HOUSTON — Infielder Geoff Blum offers unique versatility and strong veteran leadership to the Houston Astros, who have gotten younger, improved defensively and continue to fill voids this offseason under the direction of new manager Brad Mills.
The 36-year-old Blum hit .247 with 10 homers and 49 RBI in 120 games last season while receiving the majority of the starts at third base for Houston.
When the Astros arrived at Spring Training in Kissimmee, Fla., last year, general manager Ed Wade and former manager Cecil Cooper had planned on platooning Blum and veteran Aaron Boone at third base in order to bridge the gap for rookie Chris Johnson.
Unfortunately, Boone underwent open-heart surgery March 26 to replace a bicuspid aortic valve, which forced Wade and Cooper to alter the plan. This led to the acquisition of infielder Jeff Keppinger from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Drew Sutton.
In the end, Johnson spent the majority of last season at Triple-A Round Rock before earning a September call-up, while Keppinger filled the utility infield role, with Blum getting the starting job at third.
Known for being a fan favorite, the Astros made it a point to re-sign Blum on Oct. 30 to a one-year, $1.5 million deal with a mutual option for 2011.
However, with the free-agent signing of former Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz this offseason, Blum will be expected to make an impact in 2010 as a utility infielder capable of making spot starts while providing a reliable switch-hitting bat as a pinch hitter.
Blum represents the prototypical ballplayer in which Mills can rely on to make Houston a potential contender in the NL Central. Although he may not be flashy, the crafty veteran has a track record for performing in clutch situations.
His wealth of experience at the big-league level, combined with being a proven winner, gives the younger guys, such as Johnson and Tommy Manzella, a positive influence and role model in the clubhouse.
Recently, Blum spoke with Houston Astros Examiner Stephen Goff after making a guest appearance on the club’s call-in radio show, Astroline, about his offseason conditioning, leadership role, particular goals, the hiring of Mills, the expectation level of the Astros in 2010 and the memorable home run in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series.
Q: How is your offseason training going?
A: It’s going well. This is the first time in my career that I’m working with a trainer in the offseason. I’m focusing on speed agility and improving my footwork. I’m also taking good cuts off the tee, so I’m pleased with everything.
Q: Why go with an offseason personal trainer for the first time as a veteran player?
A: I’m getting old. I have to work harder to stay ahead of the curve. There’s several younger players than me coming up and I have to be ready physically and mentally to excel.
Q: Describe your leadership role with the Astros?
A: I lead by example. I’m respectful and act professionally. We have a lot of good young guys and it’s a different generation. I try to give hints and do stuff one-on-one to help some of the younger guys make improvements. We also have Lance, Roy O and Brian Moehler as veteran leaders, which really helps the club.
Q: What are some of your goals for the 2010 season?
A: I’m five home runs away from 100 in my career. I want to achieve that milestone. Also, I’m closing in on 1,000 career hits. Of course, the big thing is winning championships. I won a World Series in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox and I would love to do the same thing in Houston.
Q: Do you like the hiring of Brad Mills as manager?
A: Yes, I do. I only hear great things about him. I know several guys who have played for him in the minors and in Boston. All of them say he’s a great communicator. He brings a winning attitude and has been around a winner in Boston. It’s a 162-game schedule and you need a passionate skipper who communicates well and someone you can have a logical conversation with.
Q: Are you pleased with Mills’ coaching staff?
A: I think it’s going to be good. I already know Brad Arnsberg and Bobby Meacham, and we’re getting Dave Clark and Sean Berry back. Plus, we all know Al Pedrique. I’ve played for all of them before and they understand what it’s like to be a ballplayer.
Q: What is your overall opinion of the Astros’ offseason moves?
A: We’ve done a great job of adding depth. The signing of Brett Myers was a good thing for our rotation. He adds depth, which will also help the bullpen. Pedro Feliz is a great signing…he’s a solid veteran. I like how we’re going to be deeper this year.
Q: Talk about your expectation level for the Astros in 2010?
A: We need Michael Bourn to repeat his great 2009 season. Lance has to stay healthy. He’s fantastic and with him, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, we’ve got three guys who can drive in 100 runs. I expect us to be better defensively. Our starting pitching has more depth with Oswalt, Wandy and Myers — we need those guys to be workhorses.
Kaz Matsui will also be vital and we expect him to be a guy who can get on base more consistently. Our biggest thing is health — we have to stay healthy this season.
Q: How did it feel to crack the game-winning 14th inning home run in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series against the Astros — your former team at the time?
A: It was bittersweet. I had played for the Astros for two seasons in the early 2000s and then was traded to Tampa. It was rough because the Rays were still trying to get established; plus I liked playing in Houston.
When I went to Chicago in 2005, to be able to play in the World Series against my former team and some old friends like Lance Berkman and Roy O — it was great. Then hitting that home run off Ezequiel Astacio…definitely bittersweet.
Q: Who were some of your favorite teams and ballplayers growing up in California?
A: I was a Padre and Dodger guy. I’ve always liked Doug Dascenzo, Ozzie Smith, Bill Russell and Reggie Smith.