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Outfielder Bourn Comes Home To Houston
HOUSTON — Chances are that Astros fans are going to love Michael Bourn. They’re going to love how he plays with enthusiasm and passion and the way he flies around the outfield and bases with streak-of-lightning speed.
And in all probability, Astros fans are going to love Bourn the person, too. They’re going to love his omnipresent smile and how it’s impossible to find anyone who has anything bad to say about him.
“There’s only about a dozen guys I’ve ever had in the program that can match up to him character-wise,” said Rayner Noble, who has spent 14 seasons as the head baseball coach at the University of Houston.
What’s certain is that Bourn loves Houston. He was born and raised in the Bayou City and was thrilled when he found out Nov. 7 he had been traded to the Astros from the Philadelphia Phillies.
For his family and friends, the trade of Bourn to his hometown team gives them a chance to see him play in person. For Bourn, it represents an opportunity to validate his presence in the major leagues.
“You hope for that,” Bourn said. “But it happens to be in my hometown. That’s a plus, too.”
Though projected as the Astros’ center fielder and leadoff hitter, Bourn, 24, says he has plenty to prove and vows to come to spring training and earn his spot on the team. Based on his track record, there’s little reason to believe he won’t succeed.
Drafted in the fourth round by the Phillies after his junior year at UH in 2003, Bourn rose through Philadelphia’s minor league system by hitting .285 with 163 stolen bases in 397 games.
He reached the majors in 2006 and spent all of last season on the Phillies’ major league roster, hitting .277 with 18 steals. In 122 major league games, he batted .268 with 19 stolen bases.
“Now that I look back, I can’t really just say that was my goal,” Bourn said of reaching the majors. “I played because it was fun to me. I played football in the streets (growing up), played football on a little league team, and played basketball and baseball just because it was fun to me and I enjoyed it. I guess it just blossomed.”
Bourn’s talent was evident when, as an active 4-year-old, he was catching and fielding balls better than some kids nearly twice his age. Bourn was a year too young to play on the summer team coached by his father, but that didn’t stop other coaches in the league from trying to find a way around the age requirement to allow him to play.
“I could see then that there was something there,” said Raymond Bourn, Michael’s father.
For the first seven years of Bourn’s life, the family lived on Houston’s northeast side, off Homestead Road. But his father, a petrochemical operator for Merisol, and mother Carrie, a record keeper at Texas Children’s Hospital, moved the family to the Humble area.
Sports were a big part of the Bourn household. Michael and younger brother Daniel kept their parents on their toes with all the football, baseball and basketball practices.
Raymond Bourn coached Michael — as well as future Davis High School and Tampa Bay Devil Rays star Carl Crawford — for nine years until Michael entered Nimitz High School.
“He and Carl were very competitive,” said Raymond Bourn, who played high school baseball in Monroe, La. “Some things Michael could beat him, and a lot of things Carl could beat him at. They were competitive, which helped Michael.”
Raymond would pick apart Michael’s mistakes, leading to some intense father-son battles. But Michael never stopped listening to his dad for advice.
“He was my coach since I was little, but also my father, so he can talk to me from both standpoints,” Michael said.
Michael became a two-sport star at Nimitz. He was the starting point guard on the basketball team for two seasons and had a scholarship offer to play at Blinn Junior College.
“He had quickness, and he was smart,” said former Nimitz basketball coach Joe Price, currently at North Shore. “He had a high basketball IQ. He was real intelligent when it came to game-making decisions and getting other people involved. He just understood what you wanted done from a point guard standpoint.”
Because of overlapping schedules, Bourn didn’t join the baseball team until the season was under way. Against Klein Forest his junior season, he homered in his first at-bat of the year without the benefit of batting practice.
But it was Bourn’s speed, and not his bat, that fueled his success at Nimitz.
“We were playing Langham Creek, and late in the game we got a guy on first base, and we put Mike in to pinch-run for him,” said Nimitz assistant baseball coach David LeCates. “They tried to pick him off and threw the ball down the line, and I tried to score him from first. They got him out on a bang-bang play at the plate, but that shows you what his speed was. They had to make a good throw to get him.”
With his parents pushing him in the classroom, Bourn understood the importance of good grades, though he admits he tended to “goof off” when it was appropriate.
“He was the type of guy that never got in trouble,” Price said. “He was raised right. His family made the right decisions and did the right things. My son hung out with him, and I knew he was in good hands with Michael.”
After Bourn’s senior season, the Astros drafted him in the 19th round and wanted him to attend Galveston College as a draft-and-follow. But when Bourn stole five bases in an all-star game that summer, Noble and UH took notice.
“We were scrambling for a center fielder, and Michael’s name popped up on the screen,” Noble said. “We got him in the office with his dad and convinced him he would be our everyday center fielder, and he decided to come on board.”
Bourn became a fixture in center for the Cougars and earned all-Conference USA honors in 2003 after hitting .330 and stealing 23 bases despite missing four weeks with a broken hand.
“He’s just a super individual,” Noble said. “He not only gave everything he had in the field but worked hard in the classroom and did the best he could. Those traits are going to come out with the Astros.
“He’s not only going to be a great player on the field, but he’ll also be very good in the community. He’s just a fine individual.”
Daring to dream
As stopwatch-toting scouts hovered at his games at UH and the buzz about the draft growing louder, Bourn was hit with the growing realization he might have a chance to reach the major leagues.
“I heard people talking about it,” he said. “It never really hit me like, ‘You’re going to go play professional baseball and play in the big leagues.’ “
And he never could have realized he’d play for the Astros, the team his dad used to take him to see at the Astrodome as a child. And Raymond could never have imagined seeing his son wearing an Astros uniform.
“I used to have to take vacation and schedule a flight to go see him play (in Philadelphia),” Raymond Bourn said.
“Now all I have to do is drive right down Highway 59 about 20 minutes. It’s been a real nice ride.”