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From a Haven in Florida, the Astros Think of Houston

The Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez stretching before a game with the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The series was moved from Houston because of Hurricane Harvey.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — More than a thousand miles from home, the Houston Astros arrived here to play a baseball game Tuesday night in a largely empty stadium against their in-state rivals, but it was hard for many to think of their circumstances.

For the most part, their heads were turned to their phones or the clubhouse televisions, and their minds were back home in Houston, where the city and surrounding areas were struggling with the overwhelming impact of Hurricane Harvey.

“I’m still thinking of friend’s stories when they’re rescuing babies and kids, and people in trees and people swimming across streets that they normally walk across,” Astros Manager A. J. Hinch said. “We’re talking about a baseball game. We have the easy job.”

There was a lot for the Astros — and, for sure, some members of the opposing team, the Texas Rangers — to wrap their heads around as they went back to the business of baseball with the start of a three-game series that was moved here Monday by Major League Baseball.

Some Astros players have family members who are stranded in the Houston area — and pitcher Francisco Liriano’s house has sustained extensive flooding damage — and few have been unaffected by the devastation that has been wrought by torrential rain.

When the Astros left Houston last Thursday for a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels, they packed just for the weekend, assuming that even though a storm was coming, they would be able to return home once the series in California ended on Sunday.

But with Houston’s two major airports closed because of flooding, the Astros were diverted to Dallas, where they learned on Monday that their series with the Rangers — scheduled to be played at Minute Maid Park in Houston — would be played here instead.

“It’s going to be kind of weird,” Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said. “Never in a million years would I have thought that we’d be playing outside of Minute Maid Park, where we have a retractable roof for that very reason, which means that the flooding has been almost biblical.”

There is uncertainty about when the Astros will return home. Hinch said the team should learn Wednesday whether the Astros’ series against the Mets, scheduled to begin Friday in Houston, will also be held at Tropicana Field. He said the team cannot consider returning home until the rain in Houston stops.

The Astros, as the home team here, chose the visitors’ clubhouse because it was most familiar to them. The only uniforms they had with them were their gray road pants and their alternate blue jerseys, which they wear for batting practice on the road and at home.

But those inconveniences were considered just that as the Astros remained focused on some of the images from recent days: an older woman knitting in a wheelchair with water up to her chest, an exhausted police officer wading his way toward stranded people, airport runways underwater.

Hinch said friends of his had bought a boat and were rescuing people from trees near a golf course in his neighborhood.

“They’re friends, trying to do something good,” Hinch said. “To be honest with you, I wish I was one of those people. I wish I could help somebody right now.”

Rangers Manager Jeff Banister, who grew up in LaMarque, Tex., just south of Houston, said that he hoped that the teams — who have developed a fierce rivalry in recent years — would use the games here to play for people who have been affected by the flooding.

“When you get right down to it, what we do, we’re privileged to be able to do this, and when real life punches you in the mouth, you take notice and this becomes a distraction for that,” Banister said.

He added, “I hope our guys have enough respect that the effort is where it needs to be and appropriate, because I would hate for us to think that this is, ‘well, we’ll just go through another day,’ because those people aren’t just having another day.”

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Chicago Bears bring Roberto Aguayo on board after kicker’s release from Tampa Bay

The Chicago Bearsclaimed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo off waivers on Sunday.

To clear roster space for Auguayo, the Bears placed veteran wide receiver Rueben Randle on injured reserve.

Aguayo was waived by the Buccaneers on Saturday after his rocky start to the preseason. Aguayo missed an extra point in the second quarter of a 23-12 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday night. He was then brought out late in the fourth quarter for a 47-yard field goal attempt, which went wide right. He made one field goal, a 20-yard kick on the Bucs’ opening possession.

Aguayo’s release came just one year after the Bucs traded into the second round of the 2016 draft to select him, which made him the highest-drafted kicker since Mike Nugent in 2005.

Aguayo is expected to compete with Bears kicker Connor Barth — who, incidentally, was released by Tampa Bay in May 2016 after the team drafted Aguayo.

Barth went 18-of-23 on field goal attempts and 31-for-31 on extra points for the Bears in 2016.

If Aguayo is able to win the Bears’ kicking job he’ll quickly have a chance to face his former team. The Bears are scheduled to visit the Buccaneers in Week 2.

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Tampa Bay Lightning goalies are getting new masks for the upcoming season

Both Andrei Vasilevskiy and Peter Budaj are getting custom new masks, courtesy of Dave Gunnarsson and Sylabrush, for the upcoming 2017-18 season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have become famous for cool-looking and innovative goalie mask designs. Between Nikolai Khabibulin’s ‘Bulin Wall, Ben Bishop’s Tron mask, and even Mike Smith’s SAW mask, the Bolts have a tradition of unique and interesting designs.

Last season, Andrei Vasilevsiy was one of the two goalies in the entire NHL to debut a color changing mask. The color-change effect, courtesy of Sylabrush’s Subzero paint, is activated by the cold, and when cold, a new design will be revealed.

