Former major-leaguer, N.O. resident Freese dies

Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig (66) celebrates with teammates after scoring on a base hit by Hanley Ramirez in the first inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Show caption
Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig (66) celebrates with teammates after scoring on a base hit by Hanley Ramirez in the first inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

New Orleans native Gene Freese, who played with the New Orleans Pelicans before spending 12 seasons in the major leagues, died Wednesday.

He was 79.

A native of Wheeling, W.Va., Freese played with the 1954 Pelicans’ minor-league team (then a Double A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) before moving up to the majors to play for the Pirates in 1955. He later played for the Cardinals, Phillies, White Sox, Reds and Astros.

Freese, who played for the 1961 NL champion Reds that lost to the Yankees in the World Series, batted .254 and hit 115 home runs in his career.

He spent the the last 60 years of his life in New Orleans.

Astrodome plans

HOUSTON — A county board recommended converting Houston’s historic but deteriorating Astrodome into a giant convention center and exhibition space.

The Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. on Wednesday opted to go with its own plan for the world’s first domed, air-conditioned stadium instead of one of 19 private-sector plans submitted for its reuse.

The board said the groups promoting the private plans didn’t meet the project’s criteria by a deadline earlier this month.

The board’s proposal would cost an estimated $194 million and take about 2½ years to complete. The plan now goes to Harris County commissioners, who will discuss it at a June 25 meeting.

The stadium once dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world” has been vacant since 2009, when it was deemed unfit for occupancy.

Astros sign No. 1 pick

HOUSTON — The Houston Astros signed right-handed pitcher Mark Appel of Stanford, the No. 1 overall draft pick in the draft earlier this month.

Terms were not disclosed Wednesday ahead of an afternoon news conference with Appel and team officials.

The 21-year-old Appel was 10-4 with four complete games and a 2.12 ERA this season. He had 130 strikeouts in 106.1 innings pitched and allowed opponents a .203 batting average.

Appel is an Astros fan who grew up in West Houston before moving to California at the age of 12.

The Astros had a chance to draft him last year but instead went with 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa from Puerto Rico.

Appel slid to Pittsburgh at No. 8 last year but turned down a $3.8 million offer and returned to Stanford for his senior season.

Twins sign Stewart

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins signed right-hander Kohl Stewart, the fourth overall pick in this month’s draft.

The team announced the deal Wednesday, along with the signings of 22 others. The Twins have 21 of their first 25 selections under contract.

The 18-year-old Stewart was the first high school pitcher drafted. The slot value of the signing bonus for the fourth pick determined by Major League Baseball’s formula is $4,544,400.

Stewart posted an 0.18 ERA in 40 innings with 16 walks and 59 strikeouts this season over eight starts for St. Pius X High School in Houston.

The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Stewart was a two-sport star, recruited by Texas A&M to pitch and play quarterback for the football team. As a senior, he passed for 2,560 yards and 28 TDs.

touchdowns.

Jeter takes batting practice

TAMPA, Fla. — Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has taken on-field batting practice for the first time since being cleared to increase his rehabilitation program for a broken left ankle.

Jeter took 21 swings on Wednesday at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa, Fla. He looked comfortable at the plate, hitting balls to all fields.

The Yankees captain has also increased his movement by taking grounders and fielding balls backhanded on the grass behind short and throwing to first.

Jeter was examined last Thursday by a doctor in Charlotte, N.C., and received clearance to move ahead with baseball activities.

The 13-time All-Star hasn’t played this season after breaking his ankle in the playoffs last fall and needing surgery. Jeter sustained another fracture during his rehab in April.

Alex Rodriguez had a light day of outdoor work, throwing and fielding grounders. The third baseman, coming back from hip surgery in January, took live batting practice for the first time Monday and had an extensive base-running session on Tuesday.