TORONTO -- Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton called a game from his 59th Major League ballpark on Friday thanks to the club's first visit to Toronto and Rogers Centre. Hamilton is in his 66th season on the air and 27th as the radio voice of the Astros.
"Who would have thunk it?" Hamilton said. "You have to remember, I was around with Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds and old Connie Mack Stadium. I'm really happy about all the new parks, not just about Minute Maid Park. It all started with Baltimore in Camden Yards to get us away from the cookie-cutter stadiums."
This is Hamilton's first trip to Toronto since 1954, when he was calling Minor League games. Rogers Centre, which originally was called SkyDome, has been open since 1989.
"It looks nice for as old as it is, and I think they've kept it well," he said. "The clubhouse looked nice and everything, and it looks like there's not a bad seat in here as I look around. There are no poles to sit behind or anything. It has a nice, big scoreboard, and the hotel is out there, so hopefully the blinds will be drawn."
Hamilton will have a chance to visit his 60th stadium next year, when the Astros play at the ballpark being built in Miami for the Florida Marlins.
Barnett, Arnsberg have homecoming in Toronto
TORONTO -- The Astros' first trip to Toronto was a homecoming of sorts for pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and hitting coach Mike Barnett.
Arnsberg was the pitching coach for the Blue Jays for five seasons (2005-09) before joining the Astros prior to the 2010 season. He held an impromptu news conference before Friday's game to discuss his Toronto days.
"It was tough leaving," Arnsberg said. "I had so many fond memories of Toronto and have kind of turned the page on that. It's fun to come back, because it's my first time back. I still stay in contact with a lot of the guys, and I do that with a lot of the guys I've had. I'm still in contact with guys I had with the Expos [2000-01] and Marlins [2002-03] before I came to Toronto. I'm happy for a lot of these guys to have success."
Barnett, who was the Jays' hitting coach from 2002-05 and lived in the hotel that's attached to the ballpark, saw some good young hitters go through Toronto while he was there.
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"It's fun coming back here," Barnett said. "I love the city. It's a great place to be, and there's a lot to do in the city. It's fun, and the people in the Blue Jays organization are great. Some of the players that came through here that I happened to be with ... Vernon Wells, and Jayson Werth was a young player here, Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, and Eric Hinske won Rookie of the Year in 2002. Those are good memories. I had nothing but fond memories here."
Barnett says that Rogers Centre plays pretty fair and said that the key is to watch the fireworks before the game if the roof's open to see which way the ball is going to carry.
"It's a pretty good park to hit in," he said.
Astros have rare chance to play on artificial turf
TORONTO -- With the National League having made the transition to solely natural surfaces after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington following the 2004 season, the Astros don't have many opportunities to play on artificial turf.
They played on artificial grass at Tampa Bay in 2008 and again in 2009 when they visited Minnesota's Metrodome during its final season as home of the Twins. This weekend's series against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre marks the Astros' first time to play on an artificial surface since that trip to Minneapolis.
Second baseman Bill Hall, who was in the American League East last year and played several games in Toronto, said that artificial turf takes some adjustments.
"Those ground balls can sneak up the middle," Hall said. "On defense, in the outfield, we're going to have to watch for balls bouncing really high and getting over your head and giving guys extra bases and things like that. It's going to be a different ballgame, and hopefully we can come out on top."
Right fielder Hunter Pence says that the turf poses several challenges.
"Every stadium you're playing in, you have to pay attention to the details," Pence said. "You have to imagine [the turf] is fast and you can get more hits, but it's the same with the other team. You have to play balls to take different angles."
Brett Wallace played the first half of last season in the Blue Jays organization, spending all that time at Triple-A Las Vegas, before being traded to the Astros. He was roommates with Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia.
Wallace was out of the lineup on Friday as the Jays started a a left-hander, with Matt Downs getting a chance to start at first.
"Downs has done such a great job, any time we can get him some at-bats, it's going help him for when he pinch-hits," manager Brad Mills said.
As expected, Carlos Lee was in the lineup as the designated hitter on Friday, and he will probably DH on Saturday and Sunday as well. Brian Bogusevic is likely to get the start in left field on Saturday against a right-hander.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.