Astros' community endeavors never stronger

Astros' community endeavors never stronger

HOUSTON -- Whether it's spending a few moments before a game meeting troops, taking an afternoon to help plant trees, participating in blood drives or visiting schools to set good examples for area youths, the Astros are always eager to participate in charitable and community ventures.

Being active in the community has been one of the mantras of owner Drayton McLane since he purchased the club 18 years ago, and this year saw the Astros' staff and players as active as ever trying to make a difference throughout the Houston area.

"This year, last year and in the years to come the Astros choose to be involved in a multitude of charitable endeavors because we believe when blessed with the means and opportunity to lend a hand that we should do so," said Shawn Bertani, the Astros' director of community affairs. "This is reflected in our long-standing mission statement -- The Astros have two missions: to be a champion and to make a positive difference in the community. This fundamental philosophy prevails throughout all ranks of the organization."

In one of the final off-field activities of the year, the Astros raised $80,000 for the Houston Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy when dozens of former players took part in the Houston Alumni Golf Tournament on Nov. 16. Former Astros managers Art Howe, Phil Garner and Larry Dierker took to the links, along with former players Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Doug Drabek, Woody Williams, Glenn Wilson and Gerald Young.

A few days earlier, Astros outfielder Hunter Pence, catcher Humberto Quintero and first-base coach Bobby Meacham played host to about 40 low-income families at Minute Maid Park for a "Feast of Thanks." The families enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal, family activities and autograph opportunities with Astros players.

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"The players' careers put them in the spotlight, and most players understand that because of the increased visibility that comes with their jobs, they have a unique opportunity to affect change or create a personal connection, and they are willing to make the most of that platform," Bertani said.

Throughout the season, the Astros welcomed home recently returned military personnel as their guests for an Astros game, where they got a chance to watch batting practice from the field and watch the game from a suite before being introduced to the crowd prior to the seventh-inning stretch singing of "God Bless America."

The Astros' Play Green campaign, which creates a positive environmental platform at Minute Maid Park and throughout Texas with a commitment to Earth-friendly efforts, was extremely active in 2010. Pence and Play Green ambassador Geoff Blum participated in planting trees and visited schools and educated kids on the importance of preserving the environment.

In September, Pence went back to school as part of the Astros' "Take a Player to School Program" and escorted 13-year-old Jacob Barrios to seventh grade and later ate lunch with him. Barrios won an online essay contest for more than 1,600 entries. The Astros also honored area first responders and military personnel on Sept. 10 and 11.

The Sunshine Kids, an organization that helps provide group activities and emotional support to young cancer patients and their families, enjoyed a day at the ballpark on Sept. 14, which was hosted by Biggio and his wife, Patty. Astros players welcomed a group of Sunshine Kids and their families to a game on Aug. 7.

For the 18th year, the Biggios hosted the Sunshine Kids for a memorable baseball experience. On Aug. 20, the Biggios, along with Sunshine Kids families, played on the field and ate lunch in the award-winning FiveSeven Grille. The kids received autographs from Craig along with an Astros goodie bag.

Throughout the year, members of the Astros Buddies Kids Club were invited to attend events at the ballpark. On Aug. 13, there was an autograph session with players Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Bud Norris, Chris Johnson and Jason Castro.

The Astros Wives 21st Annual Black Ties and Baseball Caps Gala took place Aug. 12 at Minute Maid Park. Chaired by Morgan Keppinger and Heather Byrdak, the event benefiting the Houston Area Women's Center was attended by many current and former Astros players and was emceed by Hall of Fame broadcaster, Milo Hamilton.

The 2010 Grand Slam for Youth Baseball scholarship program set a new record with over 100 applicants, and 25 area youth received scholarships of $2,500 to assist with college expenses. This is the sixth year for the GSFYB scholarship program and a total of $236,500 has been awarded.

The Astros and The Methodist Hospital System worked together during the month of June on several community events, including a blood drive, Berkman's Bunch and the annual Stars and Stripes event at The Methodist Hospital.

On Father's Day, the Astros and teams all around the league focused on "keeping Dads in the game" by generating awareness and funds for prostate cancer research. The Astros In Action Foundation conducted a special Father's Day Silent Auction at Minute Maid Park on June 20.

Members of the NFL's Houston Texans took part in the Reliant Energy Home Run Derby on May 6 and raised $31,700 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston. In April, the Astros kicked off the team's annual Pink in the Park campaign to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research, with the Pink In The Park Brunch and Bazaar to raise funds for the Methodist Cancer Center and the Houston affiliate of Susan G. Komen For The Cure.

The Astros teamed up with the Houston Food Bank, the National Association of Letter Carriers, Houston Chapter, Campbell Soup Company and Kroger and hosted a hunger relief event at Minute Maid Park on April 28, in which 5,760 cans of Campbell's soup were used to spell out the word HUNGER along Texas Avenue.

The Astros made a pitch for Houston youth by hosting the Baseball Tomorrow Fund Equipment Drive on April 25. Fans were asked to bring new or gently used gloves, bats, tees, helmets, baseballs and softballs to the game. All donated equipment was given to the Council of Houston Inner-City Little Leagues. They also received a $5,000 grant from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund for the purchase of new equipment.

The Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy at Houston's Sylvester Turner Park officially opened on April 10, with Houston native Michael Bourn on hand for the ceremony, along with manager Brad Mills and players Wandy Rodriguez, Tommy Manzella, J.R. Towles, Chris Johnson, Jeff Keppinger and Sammy Gervacio.

The season kicked off with a 2010 Astros preview at FanFest, the team's annual baseball festival benefiting the Astros In Action Foundation. The event was in conjunction with the Astros and Blue Jays exhibition games at Minute Maid Park on April 2-3. Fans met with current and former Astros as well as coaches at eight autograph sessions located throughout the main concourse.

The 2010 Astros caravan visited 15 cities in just nine days, paying special visits to hospitals, soldiers, schools and community centers. More than 30 Astros players, alumni, coaches and front office staff participated in reaching thousands of fans at more than 35 stops throughout Texas.

"The Astros caravan is something we have been doing for many years, and every January we eagerly anticipate the opportunity to spend quality time with our fans both in Houston and throughout the region," McLane said. "We have two missions, to be a champion and to make a positive difference in the community, and the caravan is a great way to further our community outreach."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.