Astros lose games, win smiles at children's hospital

Altuve, Reed and Gurriel raise spirits during Caravan visit

Astros lose games, win smiles at children's hospital

GALVESTON, Texas -- The laughs and smiles of children filled the room as A.J. Reed took the loss in a heated game of Connect Four, and Jose Altuve watched a tower of blocks tumble while he and his wife, Nina, played a game of Jenga with a young burn patient.

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the rigors of treatments weren't on the minds of a handful of patients at Shriners Hospitals for Children, which hosted a stop on the Astros Caravan with Altuve, Reed and teammate Yulieski Gurriel. The hospital provides highly specialized acute, reconstructive and rehabilitative care for children with burns and other soft-tissue conditions.

"I personally feel really happy when I see a smile on their faces," said Altuve, the reigning American League batting champion. "Everything I can do to come here and help the Astros in the Caravan, especially right here in the hospital; these kids don't get the opportunity every day to interact with MLB players. This is the perfect opportunity for them and for us. I'm really happy they are happy."

Reed, Gurriel on hospital visit

As Altuve's wife tried to pull out a block from the bottom of her Jenga tower, Jose playfully shook the table, ensuring the blocks fell to the floor. Laughter ensued, fulfilling the Astros' mission for their visit to the hospital.

"I was trying to win, but I'm not really good at these kinds of games," Altuve said. "We spent a really good time together and signed autographs and pictures for them, and I really enjoyed this time."

Reed was locked in a game of competitive Connect Four with a patient and soon found himself wondering how he lost. It was a defeat he didn't mind taking, though.

"It's great to come over here and be able to spend some time with these kids," he said. "They're going through a rough time. To be able to come here and put a smile on their face and give them a little positive stuff in their life, it feels pretty good."

Dustin Johnson, who works in sports marketing for Shriners Hospitals, said the patients at the facility are rehabbing from severe burn injuries, a process which can take months. He said these events change the course of the day for them and give them something to look forward to.

A.J. Reed plays Connect Four with a young patient. (Brian McTaggart)

"They go through things that some of us would never be able to imagine, so for Jose Altuve, A.J. Reed and those guys to brighten their day and kind of take the focus away from the doctor's appointments and the treatment they're doing is great for us," he said. "We like to say it's 'wrap-around care,' which is care that extends far beyond the walls of the hospital. This is a perfect example."

Gurriel, the Cuban who signed with the Astros last summer and lives in Miami, played the game Operation with a young patient, and it was hard to tell who was smiling more.

"This is my first time at this kind of hospital and it means a lot for me to be able to speak to these kids and bring them some joy, because they've been through a lot," he said.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.