HOUSTON -- Fans at Minute Maid Park got an unexpected surprise Wednesday when actor and comedian Cheech Marin threw out the ceremonial first pitch while wearing a 1980s-era Astros rainbow jersey.
"They asked me throw out the first pitch, and they paid enough money so here I am," he joked. Primarily known as an actor, director and performer, Marin has developed the finest private collection of Chicano art in the United States. He was in town for the second annual Houston Fine Art Fair this weekend.
"I'm a collector, but I also love baseball," said Marin, who grew up as a Dodger fan in Los Angeles but had no problems wearing an Astros jersey. "When in Rome do as the Romans do. I love the Astros."
Marin said Houston was a popular tour stop in his "Cheech and Chong" comedy days, but not for the reasons you might imagine.
"It has the best combination of good-looking girls and barbecue in the world," he said.
Lowrie makes return to Astros lineup
HOUSTON -- For the first time since July 14, the Astros had shortstop Jed Lowrie and second baseman Jose Altuve in the starting lineup at the same time. Lowrie injured his right knee and leg July in San Francisco, and Altuve is starting for the first time since Friday.
"Any time you get to play in a Major League game you're excited, but it feels great to get back out there," Lowrie said.
Lowrie is still wearing a brace on his knee while he plays, but he expects to be 100 percent without the help of the brace in time for Spring Training next year. Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said he will ease Lowrie back into the lineup.
"Day on, day off until he gets his body back in shape," he said. "We know what he can do and we're happy he's on the club. It gives us another Major League at-bat in there. The guy's been around and I know he's not as strong from the right side than the left side, but it's time to get him in the lineup and see what he can do."
Altuve hadn't started since straining his abdominal muscle on Friday in Cincinnati. He entered Tuesday's win over the Cubs as a defensive replacement.
Dierker rejoins Astros' radio booth
HOUSTON -- Larry Dierker, who spent 18 years in the radio booth before taking over as manager of the team, returned to his on-air duties Wednesday when he did color commentary on the radio broadcast. Dierker and former Astros pitcher Steve Sparks are taking turns working the middle three innings with play-by-play announcers Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond while Milo Hamilton is out.
"Yeah, it's really stimulating," Dierker said. "I doubt if anybody else in this ballpark could use this word tonight at this stage with the team the way the team's been playing, but broadcasting is a creative challenge and I hope I can get back in the flow quickly. But who knows? We'll just have to see how it goes."
Dierker, who hasn't done any Astros broadcasts since filling in during the 2004 season, said he wouldn't mind getting back into the gig full-time.
"I found that being retired in Houston during the summer is probably not the best combination," Dierker said. "I'd rather have my time off in the winter and you can work all summer and do that."
Dierker worked plenty of television when he called Astros games in the 1980s and 1990s, but he appreciates the nuances of calling games on the radio.
"You have to be the eyes of the fans, people driving in their cars and people that like to listen in the garage while they're working on a project or something," Dierker said. "If you can bunch your words together quickly so you don't miss the next play, they can still get a pretty good idea."
Astros hold contest to replace team's mascot
HOUSTON -- After getting a strong response from the fans in their "You Make The Call" radio apprentice contest, the Astros on Wednesday unveiled another fan contest to find a new mascot for the 2013 season -- the team's first in the American League -- to replace Junction Jack.
Fans and a panel of judges will have a chance to be a part of the selection process in the "You Make the Call" mascot talent contest. Aspiring participants can register online at www.astros.com, and the deadline to register is 5 p.m. CT on Sept. 19.
"We had a great response with the radio contest, and we're trying to stay consistent with the fan engagement," market manager Andrea Andrus said. "The mascot is a really important role, and we're taking the contest serious as the same time as having fun with it."
Once the registration is closed, a panel of judges will select the top 50 applicants to compete for the interview round, which will take place Sept. 24-25 at Minute Maid Park. Contestants will wear a standard costume provided by the team, and the judges will select 10 candidates for the interaction round.
The interaction round will be held Sept. 26 at Minute Maid Park, and videos of the final 10 auditions will be posted onto the website for fans to vote between Sept. 28 and Oct. 4. The combined voting of the fans and judges will determine the top four that will advance to the final round.
In the final round, which will be held Oct. 9, video of the four contestants' performances will be posted online for fans to vote, Oct. 11-17. The final round of fan voting will be combined with the judges to select the winner.