After spending the last five seasons as a fan favorite with the Houston Astros, right-hander Chris Sampson admits it will be a little strange when he reports to Spring Training in Arizona this time around rather than Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla.
The 32-year-old Sampson, a lifelong Houston resident and Channelview High School product, agreed to a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies last Wednesday, but still needs to take a physical before it becomes an official transaction.
Prior to his signing, the Rockies had already reached its limit in extending invitations to non-roster players for major league camp, meaning Sampson will be reporting to minor league camp.
According to Sampson, the Rockies intend to give him every opportunity to succeed at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and as long as he stays healthy during the regular season and can throw the ball effectively, he’ll likely put himself in position for a potential call-up.
“It all kind of happened real quickly,” Sampson said via a phone interview Sunday. “Colorado popped in and told me what they could offer. They pretty much said, ‘If you want it, let’s go.’ I ended up signing on Wednesday. I can’t wait to get out there to Spring Training. I’ve heard nothing but great things about their organization.”
Although Sampson will be moving forward after spending his entire major league career in Houston, he’ll be reunited in Colorado with former Astros teammates Matt Lindstrom, Felipe Paulino, Willy Taveras and Ty Wigginton, as well as with left-hander Josh Muecke — one of his closest baseball friends.
Muecke and Sampson climbed the minor league ladder with the Astros together, but after 2009, the 29-year-old Muecke wound up at Colorado Springs, where he posted a 6-9 record with a 5.94 ERA over 119 2/3 innings in 25 games (22 starts) last season.
“It’s going to be great being out there with Lindstrom, Paulino and some of the guys I played with in Houston,” Sampson said. “I’m excited that Josh Muecke, who is a very good friend of mine, will be out there too. It will help make the transition a little easier.”
Sampson went 1-0 with a 5.93 ERA over 30 1/3 innings in 35 relief appearances for the Astros in 2010 after starting last season on a strong note.
He posted a 1.50 ERA over his first 19 relief appearances before suffering from biceps tendinitis, which landed him on the 15-day disabled list on June 1.
Upon being activated, Sampson struggled to regain his early-season form, compiling a 6.00 ERA in June and a 4.91 ERA over nine appearances in July.
The veteran right-hander was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock on July 24, where he went 1-2 with a 2.35 ERA over 15 1/3 innings in 13 games.
Despite being in communication with three or four teams as a free agent this offseason, Sampson states that nothing serious ever materialized.
In the end, the Rockies presented him with the best option to get his career back on track after being outrighted from Houston’s 40-man roster in early September.
“My goal is to make it back up to the big leagues and do what I can to help the Colorado Rockies win a World Series,” Sampson said. “I’ve always enjoyed going to Denver and pitching at Coors Field. I’m healthy and I’ve been working hard all offseason.”
Sampson’s pitching repertoire, especially his sinker, fits the profile of what it takes to excel at Coors Field, which ranked second behind Yankee Stadium in 2010 as the most hitter-friendly ballpark in Major League Baseball.
This is one of the reasons why the Rockies jumped on Sampson.
“I’ve had a few good games at Coors Field,” Sampson said. “Also, I’ve given up a home run or two. You can’t let the stadium play mind games with you. The main thing is not letting the thin air get to you or getting caught up in the hype. You can’t think about that. You have to go about your business and pitch your game just like you would anywhere else.”
It’s going to be somewhat bizarre for many of Sampson’s fans in Houston to see him wearing a Rockies uniform, considering his involvement in numerous charities and special events throughout the area.
Plus, he has a tremendous reputation in the baseball community as owner of LoneStar Baseball Academy in Baytown, Texas.
“Wearing purple instead of the Astros colors will take some getting used to,” Sampson said. “I’m looking forward to getting the season started. I feel great and I’m excited for the opportunity to play for an orgaization that I only hear good things about.
“You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
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