Danny Graves

Graves among Astros' cuts

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros made another round of cuts on Sunday morning, reassigning five veteran non-roster players to Minor League camp -- right-handers Clay Hensley and Danny Graves, lefty Neal Musser and infielders Matt Kata and John Gall.

General manager Ed Wade granted Graves permission to talk to other teams about possible openings on their Major League rosters. Graves had heard that the Padres are in need of veteran relievers, but he has no idea at this time if anything will come of that.

Innings run thin this time of the spring, when starters begin to pitch into the fifth and sixth, leaving few for the remainder of the relievers. As disappointing as it is not to make the team out of Spring Training, demotions also mean increased playing time, which is a welcome element for pitchers trying to get ready for the season.


Graves’ journey continues

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Danny Graves was too young to remember any of the events surrounding his evacuation of war-torn Vietnam with his parents near the end of 1974, about six months before the fall of Saigon.

Graves, who was born on a military base in Saigon to an American serviceman and Vietnamese mother who worked at the U.S. Embassy, was 14 months old at the time and years away from understanding the horrors of war.

The family settled in Florida in pursuit of the American dream, which often has baseball woven as part of its fabric. Things were no different in the Graves household, where Danny developed a love for the game.

Making his pitch
More than 20 years later, Graves made history by becoming the first Vietnamese-born player to appear in the major leagues. And thanks to a plea to owner Drayton McLane, Graves is in camp with the Astros trying to squeeze another year out of his career.

“I do believe I’ll be the only Vietnamese player to play in the majors,” Graves said. “Baseball is not very big over there. It’s definitely something special, and until the day I die I’ll be able to say I was the first Vietnamese player in the major leagues.”

Graves, 35, recently moved to San Antonio and cold-called McLane during the offseason, convincing the owner to give him a shot. A former All-Star closer with the Cincinnati Reds, Graves has a 43-44 record and 275 saves in 1,216 career appearances.

“The last couple of years I have been struggling, trying to get to the big leagues and I really don’t want to go that route again if it means being away from home too much,” Graves said. “I told them I have a desire to play for Houston, and if there’s not a spot for me in camp I’ll retire.”

Graves spent the 2008 season pitching in the minors in the Minnesota Twins organization but hasn’t appeared in a major league game since 2006. It was January of that year that Graves returned to Vietnam for the first time as part of a special delegation in conjunction with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

The goal was to introduce baseball and promote healing and understanding between the United States and Vietnam, but for Graves it meant much more. He was accompanied by his mother Thao, who hadn’t seen her family in Vietnam in more than 30 years.

“It was pretty special, pretty emotional,” he said. “When we left, it was right before the fall of Saigon when things were really crazy and she said she would never go back, but I talked her into going with me. It was pretty emotional for her. Now she says, ‘I’m an American; I’m not doing that again.’ ”

Graves is thankful his father, who died in 1999, opted not to leave the family behind.

At peace with himself
Graves’ personal journey while in the majors is just as intriguing.

Known for his countless tattoos and lavish ways (he once owned a Rolls-Royce), Graves admits his life was going in the wrong direction. He wouldn’t elaborate but says he turned to religion and found peace.

Graves is facing long odds to make the club. The Astros’ bullpen is pretty much set, and Graves is more than five years removed from his glory days with the Reds, which included a 41-save season in 2004.

“I told Drayton, if God wants me to be here, he’ll put me here,” he said. “If it came down to it and they said they’d like to keep me and go to the minor leagues for a little bit I would do that.

“I really don’t have a desire to play anywhere else. I always liked going to Houston and had success going to Houston and this is a very Christian-based team, which is what I’m looking for.”


Graves seeks fresh start with Astros

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Danny Graves' path to Kissimmee, by way of a non-roster invite to Spring Training, took an unconventional route about a month ago when he signed with Houston.

Graves e-mailed club owner Drayton McLane directly, explaining his situation, his desire to pitch again and the reasons why the Astros were an attractive team to him.

Graves knew McLane to be a man devoted to his faith, and Graves, having changed his path after growing weary of a rather unsavory life he was leading, felt the Astros would be a good place for him to land.

"I'm at a different point in my life than I was before," Graves said. "I'm a Christian now. I knew that Drayton was, too. I know he had a lot of guys in the clubhouse that were also. I figured if I had a chance to play in the big leagues again, I want to be a part of that. I reached out to Drayton and asked him if there was an opportunity, and if not, I'm just going to retire."

McLane responded favorably, chiding Graves for all of the games he saved for the Reds -- many of them against the Astros -- during the right-hander's tenure in Cincinnati from 1997-2005. McLane said he'd pass the message along to general manager Ed Wade, who offered Graves a Minor League contract.

"Ed called me and said, 'I can't promise you anything except for a non-roster invite and just a chance to make the club,'" Graves said. "That's all I'm looking for. I'm not looking for any promises or guarantees, just an opportunity to see if I can still help somebody. I guess they said it really touched Drayton's heart, the e-mail I sent."

Graves lives with his fiance in San Antonio, and the close proximity not only to Houston, but to the Astros' Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, made this organization that much more enticing. Graves didn't expound on the path his life had taken prior to finding new faith through religion, but he credited his fiance for helping him get on the right track.

"I don't have enough time to tell you about the last few years," he said. "It was miserable and I was really lost. Mentally, I didn't know what I was doing. Things you're not supposed to do. My fiance is a Christian, has been a Christian for a long time and she helped me with my walk. I realized it's pretty embarrassing what I did before as a person."

Graves was released by the Reds in May of 2005, one day after sparking controversy when he made an obscene gesture toward a fan who heckled him and yelled a racial slur. Graves regretted the part he played and cites that incident as just one of many things he'd do differently if he had the chance.

"I would have turned my back and walked away," Graves said. "That was pretty much the downfall."

Graves hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues since 2006, when he made 13 appearances and compiled a 5.79 ERA with the Indians.

With the Astros, the 35-year-old Graves is looking for a new beginning. The odds are against him this spring, considering he is trying out for a bullpen that at this point has no jobs available. Graves said he would accept a Minor League assignment, but if the Astros don't want him in the organization at all at the end of Spring Training, he'll be content with simply retiring.

"If it came down to [going to Triple-A], if they wanted to keep my in the organization, I would do it," he said. "It's still close to home. The bullpen never stays the same all year. I just want a shot."


Astros ink ex-Reds closer Graves, four others

The Astros signed five players to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training today: righthanders Jose Capellan, Danny Graves and Chad Paronto, and catchers Brian Esposito and Toby Hall. Righthander Sergio Perez was also invited to spring training.

Graves, 35, was 6-6 with one save and a 6.01 ERA in 36 combined games (16 starts) with Class A Fort Myers, Class AA New Britain and Class AAA Rochester of the Minnesota Twins organization. Graves is 43-44 with 182 saves and a 4.05 ERA in 518 career games with Cleveland (1996-97, 2006), Cincinnati (1997-2005) and the New York Mets (2005).