Bourn accepts ultimatum

By Jose De Jesus Cruz
Updated: February 28, 2009

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Michael Bourn would have preferred to spend the winter at his bachelor pad near Oakhurst Golf Course in Porter. If any Astros player had earned a break because of the extra work he put in last season, it was the young center fielder.

From the start of training camp last year, he was out early and stayed late. When he wasn’t practicing bunting, he was working on baserunning. There were plenty of extra batting practice and outfield drills, too.

He was exhausted when the season ended, yet he and the organization understood he still needed to work on some things. Those golf lessons at Oakhurst would have to wait because another set of drills awaited him in Santiago, Dominican Republic, home of Miguel Tejada’s famed Aguilas.

“When you come back to the hotel where you stay, everybody knows the game’s been on,” he says of his winter-ball experience. “And if you have a bad game, it doesn’t matter. If you get in a cab, the cab driver is going to let you know. ‘Oh, no good day today. Three-for-oh.’”

Three-for-oh in the Dominican translates to 0-for-3 in the United States, and it’s equally unacceptable.

Numbers encouraging

Lucky for Bourn, he hit .314 with a .402 on-base percentage and 11 RBIs over 25 games with Aguilas.

“It helped me,” he says of winter ball. “It got me more experience, good competition, good players around, good pitching, everything. It was good for me to go play.”

Bourn, who is one of the fastest players in the majors, would like to eliminate the oh-fers this year. While his defense is near Gold Glove-caliber, his offense still is coming around as he tries to cut down on strikeouts.

Bourn hit .229 (107-for-467) and struck out 111 times while drawing only 37 walks. That strikeout-to-walk ratio was particularly alarming for a man expected to lead off.

“I don’t even think about last year any more,” he said. “I’m in a new year. This is 2009, so we are going to concentrate on 2009. We’re going to leave 2008 in 2008 and move forward from there. “

While trying to establish himself in the majors as a starter for the first time, he was called upon to deal with the added pressure that comes with playing at home for the first time. As if that wasn’t enough, the former Nimitz and University of Houston player was expected to be the club’s leadoff hitter.

“He’s got to be the guy to help us jump-start our offense at some point in the season,” Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. “I don’t want to say right out of the chute that he’ll be the guy out front and the guy at the top of the lineup setting the stage or setting the tone. But Michael has to at one point be that guy.”

In the meantime, veteran Kaz Matsui appears the likely leadoff hitter for the April 6 opener against the Chicago Cubs.

His work is never done

Bourn, who was 1-for-3 with an RBI double in Houston’s exhibition opener against Washington, will continue working to perfect his craft. “Even if I had hit .330 the year before, you still have to come back next year and find out how to do it again,” he said.

“So, of course, you’d think it’s easier. But you get out there and you don’t know how it’s going to be. That’s just how baseball is, I guess you can say.

“I better do it. That comes with the game. The pressure sometimes is on a certain person, and it’s on me. That’s just how it is, and that’s how it’s been for me since I was in college, so it’s not different. It’s just on the biggest stage. That’s where you hope to play at, and that’s where I’m at now. So I’ll take on everything that comes with it.”