Once again, Vasilevskiy’s mask will feature the color-change effect. The Sylabrush team designed Vasilevskiy’s last mask, and as it was a hit with Tampa Bay Lightning fans and across the league, there weren’t a lot of changes were made.

The feature of the mask is still the large lightning-fused lion on top (a literal Thundercat), and his number, 88, on the chin. The block letter BOLTS and palm trees on both sides are also making a return this year. The biggest difference between this year’s mask and last year’s design is the addition of more silver and more Subzero color-changing paint.

Vasilevskiy’s new design will feature three different locations that will change their design, including the Bolt’s a 25th-anniversary logo.

Here’s the full color change effect in action:

Tampa Bay Lightning backup Peter Budaj also got a new mask, this one courtesy of Dave Gunnarsson at DaveArt.

Early on in his career, Budaj got the nickname of Ned Flanders, after the character from the long running cartoon, The Simpsons. That nickname has since stuck, and has now followed him to Tampa.

While the appearance might not be as major as the Thor Flanders featured on his last mask, Flanders is still present in Budaj’s new design. This time, he is made of a lightning outline and is on his chin.

The main feature of this new mask, however, is the Lightning’s 25th-anniversary logo.

Needless to say, both Lightning goaltenders will be looking (and hopefully playing) like all-stars this season.

The best feature of both new masks is how representative they are of the individual goaltenders and team alike. A lot of personalization and detail went into the making of both masks. The artists at both DaveArt and Sylabrush knocked their projects out of the park. The only thing better than seeing the new masks now will be seeing the new masks on the ice this season.

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Honda Says Florida Crash Death Could Be Linked to Takata Inflator

Honda said on Thursday that a Takata airbag inflator ruptured in a car crash last week in Florida, in what could be the 19th death worldwide linked to faulty airbags recalled as part of the largest automotive safety campaign in history.

Honda said the driver of a 2002 Honda Accord was killed in Holiday, Fla., after the inflator burst. An official cause of death has not been announced. Last week, authorities in Australia said the death of a Sydney man earlier this month was likely the result of a faulty Takata airbag inflator. He was killed by shrapnel in his neck.

At least 18 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide are now tied to the defect that led Takata Corp to file for bankruptcy protection last month. Takata inflators can explode with excessive force, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks.

The Florida crash involved a 34-year-old woman who died in a head-on collision July 19 near St. Petersburg when a 19-year-old driving a 1999 Pontiac Firebird turned into her path, according to local media reports.

The inflator in 2002 Accords has been recalled since 2011, and Honda said it had mailed 21 recall notices over several years to registered owners of this particular car. Ten notices had been sent to the current registered owner, but the repairs were never completed, Honda said.

“This is more evidence that the recall is failing and not enough is being done to find the affected vehicles and fix them,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said in a statement.

The 2002 Accord was among a group of more than 300,000 unrepaired recalled Honda vehicles equipped with inflators deemed to have a substantial risk of rupturing.

Last year, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged owners to stop driving the “unsafe” cars until they were fixed. The agency said 2001-2003 model Honda and Acura vehicles had as much as a 50 percent chance of a dangerous airbag inflator rupture in a crash.

Of the deaths linked to Takata inflators, 17 have involved Honda vehicles since May 2009, including five in Malaysia using a different type Takata inflator. One death occurred in a Ford vehicle in South Carolina in December 2015.

Scott Caudill, chief operating officer of TK Holdings, Takata’s U.S. unit, said in a court affidavit last month that Takata had recalled, or expected to recall, by 2019 about 125 million vehicles worldwide, including more than 60 million in the United States.

Reporting by David Shepardson.

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FOX Sports Sun to televise Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL All-Star Weekend press conference

TAMPA, Fla. — FOX Sports Sun, the regional television home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, announced plans to televise Thursday’s scheduled press conference where Lightning and National Hockey League officials will discuss and detail 2018 NHL® All-Star Weekend, planned for AMALIE Arena on January 27-28. Statewide television coverage will begin Thursday, June 1 at 2 p.m. on FOX Sports Sun, in addition to streaming live on FOX Sports GO.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, City of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins and Tampa Bay Lightning Chairman and Governor Jeff Vinik are all scheduled to speak at the press conference. The 2018 NHL® All-Star Game will mark the second time Tampa will host the event. The Lightning and Tampa previously hosted the NHL All-Star Game in 1999, successfully welcoming thousands of NHL fans, executives and personalities to the city.

About FOX Sports Florida / FOX SPORTS SUN

FOX Sports Florida & FOX Sports Sun are the regional television homes of the Orlando Magic, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Heat, Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. The regional sports networks have been fixtures in the homes of sports fans throughout the Sunshine State for over 20 years. Today, the networks combine to produce more than 700 live sporting events and over 300 studio based and original programs year round. FOX Sports Florida and FOX Sports Sun are committed to making a positive impact in the communities we serve by engaging our audiences and providing award winning TV and web coverage of Florida’s hometown sports teams. For more information, channel listings and how you can get involved with FOX Sports Florida / FOX Sports Sun, visit www.foxsportsflorida.com.

Kevin Cash: We’ve asked a lot of our guys, and they’ve come through

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