cruz to get better jumps and take better routes.
"I always take pride in my defense," Bourn said. "That's just something I do. I like to work on my all-around game, not just defense."
Bourn finished the season with 11 outfield assists, tied for fifth in the NL. The only center fielder to have more was Kemp, who had 14 for the Dodgers. Bourn routinely ran down fly balls that appeared to be hits and made a few spectacular catches on Tal Hill's in deep center.
His signature catch came in a June 11 game against the Cubs in which he sprinted back to the warning track on Micah Hoffpauir's fly ball to center. Bourn began backpedaling as he went up the hill and fell down just as the ball landed in his glove, 420 feet from home plate.
On July 10 against Washington, he became the first Astros center fielder since 2000 to record two assists in a game by throwing out a pair of runner at home plate.
"I actually teased him during the season," Wade said. "He made a catcher in left-center field at Minute Maid Park and the next day I told him, 'I didn't know you were going to catch it.' He said, 'I thought I had a chance.' I told him, 'Do me a favor. When you think you have a chance to catch a ball like that, give me some kind of signal.' I was assuming it was a triple and we would be down two or three runs."
Wade was general manager of the Phillies when Bourn was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 Draft by Philadelphia. Wade then traded for Bourn on Nov. 7, 2007, while he was general manager in Houston, sending Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett to the Phillies in a five-player deal.
"He came with all the athleticism and instincts," Wade said of his arrival in Philadelphia. "It's tough to teach either one of those, if not impossible. He brings those things to the table, but there's always been a great work ethic there. I think the time he spent Philadelphia paid a lot of dividends.
"Those guys that worked with him on the developmental side deserve a lot of credit, and the work he's done in our organization with [Cruz] and Clark and anyone else that did work with him, deserves a lot of credit. It's about the guy, and this guy happens to be an exceptional defensive center fielder."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.